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KF #29. Demonstrates Self-Awareness Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

757: How to Find the Career You Truly Love with Marcus Buckingham

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Marcus Buckingham reveals strategies for identifying the work that fills you up.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to finding your “love” at work
  2. How you can be “irreplicable” at work
  3. Why you should see your job as a scavenger hunt, instead of a ladder 

About Marcus

Marcus Buckingham is a global researcher and New York Times bestselling author focused on unlocking strengths, increasing performance, and pioneering the future of how people work. He is the author of two of the bestselling business books of all time, has two of Harvard Business Review’s most circulated, industry-changing cover articles, and his strengths assessments have been taken by over 10 million people worldwide. He currently runs all ADP Research Institute’s studies on People and Performance. 

Resources Mentioned

Marcus Buckingham Interview Transcript

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

Marcus Buckingham
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to get into your wisdom and talk about your book Love + Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do, and Do It for the Rest of Your Life. But, first, could we hear what do you love most at work?

Marcus Buckingham
Actually, it’s love and work. I just put a plus in there because I thought it looked cool but I like love and work, I like war and peace, so I like the juxtaposition of those kinds of things. Look, I’m a psychometrician by training, which means I love trying to figure out ways to measure things about humans that you can’t count but that they’re really important anyway.

So, things like talent, strengths, engagement, resilience, that’s what I love to do is get to the heart of some of these really important psychological constructs and figure out, in a world where there’s so much opinion and so many, I think that, can we find a way, nonetheless, to cut through that, and say, “What do we know for sure about people’s strengths, or about engagement, or resilience?” That’s kind of what…it sounds a bit geeky but that’s what I love.

Pete Mockaitis
No, no, it’s beautiful and I understand and it’s exciting. And I’d love to hear, is there a particularly exciting, fascinating discovery that you’ve made recently when doing some of the research and pulled things together for the book Love + Work?

Marcus Buckingham
Well, what’s always fascinated me, when you look at the world through the lens of people who love it, if you look at the world of work through the lens of people who love it, you discover there’s way more variation than you would ever think. So, you look at some jobs and you think to yourself, “Well, those jobs, no one must want those jobs.” We would be able to do them for a short period of time and we want to get out of them as quickly as we could.

Take a role like hotel housekeeping. We kind of think, “Well, that’s not a good job,” and we, therefore, have to put rules and regulations in place to get people to do the job properly, and then we wonder why people find no love in the job. But I had a chance to interview the eight best housekeepers at Walt Disney World, and they didn’t know each other, but they’re all amazing housekeepers.

And you look at their job through their eyes, and the sheer amounts of variety and creativity and innovation that goes into their job from their perspective. One of them lies on the bed and turns on the ceiling fan, that’s the last thing she does before she leaves the room because that’s the first thing a guest does after a long day out at the theme park, and she just loves seeing…She’ll sit in the tub and sit on the toilet because that’s the way the guest would see the room.

Another one loves the fact that she can make a show for the kids. And so, every time they come back in, she’ll have arranged the fluffy toys in a little scene and Minnie’s arm on a remote control, Mickey’s arm on an empty French-fries container, and the kids can sit all day long, Mickey and Minnie just hang out in bed snacking and watching TV. And you suddenly see this world open up because you’re looking at a particular job in this case through the lens of people who love it, and it’s like, “Oh.”

Now, yeah, there are rules and regulations that say, “Don’t touch any more of the guests’ possessions than you need to, to clean the room and don’t lie on the bed.” So, weirdly, we’ve created rules that almost make it harder for the people who love their job, to love their job. But that’s one of the biggest takeaways from all the research that went into Love + Work is you look at the world of work through those people who love what they do and the detail that you get isn’t anything like you would expect.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that’s really inspiring. And I remember when I was really loving work, and I was doing strategy consulting, and I was super excited, like that was sort of the dream I had from all through college, and I was, like, I got into Bain and I was so thrilled and pumped. And then somewhere, we were having a conversation with my fellow first years, and the conversation came up to whether or not we did good, like we contributed to good.

And so, for me, I thought that the answer was obvious, I was like, “But of course we do good otherwise we wouldn’t be here. And if you just think about it, we get an insane amount of responsibility for a 22-year-old, we’re working on projects that the clients pay half a million, a million dollars a month for a small team for. It’s expected that we’re going to generate a return on that that’s like 10X of what they invest in us. Their share prices are going to go up which will impact those who are saving for their college, for retirement, for nonprofits, for philanthropic grant-making foundations, that the wealth we’re creating is hugely leveraged at this point in time.”

And so, they were sort of like dumbfounded, like, “Huh? We just thought it’d be a good pathway to get to business school and you have cool careers.” But you’re right, people can have vastly different perspectives of their jobs, and that, in turn, fuels their emotions, engagement, motivation, and…well, I’m sure you know a whole lot more about what that fuels than I.

Marcus Buckingham
Yeah, sure. Biology loves variation and by the time we get to be 19 years old, we have a hundred trillion synaptic connections in our brain, and no one has the particular network or pattern that you do, or that I do, and the people that we grew up next to, our brother, our sister, people in the same house, same socio-economic upbringing, same race maybe, same gender maybe, we’re totally different from them in terms of what we love, and what we get a kick out of, and what we pay attention, and what we ignore, and what frustrates us.

We have more synaptic connections in our brain than there are stars in 5,000 Milky Ways. And from that uniqueness comes really differently specific things that we love and that we loathe, and that we lean into and that bore us. And, seemingly, nobody really…you get 10 years of geometry but you don’t get 10 years on trying to figure out how to demystify that beautifully unique massive filigreed network of loves and loathes in your brain. No one really helps us with that.

In fact, you could say school and work actually deliberately try to alienate you from yourself. You’re not really told how to figure out what that unique network is and turn it into work, and turn it into contribution, is how I define work. It’s not just your job; it’s any work where you add value to somebody else. But, yeah, you’ve got so much uniqueness, and your challenge in life, really, isn’t that you don’t have enough time. It’s that you don’t draw enough energy or nourishment from your life.

And so, part of the reason why I wrote the book is to go, “Wait a minute, the reason we’ve got so many kids on Adderall and so much Xanax prescribed to tone down the Adderall and so many frustrated and anxious and burnt-out workers is because we haven’t really understood, “How do you help people move through their life and draw nourishment and strength and love from what they’re doing?” We haven’t had anyone do that.

We’ve just created standardized tests at school, or list of competencies at work, and then 360 surveys to measure you on the competencies, and kind of successes based on how closely you match the model. It’s not related to how intelligently you’ve cultivated and expressed what you love. No one helps you with that. And so, really, the point of the book was to go, “Come on, we are all incredibly varied, and we need to own that variance, understand it, and then contribute it.”

Pete Mockaitis
What you said that really struck me is we draw nourishment. And what else? What else from work? That’s a heck of a sentence.

Marcus Buckingham
Well, we draw nourishment, we draw energy, we draw love, we draw joy from work. We can. The metaphor is you’re supposed to have work-life balance but then if you think about it, that’s a really bizarre aspiration to lay on anyone not just because if you ever managed to find that moment of balance for your life and your work and your family and your finances and your grandma and whatever we’re balanced. But if ever did manage to find that place, Pete, you’d want to say to everyone around you, “Don’t move. Nobody moves.”

Pete Mockaitis
“It’s perfect right now.”

Marcus Buckingham
“I’ve got it.” But you look out at nature, nothing healthy in nature is balanced. And let’s just say that really clearly – nothing healthy in nature is balanced. Everything healthy in nature is moving. And you have to move through the environment that you’re in and draw enough nourishment from it to keep moving. Well, that’s a good metaphor for our lives.

We are moving through our time and our jobs, our time and the other domains of our life, and our challenge, really, is “How do you move through your job, your family life, your community, maybe your political activism, your faith, whatever, your hobbies? How do you move through life and draw enough joy and nourishment and love from that movement in order to keep growing, keep contributing?”

That’s not easy. No one said that it was easy but no one tells us about any of that at all. And that’s a crying shame for many of us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Marcus, lay it out for us, what are the key principles that we need to follow in order to be drawing nourishment, energy, joy, and love from our work and other things that we engage in?

Marcus Buckingham
Well, the first thing is to realize that you have a wyrd inside you. That’s the very first thing. Not that you are weird, but that you have a wyrd, which is a noun. W-Y-R-D. It’s actually a Norse idea that you’ve got inside you at birth, independent of what happened to you as you grow up, or independent of your parents, or whatever, you’ve got this unique diamond, this unique spirit, and for them it was they called it your wyrd, and you have to get in touch with your wyrd if you’re going to live a productive and happy life.

Today, we don’t need the spirituality necessarily, we just know from the clash of the chromosomes that you do have, from the get-go, an incredibly filigreed network of synaptic connections. We know that. So, the first thing for all of us to understand is the most important aspects of you, what you lean into, what repels you, what uplifts you, what drains you, and the specifics of that, the fact that you are drawn to, I don’t know, reading the back of a milk carton, or somebody else is drawn to make little dolls out of corn husks, and somebody else is drawn to make shapes under a kitchen table with tire. We’re all drawn to really different things.

Those things are really unique to you and super important to understand. So, first of all, everyone should know they’re not a blank slate, they weren’t created by how they grew up or by the traumas that they experienced. Those things might occlude you, occlude you from seeing you, but you have within you this biology, we can see it, an incredibly powerful combination of networks and synapses that lead you in certain directions and away from others. That’s the first thing.

The second thing, of course, is the world is telling you about it all the time. Rather than looking at the world as the enemies, something to withstand, if everybody could just wake up and look at the world as though it was trying to put on a show for you, as though every day it was trying to show you thousands of different situations and moments and contexts and people and activities, it’s trying to show you a lot of different things, and your response is to go, “Which of these are things that I love?” almost like your world is a fabric of many different threads.

Some lift you up a little, some down, they’re black, they’re white, they’re gray, they’re yellow, but some of them are red threads, and they’re threads that lift you up, that energize you, that you find love within. And the first way to spot these red threads, and we are all a genius when it comes to spotting our red threads, the first thing is “What do you find yourself, instinctively, paying attention to?” Your patterns of attention, what do you find that you instinctively are drawn to? You attend to what you value and we tend to think that everyone just pays attention to the same stuff that we do, but they don’t.

So, right from an early age, going back to thinking about “What did you find yourself paying attention to? Maybe, what did you find yourself paying attention to, that others missed and the detail of that?” Normally, as you know, Pete, when you think about patterns, we’re told the verb that goes with patterns is break. You’re supposed to break your patterns as though your patterns are pathological, they’re bad, they’re the source of your trauma or your pain.

Actually, your patterns of attention are the source of all contribution and meaning and joy for you. So, that’s the very…there are other signs which we can get into, if you want, but that’s the very first thing to start with. Your patterns of attention are utterly unique to you and they are totally worth paying attention to.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when we do that paying attention, I guess in some ways, I’d love it, Marcus, if we could get really practical, tactical here because I’m thinking I could sort of psychoanalyze for quite a while, like, “Why did I click this headline but none of the other headlines?” And so, I imagine there are some value into some self-reflection. But how do we do that prudently so that it’s not kind of just blindly unaware, just like sauntering through life and not cluing into the patterns, and not like sort of overkill navel-gazing?

Marcus Buckingham
So, it’s Love + Work. The point of love is, like any energy source, it’s got to flow. Love actually turns into a super caustic abrasive force that will destroy you if you don’t let it out. Love needs and demands expression. So, the reason we stop paying attention to what you’re paying attention to is because you need to express it and turn it into a contribution. That’s what work is in the Love + Work. It’s like an infinite loop where the detail of what you love leads to you making it something of value out of it.

That’s what contribution is, something of value to someone else. It could be learning, it could be a product that you make, it could be a poem that you write, but it’s something of value that you’re creating. So, your attention leads to love, and then it leads to work, and then the detail of what you made informs what you love, which then informs what you make, which then informs what you love. If you look at the most successful people, they’ve got this beautiful infinite loop where love is for work, and work is for love, and love is for work, and work is for love.

And so, if it’s just about navel-gazing, if it’s just about self-involvement or narcissism, then you stop the flow. The point of paying attention to what you pay attention to is so that you can then turn it into contribution. For me, very early on, I found myself paying attention to why. When we’re watching people do the high jump, when I was at school, I was nine or ten, you start watching people watch others do the high jump, and you find that the moment somebody tries to jump over the bar, everyone watching sticks their leg out, and then they deny that they’re doing it. They raise high on their tippy toes and they deny that they’re doing it.

And I was fascinated by the fact that all these people, because then you turn around, you’re, “Why did you do that when he jumped over the bar?” And the person goes, “I didn’t do that.” So, it’s like, instinctively but unknowingly, everyone is kind of weirdly willing the other person over the bar. And for me, I went around, no one else in my school seemed to pay attention to that, no one was even interested in that, and I didn’t know it would lead into a career as a researcher. I didn’t know that at nine, that’s for certain.

But I was so aware of being aware of something other people weren’t that I even remembered it 50 years on, you’re like, “Ooh.” And yet, 20 years later, some Italian scientist discovers the existence of mirror neurons, which is where we try to mimic the experiences and the emotions of others, which is why we do the leg kicking. I didn’t know any of that. But you’re starting off by going, “Is the stuff that you’re paying attention to useful in any way?”

And, for me, weirdly, it led me to learn differently. I didn’t like fiction. I liked nonfiction, particularly nonfiction about why the world works the way it does, why is white light made up of all the other colors, why can you sink a ship and when can you do that, why does every society ritualize death. Have you ever studied a ritual? Why? Like, I’m that guy.

And so, from a very early age, I was lucky enough that I paid attention to some stuff and then noticed that I was the only one paying attention to that stuff. And then it became a channel to which I could learn, and then through which I could contribute. All of us can do that. All of that that I just described for me could sound super boring to you but, for me, that’s a real experience.

So, for any one of us in our work right now, you start off by paying attention to what you’re paying attention to, and you know that no one else is, and that’s the place where you begin to start carving your job to fit yourself, which is what the most successful people do.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when we pay attention to what we’re paying attention to, are there any key practices, or questions, or reflections that help surface some of these patterns all the more clearly to us consciously?

Marcus Buckingham
Yeah, there are three clues you can watch out for. Actually, before that, just FYI. The most successful people don’t do what they love. I run a research institute. We have no data at all that the most successful people do what they love, that they do all that they love. In fact, the data show, instead, that the most successful people find love in what they do. And the threshold seems to be 20%. Like, 20% red threads.

The Mayo Clinic research on doctors and nurses who don’t struggle with burnout shows that they don’t do 60%, 70% red threads. You stay above 20% and 40 looks like 20, 60 looks like 20. Above 20% red threads is like that’s a really interesting psychological threshold. You go below that, 19, 18, 17, 16, and there’s almost a perfect linear one percentage point increase in burnout risk. It’s like below 20% and you start to get psychologically damaged.

So, what we’re all striving for is not a red quilt at work. We don’t need a red quilt. We need 20% red threads every day. Two most powerful questions to predict performance and engagement at work are, “Was I excited to work every day last week? Did I ever challenge my strengths every day in the work last week?” So, there’s something about the frequency of it, the everydayness of it that’s super important.

And the three best clues to spot these red threads would be, first, “What do you instinctively volunteer for? What do you instinctively find your psychological or physical hand going up for even when other people around you are like, ‘You suck at that.’?” If your hand just keeps going up, that’s nontrivial. That’s interesting. Positive anticipation.

Second is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the positive psychologist, called flow. So, when time seems to speed up when you’re doing something, when you vanish inside of it and you’re not doing the task but you are the task, the steps fall away and you just…almost you’re doing it unconsciously. So, that moment when you look up, you think it’s been five minutes, but you look up, it’s been an hour – that.

The third clue is when you’re doing something and when you’re done with it, you’re not drained. It’s like it conveys mastery, and that feeling of mastery when you’re done with it, you feel uplifted, you feel authentic, you feel as though something about the thing you just did was, not to be too spiritual, but of your essence, and you fill up. You don’t feel drained. You fill up. It’s not like, “Thank goodness that’s over,” which many of us feel about many things.

It’s more like, “What I was just doing was a manifestation of me.” So, there’s other clues, but three really obvious clues to what these red threads are for you. And, of course, within the book, we’ve got a whole red thread questionnaire which dives into the detail of that because God lies in the detail in terms of you. A red thread isn’t like, “I like helping people.” No, it’s, “Which people? What are you doing with the people? Why are you helping them? When are you helping them? How are you…?”

Let’s get to detail for you because love is super detailed. You start figuring out what those red threads are for you, it’s then the most beautiful raw material to start thinking about “How do you weave your job to fit your loves better?” And there’s all sorts of things you can start doing in order to make that happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s perfect. Let’s go there right next in terms of, okay, so we’ve identified some red threads. These are things that I love, that I naturally pay attention to, I’m uplifted by, I enter flow, I instinctively volunteer for it, and I think, “Okay, that’s cool. But, uh-oh, Marcus, I’m not getting 20% of that in my job. It’s more like 5%.” What do we do?

Marcus Buckingham
Yeah. Well, first of all, when you ask people that question, and you say, “Do you have the freedom to modify your job to fit yourself better?” Seventy-three percent of people in the US agree or strongly agree that they do.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Marcus Buckingham
That suggests that there’s 73% of us that aren’t utterly in the wrong neighborhood. Seventy-three percent of us at least think, anyway, that we’ve got room to maneuver. Now, that doesn’t mean that 27% of us are in the wrong spot, but 73% of us feel like we’ve got that room to maneuver.

So, the first thing is the data, we know that 73% of people agree or strongly agree that they have the freedom to modify their job to fit themselves better. So, that suggests there’s an awful lot of us have or think that we have that chance. Interestingly, only 18% of us say that we have a chance to play to our strengths every day, so there’s a big attitude behavior consistency problem, as we call it in social psychology, but there’s an awful lot of us have that freedom.

Twenty-seven percent of us are probably thinking, “I’m utterly in the wrong job,” but 73% think we have the chance to maneuver. So, the first thing that one should do is be intentional. When you wake up in the morning, what red threads are you going to weave today? Where will you find them? There are some clues to spot but where will you find them? Approach every day with intentionality about where you will find those red threads for you, first.

Second, Once you know what those red threads are, any way that you can cultivate those red threads with any particular competency or skill or expertise? You might have had a red thread around communicating with people, and then you had to figure out how to make a podcast, and then you had to figure out some technical expertise to turn this thing that probably began as a yearning or an appetite or something and actually turn it into performance, turn it into a contribution. So, is there any way that you can take that red thread and combine it with some sort of competency that enables you to turn it into contribution?

Third, is there any way, one day next week, all red threads, one day, just one day, where there’s a day that you pick where you’re like, “You know what, I’m going to load up on this day. Can I find a way to do that that ensures that there’s some particular day here where I’m just it is really a love-filled day for me?” Can you then figure out a way for your team to name it? Can you keep volunteering, whatever that is, so that your team starts going, “You know what, Pete is the guy who…” because these days, obviously, anyone’s headcount is replaceable. Anyone is replaceable. But, of course, you want to be…and no one is replicable.

You want to be, if there’s a word, irreplicable, where your love is so defined, what people turn to you for is so defined that they go, “I can’t really imagine this company without that person. I can’t imagine a world without that person. I can’t really imagine a team without that person.” So, can you name what it is you’re bringing to that team? If the team itself had a voice, what would it call you? If the team itself had a voice, how would it name what you do?

I, in the end, ask people to do two things. Just take a blank pad around with you, draw a line the middle of it, put “Loved it” at the top of one column, “Loathed it” at the top of the other. Take it around with you for a week, try to spot those three signs of love. Any time you find yourself doing any part of any those, scribble it down in the “Loved it” column. The inverse, you procrastinate, time slows down, blah, blah, blah, put it in the “Loathed it” column.

You’ll end that week with a really vivid sense from your own actual work of where the love comes from. So, start off with that if you can. And then for you, the challenge on the team will be to ensure that you can find the language to say to your team, “Turn to me for this. I love it when people rely on me for this. I love it when this…” not the braggadocio, “I’m the best at…” but, “I’m at my best when…”

This is, for me, one of those things I think, Pete, where we’re teaming, the verb teaming is one of those skills that we all have to cultivate in this new hybrid model of the way that we work. And part of teaming is being able to share, articulately, vividly, with detail what people can rely on you for, where you’re at your best, what you love the most because people can’t read your mind.

So, the more vivid you can be about that, the more likely it is that the team will start coalescing around the particular value that you bring. Until such point has happened with you, where somebody begins to define the entire role, maybe it’s not 100% red threads but those red threads become foundation for the very thing that people will want to pay you to do.

That whole journey I’ve just described, you don’t need anyone else for it. All you need to do is use the raw material of your regular week of your own life to be able to figure out how you scavenge your job into that which you love. And that’s eminently doable. For 73% of us, anyway, it’s eminently doable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Marcus, I’d love it if you could share with us a couple stories of folks who did just that. They were paying attention to what they’re paying attention to, they identified some red threads, combined it with the competence and contribution, communicated that with their teams, and said, “Hey, I’m at my best when I do this. I really love it when you ask me to do that,” so we could see how it all comes together for folks.

Marcus Buckingham
Well, here’s three, and they’re different roles. One person who comes to mind is a person who was in HR. Her first 10 years of career were in HR, and would go to conference with the company that she was with, and would see how the company’s branding was falling down, wasn’t clear enough, wasn’t coherent enough, and kept writing emails, not critical emails but emails that called attention to the branding of the company, and all these darn conferences simply wasn’t vivid enough, wasn’t clear enough.

Customers didn’t really know what that company stood for. Kept writing them. Kept drawing people’s attention to it to the point it was annoying. But that’s a red thread, she couldn’t stop paying attention to it. Couldn’t shut it off. And so, in the end, they had a marketing turn to this person, and said, “Well, what would you do with it if we ran with it? What would you do differently? Let’s turn that into a PowerPoint presentation and come present to me what you would do differently because I can’t shut you up.”

To cut a long story short, that presentation goes really well, that person turns 15-20% of HR into branding at conferences, learns all about how that actually gets executed and activated, signage, logos, colors, brand palettes, etc. So, now, as a head of marketing for a very large human capital management company, head of marketing. Didn’t start off that way. Started off in HR. But because of whatever reason, couldn’t shut off the brand cacophony at these conferences, turns into a very, very different job.

A totally different example, a different end of the spectrum, those housekeepers I was telling you about, well, one of them, her loves were busy, busy, busy check-in, check-out days when the cart has to be…this is more detailed that you might want, but the cart has to be perfect. Everything about the cart that moves up and down those different floors has to work absolutely perfectly because everybody is getting in and out of those rooms with such a volume of people checking in and volume of people checking out. Everything has got to work unbelievably perfectly.

And for whatever reason, her geekiness, what she geeked out on was the precision and the authenticity of the materials on the cart, making the whole darn thing work so perfectly, initially, just for her floor. And the manager sort of figured out that she was getting, particularly, on busy days, she was getting it done with super quality whereas everyone else was struggling. They were behind, they couldn’t find the stuff that they needed for the rooms.

Anyway, she just kept showing what that red thread was for her, and then volunteered to help others when she was finished, get their carts sorted. And in the end, the manager went, “You know what, we can have you clean a few rooms, but what we really need you to do is you’re the person that’s responsible for the accuracy and the efficiency and the smooth-running of everybody’s cart.” And that might not sound engaging for many people. For that particular person, it was like, “That’s exactly what I want to be paid to do.”

Again, she’s not doing 100% of red threads but just kept sort of unconsciously paying attention to some particular aspect of her job, kept volunteering it, not asking to be praised for it necessarily, just kept volunteering it. And, lo and behold, the job came to be morphed so that it actually was a manifestation of her loves. A million of other examples if you look around, but those are two that come to mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I love it, and I do, I want to hear one more if I can from your millions.

Marcus Buckingham
Well, the other one that I was just talking about the other day, my publisher is HBR, Harvard Business Review, and we put together like a leader series with them where they said, “We want to have learning around the everything in the book because there’s really no curriculum around how do you find out what you love and figure out a way to turn it into a contribution. There’s no language, there’s no ritual, there’s no discipline around that, certainly in the world of work.” So, they put together a whole kind of ongoing learning series.

The person that’s leading it is a person who initially came up through publishing. She’s a book publisher, and yet couldn’t help herself. As the world of publishing changed, and bookstores vanished, and everything became “How do you nurture a community, and, author after author after author, struggled with creating a community?” and publishers struggled to build relationships with readers because the intermediaries used to be the bookstores but now the bookstores are gone. So, more and more publishers and authors kept turning to each other going, “How the heck do we build community?”

Well, this person just kept finding herself going, “I love doing web series. I will host any web series…” This is what she’s saying to the authors, “I’ll host any web series you want, any content you want. I’ll be the face of the publisher. I’ll keep doing that for you.” Now, it wasn’t in her job title, it wasn’t anything to do with her job description actually, but she kept doing it, authors loved it because she’s now building through the author and through the publisher a relationship with a growing cadre of readers so much so that every book that she did it for was massively more successful than the others that didn’t have it.

So, of course, the editor-in-chief turns to her more and more and goes, “Could you do this one? Could you do this one? Could you do this one? Could you do this one?” At some point, she goes, “I would love to but, unfortunately, I’ve still got these other responsibilities hanging up over here. If you can get someone to help me with these, then I can continue to do this stuff that elevates our authors and builds community.”

Well, now, lo and behold, that’s her entire job because that’s so valuable. It happens to fit perfectly with the whole dynamics of the publishing business right now. If it hadn’t been fit perfectly, would it have worked out exactly the same way? I don’t know. Bottom line is she found some red thread, pulled and sort of saw where it led, and turned it into an entirely different job than the one that she had even three years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. Well, Marcus, let’s say that listeners are fired up, like, “Yes, I want to identify these red threads. I want to do more of these red threads. I want to communicate and find the contribution therein,” do you have any sort of top do’s and don’ts for folks who are embarking on this path?

Marcus Buckingham
Well, in terms of career, yeah, first of all, the best place to start is where you’re at right now. You didn’t start wrong. You didn’t start right. For you, Pete, like joining Bain, was that good or bad? Who knows? For me, I left university and went to Lincoln, Nebraska. Why? I don’t really know. There was a sign of a red thread there somewhere. I’d done an internship with Gallup and I kind of liked one bit of it, and I was like, “Why not?” Goodness knows why you did what you did.

But for anyone who’s listening, you’ve got so much ahead of you. Start by thinking of your career as a scavenger hunt for love. It’s not a ladder. It’s not a lattice. You’re not climbing anywhere. You’re just scavenging. You’re looking for red threads right now where you are. First of all, do that. Second, don’t put too much of your faith in the why or the who. Put most of your faith in the what.

Normally, we think of a career as like finding your calling, which really means finding your purpose. But the two least engaged, least resilient professions, of all that we studied, are healthcare providers, so doctors and nurses, and teachers, people who educate in schools, in case you didn’t know what a teacher was. But they couldn’t be two professions where the purpose of their work was more vivid and more honorable, helping the sick and helping the youth, and yet they’re the most disengaged.

What that tells us clearly is that although you may believe in lots of different whys and purposes in your career, in the end, what nourishes you, what doesn’t, doesn’t happen at the 30,000-foot level. It happens at the two-foot level, the three-foot level. What activities are you filling your week with? What activities are you doing today at 9:00 o’clock or at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon? What are you actually doing? Because in the end, that what you’re actually doing, the specifics of these red threads trump your purpose.

If you believe in your purpose, and for whatever reason, the day-to-day reality of what you’re doing is loveless, then you will be psychologically damaged as damaged as nurses and doctors are today independent of the pandemic. So, watch out that you don’t try to use the who to compensate for you being in the wrong job, or the why rather. If you believe in the why but you’re in the wrong role on the team, it doesn’t matter how much you believe in the why, or like the people you work with. In the end, it’s the activities themselves that will nourish you or not.

I guess I’ll just give one more. As I mentioned, the idea that what’s really valuable in work right now is specificity. So, one of the things to think about is think about your career as an hourglass where it’s wide at the bottom. You’re scavenging, you’re seeing what all of those different threads are out there and you’re pulling on these different threads and seeing where they lead, and you’re honoring where your loves are and you’re taking them seriously.

But the middle of the hourglass is, at some point, you need mastery. Today, we seem to value follower fame or dilettantism, anyone is an expert today. But, actually, deep down, we do know, as Hippocrates said, “Life is short. The art is long,” or the craft is long, so at some point, you’re going to want to take those red threads of yours and honor them with your undivided attention.

And as an Erikson professor, and as Erickson said ten years, Malcolm Gladwell popularized that as 10,000 hours, but the takeaway from that isn’t that you invest 10,000 hours, you can be great at anything. That was a misunderstanding of the research and the data. All the data really shows is if you’ve got a love, if you’ve got a couple of red threads, at some point in your career, you’re going to want to give at least 10,000 hours to the mastery of that.

And out of that, the top part of the hourglass is out of that comes leadership. We follow people who turn our anxiety into confidence. That’s the job of a leader. And the best way to turn anxiety into confidence is to have deep mastery in something that we can all see and is important to us. Get deep into something. It doesn’t become narrowing. You don’t get narrowed. Your depth becomes the integrating point for your learning but it also becomes your justification for being able to lead others.

They now know who you are. They know that you’ve asked 17 questions, opened 17 more doors, can see around the corner more vividly. Your depth, that middle of the hourglass where you get narrow and focused becomes the authority that you need to lead others. So, those would be some of my do’s and don’ts.

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

Marcus Buckingham
A favorite quote of mine or a favorite quote of somebody else’s?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was going to ask for a favorite quote that you’ve coined later, but I’ll take them both, right back-to-back if you’ve got them handy.

Marcus Buckingham
Mine that I hope people leave with is the power of human nature is that each human nature is unique. That’s its power. That’s not a bug to be fixed. That’s not a problem. Human uniqueness is the source of its power. Most forces of nature, their power comes from their uniformity – electricity, water, wind. The power of human nature is not that. The power of human nature is its uniqueness. And we need to build schools and teams and workplaces where we maximize that power. So, that’s a big one for me.

I think the quote that I always have in my head as I wander around, actually comes from Peter Drucker, and he was the eminent management theorist of the last century. But his quote was, “The best companies get their strengths together and make their weaknesses irrelevant.” A lot of my work has simply taken that on and applied it to the level of the individual. That’s what I learned from my mentor at Gallup, Don Clifton. But it began, really, with Peter Drucker going, “Everything is about differentiation – intelligent intentional differentiation.”

He looked at it at the level of the company, “Don’t try to be all things to all people no one believes in.” And, of course, what I’ve done is taken it through Don Clifton and all my strengths work there, and now here with what I’m doing at the ADP Research Institute, try to take it to the level of the individual and then back on up into the institutions, like school, college, work.

Pete Mockaitis
And this one will be hard for you, but could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Marcus Buckingham
Oh, gosh. Well, actually, it’s one that we’re just doing right now. My co-head at the research institute is an economist called Nela Richardson. She’s a black woman of a certain age, and she came to me the other day, and said, “Are we doing any better at D, E & I?” diversity, equity, and inclusion, “Are we doing better?”

And I said to her, “Well, we can tell you about the D and the E. I can tell you about diversity. We could actually count that. We can just count representation. I can tell you about the E. I can count equitable pay or promotion.” But I said, “I actually can’t tell you about the I. From the 1960 forward, you can write, like today, I actually can’t tell you if more people feel more included.” This was about a year and a half ago.

And shame on me, shame on us, that we’ve got no thermometer for measuring, reliably measuring people’s feeling of inclusion. Nothing. And so, for the last year and a half, we’ve been in the field trying to build a reliable thermometer to measure inclusiveness. And we’ve just come out of the field, it’s about 27,000 people, a thousand people in each country, stratified random sample of the workers in each country, trying to get at what is the right way, the most reliable way to measure inclusiveness so that we can see whether or not anything that we’re doing – programs, training, education – is it actually making people’s lives any better, at least according to them.

So, I’m not going to bore you with diving into exactly what we’re finding and where we’re finding it, but that research right now feels to me incredibly necessary because, let’s face it, what gets measured gets managed. If you can’t measure the I, you might move the D and the E, but if people aren’t feeling better about it, what a miss that is.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Marcus Buckingham
I think my favorite book is The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin, which I got when I was 16. It’s about 700 pages long, and it’s just a book about men and women as discoverers, people who ask why, and why this and why that. And it confirmed for me, because I was reading Lord of the Rings, I was trying to read Lord of the Rings at the same time, and I was bored to tears, I was bored of the rings. But I couldn’t care about Gollum, I couldn’t care about Frodo, I just couldn’t get excited about it.

But why does Marie Curie ask the questions that she does in her laboratory? Why does Isaac Newton put a thin shard of glass in the window of his Cambridge students digs, and then see a rainbow of light on the wall? That’s what that book was all about. And I loved it, and I read it like it was like Lord of the Rings. But it wasn’t Lord of the Rings, it was a book about people asking why.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Marcus Buckingham
I love walking really fast. I live in a place with lots of hills, and I love that pounding-heart energy. I don’t really like working out inside. I’m lucky enough to live in the country so I’ve got hills all over the place and trees everywhere, and pounding up a hill and down a hill, and stepping over rocks. And I saw a bobcat the other day. Like a bobcat. I’m British. There are no bobcats in Britain, and I saw a bobcat. Sorry to be so excited about bobcats, but that was amazing. So, I love pounding up hills and down dales and doing that every day, getting my heart racing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Marcus, I was doing the math when you talked about nine years old and 50, I’m like you’re a very handsome youthful-looking man.

Marcus Buckingham
Well, I appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
What is the secret? Is it the exercise? Is there a moisturizer I need to start using? How do you do it?

Marcus Buckingham
Well, I’m 57, I’m not 59 but it’s genes, man. My dad’s dead but my mom is 83 and looks like she’s 70. I don’t know what it is. She’s got youthful genes, and somehow, she passed something onto me where I don’t really have a regimen, a health regimen other than walking a lot, which, as I said, I love. But other than that, I think I got it, like most things, you get it from your mom.

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

Marcus Buckingham
I think two places. One is on the social media front, Instagram is my favorite for whatever reason, so Instagram. And then, together with Harvard, we built this learning series. So, if you want to see the learning around the book, for anything we talked about today, is really something you want to dive deeper into, go to LoveAndWork.org and you’ll see there’s like six hours of content all around the ideas and the practices of some of which we touched on in the podcast and then a whole lot more.

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

Marcus Buckingham
Take your love seriously because if you don’t, no one else will, and that’s the place to begin. The more filigreed and detailed and vivid you can be and understanding that which you love, the more likely you are to respect and be curious about loves of others. If you don’t start with yourself and really dive deep into the detail of you love it, when, what. Write three love notes. That’s what I would do. Write three love notes, which is simply a sentence that begins, “I love it when…” and then finish the darn sentence.

And you’ve got to have a verb in it, not, “I love it when people praise me.” No, “I love it when I do…” what, when, how, to who. Love lives in detail and most of us have forgotten the detail of that which we love, which is why the most common answer to the question, “What are your strengths?” in a job interview is, “I love working with people.” And it’s like, “Come on. What are you doing with the people? Which people?”

So, that’s the challenge I would give everyone of us. Can you honor yourself by describing vividly just three red threads? Write three love notes. Because if you don’t take yourself seriously in that way, don’t expect anyone else to. They can’t read your mind and they certainly can’t read your heart.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Marcus, this has been a treat. I wish you much love and great work in your years to come.

Marcus Buckingham
Thank you, sir. Appreciate you having me.

752: How to Reframe Rejection, Beat Burnout, and Get Unstuck with Lia Garvin

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Lia Garvin talks about the mental shifts that are crucial to moving forward at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Key phrases to avoid at work  
  2. The questions to ask when you’re stuck
  3. How to overcome impostor syndrome 

About Lia

Lia Garvin is an operations leader, speaker and executive coach on a mission to humanize the workplace, one conversation at a time. She has nearly 10 years of experience working in some of the largest and most influential companies in tech including Microsoft, Apple and Google to explore the power of reframing to overcome common challenges found in the modern workplace. She is a TEDx speaker, presenting a talk at the 2022 TEDx Conference in Boca Raton, and will be featured at the SXSW Conference in Austin in 2022.

Through her writing, leadership coaching and program management skills, she helps teams examine the challenges that hold them back and focus on what matters. She was recognized by the National Diversity Council as a 2021 DEI Champion. She is also a Co-Active- and ICF-certified professional coach with a certification in Hatha yoga. She lives in Corte Madera, California.

Resources Mentioned

 

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Lia Garvin Interview Transcript

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

Lia Garvin
Thank you so much. Excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to discuss getting unstuck. But, first, I think we need to get to the bottom of is it true that you are descended from one of the 300 Spartan warriors?

Lia Garvin
Well, that’s what they tell me. So, my mom’s family is Greek, from Sparta. We’ve been there. We’ve seen it. And when the movie 300 came out, my mom was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s us.” And I said, “Okay, I don’t have any historical documents to prove it.” But, one day, I was heart-set on figuring out that 300 ab-training workout that all of us did to prepare, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There were impressive physiques in that.

Lia Garvin
Yeah, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sure a number of personal trainers had a lot of work associated with making that movie.

Lia Garvin
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so tell us, you’re an expert on getting unstuck, and you wrote the book called Unstuck. Can you start us off by sharing a particularly maybe surprising or counterintuitive discovery you’ve made about why it is so many of us find ourselves stuck?

Lia Garvin
Yeah. So, I think one of the main reasons I’ve found myself getting stuck and other people getting stuck is because we keep approaching a situation through maybe we try things a little different but we’re still tackling it from the same perspective or the same way. Or, we adjust something small but if we took a step back, we realize we’re actually still doing the same things.

And so, reframing, which is the central theme of my book Unstuck is about looking at a challenge or situation through a whole new perspective, something that we haven’t tried before, and then seeing all that’s available there. And when we look at something through a new perspective, needless to say, new things become possible.

And I would say one area that I think so many of us get stuck around is feedback – feedback at work. Thinking feedback is a criticism, feedback is someone coming to me to tell me all the things they don’t like about me, or someone picking on me or pulling things apart. I think when we get positive feedback, people can also have a little bit of trouble with that even, like, “Okay, they’re happy with this now but what about next time?”

And so, I think, especially things around feedback, all of these beliefs that we have get us really stuck in this narrow way of thinking. And, really, a surprising discovery I had around something like feedback was it’s actually an insight into what the other person, what the feedback-giver believes, and what they want and what they’re comfortable with. It’s really not about us.

And, recently, I had a situation where I was changing roles and I had said I was moving on, and the manager I was working with, we had a good relationship. He was disappointed but supportive of that, and then he said, “Hey, before you go, let’s have a feedback conversation,” and my stomach dropped, and I was like, “Why do I have to have a feedback conversation with someone I’m not even going to work with anymore?” And I went really negative with my thought process, like, “Oh, my God, is he going to tell me all the things he didn’t like about me or all the things I did wrong?” And I went immediately into the dread zone.

And, first, I tried to reschedule it and not have the meeting at all but he ended up rescheduling it, so that was out of the question. And then when it was leading up to the conversation, I was thinking about, “Okay, it’s going to be a two-way street. What should I share? I want to bring in empathy and be specific, all the things I know about feedback,” but still I was really, really dreading it.

And then we had the conversation and he ended up sharing a piece of feedback that just really made me laugh and proved that it was all about my perspective. And that was he had said, “Sometimes when you deliver a piece of work, it looks really done and really polished. I’m not sure how to give feedback. Like, is it in progress or is it super final?”

And I laughed to myself because, well, I had done work that way because of other feedback I got from other managers that said, “Hey, I want something final. It’s got to be polished. I just want to sign off.” And I realized, like bringing…kind of being trashed by different pieces of feedback, and that it wasn’t about me. It was just about how this particular person likes to work or how they like to engage with work.

And when this example hit, I realized it is so not about who we are as a person, what we bring. It’s about getting on the same page with someone else around shared expectations. And that has made me a lot more comfortable with having a feedback conversation because, first, I can level-set and say, “Hey, what are we talking about here? What does success look like?” And then we can sort of word-off future feedback by getting really aligned upfront.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s a really cool example in terms of your book, the subtitle there is Unstuck: Reframe your thinking to free yourself from the patterns and people that hold you back. And feedback is a really great area where we can have patterns and associations. And if you avoid it all the time, that’s sure going to hold you back, like, “Oh, I feel so uncomfortable. They’re going to judge me. They’ll tell me all the things I’ve screwed up. I’m not into it.”

Versus if you have a different…reframe that perspective, you’d be like, “Okay, feedback is not so threatening, and, thusly, I’m able to go get more of it, and, thusly, I’m able to align on expectations, and, thusly, people think I’m amazing, and then promotions and good things can flow from that.” So, that’s cool.

Well, so then I’m curious, so that’s a cool example. Was that what you would call the big idea behind your book Unstuck that there are some key things to reframe that will unlock a lot of goodies? Or, how would you articulate the main idea or thesis here?

Lia Garvin
Yeah, I’d say the main idea is when we find ourselves stuck, to reframe the way that we’re looking at that situation. And by reframing our perspective, we unlock a new set of possibilities. And I take that reframing thesis and apply it to 12 different challenges that show up most commonly in the workplace. So, we talked about feedback. Another one is articulating your impact, like talking about your work in a way other people understand that doesn’t diminish the importance of it, that really demonstrates the work you put in.

I talk about negotiation, another really tough subject for a lot of us out there, decision-making, comparison, and 12 challenges that I think most of us get stuck with in the workplace, things that can be particularly fraught for women in the workplace because of all of the expectations and biases and societal norms and these sort of narratives that we often hear throughout our upbringing that we start to attach to or believe with feedback, sort of having to be perfect or that everybody has to like you, or some of these things that many of us might believe from our upbringing can make it even harder to hear feedback.

With an example like talking about your work, some people have trouble talking about themselves at all, and then talking about our work and why it’s awesome and why it’s important and why it should be noticed, that can be really, really difficult for people. So, the reframing, it’s couched in the acknowledgement of these biases and double standards, and how our inner critic really attaches to these, and make these challenges even harder.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love it. It’s so powerful that in each of things, like I can see how you can have a mindset, a frame of perspective, that is troublesome like for articulating impact. Your frame of perspective might be, “Oh, I don’t want to brag. I don’t want to be seen, like, ‘Oh, he or she thinks that they’re just all that, like they’re so special.’ I don’t want to be conceited. I don’t want to be that guy or girl, who just makes it all about them, and it’s just really, really unattractive.”

So, that can be a frame of perspective you have. And if you have it, you’re not going to be articulating your impact and then, unfortunately, some key decision-makers who can have some keys to your fate with regard to promotion or opportunities just won’t know that you’ve got the goods and may very well be ready for a cool new thing if they never heard that impact that was never articulated.

So, I love this, how we’ve zeroed in on a tool that has a whole range of impacts – reframing. So, help us out here. Maybe let’s talk specifically about articulating impact, and then maybe zoom out a little bit in terms of, okay, when we need to get our reframe on, how do we go about doing that?

Lia Garvin
Yes. So, articulating your impact, this is a funny one because this is something I struggled with a lot in coaching and in working with folks internally, especially in larger companies where you have to do things like performance reviews. I saw this just being a huge struggle that folks dealt with, really no level of seniority they even were in an organization.

And when I think about articulating your impact, I look at it in a few ways. First, it’s about really shaping the narrative around your work. And this means not talking about our work in like, “I do these set of things,” like a bulleted list of random tasks or ideas. But figuring out what is the arc across your work, what is the why behind it. And then, most important, how to connect that why to what your organization cares about because that’s where…

Like, you talked about getting in front of decision-makers, people that hold the keys to things you want to unlock in your career. If we don’t connect the dots there, we’re leaving it someone else to figure out the why it matters. And we are always best equipped to talk about why our work matters. And, yes, it’s helpful to have other people championing us and sponsoring us and bringing visibility to our work, too, but we have to have that story figured out.

So, my first step there is to really understand what you do, why it’s important for your organization, the goals that your organization has, and connecting the dots there, and then to be talking about it, not shouting over the rooftops everywhere all the time but making sure that that’s known by decision-makers, by people that are responsible for making decisions related to your career and what kinds of projects you work on, things like that, so that they know and can propose you for projects or opportunities.

The other piece around impact is really getting more precise with some of the language that we use when talking about our work. And one phrase I ask people to strike from their lexicon completely is helping out. Like, no one’s helping out. We’re at work. This is our job. It’s our careers. And I think we can get in the habits and trying to sound collaborative, like a team player, using words like helped out, pitched in, worked on. And, like, worked on, what does that mean? Are you owning this whole project? Did someone like send you an email that you read about it? What does that mean?

And so, getting really specific and owning the verbs. I coach folks around performance reviews. Authored, led, drove, facilitated, brought to light, there’s a lot of really powerful verbs we can use that weren’t helping out, was in a volunteer project. And so, that’s where I always start. And then, also, removing we. I think this is the trap a lot of “us,” a lot of people can fall into is saying we, when really, “I did it.” And, again, there’s a way to talk about being a part of a group and a collaborator without making it really unclear what your individual impact was.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there’s so much good stuff there. When you talk about owning the verbs, I’m thinking about this Onion article about verbs on resumes, and they were just absurd, like, decimated, whatever. Hey, talk about Spartans, huh?

Lia Garvin
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s very specific in terms of, okay, when it comes to articulating impact, it’s not about, “Hey, you’re bragging, you’re selfish,” but, rather, we’re informing people and we’re just getting clear in terms of we didn’t just help out or worked on something. What that even means is pretty fuzzy. So, as we get specific, folks understand really what you did and, thusly, what maybe skills, experiences, and opportunities may just make a lot of good sense for you.

And so, I’m curious, you’ve shared right then and there, “Hey, here’s a great perspective to have,” as opposed to the, “Oh, no, I don’t want to talk about myself.” How do you recommend that we, generally speaking, if we find ourselves stuck somewhere, how do we know that we’re stuck? And then how do we go about getting to a better frame?

Lia Garvin
Yeah. Well, I think one way to recognize we’re stuck is when we keep running into the same outcomes that’s not what we wanted. And one example is with, let’s say, we keep asking our manager for new projects or a promotion, and we keep hearing, “It’s not time yet. You’re not ready yet.” Or, another is, “I applied for many years to work in tech, and I kept sending the same kind of resume, and I didn’t get there.”

And, for me, personally, it took a lot of stopping and examining my approach. So, I think, first off, it’s about recognizing, after one or two or maybe three times of hitting this wall, and pausing, and asking ourselves, “What is the approach I’ve been using?” and then the question, “What else can I try?” And the real reframing question is really, “How else can I look at this approach?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about reframing rejection, and an example, applying to work in jobs in tech for a number of years; sending out the manuscript for my book to many agents and publishers and not getting a yes; applying to do a TEDx Talk for several years, not getting yes. These are three things that I had done over and over and over and kept getting nos. And it was in these moments, instead of saying, “Screw it. I give up. No one wants me. No one likes me. My work sucks. I don’t care. I give up,” saying, “Huh, I’m getting a signal, and now I have to shift how I’m approaching this.”

And the shift in the approach is the reframe. And with a job, maybe you look at, “Okay, I’m going to try a different way of writing an email when I reach out to a recruiter, or changing out my resume, or share it with a friend to look at, like, ‘Hey, is something we missed here?’” With my TEDx Talk, I found a coach and I worked with someone that was able to really help me unlock how to tell my story in a better way. And with my book, continuing to reframe, “Is it my proposal? Is it how I’m pitching it? Is it this?” because the reframe is really about shifting and not just doing the same thing over and over.

And I think the definition of stuck is when we aren’t able to do a new thing, is when we’re not seeing that we have to shift that perspective. And it does take being a little bit intuitive, trying to be more self-aware. And so, like kind of a quick tip I would say is checking in with ourselves when we’re feeling really down or we’re feeling frustrated, and saying, “Hey, what’s going on here? Am I falling into the same patterns? Have I got a second? No. Did I really shift my approach or did I kind of just sent out the same cover letter because I didn’t feel like writing a new email?”

And being really honest with ourselves on, “How far have I shifted the approach to really get in the zone of newness where I can say, ‘Yeah, I really did give this a new…I really did try this through a new lens.’”

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess it’s also I really like your perspective about working with a coach there in that sometimes we might not know what results are good versus not yet. For example, let’s say, I don’t know, if someone is like new to sales, and like, “I don’t know, man. I’ve called like 50 people. I’ve only made six sales.” And it’s like, “That’s fantastic. You’re doing…”

Lia Garvin
Yeah, that’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re like, “It’s like almost 90% of the time, they’re just like bail on me.” And so, I think it’s so good to get some perspective, whether it’s like there’s some published benchmarks or figures or you just talk to someone who’s gotten the result that you want, or someone who’s got a whole business around coaching or providing expertise on a matter, can really be handy.

And then I’m curious, when it comes to the approach and the shift, I guess I’m thinking about almost like the reframing in terms of our internal beliefs and emotions about a thing. Like, even if someone tells us, like, “Oh, this is how it’s done.” You’re like, “Oh, I don’t know if I like that. Well, that still feels uncomfortable to go get that feedback.”

I remember, for example, I was reading a book, I think, it was about nonprofit fundraising. It might’ve just been called Asking, it might’ve been by Jerry Panas. It might not have been. But he had a reframe in terms of it’s not that you’re hounding people for their money because that’s no fun for anybody. What you’re doing is, in fact, it feels great to give to a cause that you believe in, that you support, and then you see some cool results or social good unfolding from, “Ooh, I had a little part in that.” That feels great as a donor.

And so, as an asker, what you’re doing is you are inviting people to a party, and they’re like, “You know what, that’s not my style of party. I don’t really like horror movies. I don’t like costumes,” whatever. You’re inviting them to a party, and those to whom it’s a good fit will accept the invitation and be so glad that you did. And so, that really worked for me and I got a lot more comfortable asking people for money after that.

And so, I’m intrigued about sort of like the mental-emotional game and how we work on that before, if we need to, before we’re comfortable shifting tactics.

Lia Garvin
Yes, so I love that. And I think that example is the…it’s about that perspective mindset shift. And so, recognizing what’s actually kind of at the base of what you’re trying to do, and a lot of that can connect to, you said, “What is the why behind what you’re doing?” This is about connecting people to something they enjoy. For example, feedback is about getting insight into how you’re being perceived. Talking about your work is about bringing visibility to like the output that you have.

Negotiating is about ensuring that you are getting sort of the right, fair, equitable outcome, maybe it’s financially, maybe it’s not, like for whatever you want it. It’s typically can be mutual beneficial, and I think it’s depersonalizing from all these things because when we attach, like, “I don’t like to ask for money,” you’ve sort of made it about you when the whole thing has nothing to do with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. It’s for the children or whoever the beneficiaries are for the organization.

Lia Garvin
Right. And so, I think it’s the first step in that mindset shift is to detach, and I have a chapter about reframing the ego because a lot of this is an overidentification of, like, “I’m at the center of whatever it is going on.” And when we can get some space there, we see, well, first of all, everybody’s at the center of their own universe, and so we’re not alone there. But it actually is somewhat of an ego issue of seeing ourselves. And having ego, sort of overinflated ego, if you will, it doesn’t mean that we think we’re the greatest person on Earth, but we’re looking at things from a me-centered approach is what that means, and from a me-centered lens, I mean.

And so, to recognize, “Hey, I’m making this about me and what I want and what I think and what I worry.” And so, I’ve been saying, “What is this really about?” that’s how we start to shift that perspective. And I would say that’s the first place to start is when another signal beyond feeling stuck and kind of generally crappy, it’s like, “Ooh, all this is leading to me and I need to get a little distance,” and then we can start to see what else is there.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot with the me-centered lens because I think with negotiations, it’s like, “Oh, no, I don’t want them to think that I’m greedy, I’m not satisfied, I’m entitled, they think I’m just all that.” But, again, that’s all me-centered, like, “I’m worried about the judgments they’re making on me.” But if I shift that perspective on negotiation, it’s sort of like, “Well, no, if I bounce six months from now because someone else pays me a lot more and kind of has more cool things that I’m looking for and opportunity, they’re going to be bummed.”

And like, “Oh, man, we’ve invested all that stuff into Pete and now he’s gone, and I got to go through this whole hiring process all over again.” So, if I shifted from me to them, it’s suddenly like, “Well, no, it’s in their interests to give them a package, for them to provide a package that makes me go, ‘Sweet! This is a good deal. I like working here.’” Well, so far, hopefully, you know the people all around.

Lia Garvin
Exactly. You’re ensuring you have a mutually beneficial agreement that everybody is satisfied with. Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, not to bounce around too much, but you mentioned a few key reframes, and I love decision-making so much. So, Lia, we got to hear what you have to say about that.

Lia Garvin
Well, decision-making is one I struggled so much with that that’s actually what my TEDx Talk was about. That’s going to be coming out in a few weeks. And I have a couple of reframes. One with decision-making is about reframing the finality of decision-making. We can’t predict the future, so when we think about decisions as, “Oh, my God, if I decide this, then, then, then, then, then,” and we cascade down this sort of spiral of what’s going to happen. We’ve, essentially, decided we can predict the future, and we know exactly what’s going to happen. And so, I think reframing and realizing, decision-making is about finding the right decision for right now. We can start to feel a little space and freedom from having to have every decision be perfect.

Now, the second reframe on decision-making, in the same similar vein, is to look at where our confirmation bias is landing. Now, we typically have confirmation bias around the decisions that we make, and for a lot of us it’s negative. And if we’re agonizing over a decision, and we have a lot of doubt about it, we can think, like, “Should I buy this thing? Should I take this trip? Should I order this dinner?” whatever. We can start to fixate on, I think, depending on how uncertain we are, if it goes wrong and we don’t like it, it’s all, “I knew it, I shouldn’t have done that,” and we’re looking for all the reasons why we knew we were going to be wrong, and we’re wrong, and it sucks, and it’s bad.

And my challenge to people is to test out, try on a positive confirmation bias. And, instead of saying, “Oh, I shouldn’t have ordered that burger. I should’ve gotten the salad because now I have a stomach ache,” or whatever, we say, “That was awesome. I got to try something new.” Instead of saying, “Oh, I shouldn’t have bought that,” “Hey, I really wanted this thing, and I was really happy to be able to get this for myself.”

And then when we change that mindset from looking for all the reasons it was bad and we were wrong and we’re bad decision-makers, looking for some of the signals why it was good or positive or we made the right call. Because, again, we have just as likely the ability to predict if it’s going to go poorly with a decision that it’s going to go well, yet we attach the negative. And then when we think it was going to be bad, we’re going to want to believe that because our brain likes to be right. And so, I challenge people to try to be right in a way that doesn’t make them feel terrible, especially with the pretty trivial day-to-day decisions.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. So, feel right, feel good. And then I’m thinking we’ve had Annie Duke on the show, the professional poker player who writes about decision-making and such, and some other decision folks, and they’ve talked about keeping a decision journal, and like, “What was I trying to think through and how did it go?” And so, that’s sort of a different goal, which was improving the skill of decision-making, which, in a way, takes a lot of the sting out right then and there. It’s like, “Well, yeah, I expect I’m going to miss some, so that’s fine, and here’s what happened.”

But if it’s inconsequential, yeah. Go ahead and feel good about it. No need to analyze, and, “What should I have asked the waiter so as to not have gotten this tummy ache?” That’s probably not worth your mental energy and angst. I also love that take about for right now. And sometimes I find when it comes to like starting and stopping subscription services, I don’t know why I get really frozen sometimes, in terms of like, “Oh, I don’t know. I might use it any day now, so I don’t really want to cancel it.” And I’m like, “Well, Pete, you haven’t used it for the last two months, so you’re just kind of burning money. That’s silly.” It’s like, “Oh, yeah, but I think once this process gets set up then it will just be perfect.”

And so, the notion of for right now has saved the day a number of times. It’s like, “Well, hey, this month, I want to use the thing, so let’s pay for it. And if I don’t think I’m going to need it next month, I’ll cancel it. And if it turns out I was mistaken, I can un-cancel it.” It’s fine. It’s not like, I don’t know. I’m thinking about like flip-floppers. Like, in politics, we shame the flip-flopping candidate or job hoppers, on HR it’s like, “Ooh, hmm, I don’t know about this trend. It seems like you’re just hopping around and not committed.” Like, there’s no tribunal judging us about our subscription membership or what we get on a menu or any of this stuff, it’s like, “For right now, does this maybe work for you or not?”

Lia Garvin
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, let’s talk a little bit about some emotional stuff when it comes to the inner critic and impostor syndrome. How do we wrestle with that? And what can we do to feel more confident?

Lia Garvin
Yeah. So, inner critic, I think that’s another one where we need to build some tools around how to recognize when it’s the inner critic talking versus our regular rational, risk-deciding or navigating mind. And I think one signal that the inner critic is talking is when we’re talking absolutes, when we’re saying, “I always,” “I never,” “They always,” “They never,” and that’s really a quick signal to see if, “Are we in this sort of negative space or the inner critic?”

I think when we’re noticing that we keep running into the same sort of outcomes with the conversation we’re having with people, with the approach we’re trying, again, I think it’s when we’re stuck in this judgment zone. And one tool that I learned that I think is another really simple shift is reframing the questions we’re asking ourselves from why to what. When we’re stuck in this self-judgment shame spiral, a lot of times we’re asking, “Why did they do this to me? Why did this happen? Why me?” And these are all just iterations of, “Yeah, why me?” in different flavors.

And when we’re in “Why me?” zone we are not going to get out. We’re not going to be able to see what’s possible. We’re not going to be able to see other perspectives because we talk about reasons for why everything is bad. Now, if we shift the why question to what, “What happened? What might be going on with the other person?” ideally, that we say, because we can bring some empathy into the mix, then we start to see, “Okay, there’s something outside of me that can get me out of this spiral with the inner critic.”

For example, if a coworker sent us a sort of, what we feel, is a passive-aggressive email, we say, “Why did they send that to me? Why are they always doing this to me? Why are they always picking on me?” We’re just going deeper in the reasons why we hate this person. But if we say, “Gosh, what might be going on with this other person?” we might realize, “Okay, well, they’re under a lot of pressure from their boss. They’re under a big deadline.”

Or, “Gosh, their kids are at home for like COVID school closures, and they’re really stressed, and they’re just trying to fire off a quick email between meetings so they can get back to whatever they got to deal with.” We start to both have empathy, we start to, again, make it less about ourselves, we talked about ego, and just be able to see that there’s more besides the conclusion that it’s “Because everybody hates me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, it’s funny, I don’t know, this is almost passive-aggressive the way I’ve done this at times but I remember I got an email that made me angry, and I really tried. I was like, “Okay, try some compassion, think about the other person.” I was like, “You know what, it must be really hard for that person living their life as a stone-cold jerk, all the relationships and friendships they’ve missed out on.”

And so, in a way, I don’t know, it’s a little…I don’t even know about myself how authentic I’m being, like, “Am I still just trying to judge them, and be mean, stick it to them?”

Lia Garvin
Well, you made it not about you. So, you made it not about you.

Pete Mockaitis
I didn’t make it about me but, it is true. Like, at times, that does work in terms of mustering some genuine compassion and empathy for, “Yeah, maybe they’re just busy when they dashed off that email that was kind of rude. Or, maybe this is just sort of a blind spot in terms of their skillset in general. Or, maybe they’re under a particular acute stress.” But in any of those circumstances, you could find some compassion for, “Oh, that’s tricky.” And sometimes it might start a little bit barbed, like, “Oh, it must be so hard to suffer from narcissistic personality disorder to then being someone a bit more genuinely authentically passionate for that situation.” That’s good.

Lia Garvin
Yeah. And the last thing you asked about impostor syndrome, and I think the related piece there is impostor syndrome is, “Everybody’s watching me, waiting for me to mess up,” feeling, it’s back to this that everybody’s watching us. It’s back to that sort of over sort of like heightened sense of ego that everybody is watching and waiting and looking at everything that we’re doing.

And so, again, this getting a little bit of space from our ego is a really powerful tool for overcoming impostor syndrome because we can realize that it’s really likely not everybody’s watching, waiting for us to mess up because, again, everybody is focused on their own stuff. And if people are nitpicking mistakes or kind of being hypervigilant on our work, that’s a separate thing that we can tackle but it’s not about…but it’s different than impostor syndrome, because impostor syndrome or experience is really like believing that without a ton of evidence.

And so, again, I think this distancing ourselves from the “I” and the “me” and the ego is one of the most powerful tools I’ve found for overcoming impostor syndrome, and saying, “Hey, I’m not in the center of the universe, and that is amazing and liberating, and I like it.”

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. My mom said one of her favorite quotes, I don’t remember who said it, was, “We wouldn’t worry how much other people…we wouldn’t worry what other people thought about us so much if we realized how seldom they did.”

Lia Garvin
Yes, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Zing. You’re right, they’re not thinking about you that much. That’s good. Well, Lia, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Lia Garvin
Yeah, to check out Unstuck. It comes out April 5th, available for preorder now. And I would love to hear people’s reframing stories, too. I know I’ll have a plug at the end but I think there’s a lot there that, once we start to explore, how to shift that perspective, that folks find possible. So, please do get in touch, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, a reframing story that came to my mind, it’s so funny, I remember back when I was dating and all the perils emotionally that come with that and being dumped and such, I remember my reframe was, like if I was blown off or whatever, I wouldn’t say, “Oh, she doesn’t like me. There’s something wrong with me.”

I would say, “Well, this candidate has been disqualified because she has not met the key criterion of crazy about Pete Mockaitis. So, it’s unfortunate we’re going to have to pass on her because she doesn’t check the boxes.” So, I don’t know, it helped me feel less but, again, that is me-focused, I guess. Maybe there’s an even better reframe, Lia.

Lia Garvin
I think if you took a similar parallel to not getting picked for a job, like maybe it’s something you’re really excited about, you feel like you did a great job in the interviews, and then in the last stage you didn’t get it, you didn’t get picked. Instead of believing, “Oh, God, I must’ve misread the interviews. I must not have been qualified. I’ll never find a job,” and going through these sort of doomsday scenarios, and saying, “I’m really proud that I got that far. Like, I got to practice. I got to really practice and see, ‘Hey, like I’m really good at these conversations. I can get to the final stage.’”

And I think, again, not thinking in terms of absolutes is just another way to reframe the situation. It’s like, “I had a fun experience on that date. This person is not going to be forever but I was still able to get out there and see what’s out there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Lia Garvin
Yes. A favorite quote I’d say, in the spirit of reframing, is, “When you change the way you look at things, the things we look at change,” by Wayne Dyer. When I saw that, I was like, “Oh, my God, it’s the definition of reframing,” but that’s what this is all about, is seeing how much is possible when we look at something through a new lens. Because when we look at things the same way, we obviously keep…typically we get the same results. We’ve all heard that quote. And so, shifting the way we look at things, it starts to give us a completely new way of…everything around us starts to change, unfold, be different, be new.

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

Lia Garvin
My favorite is good old Amy Edmondson’s psychological safety. I do a ton of work inside companies around helping build effective teams, and psychological safety is at the base of that. And I think it’s so exciting to see that more and more understood and celebrated. I think it’s going to be the foundation to really getting people, potentially that have left the workforce as a part of the Great Resignation, to be back, to be reenergized.

And I think establishing psychological safety and really fostering that is going to help us move into whatever the next phases of work. Is it hybrid? Is it more distributed? Whatever it looks like. And so, that, I think, is some of the most important work around workplace dynamics that we can learn from.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Lia Garvin
Favorite book is The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, or Dan Coyle. And this book dives into kind of in the spirit of psychological safety. It examines teams of all different disciplines from MBA to military, to restaurants, and what are the building blocks for why those teams were effective, and the kind of cultural pieces. And I think it has a ton of great strategies that any team can apply to helping create a greater sense of belonging. And it’s just super practical, has great stories, really inspiring, and also informed a lot of the work that I do with teams to be more effective and inclusive.

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

Lia Garvin
It’s got to be spreadsheets. And this is such a boring example, I know, but it can be Excel, it can be Google Sheets, it can be anything. If it has cells and I can type things in, I love it. I manage everything I do in spreadsheets. I find them very easy to use.

Actually, in one of my first jobs, I was working for an executive, someone like a chief of staff, and he said, and I was trying to get something done, I was sending an email out with, like, “Hey, here’s what’s outstanding.” And he said, “If you’re sending anything to a group of people, and something has to get done, put it in a table and it will get done instantly.”

And I took this paragraph and the request that I had, and I put all of it into a table using a spreadsheet, and we said, “Here’s the ask, here’s the owner, and status red…”

Pete Mockaitis
Here it is, yeah, nobody wants to be red.

Lia Garvin
Here it is. Nobody wants to be red. And automatically people were responding, “Oh, no, no, no, here it is. Here, I’m done.” And I just find spreadsheets just, yeah, great, simple, like evergreen tool for getting stuff done.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Lia Garvin
Favorite habit is, call me boring again, waking up early. This is something, in order to do a lot of these things I got going on, and have a toddler and a day job, it involves making more time. And so, I get up early before my toddler wakes up. I have about hour, hour and a half to work on personal projects, be creative, exercise, before the day gets started. And I always, no matter what happens throughout the day, feel like I got that productive time for myself.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really resonates with folks; they quote it back to you, they re-tweet you, etc.?

Lia Garvin
Yeah. So, we talked about impact, and a quote that I like to share is, “Not all heroes wear capes. But when talking about your work, wear an F-ing cape.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Lia Garvin
Wear the cape, let it shine, let it flow because we have to be our own advocates for our work. So, when talking about your work, wear the cape. That’s my quote.

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

Lia Garvin
Yeah, check out my website at LiaGarvin.com. Follow me on LinkedIn. On Instagram, I’m @lia.garvin. I have a YouTube channel called Reframe with Lia. All those places are places to learn more about my book Unstuck, to preorder, to get in touch with me, to learn more about the work I’m doing with coaching and workshops, everything like that. So, I would love to hear from folks.

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

Lia Garvin
Yeah. I would say, again, when you are feeling stuck, when you’re feeling the same sort of outcomes keep happening, pause, and ask yourselves, “How else can I look at the situation?” Reframe because it really is unlimited. There is infinite number of ways we can apply this. And it’s about getting more in tuned with finding that moment when we’re stuck, recognizing it sooner so that we’re not stuck for months or years, but maybe we’re stuck for a week or two, or a day. So, tuning in with yourself, becoming more self-aware so that you can recognize that you’re stuck and ask that reframing question.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lia, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and getting unstuck regularly.

Lia Garvin
Thank you so much. It’s been awesome.

749: How to Break Free from Perfectionism with Dr. Thomas Curran

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Behavioral psychologist Thomas Curran reveals the science behind perfectionism and why it’s perfectly OK to be imperfect.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why perfectionism is not correlated with performance 
  2. The self-limiting beliefs underlying perfectionism
  3. The tools to combat perfectionism 

 

About Thomas

Thomas Curran is a British Psychological Society chartered social psychologist. His primary area of expertise is the personality characteristic of perfectionism, how it develops, and how it impacts on mental health. He is the author of over 30 published papers and book chapters on related topics and has received numerous awards for his scholarship and research. 

Informed by his research and expertise in data analysis, he has previously lectured to undergraduates in the UK and Australia. He now teaches research methods and statistics units in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science. 

Resources Mentioned

 

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Thomas Curran Interview Transcript

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

Thomas Curran
Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom about perfectionism. And I think, maybe, if you could kick us off with what’s one of perhaps the most surprising or counterintuitive or extra-fascinating discoveries you’ve made about perfectionism over the years that you’ve been researching it?

Thomas Curran
That’s a really good question to kick us off. I think the most surprising finding that has come out of the work that we’ve done is that perfectionism has very little correlation with performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Neither good nor bad.

Thomas Curran
No, nothing. Zero percent. what we do is we give people questionnaires about their levels of perfectionism and then we asked them to report various types of performance indicators. It might be, I don’t know, if we’re looking at education, it’s PPA, or different work, it can be manager ratings, or their own bottom line, or whatever it might be, that we can gather.

And when you put all the data together and you look to see if there’s an association, what we typically find is that there isn’t one. And that was really surprising to me, and that’s a consistent finding, by the way, I’ve seen across many, many studies. Not just one study, but many. Because when you think about how much perfectionism energizes behavior, it keeps us moving forward, I suppose, and it’s really surprising that you don’t get the performance benefits from that energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a head-scratcher. I cannot begin to guess as to why that is. Can you?

Thomas Curran
So, there’s a couple of theories. It’s a really startling study because we do research in perfectionism and we kind of have these ideas or preconceptions of what we might find when we do the research. Nevertheless, sometimes these sorts of findings come pretty consistently. They really kind of draw your attention to ask why, “What on earth is going on here?”

So, we think two things are going on. The first thing is perfectionists put so much effort in that they go above and beyond. And what I mean by that is they kind of reach a zone of diminishing and then inverse returns. So, you have this kind of what looks like an inverted U relationship to perfectionism and effort work. The initial amounts of effort work that you put in get parallel returns, so the more you put in, the more you get out.

But there comes a point where you kind of start to sacrifice things in your life because you put too much effort in, you tinker, you iterate a bit too much, so you kind of water down or contaminate the quality of your work, and then reach a point where you’re sacrificing so much that actually now, any additional effort you put in is actually impacting your performance. You might be tired. You might lack social and replenishment might be poor diet, poor exercise, habits, or whatever it might be. These things have an actual negative impact on you.

So, we think something like that might be going on. But there’s another and, I think, more convincing theory, which is, essentially, that perfectionists actually hold back effort. They don’t put it forward. And that’s going to sound counterintuitive, but when you think about perfectionism and how they’re so wrapped up in this notion that they must succeed and they can’t possibly fail, then it’s the consequences of failure, the shame, the embarrassment, the guilt that they feel that means that the next time they put themselves in that situation, they’re going to feel those same emotions.

So, what you typically see is perfectionists will try really hard in the first attempt but if they fail, then they hold it back on the second attempt and the third and fourth attempt because they don’t want to put themselves in a position where they’re feeling those negative emotions. So, paradoxically, what we think is going on, and we’ve done some research to actually show this is, indeed, the case, is when they’re put in situations or challenged, they tend to withdraw.

And so, this idea of perfectionism actually creates lesser, if not more, is something that we think is probably the high enough finding but it’s a really interesting find.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, indeed. Well, I think your theories, not that my opinion matters to you about your theories, but, “Yeah, that made some sense,” says Pete the podcaster, so you got that going for you, I guess. Well, maybe then, before we get too deep in here, we should probably have an operational definition that we’re using here for perfectionism, perfectionists. How do you define it? How do we know if we are one?

Thomas Curran
So, perfectionism is, at root, a sense and a belief that we’re imperfect. And I think that’s probably the best place to start with perfectionism. So, how much can you tolerate showing imperfections to the world? Some people could tolerate a lot of that, they don’t really mind. Some people find that really tough and they don’t have much tolerance for that.

So, the first thing to say is that if you think about perfectionism from that kind of deficit mindset, that idea that, “I’m flawed and, therefore, I don’t want to reveal those flaws to the world,” then there’s a certain spectrum to that kind of belief, and you can have a lot of it, or you can have a little of it, or you can be more or less in the middle. Most of us have some of it, like we don’t totally want to or completely reveal all of our flaws, defects, and imperfections to the world.

But, as I say, some people are much more…much less tolerant of that and some people are a little bit more tolerant, and some people are more in the middle. So, that’s the first thing to say about perfectionism. It really kind of starts with this deficit belief and then it reveals itself in many different ways.

So, you have a self-perfectionism, so this is kind of “I need to be perfect. I need to be perfect. And I need to shoot for excessively high goals,” but it’s not just personal characteristic. It’s also a sense that “Other people expect me to be perfect.” There’s a social element, so, “Other people and the environment, more broadly, expects me to be perfect, and if I’m not perfect, they’re judgmental.”

And the third part of perfectionism tendency is kind of perfection directed out to others. So, from this deficit mindset, we project our own imperfections, our own need to be perfect onto other people, “So, I need you to be perfect. And if you’re not, I’m harsh and judgmental.” So, from that deficit standpoint, you see a number of different characteristics. We can call them self, social, and other, and, together, those are what we believe are our kind of, I guess, encompassing perfectionist as a characteristic.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess what I find intriguing is, I guess, when it comes to perfectionism, I have it in very specific domains or arenas as opposed to universally. For example, I guess, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it to the utmost. So, if I’m looking at heart rate variability biofeedback training, Tom, by golly, I’m going to get all the gadgets and find the most imperfect resonance frequency for my breathing to check it out.

Or, if we’re going to publish a podcast episode, then, by golly, I would like the audio to be, hey, in a way, there’s no such thing as perfect audio, but I would like any puffs of breath, like I want that totally eliminated, and not just like mostly eliminated. It’s like if you eliminated it any more, it would be naturally weird and freakish.

So, I guess I’ve got some of those in particular domains. What kind of language would you put to that in social psychology land?

Thomas Curran
What you’re saying there is absolutely correct and it’s what most people feel. It’s like to say, we know that people are perfectionistic about at least or two things in their lives. Not everything. Everybody has things that they’re passionate about. Everyone has a kind of idealized image of themselves. We’re not all the same. Some people want to be the perfect teacher. Some people want to be the perfect boss. Some people want to be the perfect parents. Some people want to be the perfect professor; myself. I failed miserably but I tried.

In our mind, in our mind’s eye, we have these kinds of ideals that we hold dear of the person that we feel that we should be in those domains, and I think that’s very common, very consistent. So, perfectionism kind of is a broad perfectionistic tendency but then, within that, there are different domains in which perfectionism reveals itself, and those domains depend, I guess, on our own identity and the things that we each hold dear.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you say just about all of us have at least a dose of perfectionism going on. Is that fair to say? Or, do we have a rough statistical breakdown of how many people qualify as perfectionists?

Thomas Curran
We don’t have a statistical breakdown but it’s fair to say that this is a spectrum. And I don’t like to think about it in terms of the dichotomy, i.e., “You’re a perfectionist and you’re not a perfectionist.” I think, like anything, and this includes all sorts of psychological characteristics and disorders, there’s no kind of hard and fast cutoff. I think some people have a little, some people have a lot, most people are more or less in the middle, and we all kind of vary around that mean.

And so, perfectionism in that sense is something that most of us, if not all of us, have at least a little bit of. And we know that from large research projects where we find that most people don’t score the very lowest on a scale. There’s a little bit in there even if it’s not much, and that can spread all the way up to the very top in the scale, and it can also fall somewhere in the middle. So, I like to think about perfectionism as a spectrum, and so from some level, we can all identify with. And depending on where you are on the spectrum, depends how much of an impact it has in our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
And for this deficit belief about ourselves, can you give us some example verbiage to that in terms of like, “I believe that I…” like fill in the blank there? Like, what does that deficit belief kind of sound like in words?

Thomas Curran
“I believe I’m not enough.”

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m not enough.” Like broadly?

Thomas Curran
But how many times do you hear that? I see that in my job as a tutor and mentor to many young people. A sense that no matter what I do, it’s not enough. There’s still something that can be improved. There’s more growth to have, there’s more improvement to make, there’s more development to undergo, and that at some level, I am flawed and I am defective, or I’m not good enough at calculus, or I can’t give presentations particularly well, or I’m not very good socially in social situations.

There’s also sorts of areas of our lives where we introspect on and we tell ourselves that we’re just simply not enough. And so, when I say that perfectionism really begins there, that’s what I mean, it’s rooted in that sense that I’m not enough. It’s rooted in that sense that, broadly, really what we’re talking about here is relational needs, “I’m not enough to be accepted. I’m not enough to matter. I’m not enough to be loved or approved of,” and that’s really…whereas if you really want to the root, that’s where you start.

All of these issues around our different presentations are really issues of “Everyone is going to think that was a terrible presentation, and everybody is going to have a negative view of me as a result of that presentation.” So, we’re talking about issues around “I’m not a good presenter.” What we’re really talking about is worries about how other people will see you and whether they have…will they have free shade, so to speak, over those performances? So, that’s what I mean by deficit thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s very clear and powerful. Thank you. And so, well, that doesn’t feel great being in that zone of belief and imagining negative consequences and ramifications of showing what I can do to a group of people and then finding it to be inadequate. That’s a bummer. And, at the same time though, if we think about sort of people who do want to learn and grow and improve and get better, like is there a…what is the happy articulation of one’s belief about one’s self that, “Yeah, I think I’m pretty swell, fundamentally, but, boy, I sure do have a lot to learn and want to develop in these key skill areas”? That’s a lot of words. Is there a more succinct term or articulation of that kind of belief, that is, it’s enough but it’s also striving?

Thomas Curran
Here’s a thing, we got to make a distinction. That’s the first thing to say. So, perfectionism is rooted in the deficit thinking that, “I’m not enough.” And so, everything from that point onwards is personal. So, if we make a mistake, it’s personal. If we slip up on a presentation, it’s personal. It’s an indictment on me. Life is one big court of appeal for my flaws. And everything that I do is almost apologetic, apologizing for these things I know I’m not good enough of. That’s perfectionism.

Now, the distinction we need to make between that form or that characteristic, that way of living, that way of existing, and other more very positive ways of existing, ways of living, ways of going for the world, striving, so to speak, things like conscientiousness, things like diligence, meticulousness, exactitude, these are all fantastic things. And often it’s the case that people tell me, “Well, do you not want people to strive? Do you not want excellence?” It’s not about that. It’s not about that at all. Of course, I want people to strive. Of course, I want people to be excellent.

But the difference is those who are able to remove the personal from the outcome and see the task as the most important thing…what has happened, what’s wrong with something I did, is not something I am. I did something wrong. I didn’t say a phrase or I coded a piece of code incorrectly. That isn’t an indictment on me as a person. That is just an indictment on a mistake I made. And there’s a very subtle distinction but those are who are able to strive in that way have far greater levels of performance and satisfaction and contentment than those who have high levels of perfectionism for the reason, really, everything is personal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Beautiful. So, a commitment to healthy excellence is associated with great, good outcomes, and perfectionism has no correlation whatsoever, we’ve learned, associated with performance metrics, and it sure sounds like it feels bad, too, in terms of not being pleasant. Can you paint a picture of some of the other ways that perfectionism is potentially harmful for us in terms of our health, our relationships, or career? Any particularly spooky bits of research or numbers that could startle us?

Thomas Curran
Well, there’s a lot of research to suggest…I mean, we’ve done so much research, and, certainly, I wouldn’t take the large credit for a lot of heavy lifting done by others, but across the piece, perfectionism is a very strong and consistent predictor of low self-esteem and cognitive difficulties like rumination and brooding. They tend to self-handicap a lot and procrastinate a lot. It comes to mind relationships with this like depressed mood and low levels of anxiety and clinical more pathological verbiage, but this is sort of more extreme.

And I’m thinking more if we just sort of just plot the trend higher in the perfectionism spectrum is that to see some of these negative views come in. So, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that there’s a lot of baggage with perfectionism and it’s not a particularly enjoyable way.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. Okay. Well, then what do we do? If listeners are hearing themselves in this conversation, like, “Oh, shoot, yeah, I totally do that and think that and operate that way, and I kind of like to stop,” Tom, what’s our pathway?

Thomas Curran
It’s like anything. Like, changing mindset is like this, varying trends because it’s not easy, I think that’s the first thing to say. And so, self-compassion at the outset is really important because breaking down some of these tendencies, and I know this because I’m a perfectionist and I research perfectionism and I teach perfectionism and I mentor people, young people who have perfectionism, even I still find it difficult to shake some of the tendencies. Some of this isn’t easy but that’s not to say that it’s impossible, and that’s not to say that you can’t manage the symptoms and alleviate them.

So, one of the things I would say is, first of all, like a radical redefinition of failure and what it means. So, failure is not the bogeyman we’ve mistaken it for and I think that’s the first important thing to say. I know this is very cliché right now and everybody is talking about how failure should define you, they should be teachable moments, they should be areas of improvement, growth and development.

When I talk about a radical redefinition, I mean a radical redefinition. But, basically, does it completely force us to turn failure always into success, or turn failure always into growth and development? We’re going to fail all the time. Failure is just part and parcel of life, it’s odds on, it’s regression into the mean. We’re going to fail way more times than we’re going to succeed. And I think sometimes we just need to be comfortable sitting with that failure, sitting with anxiety with that failure and the feelings that it engenders, and then it wash over us as a reminder that we are human and we’re fallible.

And so, I think, first and foremost, really, it’s a shift in perspective, and failure is a big one, and just allowing ourselves to sit next to it is such an important thing. And I know it’s difficult, we always want to turn it into something else but just letting it sit there is really important. And I’d also say we have to remember that the environment around us is structured to promote perfectionistic thinking. And a lot of this isn’t necessarily our fault.

So, work structures are organized to prioritize outcomes. Education systems are there to encourage and engender competition and work ethic. Parenting these days is a lot more expectant, there’s a lot more pressure on young people to perform and achieve. So, as well it’d been a personal characteristic, it’s also a cultural characteristic. And a lot of the time, it’s important to recognize that it’s not your fault. There’s a cultural context to the way you feel. So, also, I think that’s important. This is all bound up in this kind of self-compassionate element that taking the personal, really, off yourself and recognizing that it’s a bigger picture is also crucial.

And so, I’d say, for me, those are the kind of key messages that I normally give to young people and I try to focus them in on what they can do, what’s in their control, so things like not looking at grades, not looking at performance metrics, just focus in on feedback, focus in on the task, “Where did you go wrong in the task?” not “Where did you go wrong as a person?” and “How can it be fixed? And what can we do to improve?”

And seeing these things not necessarily as things that should be catastrophic but actually things that are really important; feedback and information to help us learn and develop, irrespective of what the grade is at the end of the day. So, I think that those, for me, anyway, those are the main things that I would say.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, could you share with us perhaps a story of someone who was able to make a turnaround, and what they did, and their before, and their journey, and their after?

Thomas Curran
There’s many, many students and young people who have come, began university journey, unable to even open…you mark their work and they’re unable to open it. You’ll meet them and say, “How did you get on?” and they’ll say, “Well, I haven’t opened it yet. I can’t do it.” So, that kind of paralysis, the crippling fear of what’s behind the curtain, and how they can interpret that, again, it’s all about the person. Like, there wouldn’t be these concerns if it was just about the task itself because it’s so personal and that’s why people are so reluctant and scared.

And I think breaking those things down is really, really important. So, particularly in first year, when you’re focused on development, I’ll often say, “This mark doesn’t really mar you in the grand scheme of things. It’s much more important about the feedback and it’s really important you get feedback now because then you get it so you can implement change, and if you don’t, you can’t move forward.” So, there’s a lot of mentoring around rationalizing how those feelings are holding, are ultimately bad enough, they’re not helping us to move forward.

And I see many students over the years through a process of just slight counseling have improved their perfectionism and they’re able to embrace mistakes and find the open feedback and you’d be better for it. So, there’s a lot of sort of I guess broad success stories in that sense. My own story is one of high level of perfectionism leading to burnout early in my career, slowing down, focusing on things I can control, and had had more success with that approach, being able to let things go than before. So, it can be done and there’s definitely hope but it is hard.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, are there any particular tools, mantras, or mottos, beliefs, words of hope we cling to? What are some of the top resources that can help us out when either, both acutely when we’re directly in the grips of it as well as long term in terms of building our mindsets associated with this stuff?

Thomas Curran
I think the first one is very practical is getting things done and worrying about the output later, so this kind of idea of “done is better than perfect.” One of the things I see a lot, and particularly when it’s figuring tasks that are very complicated, and there’s a lot of creativity that’s required, and a lot of deep thought. And students are reluctant, or not reluctant, they find it difficult to start, starting is the hardest part. So, just getting things written down is really tough.

So, I’ll often tell them, and I’m sure this is also an exercise that people can do in the workplace too, but I’ll often say, like, “In order to get started, the first thing to do, you need to just get writing. And it doesn’t matter what it is you write about. Write a letter to your mom, write a letter to your boyfriend or girlfriend, write a letter to your dog. It doesn’t matter. Just get some written stuff down. There’s a benefit, there’s a lovely message to your mom because you can send it to her after, but do something. Get started and it doesn’t have to necessarily be the thing that you’re doing in that moment. But the important thing is to build momentum, and momentum is really crucial in improving work.

So, often, I say if you’re struggling to get started with perfectionism or the time, then done is better than perfect. Get something done and then use that momentum to push forward with the task, but it’s all about getting your head and the mind space and perfectionists find that especially difficult. The other thing I’d say is that perfectionists have a lot of irrational types of thoughts so there’s a lot of must, have to, should, so, “I must do this, I must do that, I must be this, I must…” and they don’t leave any gray area of ambiguity for any kind of deviation from that path. It has to be a certain way.

And so, I would say that, when those forces start to intrude, it’s quite important to write them down. So, if that thing is something irrational, I’m thinking something irrational, I’ll write it down and then I actually grade it on a scale of one to ten, “How achievable is this thing actually?” So, it’s a kind of self-reflection exercise that allows you to reflect on the irrationality of the things that you’re thinking. And then from that, “Okay, so what is a much more adaptive way to think about this particular task? Is there a certain message that I want to get across?”

And it doesn’t matter how it gets across. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just matters that  it needs to get across. Is that a much better goal for me rather than to kind of “I must ace it,” which leaves no room after all for any of these? So, those are self-reflective things as well is what sometimes I recommend to people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Tom, tell us, any final do’s or don’ts you want to share about perfectionism before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Thomas Curran
Yeah. So, do embrace failure crucially, do be kind to yourself, that’s also really important, particularly if things do go wrong. Things will go wrong a lot and sometimes things will go wrong for no reason. But for no good reason, you just failed. Don’t feel we need enough room in our mind for this idea that sometimes we’re just unlucky or sometimes something happened to us, it just derailed us, that wasn’t our fault. It just so happens that we’re unlucky on that particular occasion. First and foremost, just being aware that the failure is going to happen and being prepared and ready for it, not letting it derail us is also quite important.

A couple of don’ts. Don’t get too bogged down in the details. Sometimes it’s important to be meticulous, absolutely, and there are certain tasks and jobs where that’s crucial, and I wouldn’t want to diminish it. But, also, sometimes it’s the case that you have to have lens, you need to get things in because there’s a next thing coming. And so, making sure that it’s good enough and being happy with good enough is important. Try not to, on those particular tasks, get bogged down in the detail, iterate thinking, because you’re only going to contaminate and you’re only going to get yourself behind. So, I think, for me, that would be a big one is to focus on the bigger picture.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lovely. Now, can we hear a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Thomas Curran
for me, that there’s many researchers and famous persons, psychoanalysts whose work has impacted me quite significantly, but the big one, I think, is psychoanalyst Karen Horney. And Karen Horney told us, very vividly, about perfectionism and how it’s really about kind of shooting for an idealized version of ourselves.
one of the things she talks about is how we take on a pseudo self, an idealized self, and we toss aside our real selves to chase this idealized version who we feel we should be. So, I’d probably say Karen Horney is where I coined that out, moving away from who you really are and trying to chase an idea, is something that’s inspired me.

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

Thomas Curran
My favorite study is a really nice study showing how perfectionism makes us highly vulnerable to stress. Yeah, that’s the other thing about perfectionism. When we run into, encounter stressful situations, perfectionists tend to be really, really reactive in those situations. So, one experiment this brings to mind is a study that basically it’s just puzzle task and they had people come into the lab, complete a puzzle task, and they measured their levels of perfectionism. And after the first go at this task, they told them they failed, that basically they hadn’t done very well, that they did fail.

Pete Mockaitis
I imagine they’d be funny, those researchers, “Hey, man, you really blew it. What can I say?”

Thomas Curran
Yeah, and also they told them before they went in there it was a really task to do so it compounded this. Basically, what they’re trying to do is invoke a sense of acute stress and keep a sense of “I failed. I’ve done something wrong.” And then after that, they took various different measures of how they felt in that moment, anxiety, guilt, shame. And they found that people who scored higher in perfectionism have especially elevated levels of shame, guilt, and diminished levels of pride after that stressful situation.

And then they asked them to do it again. And what’s really interesting is once you ask people to do it again, the people that are higher at perfectionism just don’t try because you can’t try at something you didn’t fail, so you’d see the effort just fall off a cliff. Whereas, people who were not perfectionistic, they actually maintained their effort on the second go. So, that’s showing you really, that study is showing both sides, like how much negative emotion there is in perfectionism, but also the impact it has on performance.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Thomas Curran
My favorite book. Again, that’s Karen Horney. Our Inner Conflicts is a really important book, so is The Neurotic Personality of Our Time. Both crucial texts in terms of understanding why culture creates in us a need to be perfect, a need to shoot for our socially-accepted ideal. So, I’d say that those two are probably my favorite books, but that does change a lot the more I read.

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

Thomas Curran
A favorite tool would be my pen. One of the things that I really don’t like is typing or reading things from screens, and so I still use a lot of printout and I still use the humble pen to highlight and spot important pieces of information whether that be research paper or piece of data. So, definitely, my pen because it helps me identify things that I needed.

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

Thomas Curran
I try to suck at things quite a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Thomas Curran
Actually, I play the guitar which I really enjoy. That’s kind of my creative outlet. But one of the things I can’t do is sing, and I got really hung up on that because, as you master things, you get quite skilled, and I feel like I’m a relatively good guitarist but it’s so frustrating that I can’t sing, like I can’t actually put that skill into some practical use.

And so, that used to really frustrate me, until I realized, actually, like just sitting there and embracing the fact that I suck at singing, and sitting with anxiety is an emotion at sucking at singing, it’s actually quite healthy. So, a habit for me is doing things that you suck at because it really does help your perfection.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you amp up the therapeutic benefit by doing them publicly or is that counterproductive?

Thomas Curran
Yeah, I do it in front of my friends and family, that’s often very frustrating and annoying for them, but it’s helping me. That’s what I try to tell them, “This is therapy for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s kind of them. And is there a key nugget you share that folks remember; they quote back to you, like, “Oh, Professor Tom, you said this”?

Thomas Curran
I think a lot of the feedback that I get is around my perspective on failure and my perspective on radical acceptance of failure. I think a lot of people remember that because, essentially, it’s kind of hard these days. It’s kind of hard these days to not continually think that we need to recycle failure. So, a lot of my lectures and a lot of things I teach young people is actually “We don’t need to recycle failure all the time. Sometimes you can just let it sit with you. Sometimes it’s much healthier just to let it sit with you.” So, I think that would be the thing.

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

Thomas Curran
I’ve got a book coming out next spring. You can go to my Twitter page. We’ve got all sorts of resources on my website ThomasCurran.co.uk. Animation, we just did some animations on perfection, too, so there’s all sorts of stuff you can find on my website or my Twitter account.

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

Thomas Curran
My challenge would be to be bold, be courageous, don’t be afraid, and push yourself, push the boundaries of what you think is possible. Push yourself into uncomfortable situations where there’s a chance that perhaps you might slip up, or there’s a chance that you might have to be criticized, but just try and be brave enough to sit and let those anxieties and emotions wash through because the more you do it, the easier it will become, because the more you push yourself into uncomfortable difficult but necessary great positions, and the more you develop, the more you grow, and the better you do. So, that will be it.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Tom, this has been such a treat. I wish you all the best.

Thomas Curran
Thank you so much, Pete. Appreciate that.

742: How to Break Bad Habits and Make Good Habits Stick with Wendy Wood

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Wendy Wood reveals recent science behind habit formation and how you can use it to reshape your own behavior.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The trick to building habits
  2. Why context is so crucial for habits
  3. The one question to control your bad habit

About Wendy

Wendy Wood is a behavioral scientist who is Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at the University of Southern California. She is the author of the book, Good Habits, Bad Habits. For the past 30 years, she has been researching the nature of habits and why they are so difficult to change.

Resources Mentioned

Wendy Wood Interview Transcript

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

Wendy Wood
Great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to talk to you about habits, one of my favorite topics here. Could you start us off by telling us about a habit that has been transformational for you personally?

Wendy Wood
So, it’s hard to isolate any one habit that we have that makes a huge difference in our lives because so much of what we do is influenced by our habits, depends on our habits, much more so than we realize. I’ve done some research on how much of our daily lives is habitual in the sense that we’re repeating things without thinking a lot about them, just sort of responding automatically. And almost 43% of what we do every day we’re doing out of habit. So, habits contribute to an awful lot more than most of us imagine.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is intriguing and I was just about to ask you for any particularly surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made along the way with your research, it sounds you already got one. But anything else leaping to mind?

Wendy Wood
I think that for your audience, the biggest question is, “How do I change bad habits, unwanted habits?” And most of us do it by exerting willpower, making a decision, but habits don’t work that way. Habits are really part of the non-conscious processes in our brain so that habits form as we repeat behaviors, and they change as we repeat behaviors, too. So, changing habits is not at all what we think it is. It’s not what we usually try to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s sort of like a definitional point, like if we’re calling it a habit, it’s not even an effortful initiative of our proactive will that we’re going for, but rather kind of like something operating in an autopilot-y part of ourselves, definitionally speaking.

Wendy Wood
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Wendy Wood
So, we think of our brain as processing information, as a single unit that tells us when we like things, that records memories, but, in fact, our brains are made up of multiple separate systems that only sort of work together. And the habit system is something that is part of our non-conscious. So, you have habits, I have habits, our dogs have habits. We all learn through experience. It’s a very basic way of learning and it really guides a huge amount of what we do, particularly at work.

So, one of the things we found early on is that people who have jobs actually have slightly more habits than people who don’t, and that’s because our job structure our day so that we’re repeating the same things. You go to the same place, at least you used to before the pandemic, if you’re an office worker. Many of us are still not quite back in the office. We go to work at the same time each day. We wear similar types of clothes. We stop for lunch around the same time. So, work really structures our life in ways that make it very easy for us to form habits.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued with research on the number of habits. Tell us, how many habits do we have on average or the rough range for people?

Wendy Wood
I don’t think there’s an exact number. As I said, 43% of the time, you are acting on habit. So, almost half the time you’re doing things automatically without thinking and without necessarily making decisions. And you can see why that would be useful because you don’t have to think carefully about how you’re going to get to work today, or think about where you’re going to go for lunch. Usually, we just do what we’ve done before. That sort of work for us in some way. It might not be the best thing but it’s the easy thing and we just repeat it and do it again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I could see how, sure, conserving mental thought energy is something that we accomplish there. Could you paint a picture for us in terms of for professionals, and maybe all of mankind, like what’s really at stake or possible here? Do you have maybe any startling statistics or inspiring stories showing us what really is possible if we master or fail to master habit-building as a skill?

Wendy Wood
Well, you’re building habits all the time. The skill to master is building habits that work for you, that are rewarding, that are consistent with your goals, and so that’s the skill that everyone needs to focus on. And you do that by repeating behaviors that are productive, that save you money, that are healthy. So, habit memories build as you do the same thing over and over again.

You don’t build habits by decisions. You build habits through repetition. Repeating a behavior in the same context so that the next time you’re in that context, that’s the behavior that springs to mind, and it takes many repetitions for habit memories to form. And that’s why they’re so challenging, is they stick around. So, it takes a long time to form a new habit, and it takes a long time for habit memories to decay.

Pete Mockaitis
You said many repetitions, and I’ve read some numbers cited that are different in a number of places. So, Wendy, could you weigh in on how many reps or how long does it take to form a habit?

Wendy Wood
Yeah, you’ll read lots of things about habits out there because people are fascinated by them. They should be. There’s something that is part of our unconscious that we don’t have access to. We don’t have awareness of how our habits work so it’s really fascinating to speculate, and there’s lots of speculation out there in the literature. But what science tells us is that it takes probably about three months of repetition, almost every day, for a habit to become really strong so that you do it without thinking, so that it becomes an automated part of your everyday life.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, you said about three months, and part of me thinks that that’s a tricky question, like, “How long does it take to form a habit?” Sort of like, “Well, how long does it take to master chess? How long does it take to fall in love?”

Wendy Wood
You’ve got it.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s going to vary wildly based on some contexts and individuals and what you’re achieving. And I’m thinking about when we interviewed BJ Fogg who wrote about Tiny Habits, and his take was, “Well, hey, if it’s super easy and doesn’t require a lot of effortful motivation, you might find that you’re installing habits quite quickly.” Is that fair to say that the time it takes can really vary based upon just how big or small or hard or easy or motivated you feel about something?

Wendy Wood
Well, probably not with motivation because habit memories don’t depend on how motivated you are. Instead, they depend simply on repetition. Repetition and whether you do things in the same way each time. So, you’re absolutely right, it takes a long time to master some things. Playing a Chopin piano concerto, it took me a long, long time to learn how to do that. Playing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star on the piano? That I can do. So, how long something takes really depends on how difficult the behavior is, how complex it is. Your intuition is absolutely right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess when it comes to habit difficulties, I guess it’s true. Like, if it’s wipe off the counter after making coffee in the morning is a lot easier than head to the gym and do an elaborate workout routine each morning.

Wendy Wood
You got it, yup. Yeah, and that’s true in our jobs, too. There are some things we do that are relatively easy and straightforward and we can form habits for them pretty quickly, quickly being several months. But other things are just much more complicated and never ever become completely habitual.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I see.

Wendy Wood
So, let me give you an example, and this is all part of the idea, the evident research evidence that people have multiple components in their brain, multiple systems, that work somewhat separately. So, very productive writers, if you’re a productive writer and you’re pushing out those pages every day, you probably have a habit to write at a certain place, certain time of day, maybe you write for a certain number of hours, or get a certain number of words on the page. Most really productive writers have these habits that get them to writing. But the actual writing isn’t done out of habit.

Habit is too   a mechanism. That’s your creativity. So, habits and conscious thought, conscious decision-making creativity, they both, together, allow us to do very complex tasks but both are required because if you’re a great writer but you don’t have good habits, then you’re struggling to get yourself to write.

You’re struggling against yourself, “Do I want to do it today? Will I be successful? How do I do it?” You’re wasting all that energy before you even start writing. So, that’s why it’s so important to get your habits in sync with your goals, get them aligned with your goals, your conscious desires. And if you do that, then your habits will help you achieve them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that. And I’m thinking, well, the quote that comes to mind, I think, has been attributed to many different writers is, “I write when I’m inspired and I make sure to be inspired at 9:00 a.m. each morning.”

Wendy Wood
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Which I kind of summarize as, “Okay, there are some creative things going on as well as a discipline, habituated thing going on seeded, hands on keys at that time and place.”

Wendy Wood
Yup, “And things are quite and nobody’s bothering me so I have a chance to actually be creative,” which is no guarantee. You’re not going to be creative every day. If you’ve written a lot, you know some days are just crap, you just don’t produce things that you want to keep. But if you have a habit to write, the next day you’ll be back there, and that day, things might work better.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Well, so let’s maybe apply some of these goodness that you lay out in your book, Good Habits, Bad Habits in terms of thinking about some professionals and habits they’d like to make or break, how do we start with break? Let’s say, folks are like, “I look at my phone too much. I’m always scrolling TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, email when I should be unplugged from work and rejuvenating but I just find myself, ‘Whoa, how did this happen?’ Here I am on my Facebook on the phone.” If folks have that habit they’d like to stop, what do we do?

Wendy Wood
It’s very understandable if people have that habit because our phones, and social media sites in particular, are designed to be very habit-forming. They are set up in ways that make it really easy for us to form habits to use them, in part just because we can take them everywhere. You can take your phone on the bus, you can take your phone to the office, you can take it into important meetings, people take it into the restroom. You can take your phone everywhere. It’s always accessible so it’s always available to be used, and it’s very rewarding. You get on your phone and you learn stuff. So, it has the components of habit formation built into it.

And the challenge is we need to control those forces in our lives, as you said. So, one way to do this is to make it a little bit harder for us to use the phone, and that’s not the way most people think about changing their habits. Most people think, “Okay, if I have a problem with using my phone too much, I need to make a decision, exert some willpower, figure out how to control this thing…”

Pete Mockaitis
“Become a hero.”

Wendy Wood
Exactly, become a hero. But your habit memory will long outlast your desire to control this behavior. Habit memories stick. They don’t go away very easily that some researchers think that once you have a habit, it never goes away. So, the best thing you can do is to put some brakes on it. And we call that adding friction to the behavior.

One great way of adding friction, if you’re in a meeting, is to take your phone and just put it face down because that reduces the cues that you will see to pick it up and look at it again. You’re not going to see the alerts in the same way. Another way is to form a habit of putting it in your briefcase, your backpack, your purse, and zipping it so that you actually have to unzip it in order to use it.

Now, all of this just sounds a little too simple, which is, I think, why people don’t do it but there’s great research evidence showing that it does work. In fact, probably the best evidence comes from anti smoking campaigns.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, do tell.

Wendy Wood
So, the last century, middle of the last century, about 50% of Americans smoked, and then we all learned that smoking causes cancer so we all got concerned about it, but our behavior didn’t change a whole lot. It didn’t change really until the government started putting friction on smoking. So, they banned smoking in public places so you can’t smoke in restaurants and bars anymore, can’t smoke in the office, which makes it just a little bit more difficult to keep being a smoker.

They added taxes onto the cigarette purchases so that’s a little bit more difficult to afford to be a smoker. And then they started removing cues, so that it used to be you could just go into the store and pull a packet of cigarettes off of the shelves, but you can’t do that anymore. You have to ask somebody for the brand…

Pete Mockaitis
To show your face in shame.

Wendy Wood
Exactly, for the brand that you smoke.

Pete Mockaitis
“I need nicotine from you.”

Wendy Wood
And you have to remember exactly what kind, and there are five different variants on every brand that’s out there, so you have to describe it to somebody. They make it work. You have to work for it. And anything you have to work for, people are less likely to do. So, that, now, with after removing cues and adding friction to smoking, only 15% of Americans actually smoke, which is an amazing success story but it was done through friction.

And friction on a behavior that’s even more addictive, more habit-forming than your phone, because there is an addictive component to smoking, obviously, it’s that nicotine jolt that you get when you smoke, but friction helps control it. So, thinking about your experience, in terms of friction, helps give you control over habits that you may not want to continue.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s intriguing and I love a good story with numbers, so thank you for that. And now I’m thinking in contrast to e-cigarettes, like JUUL, really proliferating perhaps by just the opposite, like there’s so little friction in terms of, well, high school students like sneakily are using them in their schools because there’s no smell, there’s no need to light something up. It can be done, hide it in the bathroom or a locker, the exhale or whatever. Friends, family, colleagues can’t smell and judge you in terms of like, “Oh, you’re a smoker, huh?” so you don’t have that stigma there. You have a couple puffs without a whole cigarette.

Wendy Wood
Yeah, for high school students, it has all the benefits and few of the downsides until their parents figure out what they’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Until they get some friction, of course.

Wendy Wood
Yeah, parents can be friction in that case. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Some real penalties. Okay. Well, so that’s really handy, so friction. Now, you mentioned in the book, context, repetition, reward. Where do we put friction in the context bucket or we make the context harder to do?

Wendy Wood
Exactly. You set up context that make repetition a little bit harder, require a bit more thought on your part. And it’s amazing how influenced we all are by the friction in our lives. There’s great evidence that people who are closer to gymnasiums actually work out more often, and that’s not how we think about working out.

We think we’re making a decision, we’re being admirable people, we’re showing willpower, we’re concerned about our health, and so that’s why we go work out. But, instead, another important determinant is how easy is it to get there? And if you can get to the gym easily, you’re just more likely to work out and have an exercise habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, that’s so powerful, it’s like, “How can I make this easier or how can I make it harder?” Can you just lay upon us example after example of cool stories you’ve heard of folks doing some clever things to do that? Well, one, you could move closer to a gym, which that might seem dramatic, but, hey, if that’s a priority for you. I’ve known people who have moved close to a gym, to a beach, to a forest, to a church, kind of whatever is kind of important and useful for them. They factor that into the planning because that context, that ease versus difficulty really does shape their behavior.

Wendy Wood
Yeah, it’s surprising how impactful it is in a variety of different domains. So, people who are sitting, so there’s one study where researchers gave people, in one condition, a bowl of butter popcorn and a bowl of sliced apples. And in one condition, the popcorn was right close to them and the sliced apples were way at the end of the counter. They could see them and they could reach for them but it was a bit of effort.

In another condition, the apples were right in front of them and the popcorn was at the end of the counter. Again, they could see it, they could smell it, and they could get there, and everybody was told, “Eat what you want.” So, when the apples were close to them, they ate a third less calories than when the popcorn was close to them. They weren’t any less hungry and it wasn’t like people changed their food preferences. Instead, it was just people eat what’s closer and are less likely to eat what’s farther away. We’re very simple in some ways. We’re very simple creatures. And this effect of friction on our behavior is very powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, more please. Can we think of some other fun stories of professionals who’ve done things to make things easier or harder and seen cool results from it?

Wendy Wood
Well, one of the ways that you can get exercise very easily in your life is to bike to work. And when communities put in bike lanes, people are just much more likely to bike, protected bike lanes. So, so often, you see these stripes painted down the middle of the road, and as a cyclist, I wouldn’t use them because they’re scary. Cars don’t give you much…they don’t stay away from you in the same way as in protected bike lanes where there’s some fence or some protection between you and the cars.

When cities put in protected bike lanes, people are just much more likely to cycle to work than when they don’t have protected bike lanes. And, again, we think that these things are our personal decisions, that we’re either good people or bad people for doing these different things, but, instead, we’re very influenced by the forces in our environment.

One of my favorite studies was done by a group of researchers in the 1980s, and they were in a four-story office building, and what they wanted to do was they wanted to convince people to take the stairs instead of the elevator while they were at work. So, they started doing just what we all do, which is they thought, “Well, I should convince people that this is the right thing to do.”

So, they put up signs all over the elevator, “Take the stairs, not the elevator. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for your health. Uses more calories. Doesn’t waste energy.” No effect. So, what they did is they decided to add a small amount of friction to using the elevator, and they slowed the closing of the elevator door by 16 seconds.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, the whole process of closing the door takes 16 seconds?

Wendy Wood
More than it typically did, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Wendy Wood
They added 16 seconds to it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s enough for me to be like, “Forget this. I’m out of here.”

Wendy Wood
Exactly. And that’s what happened, is that elevator use was cut by a third.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, really. I thought it would be way bigger. It’s like that sounds like an eternity.

Wendy Wood
You’re obviously an impatient person.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I can be.

Wendy Wood
But the really cool thing about the study was a month later, they put the elevator doors back to their original speed, and people kept taking the stairs because they’d formed a habit to do that and they weren’t going to mess with the elevator. They just kept taking the stairs. They’d learn how to do it, they figured out, “Yes, it is good for me. It gives me a little bit of a break in the middle of the day,” so they just continued to do it.

And, again, I’m not advocating people change the speed of the elevator door closing in their office, but simple friction tricks like that can be really powerful, much more so than convincing ourselves that something is right, something is the right thing to do.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s an example of a really easy habit that sort of fits in naturally that lock in within a month, so cool beans. So, in good habits, bad habits, with the three bases of context, repetition, reward, it feels like we’ve hit context pretty thoroughly. Can we hear some best practices in the zone of repetition and reward that are within our actionable control?

Wendy Wood
Yeah. So, psychologists used to think that intrinsic motivation was most important, that there was something unique about intrinsic motivation, feeling good because of an activity while you’re doing the activity itself, finding things that make you feel good when you do them, that there was something unique, important, special about that.

And we’ve since learned that it doesn’t quite work that way. It’s just doing activities and having some positive experience. The positive experience doesn’t even have to come from the activity itself. So, researchers gone into kids’ classrooms – math classes – the kind kids don’t like, and played music, gave the kids food while they were doing math problems, gave them colored pens to use for the math problems, and the kids worked on the problems longer just because they felt it was more fun, it was more engaging, more rewarding to do it.

Those are not rewards that are part of math necessarily but if you add them in, they increase our enjoyment of the activity and make it more likely that we will repeat it again in the future so that we’ll form it into a habit. Those kids were more likely then to do math in the future and might form a habit to do their math homework.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s lovely. So, if we could make something more enjoyable from the ambiance, the lighting, the music, the design, the tools, then away we go. It’s true, I like working more with my PILOT Precise RT pen than some junk they gave me at the bank.

Wendy Wood
There you go. And people use this all the time with exercise. People do it intuitively with exercise. You might hate to work out at the gym but if you can listen to interesting podcasts, like this one, if you can find good music, a good book to read while you’re working out, it makes it much more interesting and much more fun, and you’re more likely to do it again in the future, forming a habit. So, you can add in rewards that don’t have anything to do with an activity, and it functions just like an intrinsic reward, something that comes from the activity itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. So, with context, we can proactively think about how to shape things to make it easier or harder to do in the context. For reward, we can actively shape it so we can make something more pleasant or less pleasant. How do you make something less pleasant maybe? If I wanted to make looking at my phone less enjoyable, is there something I can do there?

Wendy Wood
Yeah, there sure is. You can put it to greyscale, take the colors out, and that does a couple of things. It removes cues because it makes it harder to distinguish the different icons and exactly what they are. Then it also removes the rewards. It makes it less interesting for us to get on social media and see different videos and pictures. So, it removes cues, removes rewards, something you can do to control phone use. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, very cool. And how about repetition? I guess, just do more or just do less, I don’t know. Anything clever we can do to work this lever?

Wendy Wood
Well, repetition is really a function of reward and things that are easy. So, repetition, you’re more likely to repeat a behavior if you enjoy what you’re doing and if it’s easy to do, so it’s a consequence of rewards and context friction.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, if I wanted to get a head start, really turbocharge getting a habit going, would it be worth my while to just try repeating something dozens of times, like, “Okay, I wake up, I put on my running shoes. Roll out of bed, put on my running shoes. Roll out of bed, put on my running shoes”? Like, is that a useful thing to do?

Wendy Wood
Sure, if you go running then.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I was thinking about the actual, like, “For the next hour, I’m going to exit my bed and put on running shoes 50 times.” Is that useful?

Wendy Wood
I wouldn’t do it. I don’t think it’s worth it. I think it is worth it to figure out where to put your running shoes so that you’re most likely to put them on when you have time to go running, and actually walk outside with them and start running. So, finding time in your day, finding a way to structure in to make it easy for you to go running will be more successful.

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

Wendy Wood
I think habits in the workplace are often misunderstood because we tend to think of work as involving both innovation and habitual repetition, and we don’t realize how much our habits enable that innovation so they allow us to get to the point where we can be creative and innovative, and respond to the challenges that we all have at work.

If you have good habits then you’re not struggling with the preparatory stuff. Instead, you’re doing that automatically, and that sets you up to do what is going to be successful today in meeting the new innovative challenges at work.

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

Wendy Wood
I think my favorite quote was an inaccurate one by William James when he claimed that 99.9% of everyday activities are done out of habit. So, William James is a brother of Henry James, if you are an English major, and he is often considered to be the father of modern psychology. So, the fact that he was such a habit enthusiast is great. He didn’t have much data. He didn’t have anything to back up his speculation but he was a real enthusiast.

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

Wendy Wood
I think that probably my favorite study is the one that I already mentioned on elevator use but I can tell you one that we did that I think illustrates how hard it is to change our habits, and it was done at a local movie cinema. We got the people who ran the cinema to allow us to show some shorts at the beginning before people watched the actual movie they came to see, and, supposedly, to thank them for rating all of these movie shorts.

We gave them boxes of popcorn to eat. These were free. Everyone took them. And, unbeknownst to them, half of the popcorn was stale, and it was really stale. It had been in our lab for about a week in a plastic bag, so it was not great popcorn. Half got fresh popcorn. So, you see the setup. At the end of the presentation, we collected the boxes and we weighed them to see how much people actually ate.

And what we found is that people who didn’t have habits to eat popcorn at the movie cinema, and there are such people out there, they ate a lot of the fresh popcorn, they did not eat the stale popcorn because they could tell us, it was awful, and it was. But people with habits to eat popcorn in the movie cinema, they were sitting there, they were holding the popcorn, and they ate the same amount whether it was fresh or stale.

And it just shows that our habits are cued automatically even when we don’t want them to be. These people are telling us, “I hate this popcorn. It’s disgusting.” I actually don’t know that I’ve ever gotten such low ratings of anything in my lab before, so people really did hate it but they kept eating it because they were cued by the context that they were in. It’s easy, it’s what they’ve done before, it was their habit, and they just persisted. They repeated that behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there’s so much there and I believe I first heard of this experiment from Katy Milkman’s book. I think she cited you because I hear her voice in my mind’s ear in the Audible version, “Fresh popcorn.” And we had her on the show, and she was great. So, one, that’s really cool. Hey, that’s you. And, two, it’s like, “Whoa,” if you zoom out and think about it, that is a life metaphor. It’s like, “How much stale popcorn do we have going on in our lives that we’re just kind of mindlessly dealing with because it’s easy and it’s repeated, and that’s the context we’re in?”

Wendy Wood
You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
There’ll be some soul-searching there.

Wendy Wood
A lot of our habit, they work for us most of the time but not all the time, but we repeat them regardless of whether they working for us. And we repeat them even after they’ve stopped working for us most of the time. It’s just easier to do what you’ve done before than make decisions. And, as I said, we’re simple creatures. At least the habit system is quite simple.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Wendy Wood
Well, the classics are easy to identify as favorites because, early on in the field, psychologists were not only researchers, they were also philosophers, and so they like to think broadly about social behaviors, so it’s really fun to read some of the early thinking. William James, for example, his Principles of Psychology are really fun to read, in part, because he draws on personal experience as well as the research.

And one example is he talks about a friend of his who would come home for dinner and eat and then change into his pajamas. And if he got distracted and ended up in his bedroom before he ate dinner, he’d just change into his pajamas anyway regardless of who was showing up for dinner, what he was doing. And we all have this experience of continuing to do repeat behaviors that we’ve done in the past that, really, we didn’t mean to do right now, but it’s the nature of habit.

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

Wendy Wood
I think it has to be everybody’s favorite right now, it’s the computer. I’ve been around long enough so that I was writing before we were writing on keyboards. It makes you really appreciate what you got.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a key nugget or articulation of your wisdom that you share that people go, “Oh, wow, that’s awesome,” they re-tweet it, they write it down, they Kindle book highlight it, they say, “Wendy said this, and it’s brilliant and we love it”?

Wendy Wood
No, there is no such thing.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re so modest.

Wendy Wood
No, although, let me give you an example that I give to people, and this is not brilliant. It’s just practical, demonstrating how much we don’t understand our own habits. And that is all of us can use a keyboard. We can all type on a keyboard, some really proficiently. But if I asked you to list out the keys on the second row of your keyboard, you probably couldn’t do that, can you?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m trying not to look. A, S, D, F, G, H, J, K, L. Yeah, that’s exciting.

Wendy Wood
You’re cheating.

Pete Mockaitis
I was like, “J, K, L all in rows, is that true? Yeah, it is.”

Wendy Wood
You see, you could type those things without any hesitation but actually repeating them back to me is hard because we haven’t stored it in our conscious memory. We stored it in habit memory system, and that shows you the difference, the separation, between the two.

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

Wendy Wood
@ProfWendyWood on Twitter or Instagram. I’m also on LinkedIn and I’d be very happy to converse with people about habits, habit change, challenges they’re experiencing in the workplace with habit.

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

Wendy Wood
Yeah. Be clear about what your goals are, and then make sure that your habits support them so that you don’t have to fight yourself in order to meet your goals. And so often, our biggest challenges are our own habits, what we’ve done in the past. You don’t want to put yourself in that position. You’d be much happier and you’d be much more successful if your habits and goals are aligned.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Wendy, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck with your habits and research and more.

Wendy Wood
Thank you so much. Great fun to talk to you.

715: How to Find and Stay in Your Genius Zone with Laura Garnett

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Laura Garnett reveals her simple methodology for tapping into your genius and making any job more fulfilling.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two key questions that unlock your genius zone 
  2. How to uncover what truly motivates you
  3. A handy tool to help turn genius into a habit  

About Laura

Laura Garnett is a performance strategist, mother, TEDx speaker, and author of, The Genius Habit and Find Your Zone of Genius. She guides CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, and teams to new heights of success by shining a light on their unique purpose, values, and abilities, transforming the way they work and freeing them to make decisions with confidence and clarity. 

She has consulted with organizations including Google, Pandora, LinkedIn, and Splunk. Prior to launching her own company, New York City-based Garnett Consulting, she honed her marketing, strategy, and career-refining skills at companies like Capital One, American Express, IAC, and Google. 

Resources Mentioned

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Laura Garnett Interview Transcript

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

Laura Garnett
Thank you so much. I’m delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be talking about The Genius Habit, Find Your Zone of Genius. And I want to hear a little bit about some of your experiences.

Laura Garnett
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Judging dairy at Virginia State and doing it well. Apparently, you’re a genius at judging dairy. You’re a champion when 13. What’s the story and does this fit into any of your current endeavors?

Laura Garnett
That’s a great question. Yeah, I grew up on a dairy farm, and my dad was an actual farmer. And one of the things that he did…I was a member of 4H, and I don’t know, for those listening that maybe grew up on a farm, 4H was kind of the thing farm children do. But my dad was the coach for dairy judging so it was something that I definitely was involved in and it’s competitive.

You go to competitions, and, essentially, what you’re doing is that you’re taking a group of four cows, and you’re placing them in order of best to worst, and you do that about 20 different times. There’s like 20 different classes. And then you submit your scores, and then they’re calculated. And whoever scores the cows in the right place the most wins. And I tended to win a lot, which was interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so meta because you’re judging the cows and you’re being judged at how well you’re judging.

Laura Garnett
Well, there’s a lot of judging going on and, of course, that’s something that I talk a lot about that you want to avoid. But, yeah, I think the part of it that I was good at was that, at the end of the day, they would pick one of those 20 classes, or maybe it was 10, I can’t remember, randomly, and then you would have to stand up and give a speech to a judge by memory, and tell them why you selected one cow over the other. So, you would create this speech and then give it to them. And so, they were called reasons. And I, at the time, I was like wanting to be an actress, loved to be on stage, so the reasons were a lot of fun for me, and that made it interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, kudos. And so, let’s talk about judgments a little bit, or this is a forced segue into let’s talk about The Genius Habit, finding your zone of genius. Can you maybe open us up with a story in terms of what’s really at stake here with regard to this body of work and what can it do for people?

Laura Garnett
Well, this was really borne from my own story of my life and my journey towards creating a career and work experience that I loved. And it started, and I talk about this in the book, but it started with just this massive career crisis that I had at all places Google. And it was one of those very complex situations where the world was telling me I was in the best company to work for, and inside, I was miserable and had one of the worst jobs that I’d ever had.

And prior to that, I’d been in the corporate world for seven years and had really only experienced promotions or success, lots of positive feedbacks. So, to be in a job where I didn’t feel good and I was also getting feedback that I wasn’t performing was devastating for me. And that situation just prompted this journey of inquiry, of starting to ask questions of myself and of the world in ways that I’d never asked before.

And I started thinking, “What is my purpose? Is it possible for me to experience fulfillment at work? And how can I…?” I’ve always been really driven, “How can I create the kind of success I want but experience something that’s nothing like this horrible feeling that I have in this moment?” Because in that moment of having this horrible job, I had no idea how to fix it. I was helpless.

And so, I went seeking answers, and when I really couldn’t come up with anything substantial, that’s when the journey started at solving it on my own. And that’s kind of where The Genius Habit was borne.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then I’d love to get your view. I guess we’re going to zoom out shortly in terms of talking about the process and methodology, and how we can all find our zone of genius. But, I guess, in your particular case and instance, you went out seeking answers. And what was the answer? Why was it that this, allegedly, amazing job at Google wasn’t doing it for you?

Laura Garnett
Yeah. So, I started reading a lot of books. At the time, that was What Color Is Your Parachute? It’s a pretty famous book to read in the moment of career despair, and I also hired coaches. And the answers that I got was a lot of data and information on myself, which, at the time, was really interesting. And at one point, I think it was…

I don’t know if you’re familiar, another book I read, called The Pathfinder by Nicholas Lore. I loved that book. And what they said was, “If this book has resonated with you, you can take a test.” And I was thinking that the answer was just learn everything about myself. And I took their test, it took like…this was back, oh, my goodness, 14, 15 years ago. So, they sent me the test in the mail on paper, and I went to a café in New York City and was filling out the dots with a pencil, and then mailed back my test, and then they called me to say, “All right. Here are the results,” and they coached me to kind of help me understand the data.

It was fascinating because the coach told me, “Oh, well, you’re meant to be a rockstar or a professor.” And I thought, “Okay, that is overwhelming,” and it was kind of this weird feeling of, “Okay, I feel like maybe I’m learning more about myself but I don’t know what to do with this information,” and that’s exactly what the problem was. Too much information and not a plan or a way of changing the way I was operating to get a different result because what I did was in the midst of all of that data on myself, and I was pretty clear at that point I wasn’t going to be a rockstar and a professor.

Pete Mockaitis
Literally, a performer of rock and roll music, a musician. That’s what they mean by a rockstar?

Laura Garnett
It is. And I remember telling them, I said, “I played flute. I played the flute, like, eight years ago. I don’t think this is going to be my path.” It felt a little out of reach, let’s say. It felt a little out of reach. So, I started a job search, and I did something that pretty much all of my clients do in that moment of lacking clarity and understanding. I just took the first job offer that came my way because it looked good. It was a startup. It was at this Frank Gehry building in Chelsea, Manhattan that was actually walking distance from the Google offices that I’d been eyeing, like, “Oh, I want to work in that building.”

And all of the things that don’t matter at all were coming forth, and I said, “Oh, this is great. This is my next job,” and I went to that job and realized within a month that it was another…it was better than the worst job I had at Google, but it was still not a great fit, especially since I had all this information on myself, I was like, “This isn’t the right fit.” So, once again, I just didn’t know what to do.

And then I got laid off. The 2009 financial crisis hit when I was at that new job. And within nine months, the startup went down the drain and I got laid off. And I think, for me, and I’ve seen this with other people, that was like the line in the sand, where I said, “Enough is enough. I’m going to solve this on my own.”

And what I soon realized was that this information was overwhelming. When people read these books and they’re trying to figure out, “What do I do differently?” information overload doesn’t help. It kind of adds to the confusion. And what I saw that was missing was a way of operating, a habit, behavior habits that I didn’t have I needed to create, and what were those. And that was kind of what I started to see and distill in my research on the science, psychology, and neuroscience of success and performance, and I dove into that.

And then the methodology of The Genius Habit kind of came forth, but that was also a result of me committing to only doing work that was energizing and engaging, which was me using my genius. And that’s how it started.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Only doing work that’s energizing and engaging.

Laura Garnett
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s a clear, you said, line in the sand. That’s a clear direct principal guideline. I think most listeners right now think, “Oh, yeah, that’d be nice.”

Laura Garnett
And that’s, honestly, like that’s step one. And, of course, I left the corporate world and woke up the next day, and said, “Okay, I’m going to create my dream job.” And the first step to doing that was to only do what I wanted to do. And that slowly led me, again, it took time before I got to doing what I’m doing right now, but that journey of starting to when things were boring or not exciting, I pivoted and I turned.

And, also, probably a couple years into that spaghetti-throwing process of, “I’m only going to do what I want do, and I’m going to solve this problem of creating my dream job and helping others do the same,” the methodology started to crystallize. And the first real structure of the methodology was the zone of genius framework, which essentially solves the very problem I had at Google, which was, “How can you get very clear very quickly about who you are?”

And once I saw my zone of genius, then things started to really explode for me. And in terms of getting more clarity and confidence, as well as the methodology and the business and the work experience, shifting completely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then it sounds like, in your own story, only doing what’s energizing and engaging kind of got things in motion for the discovery. It’s probably fair to say one ought not to tell their boss, immediately after listening to this episode, “Hey, update. I’m only going to do energizing and engaging, so find somebody else to do this.” Although, there’s job crafting can be done diplomatically and prudently.

Laura Garnett
That’s the genius habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Laura Garnett
That’s the genius habit. Diplomatically and strategically figuring out how to do only what excites you and motivates you. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Well, before we get there to diplomatically articulate that request, what is this methodology by which we can discover, “Aha, this is my zone of genius”?

Laura Garnett
Yes. Well, lucky you, because when The Genius Habit came out this wasn’t available. But for all of your listeners, it is absolutely something they can go to right now, because I know everyone is multitasking, you can go to ZoneOfGeniusQuiz.com and take the Zone of Genius Quiz so you can figure out your zone of genius in probably 10 or 15 minutes.

And, essentially, what the Zone of Genius framework is meant to do is to be a cheat sheet for understanding very quickly who you are and, specifically, what will keep you engaged intellectually, and what will keep you intrinsically motivated at work. So, if you take all of the science and psychology of performance, and you distill it, these are the two datapoints that have to be present in order for you to experience peak performance. Two datapoints.

That, to me, was extremely liberating because, again, going back to my experience at Google, I was experiencing data overload. So much information on myself, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. And when you boil it down to these two datapoints, again, making decisions and navigating moments that are directing towards excitement and motivational work becomes easier because you can easily say, “Okay, am I able to use my genius?” which is the thinking or problem-solving that I’m best at. That checks the intellectual engagement box.

And, “Does the impact I’m doing provide my purpose?” which is the second datapoint, your purpose. And your purpose is connected to your psychology. It’s connected to a core emotional challenge that you’ve had in your life, which we can dig into because that’s kind of a deep topic as well. But the zone of genius framework is just those two simple datapoints – your genius and your purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Let’s dig into each of these. So, how do we discover our genius? So, we got this quiz.

Laura Garnett
Yes, you’ve got the quiz.

Pete Mockaitis
So, go do that. And maybe, could you tell us any other kind of means of gathering clues or what the typology kind of looks like on the other side of that?

Laura Garnett
Yeah. Well, essentially, at its basic form, it’s the thinking or problem-solving that you’re best at. So, it is hard to be objective about yourself because you are not on the receiving end of your thinking and problem-solving. So, that’s what makes it more difficult to see sometimes, which is where the quiz can come in handy. But the easiest way to see it is to think of moments where you were super highly engaged and energized by the thinking or problem-solving that you were doing, and just be present. Be really deeply thoughtful about it and start to notice what exactly was the thinking or problem-solving that created that excitement and engagement. And that begins kind of those are the breadcrumbs of your genius.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve identified just a few key different types or flavors of genius. Could you share with us the names and just maybe a quick what does it kind of look, sound, feel like in practice?

Laura Garnett
Yeah. So, another way that the work has evolved since the printing of the books is that I’ve identified four main categories of genius types. Now, this is really helpful to know when you’re in a team, “What is the category?” but each genius name is unique. So, the categories are Maximizer, that means that you like to take something that already exists, and make it better; there’s Visionary. A Visionary person, and this speaks to with the end result of your genius. A Visionary can easily see what is possible.

A Driver is someone who, the end result of their genius is a goal is accomplished, a solution is solved. Their whole genius process is focused on the art of accomplishing something, finishing something. And then the last one, the fourth one, is a Builder, meaning that you’d like to take something where nothing exists before, and you like to build it, and you create something that has never existed before. And the quiz will actually slot you into the category that’s right for you, but give you a unique name for your genius.

So, my genius is a Visionary Insight Excavator. And, essentially, what that means is that the end result of my genius is that I can see what is possible, but the way that I see that possibility is by seeing patterns in data and getting insights. And those insights then inform the possible, what is possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, we’ve got the categories, and within the categories we’ve got some sub-facets. I don’t know what you want to call it.

Laura Garnett
Yeah. And here’s a way to think about it. Because if you’re working in a team of people, it’s really helpful. It’s kind of harder to know all the specific names of the geniuses. It’s kind of like learning everyone’s first name. You can do it. But the categories are you’re able to easily see themes, and it’s also easier to think of this is a tool for efficiency and prioritization because, again, that’s another way of moving towards exciting work and moving away from boring work. It’s just to reprioritize and to collaborate with others, or figure out, “What is the right work for the right person?”

And when you know these categories of your teammates, then it’s easier to diagnose or be able to pinpoint, “Okay, this project involves building something from scratch? Are there any Builders here?” And that can really make that process a lot easier.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Well, then let’s hear the second part, the impact that provides your purpose, and that often connects to some personal history. Walk us through this part.

Laura Garnett
Yeah. So, this datapoint is all about intrinsic motivation. So, at the heart, and this, again, I’m pulling from the science of peak performance and success in the sense that the only way for you to have positive energy at work is to be intrinsically motivated. And for those of you who don’t know that means, it means that motivation comes from within. It’s not that you’re doing something for the paycheck. Extrinsic motivation is when you are driven to do something for the reward, and you can Google all of this. There’s so much research on the fact and the downside of extrinsic motivation versus intrinsic motivation.

The problem is that most people just don’t know what is it that’s going to intrinsically motivate because everyone would probably sit here and say, “I want to be purpose-driven. I want intrinsic motivation,” but don’t have any understanding of how to create that because it has to come from within yourself, which is why it’s connected to your psychology which is, again, when I saw this in people, it was astounding. It was fascinating because we never really associate our psychology with work performance and, yet, it’s integral.

And so, that’s the purpose datapoint, which is it is the impact on others or in the world that is most motivating to you, but in order to get to that, you need to understand what your own core emotional challenge has been throughout your life. And when you understand and label and put language to that core emotional challenge, and then you flip it, that becomes your purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, please, give us some examples of some core emotional challenges and how they got flipped into purpose on the other side.

Laura Garnett
Of course. So, my core emotional challenge is not being seen or understood. So, for me, what is endlessly intrinsically motivating is helping other people see and understand themselves. And it’s fascinating because even the most subtle example of me helping someone understand themselves lights me up. It gives me endless energy. And I have seen this be the case with almost everyone once they accurately see that core emotional challenge, that the reverse of it is endlessly motivating because the reason for this is because that core emotional challenge is so painful.

When I think of it, I could cry. There are so many instances, it makes me emotional just to think of it. And so, you are unconsciously helping others to avoid having that same pain. And I’ve seen people are doing this and not even aware that they’re doing it, which is what’s so amazing about putting language to it is that you see it. It was happening before but now you see it, and you get the added bonus of you’re tapping into motivation that’s there for you. You just didn’t know it was there. It’s free.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Laura Garnett
It’s super cool.

Pete Mockaitis
Free motivation sounds great.

Laura Garnett
Yeah, you just have to buy the book and then it’s free.

Pete Mockaitis
So, with the core emotional challenge, likewise, are these sorts of a few categories that they fall into, or is it everyone is completely unique, emotional challenge happening?

Laura Garnett
There are definitely similar. I have not bucketed that one into a series of four parcels because I find that when it comes to one psychology, that while we are all similar, in the same way that there are these categories of geniuses, that the nuances of our psychological experiences are infinite. And, therefore, it is actually really important, and this is something that I’ve gotten clear on, it’s really important to find the right language that speaks to that unique psychological pain that you experienced, so there should be infinite. There’s infinite possibility with that.

Like, in the quiz, I’ve taken all of the core emotional challenges that I’ve seen, and I think what you can do is try to find one that is similar to yours. But I always encourage people that getting kind of the genius and purpose language to begin with is a starting point. And we’ll talk about what the genius habit is because that’s the next step. But the second step is for you to feel free to refine the language as you learn more and more about yourself so that it is correct.

I’ve kind of rethought myself for the core emotional challenge. What, for me, feels very powerful is the word understood. That resonates with me to my core. But, again, as I continue to grow and evolve and learn, I’m always asking myself, “Is it that word?” And so, there’s always kind of an opportunity to refine that to make sure that it’s the right language.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you give us a couple other core emotional challenges?

Laura Garnett
Sure. There are infinite ones. I could give you some examples of other clients. I think what’s interesting about it though is that most people think they know what motivates them. I’m always surprised that people will say, and we tend to be over-generalized what gives us purpose. So, for example, and this is why this work, and The Genius Habit, and knowing your zone of genius, is a habit of awareness. It’s an invitation to go deeper and understand even more details of yourself, and the power that that then brings.

But some people will say, “Well, I love helping people,” or, “I like managing people. That’s what intrinsically motivates me.” And then I’ll say after I work with them and I understand their core emotional challenge, the precise language might be, “Being a catalyst for someone’s exponential growth.” And that language is then connected to a specific story or a specific series of events in their childhood where they were actually seeking support and could never find it, and always felt a loss of someone just helping them catapult.

And so, for this person, that language catalyzing someone’s potential is meaningful for them to the bone. Another one that I’ve seen recently is not feeling alone. And to that person, before kind of creating the more refined language, they would’ve said, “I really love motivating people.” That is what they would’ve said is their purpose, motivating them. But what this person really did was make them not feel alone.

Now, what’s interesting is that when you ask other people, this was a very senior leader, when you would ask their team for feedback, that purpose would come out. When I would see it in this person and then I would then look for it in feedback, it’s there. They would say, “Oh, he’s always there for me. He’s always present.” And so, then as a leader to know, “Wait a second. This is the precise way that I impact people in a positive way,” it’s really powerful in terms of knowing what kind of leader they are. And this particular leader, for example, is exceptional at helping people not feel alone.

And when you think about that for a while, there are a lot of people in the business world who feel alone in terms of from their manager. A lot of people I meet would say, “I see my manager once a month, once every three months. They don’t know what I’m doing. I feel very disconnected.” So, to be working with someone where they never feel alone is really powerful. And that’s something that this person, he never would’ve articulated his purpose in that way before.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful. Well, Laura, maybe to help readers get a bit more flavor for what this journey of self-discovery might look like for them, can we spend a few minutes on me?

Laura Garnett
Of course.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I think with core emotional challenge, what I think…I’ve heard some call it the idol of performance, or how it feels to me is like, “I really like feeling like a winner, and I really hate feeling like a loser.” And so, it’s funny. I guess I’m kind of competitive but not like…and I’m not super athletic so I guess I’m not that competitive like I’m going to scream at someone on a soccer field, but I guess it’s sort of like I really like seeing my podcast numbers go up and I really don’t like seeing them go down.

I remember one time I had a not-so great review at work, and I remember I said, which was really odd as I look back at it, I said, “That’s not who I am.” And the right response for the review would’ve been, “Of course, it’s not you. It’s one review for one work period.” It wasn’t that horrible. It’s not your identity. So, that’s kind of my first guess as to a core emotional challenge. But how might you lead me?

Laura Garnett
Well, tell me a little bit more about that. What do you mean? So, how would you phrase that core emotional challenge?

Pete Mockaitis
I guess my core emotional challenge is like I like…

Laura Garnett
Don’t like to fail.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, that’s true. I don’t like to fail. Although, it’s not disastrous. I’ve had a few businesses that had zero revenue, and it wasn’t like soul-crushing, I was just like, “Oh, bummer.” But I guess it’s when it gets a little bit more personal in terms of it’s like, “Ooh, I am winning,” or, “I am losing.” And when I’m winning, I feel like very rejuvenated, like, “Oh, yes, yes, yes,” and when I’m losing, it’s like, “Ah.”

Laura Garnett
Well, that’s an interesting topic that you’re bringing up because what you’re referring to is what I call, there’s a chapter in The Genius Habit about this called The Achievement Junkie. And so, when you’re looking at the science of performance, and this is pretty typical in the sense that, first off, we are an achievement-based society. So, that’s one of the big themes of my work is to dismantle a lot of the rules that we’ve been taught about success from society, and this is one of them, which is achievements equal success.

We’re also dealing with our brains. So, when you achieve something, you get a hit of dopamine in your brain. It feels good. So, in many ways, it’s very easy to think of achievement as actually happiness at work. But I, and, again, I call that kind of like the sugar version of happiness at work. It’s very short-lived and it’s just not sustainable. You’ll crash very soon afterwards. And everyone can relate to that feeling of you win something, and you’re like, “Woohoo, this is great. This is awesome.” And the next day you’re like, “Wait. It’s all gone. I don’t feel any different,” which is why things like this is extrinsic motivation at work, which is why then you have to go get another achievement. You have to win something else to get a little shot of that good feeling.

So, what I would want to help you understand and unravel is that you have an achievement junkie tendency, which everyone has, and if you kind of peel that layer back, your core emotional challenge is underneath that. It’s deep in your psyche and it’s unconscious. So, one question I would say to you is, or ask is, “When was the last time you felt exceptionally fulfilled or intrinsically motivated by an impact you had?” Like, you felt…and I don’t know your personality type, if you’re a feeler or a thinker, and if you actually feel things in your body or it’s all mental. But it’s an example of just feeling, like in that moment, “This is the impact I want to have in the world. This feels right.” Do you have a moment?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s hard to identify like an exceptional peak because, in many ways, it’s sort of doing my daily work. There’s a lot of that in terms of I think it’s really awesome to talk to you and discover some things, and then share it with the world. And it feels very edifying when there’s a very genuine compliment, an email, a comment, on the blogpost or whatnot. Like, that listener picked up some real stuff of value, and they have been positively transformed as a result. I think that’s awesome.

Laura Garnett
So, is it that transformation? If someone says, “Pete, I was just transformed from that podcast,” does that do anything for you?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That’s awesome.

Laura Garnett
So, what about that is awesome? Why is it…is it “transformation” in particular?

Pete Mockaitis
I think so. What are the alternatives?

Laura Garnett
Well, if I said to you, “I was energized,” does that…?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess that’s nice but it’s not as good.

Laura Garnett
Okay. There you go. See, the language, you’re having a different reaction. So, honestly, the core emotional challenge can take some time to dig into. I don’t know if we have time to do that today, but some people, it’s really on the surface, and for others, it’s very deep because it’s often with our psychology, something we’re not aware of, or we’re not paying attention to it, and it does require kind of going into a painful place, which some people are more comfortable with than others.

And you can think of, and when I work with my clients, we go through their whole life story in about an hour and a half. And there are invariably, and maybe this will kind of spark some thoughts, but invariably, people, everyone has these moments of pain, or moments that they…because we don’t…I don’t know how old you are, but at a certain point you forget a lot of your childhood. But everyone has these very specific memories that are really precise, like, “Oh, when I was in third grade, and this teacher did XYZ, I’ll never forget that.” Do you have any stories like that that come to mind?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s funny. You got me all over the place here. I remember one time, I think I was talking about, I don’t know, chess or something with my dad, and were like ratings because I thought that was an interesting concept, “Oh, chess ratings to see who is the best mathematically.” And it’s like, “So, dad, do you think my rating might be this or this?” And he was like, “Why is it always with the winning with you?” I was like, “Oh, okay.” Kind of startled.

And then another time, I think I was really putting some pressure on myself to get straight A’s in high school, and my mom was like, “Hey, just so you know, we don’t need that from you and we don’t expect that from you, and we will love you, and it’s completely okay if you get some B’s and C’s.” But I guess I was like, “Well, my brother was a valedictorian, therefore, I have to be a valedictorian.” So, in a way, it’s kind of funny. I’m thinking about sort of like the cautionary bits as opposed to like a particular wounding. And then as we think about impact, I guess I’m thinking about times I felt really…

Laura Garnett
Well, wait a second. Those are two very juicy stories.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Laura Garnett
Those are really good because what that tells me is that you were on this path of achievement, “I’m going to win at all costs.”It’s interesting you just did a reaction. You said, when your dad was like, “What’s with the winning?” and you’re just like, “Ah,” there was this frustration there. And at the root of frustration is disconnection. And in both of those scenarios, there’s kind of, I feel like from both of your parents, there’s this questioning, as you just said it too. Questioning. Why?

Pete Mockaitis
And I think it was well-intentioned questioning.

Laura Garnett
Right, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of they really wanted me to like, “Hey, man, don’t give yourself a panic attack. You’re great. You don’t need to overdo it.”

Laura Garnett
Well, here’s another question. When someone questions you, does it trigger you? Meaning, do you get frustrated very easily?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny. And sometimes, yes, Most of the time, no. And I don’t know the difference. But, Laura, I love what…I think we’ve got enough of a sample, and not that I’m chickening out. We can do this again later.

Laura Garnett
Well, you know, what I would say, just to tie a bow on that, here’s what I would say to you is that this idea of someone questioning you is something to inquire upon, think about it. Think about it and I would say start looking, and that’s where The Genius Habit comes in because you can get a tracker and start to pay attention of the moments where you are questioned. And that might be a breadcrumb to your core emotional challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, now the conversation we just had there, it sounds like within your books and the quizzes, folks can have a bit of that conversation internally. And, of course, folks can hire you, always an option.

Laura Garnett
Of course.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, how else might you recommend folks engage in these sorts of discovery conversations?

Laura Garnett
I would say this is really at the heart of all of this, is it’s an invitation for individuals, especially highly driven people that want to do a lot with their lives, to do it in a way that feels good. I think one of the biggest areas of opportunity that I’ve seen is that success that looks one way, looks good but it doesn’t feel good. And what I would welcome people to do is buy the book, learn The Genius Habit, but see it as a way of getting more powerful in terms of leveraging one of the greatest powers you have, which is being who you are, and then being able to advocate in your existing role or in a new role for work that, going back to what we said before, is energizing and exciting, and that that opportunity is always available to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, that is a nice little bow, indeed. And, Laura, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Laura Garnett
The last thing I would say is we didn’t really get to talk about the tracker, and I would say that is just a very fundamental component of The Genius Habit so I would encourage everyone, that’s basically what I said to you, which is go deeper with this thing of questioning. Anyone here listening can go to my website and download a performance tracker, the zone of genius tracker. And with that alone, you can begin to get more connected to yourself and understand your own zone of genius, and be able to create work and advocate for work that feels as good as it looks. So, that’s available to you all.

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

Laura Garnett
Joseph Campbell, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” And I feel like that quote is just kind of a beautiful articulation of everything that I’m all about.

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

Laura Garnett
There is so much research that I cite in “The Genius Habit” and “Find Your Zone of Genius.” I would say, you know what, at the heart of all this, especially because we talked about where this all began, is that my love for Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and the book Flow, and all of the research that he did on peak performance. And one of the things that he said that came through his research, which has fueled me, is that, “We are happiest when we’re working, but only when that work creates flow, or you are in the zone.” So, that’s a favorite one.

Pete Mockaitis
And any other favorite books?

Laura Garnett
About a million, but I would say Flow is on the top of my list. I love that book. I’m also a big Adam Grant fan, so anything Adam Grant writes I think is fantastic. He’s gotten really popular these days. Anything based on any new research on performance or happiness or success, I’m all over. Oh, and Dan Gilbert. He’s another favorite author of mine. Stumbling on Happiness is a fantastic one because, speaking of research, we think we know what will make us happy, and Dan Gilbert’s book really help you understand that what we think has no real validity when it comes to what really will make us happy. So, that’s a good one.

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

Laura Garnett
Well, I’m going to talk about my tracker. I just love it. I also have, I love tracking. And for those listeners who are trackers, the tracker is like a Fitbit for your work experience. So, I use it every week and I have done so for 10 years, so that’s my favorite tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Laura Garnett
Other than the fact I do have an Oura Ring, which is one of my all-time favorite tools that I use. I don’t know if you’re familiar with an Oura Ring.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve heard of it, and they’ve almost sponsored the show. I don’t know what the holdup was, guys. Just, if anyone’s listening, because I was excited.

Laura Garnett
Come on. One of your favorite customers is here. This is great. I’m a huge fan of the Oura Ring. I’ve been using it for like four or five. I’ve probably used it longer than most. I’m an early adopter when it comes to tracking things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we can dork out about that for a long time, but maybe for just one minute. Okay. If we already have a Fitbit, is the Oura Ring going to do anything above and beyond what the Fitbit is doing for me?

Laura Garnett
I went from a Fitbit to an Oura Ring, and I have to say, again, as someone who…I didn’t like having it on my wrist. I preferred it on my finger.

Pete Mockaitis
So, form factor preference.

Laura Garnett
But from a data perspective, I would say Fitbit has also evolved tremendously. I would say they’re all amazing. I think, for me, what makes the Oura Ring so great is just the fact that it’s just a ring versus anything on my wrist.

Pete Mockaitis
And it looks cool.

Laura Garnett
And because you can wear it with a dress, not that we’ve worn dresses, not in the pandemic, but I hope to in the near future.

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

Laura Garnett
Well, this was a quote I shared in the pandemic, and I think that resonated, which was, “When everything is uncertain, the one thing that’s certain is being who you are.” And it’s actually something I said in an interview, and I ended up putting it on a mug right here, and I think about it a lot myself. I think it’s very grounding to think about that when at a time in our world where there’s a lot of uncertainty.

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

Laura Garnett
To my website, to LauraGarnett.com where you can download the tracker, you can certainly go and purchase Find Your Zone of Genius” and The Genius Habit, and, of course, go take the Zone of Genius Quiz, that’s at the ZoneOfGeniusQuiz.com. Go check it out. And please let me know. And, of course, I also, if you go to the website, I have a newsletter. I send out free advice and thoughts, and I’m always talking about kind of what’s new and present for me in my newsletter that comes out every three weeks, and it’s called The Fast Track.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have any final challenges or call to actions for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Laura Garnett
I’m going to kind of build off of what you said. I think I just want to help people understand that having work that is energizing, fun, fulfilling, that that actually is not a fantasy, and it is all readily available to you, and it starts with knowing who you are, and building new habits. So, I would just say, if that is a dream you have that you haven’t achieved, there is a way. And I would certainly love to help you with this work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Laura, thank you. This has been a treat. And I wish you much fun and genius moments.

Laura Garnett
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. This has been so fun.