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619: Seth Godin on How to Ship More Great Creative Work…and Why Much of Your Work is Actually “Creative”

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Seth Godin says: "Fear needs to be seen as a compass... because that feeling is telling us we're onto something."

Seth Godin debunks persistent myths about creativity to show how professionals can deliver more creative output at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The real reason why we don’t think we’re creative 
  2. The most effective way to overcome creative block 
  3. Why you should embrace your impostor syndrome 

 

About Seth

Seth Godin is the author of nineteen international bestsellers that have been translated into over 35 languages, and have changed the way people think about marketing and work. 

He’s a recent inductee to the Marketing Hall of Fame, and also a member of the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, and the Guerrilla Marketing Hall of Fame. 

In addition to his writing and speaking, Seth was founder and CEO of Squidoo.com. His blog (find it by typing “seth” into Google) is the most popular marketing blog in the world. Before his work as a writer and blogger, Seth was Vice President of Direct Marketing at Yahoo!, a job he got after selling them his pioneering 1990s online startup, Yoyodyne.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Seth Godin Interview Transcript

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

Seth Godin
Oh, it’s a pleasure. Who knows where here is anymore, but we’re here together.

Pete Mockaitis
Everything you say or write is profound. Well, I’m super excited to dig into your latest book, it’s called The Practice. And I don’t want to do flattery but I genuinely do mean that you are among the most prolific and brilliant writers that I’ve encountered. I haven’t read all your books, many people have, and it’d probably better if I did. But it sounds like in your book, The Practice, is this sort of your secret or…? Tell us, what’s this book all about, because it seems like you’re really kind of giving away the inner secrets here a little bit?

Seth Godin
Oh, I don’t think it’s my secret. I think it’s our secret. I think everybody knows that they need to ship creative work because being a drone and a cog is no fun. And I think everyone realizes that there’s no such thing as the muse, that talent is overrated, and that if we just showed up and put ourselves on the hook, we can not only do better work but do it with more joy.

And what I wanted to do in this book is capture a whole bunch of truth that we keep reminding ourselves that the opposite might be true. We’re confused. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s all these skills that we could learn that are masquerading as attitudes, etc. All of these things are ways that we can decide to contribute more. So, this book is really personal in the sense that I wrote it so that I would remind myself of what I needed to hear.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And it seems like a number, or you tell me, or perhaps all of them, are coming from your legendary Seth’s Blog short blog posts from across the years. I was just reading “Where do ideas come from?” and it’s almost like poetic. And then I see, oh, that was indeed one of your posts like 10 years ago, and you’ve sort of collected the relevant ones and put them in a beautiful package.

Seth Godin
I think there’s like 220 essays and perhaps six of them have ever seen before, maybe eight.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, really? Nice. I didn’t know those. Okay.

Seth Godin
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, maybe let’s hit some definitions just to make sure we’re on the same page here. So, ship and creative work, I think I know what you mean by these things. But can you establish those for our audience of professionals?

Seth Godin
So, creative means it might not work. It’s never been done before. It’s personal. It’s generous. It’s human. It’s for someone else. You’re solving an interesting problem. That’s what creative means. Work, because you have to do it even when you don’t feel like it. Work, because you put yourself on the hook, you made a promise. And ship, because if it doesn’t ship it doesn’t count. If you say, “Well, I had the idea for blank years ago. I was going to write Hamilton,” no one cares because you didn’t ship it.

Pete Mockaitis
“We had the idea for Airbnb but we never did anything with it.” So, understood. And so, ship just really means kind of like deliver, get out the door, execute, do the thing.

Seth Godin
Right. Now, there’s a Nike problem. And the Nike problem is when you say, “Just ship it,” you could think that means, “What the hell. Put crap out there.” That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m saying merely ship it. Go without commentary. Do it without drama. Simply do it because that’s the work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s dig into a little bit of the particulars here. So, you say that creativity is not a gift for a select few but rather a choice. So, help us think through that, these mindsets here in terms of contrasting them and how does one make the choice.

Seth Godin
Have you ever done one thing in your life that was creative? Have you ever once solved the problem, told a joke, connected with someone who needed to be connected to? The answer, to anyone I’ve ever asked it to, is, yes, of course. So, if you can do it once, then the only question is, “Can you do it again?” And, yes, you can. So, that means it’s a choice. It’s not like you’re sitting there waiting for some flyball to land on your head. The reason we feel that way is because we’re afraid of the bad ideas. We’re afraid of the things that won’t work. And so, because we’re so afraid of the bad ones, we throw them all out.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, let’s dig into this fear, this emotional piece. So, we’re afraid of bad ideas and, thusly…Well, I think about professionals all the times in the conference rooms people are choosing not to share things.

Seth Godin
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
And a lot of that is fear, maybe with good reason from experience. They get their hands slapped, or they get yelled at, or dismissed, or invalidated in one or another way. Well, can you help us think through? If you got some things to share, and you got some fear, what should we do?

Seth Godin
Fear has some very important elements. Fear that keeps you from crossing the highway on foot at rush hour is a good thing. Fear of a saber-toothed tiger is a good thing. That’s what we evolved to have but it is false fear when we feel nervous before giving a speech because nothing bad is going to happen to you. In fact, dancing with that fear will make a better outcome happen, not a worse outcome.

So, fear needs to be seen as a compass, as an opportunity to lean into that feeling because that feeling is telling us we’re onto something. Because if you’re not feeling it, I would argue you’re probably not trying hard enough.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. And so, you’re sharing not just that you reinterpret the feeling, like, “Oh, no, I’m excited,” which is a good strategy for nerves and stage fright, but to actually seek it out, like, “Oh, we got a compass that’s pointing us somewhere here.”

And, boy, we had Tara Mohr on the show say that there are two Hebrew words for fear. I don’t know if I can recall them, like yara and something else, and they’re kind of very different flavors. And one of them is kind of like the fear of inhabiting kind of a larger space. That’s kind of the good one. And so, that very much syncs with the notion of it’s a compass that’s pointing you into some cool territories.

Seth Godin
Yeah. You don’t hire a coach to train you so you can run a marathon without getting tired. It’s understood you get tired. The way you finish a marathon is by figuring out where to put the tired. And the same thing is true for any contribution we’re seeking to make, “Where do I put the fear?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, “Where do I put it?” in terms of your internal mental categorizations of, “What does this mean? And how do I respond to it?”

Seth Godin
That’s right. And a lot of people are just hoping it will go away, and it doesn’t go away.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that’s encouraging to hear right now. I mean, you’re pretty legendary and so you’re sharing on the record that you’re still feeling the fear and the stuff right here, right now with this book?

Seth Godin
Only when I’m working hard. I can coast all day without feeling fear. But, yes, if I’m doing my job properly, there’s definitely, “Uh-oh, maybe I reached too far out of the boat,” “Uh-oh, maybe I’m too much in a hurry. Maybe I’m not being clear. Maybe I forgot to do something that would’ve been a useful contribution.” Yeah, all of that, all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now that we’re inside your internal mind dialogue, can we hang out a little longer? So, that shows up, and then what comes next in the conversation?

Seth Godin
“Thank you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Please go on.

Seth Godin
“Thank you.” I mean, it’s such a privilege to be able to do this work. And to have that voice in my head to keep me on track, I don’t try to deny it, I don’t try to rationalize it, I don’t argue with it, I just say, “Thanks for letting me know.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful stuff. And as I’m sort of sitting with that, it really is true that if you don’t have any fear, it’s sort of like you don’t care about the outcome, or maybe not the outcome if there’s a whole lot there. You don’t care about the “it.” It’s not a high value to you personally. It’s not of great importance, the stuff, if there’s not some level of fear, in my experience. Is that kind of a fair characterization?

Seth Godin
Well, I guess. I mean, let’s assume you’re not a sociopath. There’s one thing, which is confidence. And confidence is being sure it’s going to work. And the other thing is belief, which is, “I’m not sure it’s going to work but I’m going to try it anyway.” And if all you’re doing all day are things that you are confident about, then you’ve got a challenge because it means you’re not doing any art, you’re not creating anything.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. Well, so let’s dig into a few of your maybe provocative assertions. So, you say writer’s block is a myth. What’s really going on here? Why do we sometimes have difficulty getting creative when we want to flip the switch but it doesn’t seem to be flipping?

Seth Godin
Well, no one gets talker’s block or bicyclist block or plumber’s block, so there’s no reason to think that writer’s block would be an exception. What we really have is fear of bad writing. And if you do enough of the bad stuff, some good stuff will get through. But to say, “I am incapable of typing something,” is absurd. What you’re saying is, “Because I am so afraid of what might come out, I don’t want to type anything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then I suppose it’s quite possible, and really this is a different phenomenon. You could type something and it might be bad. I guess there are times in which you’re in flow, you’re rocking, you’re grooving, and there are times when you’re not, and it’s like, “Okay, I could throw some sentences on this page that I will surely delete afterwards,” versus, “Oh, wow, this is amazing!” So, talk to us about flow. How do we get more of that?

Seth Godin
Well, so people want flow and then they’ll do the creative work but that never is the way it works. You do creative work when you don’t feel like it and then flow shows up. And I appreciate your kind words about my writing but I write bad stuff all the time, you just don’t see it. And my friend, Isaac Asimov, wrote 400 books, published them, and he told me that his secret was he typed for six hours a day every day. And I got to tell you, typing a book only takes about three days. Writing a book takes a long time because it’s figuring out which words to leave out that take all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, let’s think about Seth’s Blog for a second here. So, every day, is it 100% of days? It sure looks like it as I’ve been there, you’re putting something out. So, sometimes you don’t feel like it.

Seth Godin
Oh, I write three, or four, or five blogposts for every one you read. And I have a backlog because I don’t want to break a streak. I don’t wake up at 4:00 o’clock in the morning and type something and hit publish.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, you got a backlog and you’re cranking whether you feel like it or not. And are there some rituals there for you?

Seth Godin
Well, the real ritual is I ask myself a question every single time I see something in the world that I don’t understand, and it’s, “Why is it like this?” because I refuse to believe the world is magic. And so, I want to understand “How does a refrigerator work?” “And why do some doors pull and some doors push?” “And how did that person get elected?” Everything around us happened. Why did it happen? And if I find that my answer is worth sharing, it becomes a blogpost.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love this so much. So, “Why is it like this?” gets the wheels turning in all kinds of places. And then what happens next? So, you’ve got a curiosity about the refrigerator or an election outcome. Do you Google or what’s the next step?

Seth Godin
No, you make an assertion, right? I mean, some things you can look up but not many. You make an assertion about, “What are the fundamental human desires, and needs, and wants, and hopes and dreams, and fears that led somebody to do what they did?” And Milton Friedman would like to believe that everything happens because you get paid. Well, that’s clearly not the case.

So, why is it that there’s hundreds of thousands of people with podcasts who, deep down, know they’re never going to make a lot of money doing it? Why is it that when Monster came out with Beats headphones, which could be seen in any test to be inferior to headphones that cost much less, how did they build a multibillion-dollar brand? Why do people buy those headphones? Questions like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you’re right. And they really do get you…Well, I guess that’s what I find so intriguing is you pose these questions and I’m already curious about them, like the refrigerator and the Beats, I just kind of want to know now. But you say the next step is not so much to go Google something, but to think more about the deep fundamental human stuff behind it.

Seth Godin
Yeah, I mean, that doesn’t work for physics. Refrigerators, you should not make assertions. You should just Google how they work.

Pete Mockaitis
Someone desired cold profoundly for their food. Okay. And with the Beats, though, I am, I almost did it right now, the history of Beats I pose. But you stop and think like, “What do people want? What are they after? What is the brand speaking to?” It’s like they want to be cool with a particular flavor of cool, it’s like, “I want to be like that Dr. Dre,” or so. I’m just…

Seth Godin
No, you’re onto something. I think what Noel figured out was that headphones were a chance to create jewelry for men. And he came up, by working with Dr. Dre, with a piece of jewelry for a certain demographic, psychographic, that you could justify wearing right next to your face. And the market for jewelry is so much bigger than the incremental head-on market for electronics that do a job because those are a commodity. And what happened in many communities is having artificial Dr. Dre’s lowered your status. Having real ones raised your status. And so, that’s what he was selling, was status not audio reproduction.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, let’s think about, as I read your book The Practice, what comes to mind are those who are producing, I don’t know, books, videos, movies, etc. I like your definition of creativity, it was broader. But if you imagine yourself in an environment of a white-collar worker going into an office, when you could go into an office, and interacting there, what are you thinking that there’s something that this community of professionals likely does that stifles their creativity? Are there some recurring mistakes that you encourage folks cut out?

Seth Godin
Well, yeah, the biggest one is they think it’s not their job. Like, let’s pick an accountant. Accounting is not bookkeeping. Bookkeepers are, generally, my bookkeeper excepted, generally, commodity providers that you don’t care who it is, you just give them the data and they give you back the answer. It is a cog’s job. But to be a successful accountant, you’re doing something that involves engaging with other humans.

So, the accountants at Enron did a bad job but not because they were bad at bookkeeping, but because they lost their moral compass and weren’t able to have creative, useful conversations with their clients. And that’s hard work, and it’s different every time you do it. So, it’s so easy to avoid it and say, “I’m just an accountant,” when, in fact, if you want to win at accounting, by any measure, you have to be a human before you’re an accountant. To be a human means you have to solve the interesting problems that accounting presents.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you what, that is exactly why I stuck with my accountant for all this time, it’s like, for one, I thought, “You know what, I’m not really good at this stuff, so maybe I probably should outsource it,” but then when I looked at the bill, it’s like, “Ooh, do I want to keep with this?” But, sure enough, it’s like these little gems, it’s like, “Oh, well, if you’re a single-member LLC, but we have your taxes and S-corp, then the result is that a portion of your stuff is a wage and the other portion is not, something to payroll tax, like all this stuff.” It’s like, “So, you’re just making money appear for me. Oh, thank you. This is like you create more money than I pay you and take something off my plate.”

Seth Godin
I got to interject here, it’s much deeper than that. He didn’t simply make you more money because there are lots of ways someone could make you more money. They could teach you to be a bond trader. What he did was he made you feel smart.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Seth Godin
He made you feel like to not hear this tomorrow would make you stupid. He helped you with your reflection of your own status, which changed your relationship with other people around you. So, there’s layers beyond layers beyond layers, and this accountant may think that all they’re doing is work in the system, but what they’re really doing is understanding what Pete needs to hear to feel engaged in a positive cycle.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that connects. And I recall…I just want to hit this for a moment, this notion of layers and human needs and desires. I remember I was reading something you wrote, and we talked about benefits versus features, people don’t want to drill, they want a hole in the wall. But even more than they want a hole in the wall, you took it further. Can you recap that for us?

Seth Godin
Sure. So, Ted Levitt, in ’62, wrote that no one wants a drill bit, what they want is a hole, and they have to buy the drill bit to get the hole. And I’m like, “No, you don’t need a hole. You need a place to put your lag bolt. Well, you don’t need that either. You need a way to hang a shelf. Well, you don’t need that either. You need a way to get the books off the coffee table. And you don’t need that, you need the way it makes you feel when your spouse says thank you.” That’s why you went to the hardware store.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, likewise, with this accounting situation, it’s like, well, yeah, there’s some economics stuff going on, sure. But even more so, it’s true, I do like feeling smart, and I do like feeling, like together we have accomplished something that is, I don’t know, optimal, clever, that is we found an opportunity, legally and appropriately, and we grabbed it in an exciting way. It was exciting for me. I don’t know even though it was accounting.

Okay. Well, so, oh, you’ve got so much stuff. Let’s hear about impostor syndrome. So, you posit that that’s not so much something that we need to cure and get over, but rather it’s something else. Tell us about that.

Seth Godin
Right. So, no one talked about impostor syndrome until two women wrote about it 30 years ago, and now, suddenly, people are acknowledging that they have it too, “I feel like a fraud. Who are they to speak up? Who are they to have a podcast? Who are they to be creative? How do I make it go away? How do I make impostor syndrome go away?”

And people are surprised when I say, “Well, but you’re an impostor. They can’t go away because you’re an impostor. You’re accurately feeling something, which is if you’re leading, you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before, you can’t be sure you’re right. You can’t prove that you’re qualified.” Therefore, we have to embrace the idea that all leaders, at some level, are impostors. And, again, it’s a symptom that you’re doing this generous creative work.

Pete Mockaitis
So, once we embrace that, then we feel okay about it, or what happens then?

Seth Godin
No, you never feel okay about it, not if you’re a normal person. What you do instead is say, “This is work,” that’s in the subtitle. Be awesome at your job, not be awesome at your hobby. If it’s your hobby, you should do it exactly the way that gives you short-term and long-term joy. But if it’s your work, well, good news, you don’t get blisters and calluses at your job. You don’t have to stand outside in the rain and dig a ditch. Bad news, you have to do emotional labor. And the emotional labor means dealing with impostor syndrome. It means dancing with fear. It means showing up when you don’t feel like it because it’s work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that when you put them right next to each other as a contrast. It’s like you’re choosing a form of hard or a form of discomfort.

Seth Godin
It’s labor. Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about the movie Office Space, where, at the end, the guy chooses the other one, he’s like, “You know what, this is better. I prefer the construction.” Okay. Well, so tell us, Seth, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Seth Godin
Okay. So, the reason it’s worth writing a book, and not another blogpost, is because books are easy to share. You can say to two or three other people, “Let’s all read this and support each other through it.” That’s why I wrote a book. I believe we are not spending enough time looking at each other and talking about how we will make things better by making better things. And so, my hope is that people will embrace a practice and use it as a tool for good.

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

Seth Godin
Years ago, my friend and teacher, the late Zig Ziglar, said, “You can get everything in life you want if you’ll help enough other people get what they want.” And some people hear that as transactional so I’ve sort of altered it to, “Life can be helping other people get what they want,” and that’s a good compass for me.

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

Seth Godin
Oh, the most important thing that people need to learn, truly learn, is statistics. And the most interesting thing they can learn, as far as I’ve discovered after reading a lot of books, is just how profound the process of the evolution of species is. If you want to understand how COVID is doing what COVID is doing, if you want to understand epidemiology, if you want to understand how we have to dance around our future on this planet, you need to understand what Darwin figured out, that many, many small changes, repeated through inheritance, over long periods of time, creates the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Seth, you’re so fascinating. Statistics, I didn’t expect you to say that. Why is that so critical?

Seth Godin
You know, I read an essay last week that we should get rid of calculus in high school and teach everyone statistics instead because you don’t need to know calculus. Calculus is a stepping stone to higher math but very few people need higher math. Everyone needs statistics. The people who think that the polls were wrong on the last election don’t understand what polls are. The people who don’t get what interest rates are and why risk even exists in the world, I mean, all of it. You can see the world so much more clearly if you understand what statistics are.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Seth Godin
I think it’s really weird that people associate books only with school. The average American reads two books a year, buys one. And that it’s awkward to talk about a book you wrote. But the book I wrote, Linchpin, which took a year of my life, which changed my life, which I listen to on audio on a regular basis, is a book that I would say to people, “Here, I wrote this. I hope you’ll check it out.”

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

Seth Godin
Okay. So, the best tool I purchased in the last year is an Austrian smoothing plane. It costs $300. It takes shavings of cedar that are microscopically thin. And every time I touch it, it makes me smile. It’s just magnificent. And in terms of my job, I just discovered the indigo press, which can be used to print PDFs in book form. But they have one giant laser printer, bigger than a house, and I’ve used it before, but now it can print, and I know we’re on the radio, but you can see these.

It can print these matte packaging, for example, that you might find at Whole Foods that they put granola in, and it can do small runs of just a couple thousand at a time. And so, this I find this company called ePac that has an Indigo printer. And I just got to say I just keep looking at this stack of things that I made, and it puts a big smile on my face. So, that’s a giant tool, and an Austrian smoothing plane, it’s a small tool. And between them you might find something juicy.

Pete Mockaitis
What is about the Austrian smoothing plane that makes you smile?

Seth Godin
It does exactly what it’s supposed to do with no complaint. It’s perfectly engineered. It doesn’t weigh a lot. They could’ve made it heavier. It doesn’t have unnecessary controls, but the controls it has do exactly what they’re supposed to do. And I’ve been woodworking for 40 years, more, 50, but I’m not great at it. But this tool, I was great at it. And that says something about the design of the tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Seth Godin
I don’t go to meetings, I don’t watch television, and I don’t eat meat. I think those three habits have helped me a great deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me about not going to meetings. What do you do instead?

Seth Godin
I think a conversation between two people is not a meeting, it’s a conversation. Those are good. If you’re putting the other bunch of people so that you can make sure that they’re working today, that’s just about compliance. That should be cancelled. If you really want people’s input, you should create a shared Google Doc, and create an environment where people will be encouraged to contribute to it. If you want to tell people what the specs are for the tech standards at the conference you’re running, you should send a memo. But there’s so many things that we’re doing today, because Zoom is so easy to click a button on, that consume most of our day, that are mostly about power not about communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Seth, tell us, how do you decline a meeting invitation?

Seth Godin
Oh, I think there’s very few penalties for being respectful, clear, and direct. And so, I say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this meeting. Can you send me a Google Doc instead?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s short and sweet. Well, all right, next stop, you’ve written a lot of stuff. Tell me, is there a particular quotable gem that you hear more often than others, like, “Seth, I loved it when you said blank”?

Seth Godin
I would say the shortest blogpost I recall writing ever is the one I hear about a lot. I don’t know if it’s the most, it’s, “You don’t need more time. You just need to decide.”

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

Seth Godin
You can get excerpts from The Practice at TrustYourself.com, which used to be the title of the book but I changed it with my editor but I kept the domain. And you can read 7,500 blogposts, if you’ve got some spare time, at Seths.Blog.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love that your bio, you can get there by just Googling Seth. There’s a power move. That’s good.

Seth Godin
It’s the equivalent of my Dr. Dre headphones.

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

Seth Godin
it’s pretty simple. Never ever say, “I’m just doing my job.” Simply do your job. Do it in a way that we would miss you if you were gone. Because, yes, management has been exploiting labor for a really long time, but if you’re going to go to work anyway, you might as well go to work and be a linchpin.

Pete Mockaitis
Seth, this has been a joy. Thank you so much. I wish you lots of luck and fun and all the ways you’re shipping work.

Seth Godin
Well, I appreciate it. Thanks for the time. We’ll see you.

591: How to Prevent Work and Stress From Taking Over Your Life with Bryan Robinson

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Bryan Robinsons says: "When you have compassion and creativity, that's a whole different ball game for how you're showing up at work."

Bryan Robinson shares the small, but impactful practices that help us strike a healthier work-life balance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key difference between loving work and workaholism 
  2. How to keep your survive brain from overwhelming you 
  3. Four micro chillers that offset stress and boost your mood 

About Bryan

Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages.  He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, NBC Universal, the CBS Early Show, and The Marketplace on PBS. He hosted the PBS documentary “Overdoing It: How to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself.” His book, Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them, is now in its third edition (New York University Press, 1998; 2007; 2014). He developed the Work Addiction Risk Test (WART), an instrument used worldwide to measure work addiction. He lives in Asheville with his spouse, one Yorkie, three Golden doodles, and Krishna, an adopted cat, who wandered into their lives, along with occasional bears at night. 

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Bryan Robinson Interview Transcript

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

Bryan Robinson
It’s great to be here, Pete. Thanks for asking me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I need to understand, you own four dogs, a cat, and some birds, but you have too many bears at night. What exactly does that mean?

Bryan Robinson
Well, I live in Asheville, North Carolina on the side of a mountain, and actually we have a bear alert. We have so many bears coming into the city because there are not as many people out. So, every night, and just about every afternoon, my dogs go crazy. I have three Golden doodles in the backyard, and I have a York inside, and so it’s a little disruptive but my philosophy is I live in their territory, they don’t live in mine. And so, we love the bears, we love nature, and so we’re adjusting just like they’ve had to adjust to us human beings.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so I like that’s a good frame a little bit in terms of it sounds sort of chill.

Bryan Robinson
Yeah, it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Or relaxed, and that’s what we’re talking about. You wrote the book on workaholism and three editions of it. So, maybe you can start us there. It’s like, how do we know if we are workaholics or if there is an imbalance in the first place? Maybe we have it going on and we don’t even know yet.

Bryan Robinson
Well, a lot of times we do have it going on. I had it going on and didn’t realize it because if you’re a true workaholic, you have as much denial as an alcoholic has denial. We’ve heard that old saying, “Denial is not a river in Egypt.” And most addictions do have a denial component. So, I’m a psychotherapist and I see a lot of people, actually, from all over the world, and all over the United States, who come to me, either virtually now or face to face, and usually it’s the spouse dragging the workaholic in to fix him or her.

But, often, what has to happen, unfortunately, like any other addiction, someone who is really out of control with work often hits a bottom, and that could be I’ve had patients who’d been fired because they called their employees in on the weekend to work, which was unreasonable. I’ve had a lot of folks who become physically ill with gastrointestinal problems, heart disease, because what we know, think about a car. If you just have gas and you don’t have brakes, well, I don’t even have to tell you folks who are listening what happens. You’re going to go off the cliff, you’re going to burn out your engine, and that’s what happens with workaholics. They actually burn out.

And burnout is not the same as stress. It’s not easy to get over. It’s not something you can just take a vacation from. It takes quite a bit of time because it becomes physical at that point.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then, that sounds pretty serious. So, maybe can you share with us what are maybe the top indicators there? So, it can surprise us, it can sneak up on us, we can be in denial, and then, I mean, in some of those instances, there are some pretty clear indicators. You got fired because you were asking too much from people who you just expect to work the way you were working.

Bryan Robinson
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Or you have a health issue showing up at the hospital. What are maybe some of the earlier indicators?

Bryan Robinson
Well, your spouse says, “Hasta Luego. I’m out of here,” after begging and pleading, which I went through early on. It’s one of the things that got me into what we call recovery. You know, there is a Workaholics Anonymous, there’s a 12-step program for workaholics. We’re talking about people who not only can’t stop working, even if they’re with their kids playing catch or by the ocean with their main squeeze, they’re thinking about work because they can’t turn it off. So, they’re not always in the office or in front of their computer. They can be anywhere and still working.

Also, there’s something called work infidelity. It’s my term that I use in the book #Chill. And that’s when you sneak your work. I had a woman tell me once that her husband complained because she stayed at the office till 7:00 or 8:00 every night, and he never saw her. And it got to be real serious, and she said, “I tell you what, I’m going to take an aerobics class.” The workout closed and, at work, what she would do is change into the workout clothes, dashed bottled water on her to make it look like sweat, and she actually worked till 8:00 o’clock but he thought that she’d been going to a class.

You know, I did something very similar, and I know it sounds even crazy when I say it, and I’m a therapist. I used to, when we’d go to the beach, everybody would walk on the beach and I’d pretend I was tired. I’d yawn and they thought that was cool, I’m actually going to rest. And as soon as I saw them out of sight, I would pull out my project from the university, I was a professor at the time, and work feverishly just like an alcoholic sneaking a drink. And then when I saw them coming back up, I’d pretend I’d been sleeping. And that’s work infidelity, which buys into that old notion of wedded to work.

Now, everybody is not that severe if they’re workaholics. The book #Chill is for anybody who lacks balance. And the kind of workaholic I’m talking about is really an extreme. There’s actually a test that you can take on my website, which you’ll probably mention, that tells you whether you’re that severe, which what I had just described as pretty serious, or mild, or medium. So, there are degrees of it, but a lot of people think they’re workaholics when they’re really not. They’d work in tax season, for example, day and night. That’s not a workaholic. That’s just the demands of the job that’s temporary. But we’re talking about people who are on the ski slopes, dreaming about being back in the office, versus someone who’s in the office, dreaming about being on the ski slopes. So, it’s a mental thing. It’s an inside job, as we say.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so much of that is, I guess, sort of looking in the mirror. I mean…

Bryan Robinson
Is it mind-blowing?

Pete Mockaitis
I go both ways here with regard to, it’s like, “Hey, I’m working less than I was when I was a strategy consultant, so then that’s pretty good, right?”

But I also had moments where I’m playing with my son outside, and I’m thinking about a cool project that’s coming up from an audio app that wants me to do a show. More about that later. So, yeah, I guess it’s not all about me, it’s about the listener and your expertise. But it’s sort of, I think, I don’t know, maybe I’m on the mild side of things. Like, it shows up here and there but I’m not sneaking work or spending 60 plus hours a week.

Bryan Robinson
Yeah. And the other thing I wanted to mention, this applies to volunteering, retirement. What I’m seeing with people who are retiring today, they may not be working at least, obviously, in an office, but they, if you’re a true workaholic, you continue to do that, to do volunteer work or keep busy all the time. And it can be a student who is a perfectionist, and who is a control freak. We often refer to workaholics as controlling because they use their work to assuage some kind of internal stress.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess, Bryan, and then on the flipside, I think sometimes just like work happens to be really fun and interesting.

Bryan Robinson
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then you choose what seems to be freely to do plenty of it.

Bryan Robinson
Well, let me tell you the difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, please do.

Bryan Robinson
That’s a good point. I still work. I write for Forbes. I write for Psychology Today. I have a private practice. I have a new book coming out. I have a marriage, so I have a lot going on. But, you know, the difference is being drawn instead of driven. So, when you’re driven, and this is the way I used to be, I was a madman. I was a chain-smoking, I never stopped, I worked holidays, weekends, days, nights. It was just really crazy. And it was because I had to. We call it musturbation. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that term. Musturbation. I must. I have to. I should. The should-y thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard you can should all over yourself.

Bryan Robinson
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
But musturbation is a new one.

Bryan Robinson
Musturbation, yeah, I ought to, I have to. And what it is, it’s a form of shaming, and we don’t even know we’re doing it, but we are requiring. It’s an oppressive way of requiring ourselves to stay focused and to stay busy. Now, that’s driven. To be drawn is, “I want to…” “I plan to…” “I will…” “I have passion about this.” You know, Michelangelo, so the story goes, worked day and night on the Sistine Chapel. That didn’t mean he was a workaholic just because he was working day and night. When you have compassion and creativity, that’s a whole different ballgame for how you’re showing up at work.

So, I don’t feel the same when I’m working. I feel calmer. I call this the C-spot, and I talk about this in the book. The C-spot is when you have about seven or eight C words that you’re aware of. You’re calm. You’re clearheaded. You’re compassionate with yourself and other people. You’re creative. You’re confident. You’re courageous. And you’re curious. And that’s a whole different way of being in your body.

Now, that’s what I call the thrive brain. I was chatting with you earlier, and I mentioned we have two brains, and a lot of people don’t realize they have two brains. One is the survive brain, one is the thrive brain. The survive brain is hardwired in us so that we will survive. So, if your house is on fire, or if your kid is in jeopardy, you’re not going to think, you’re going to react. So, we need our survive brain to keep us safe. The problem is, and you can see this today, you can see it in the workplace, you can see it on the news every night, the survive brain has become rampant in our society with how people are interacting with each other.

The thrive brain is reflective. It’s basically the prefrontal cortex’s executive functioning. It’s the thinking brain versus the animal or lizard brain, I sometimes call it, and that’s the brakes. The brakes is the thrive brain, the gas is the survive brain. And the key to balance is not just getting a hobby or going on a vacation, it’s making sure that you are acting instead of reacting.

I’ll give you an example. I was coming off of the freeway here in Asheville one day, it was a beautiful fall afternoon. I’ll never forget this. And I casually looked over, and a woman in a red car who had been in front of me, gave me the snarl and the finger.

Pete Mockaitis
What did you do, Bryan?

Bryan Robinson
Well, my first thought, I could see my anger, he’s a part of me, and it’s like he was coming toward me. And he said, “Tell the…” I don’t know if I can say these words. I don’t want to offend anybody. But, “Tell the blankity-blank to go to hell.” And I said, “Stop.” This was my thrive brain in practice. My survive brain wanted me to roll the window down and give her the same gesture. What I did, I was able to stop the anger and talked to him. Now, it used to be if we talk to ourselves, people say we’re crazy. Now it’s one of the best untapped mental health tools we have. And the research was showing this. I can talk about the research. It’s fascinating. But when I talked to him, he calms down. See, that puts me in my C-spot. The C-word.

Also, I had the clarity of what was going on inside of me. I didn’t get hijacked. So, I stayed in the moment, I stopped the anger, and I talked to him, and I said, “I know you’re pissed off, and I know you want to do that, but that’s not who I want to be in the world.” And I tattled down the road, and I had one of the most beautiful days I can ever remember because I felt like I just made a homerun, because I stayed in my C-spot, in my thrive brain.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And so then, you mentioned we got some research and there’s two sorts of brains. Can you lay it on us there with regard to what’s going on, either in terms of brain parts or biochemistry, neurotransmitter things? How is it working for us inside?

Bryan Robinson
Well, here’s what we know, and I actually teach this to my clients, and they just are amazed in how it’s changed their lives. I have my clients when they talk to me, and they’re not allowed to say, “I’m an angry person. I’m a control freak,” even though I did use that term a while ago, or, “I’m a worry-wart.” Because when you say that, you’ll start to identify yourself as that, and there’s no space for you to figure out who you really are.

So, the way they refer is what we call the second person, “He.” “I have this part of me, and he or she is anger.” And when they’re talking to themselves on the inside, and this is what the research is showing, if you use second person, you, or use your name, or like if you were to say, “Pete, you made a mistake. But you know what? That’s not the worst thing you’ve ever done, and you don’t have to worry about this.” As opposed to, “I made a mistake. What am I going to do about it?” It’s when you use the our, we call that blending, and you feel bad about yourself, and you don’t really find solutions. That’s the survive brain. When you talk to yourself in the second person, or by name, and this is what the research shows, you are happier, and it actually gives you a wide-angle lens. It’s almost like somebody else is talking to you because you’re more objective in what just happened.

So, instead of condemning yourself and vilifying yourself, you’re more likely to let yourself off the hook, and get a what I call a wide-angled lens view of what just happened, which is really the thrive brain that brings up self-compassion. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I love it. I love it when there’s these little distinctions that maybe we’ve never thought of that can make a world of difference.

Bryan Robinson
Yeah, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean, I just geek out over that. And this reminds of the conversation we had with Tara Mohr, one of our most popular episodes, about she referred to it as your inner mentor. Like, you can imagine talking to your older, wise version of yourself in a beautiful setting. And so, that has a similar sort of outside yourself vibe to it. But what you’re describing sounds even faster and easier in terms of having to sort of enter into a place. Not that it takes that long.

Bryan Robinson
Well, I’ve developed a little, what I call, triple A. I think most people may be working remotely right now. But let’s imagine you’re in your office and your boss walks by, and she’s got this frown on her face, and she looks straight at you and doesn’t speak, and on the inside, you shrink, and you say, “Holy shit. I’m in hot water. I don’t know what I’ve done. And I’ve got an evaluation tomorrow. And, oh, my God,” and all night you worry and you obsess and you ruminate about the meeting with your boss the next day. You walk in, she smiles, you sit down, and she gives you a glowing evaluation and talks about what a great team member you are, and about a potential promotion.

So, what just happened? Your survive brain is always looking out to protect you. It’s its only goal. It doesn’t care whether you’re happy. It only wants to make sure you survive. That’s not just a physical survival. It’s also a psychological safety. And when your job is threatened, that’s one of the biggest threats you can have. And scientists, the neuroscientists, call this the negativity bias. What that means is our brain, and the survive brain, will automatically go to the negative scenario and will make up stories in our head that are almost never true. And this is an example, and I bet most people listening have had this experience, I know I have, and you probably have too, Pete, where not only does it not turn out the way you thought it would, it turns out the very opposite. And scientists say 90% of the time that’s true.

So, what does that mean? We’re living our lives from the survive brain 90% of the time and we’re miserable. So, when we can realize what we’re doing and shift into the thrive brain, we’re going to be happier, we’re going to be more productive, that’s a fact, and we’re going to live a fuller life.

Now, so here’s the little mnemonic device that I’ve developed. So, I’m angry, I’m on the freeway, and the woman gives me the finger, and I see my anger. So, the first A is aware. I’m aware I’m angry. The second A is I acknowledge it, like I just did, “Oh, I see you’re here.” And what most people try to do is get rid of it, or they think anger is bad, or they steamroll over it, or they try to debate with it. That’s the worst thing you can do. But when you just let it be there, you acknowledge it, “I know you’re pissed off, and I see you’re here,” you will start to feel a calm and a separation from that part.

The third A is allow, and that’s where you just allow it to be there. Just let it be there. Now, I’m doing some hand motions here that, Pete, you can probably see, but what I’m doing is holding my hand out when I say, “Allow.” You let it be there but it can’t be where you are. It’s got to be separate from you. And when you start practicing that, it widens what we call the resilience zone. This is one of the things I talk about in terms of micro chillers. These are little 5-minute exercises, or less, that really boost our confidence, and boost our mood, and keep us stress-free throughout the day. But the triple A is something I use all the time. I’ve used it twice this week already.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, there’s a lot of great stuff here. So, let’s talk about these solutions with regard to, okay, if you find yourself feeling threatened, and survival mode is going full force, or you find yourself in the throes of workaholism, we’ve got the three As. What are some of your other favorite tools for getting back on track?

Bryan Robinson
One is halt, H-A-L-T, hungry, angry, lonely, tired. And that’s a little mnemonic device that we can just carry around. And if we catch ourselves, you have to learn to be aware, or being mindful. I’d like to talk a little bit about mindfulness. And once you are, then you realize, “Hey, I’m hungry. And I wasn’t even conscious of it. So, I’m going to go have a snack.” Or, “I’m angry. And how can I deal with that anger?” Or, “I’m lonely. I can call a friend.” Or, “I’m tired. I’ll take a nap.” So, they’re these kinds of things.

Another one is, and here’s where the balance comes in, if I were to ask you, Pete, if you’re like most people, to list all your shortcomings, that would probably be an easy task. Then if I say, “Well, now, on the other side, list all your tall-comings,” it might take you a little bit longer, the research shows that. Why? Because of the negativity bias that I mentioned earlier. So, balance is making sure your list of tall-comings is at least close to in balance with your shortcomings. That creates the balance from inside in terms of you’re confident, how you carry yourself, how you feel about yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you just literally mean have that written down somewhere side-by-side.

Bryan Robinson
Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
And say, “All right. This is what I got going for me.”

Bryan Robinson
Yeah. Also, have a to-be list. We all talk about to-do lists. The to-do list is the survive brain. Now, it’s okay to have a to-do list, but how often do we have a to-be list? That’s the brakes. We need the brakes to complement the gas. So, the to-be list, for me, is, because of where I live, I’m so fortunate I have a beautiful view of the western mountains and the sunset, it’s something I do every afternoon, is sit and watch the sunset when the sun is setting, when you can see it. And I’m not doing anything but just I’m enjoying the mountains. I’m in the mountains and the mountains are in me. That’s the thrive brain.

And the research shows, there’s a groundbreaking study that just came out this year, 90 minutes in nature, and it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you can be sitting, you can be walking, you can be sailing, playing tennis, is a gamechanger. It elevates your mood. It makes you more productive and more creative, just being in nature, in a park, wherever you are. And that’s being, it’s so complementary to the doing. And a lot of people don’t want to take, especially if you’re a workaholic, you don’t want to take the time to do that because it feels like a waste of time. But the neuroscience is showing not only is not a waste of time, it really makes you more productive, and more successful, and more satisfied with what you’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s a great bit there, the 90 minutes in nature. Are there any other sort of high-impact self-care practices that maybe most people don’t know about or most people don’t know just how much bang for the buck they deliver?

Bryan Robinson
Well, maybe we can talk about uncertainty because I’m kind of fascinated by this topic, especially with COVID. Uncertainty, the lizard brain or the survive brain despises uncertainty. And you can see why, because if your survive brain doesn’t know what’s around the corner, it freaks, and it also tells you the worst-case scenario is going to happen, which is not true, but we believe it because we think it and we tend to become anxious and worry because of it.

So, the key is to be able to understand that uncertainty is uncertain. Period. It doesn’t mean something bad is going to happen. But we tend to think of uncertainty as something catastrophic. British researchers did an incredible study, and I won’t go into all the details but I’ll give you the CliffNotes. They divided these folks into two groups. In one group, they said, “You are going to get an electric shock in just a few minutes.” The other group, they said, “There’s a 50% chance that you might get an electric shock.” Well, guess who had the highest anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
The ones who might get a shock.

Bryan Robinson
Exactly. When you know something for a fact, there’s something about that that relaxes the survive brain because it knows what’s going to happen. So, that’s how vital certainty is. The problem is there’s no way we’re ever going to have certainty. There’s no way life is going to tell us what’s around the corner. Life is not designed to do that for us, and that’s why we’ve got to figure out a way, individually in our lives, whether we’re at work or in our marriages or in our parenting, to figure out how we’re going to deal with uncertainty and not look at it as a negative.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, in a way, while I want to hear your particular strategies there, it’s like you’re almost better off if you just sort of acknowledge, accept, like, “You are going to suffer this year.” It’s like, “You will experience disappointments and unpleasant things that you would have preferred not happen. That’s going to happen.” And just sort of you’re healthier if you can step into that versus say, “Oh, something bad might happen. We don’t know but I hope not.”

Bryan Robinson
That’s right. You just described the thrive brain. If you can step into the truth, there are things that are going to happen to you and to me this week, probably, that we hadn’t planned that would happen. That’s the nature of life. And when you can say that, and then put yourself into it, the magic that happens is you feel you have serenity, and that’s the thrive mind. And, this is paradoxical, you’re willing to stick your neck out more. And when I stay stick your neck out, I don’t mean dangerous things. I’m talking about at work, you go out on a limb maybe with some creative ideas. So, we’re talking about psychologically sticking your neck. We call that a growth mindset. That’s the thrive mind. That’s how we thrive. That’s how people get successful. That’s how Meryl Streep got all her Oscars, and Michael, the swimmer, got all his gold medals.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the growth mindset.

Bryan Robinson
The growth mindset. They stuck their neck out. This is one of the qualities of highly-successful people who are not willing to take no for an answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, what’s coming to mind is a bit of scripture in terms of the uncertainty. It said, depending on the translation, something like, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world,” is that this is sort of like head on, “Yeah, it’s coming, so just go ahead and embrace it now.”

Bryan Robinson
Yeah, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. And so then, any other top tips in the world of self-care?

Bryan Robinson
Well, especially now is know what you can control and what you can’t. That kind of relates to what we’re talking about, right? So, I can’t control, obviously, a pandemic. I can sit and shudder and worry. That’s not going to prepare me for anything, it’s not going to help. That’s my survive brain. Or I can say, “Okay, Bryan, we’re going to eat well, we’re going to exercise, we’re going to follow the safety recommendations from the CDC, keep ourselves healthy as we can. Wear a mask. Stay six feet apart. Blah, blah, blah.” And that makes me feel in charge.

Most of all I can control is my thoughts, feelings, and actions. And when I stop and think about that, and what are those things, and then I do them, it brings me peace. And that’s thrive mind again. But when you get into this victim mode of, “Oh, my gosh, what am I going to do? What’s going to happen tomorrow?” it paralyzes you even though the survive brain, and this is the paradox too, the reason Mother Nature hardwired us was so we perpetuate the species, we will survive, but it scares us. Fear is a healthy thing but your survive mind is fearful. Your thrive mind is compassionate. And we need both.

I don’t want people to get me wrong. I mean, gosh, if there was a fire right now, you and I, we wouldn’t stop to think. We would just react. We’d get out of there. But if someone is angry with me, or if my spouse is hurt by something I said or did, instead of yelling and screaming, that’s when we want to start using our thrive mind. And when you see what’s going on in the world today with not only COVID, but the racialized society we live in, it’s how we are treating other people. That comes from our thrive mind, from compassion.

I sometimes think about when somebody pulls out in front of me in traffic, or somebody unwittingly steps in line in front of me, what do I do with that? How many times have I stepped in front of someone in line? And I know I have, I did it at the Post Office last week. I didn’t realize I was doing it. How many times have I talked over somebody? We’re all human and we’re all in the same boat in lots of ways. If we can just forgive ourselves, first of all, for mistakes we make and are going to make, and are a little lenient or kinder to other people, the thrive mind can really offset the survive mind and make, not only individually in our everyday lives but on a global basis. I know that’s pretty grandiose.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, that’s inspiring and rings true. I want to follow up on one thing you said. You said you can control your thoughts, feelings, and actions. And I think some might say, “Well, I don’t know if I can control my feelings.” And you’ve given us a couple tools for tackling that. But let’s just say, we’ll zoom right in in terms of I’m thinking, “Okay, I take a look at my day, a couple, and things are already not going to plan.” Let’s say I feel like, “Uh-oh, I got more that I need to get done today than I think I can get done. A couple people that are upset by something, apparently, I screwed up, and they’re irritated and I got to fix that. And I’m irritated that they were unclear about what they were asking of me. So, I got his morass of feeling angry, stressed, too busy. And what I would like to feel is calm and compassionate and courageous and curious.” How can I, in fact, control my feelings to get there?

Bryan Robinson
Okay. So, let’s take physics. What do you do in a riptide? I don’t know if you’ve ever been in one, but I have, and it’s terrifying because your survive brain says, “Swim like hell,” and that will kill you. Your thrive mind, which is reflective, says, the latest phrase I think is “Float, don’t fight,” and you float parallel to the shore and it brings you in. That’s counterintuitive. It’s paradoxical.

Think about women who, during childbirth, they’re screaming and yelling, and they’re all tensed up. Well, childbirth classes are all about relaxing into the labor pains. Well, that doesn’t make any sense to the survive brain. How can you relax when you’re having pain? But what we know is that it reduces the pain and reduces obstetrical problems.

If I’m on a motorcycle, which I have been, and you go around the curve, you lean into the curve, which is really scary, and it’s hard to do if it’s your first time, but your survive brain will say, “Lean out so you don’t flip over,” but that will flip you over. So, having said that, here’s how you deal with that. So, I am going to be Pete, and I’m going to talk to those feelings, and I’m going to do just like I did a while ago with the anger.

“So, Pete, yeah, you didn’t get done what you wanted to do. That really sucks. And you have every right in the world to be frustrated right now.” So, all I’m doing is allowing. I’m aware, I’m acknowledging, and I’m allowing that part to be there. And here’s the paradox. If we don’t fight these thoughts and feelings, if we allow them to be there, they recede, they calm down. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I heard that before, and I buy it. Like, that which you resist, persists.

Bryan Robinson
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard it as a phrase.

Bryan Robinson
Yes, absolutely. And that is resistance. And I’ve heard a mental health expert say this, and it just is like fingernails on the chalkboard, “Fight your inner demons.” Some people call it your obnoxious roommate or that inner bully. I don’t like these terms because that’s really not what it is. This is your survive brain trying to protect in its way even though it doesn’t seem like it.

So, we don’t fight or battle those thoughts. We acknowledge them and allow them to be there, and that goes with that whole counterintuitive thing of they will relax, and then you will have the clarity, and then you will have the compassion instead of the judgment. So, that’s how you control your feelings by not controlling them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I’m allowing it and I’m not taking a Tony Robbins-esque approach of beating my chest and saying, “Yes, yes, yes,” and pretending to feel the way I want to feel.

Bryan Robinson
Just the opposite.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Got it.

Bryan Robinson
It’s the opposite, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell me, Bryan, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Bryan Robinson
Well, let’s talk about mindfulness for a minute. There’s a lot of research. We have such a body of research now from Harvard that shows the changes in the brain, from the survive brain to the thrive mind, that changes people’s lives. And meditation is one of the best tools for stress and anxiety on the planet.

Now, I’m talking about five minutes. I’m not talking about 20, 30 minutes, that’s ridiculous, unless you’re really an expert at meditation. Once you understand how to meditate, that’s great. I would encourage everybody listening right now, we can’t do it now because we don’t want to take the time during the show, but if you just take one minute after this broadcast, and sit somewhere, and listen to as many sounds as you can for one minute, don’t try to memorize them, just notice, just be mindful. Like, right now, I can hear shuffling a little bit of paper, and I can hear air-conditioning in the background, and I hear my gurgling stomach.

And as you do that, just for one minute, after you’re through, notice what’s going on in your body. And you will notice your heart has slowed down, your breathing is a little slower, your muscles loosen, you’ll feel calmer. It moves you into your C-spot automatically, and that’s one minute. If you do that for five minutes a day, it’s going to change your outlook. It’s going to change how you feel inside your skin but, also, it’s going to elevate your mood automatically. The reason is because it takes you out of your head, your worry, and your anxiety, and your thoughts, and it brings you into the present moment. We call that open-awareness meditation. That’s just one type of meditation.

There’s one more thing I wanted to mention. And, again, this is one of the best micro chillers there is from my perspective. Okay, so think of a camera. Your survive brain is wired to zoom in. If you’re threatened, imagine you’re in a dark parking garage at night, there’s nobody around, and if it were me, my survive brain would be helping me look around to make sure I’m safe, right? What it does is it zooms in, and it focuses like a telescope or like tunnel vision. In doing that, your eyes dilate, your body constricts, your whole physicality is focused on the potential threat, and you need to do that.

However, what it does is it clouds out the big picture. So, when we’re upset with our spouse, or a colleague, or a boss, or a child, we don’t even realize that we go into the zoom lens. And one of the quick and dirty tools that we can all use is, first, if you’re aware that your survive mind just went into the zoom, you can widen that. You can take that and put it, I call this the wide-angle lens, put it in the big picture and look at what’s going on here.

For example, let’s say I didn’t get that promotion, and my mind goes right in and I’m thinking, “Gosh, I’m never going to get where I wanted to go. I thought I was going to be able to get this promotion and then get this job, and then move onto such and such.” So, it kind of gets stuck there. And if you broaden that, we call this broaden and build, that’s the scientists call it, and this takes a few seconds, put that in perspective, and say, “my career is not over. My goodness, look, I can do this, and I can do that.” Basically, what the wide-angle lens does, it widens, it helps you see possibilities. It helps you see the opportunity in the difficulty. And that’s your thrive mind.

The thrive mind is the wide-angle lens. The survive mind is the zoom lens. And we need both, but a lot of people get stuck in the zoom lens, in the survive mind, and they don’t even know it. And so, anytime you’re looking at, remember there’s a negativity bias, and it’s for our survival, when you get stuck there, you can unstick yourself simply by putting on the wide-angle lens and do what I call a gratitude exercise. Think of all the things you’re grateful for: your health, your relationship, your kids, your animals, whatever, whatever it is. And it moves you into your C-spot. You start to feel calmer. You feel more clarity. Your thinking is not as distorted.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s excellent. Thank you, Bryan. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Bryan Robinson
One is Viktor Frankl, who was a psychologist, and he was in the Holocaust. He was in Auschwitz, in Dachau. And the way he survived was he said, “The Nazis can take everything,” and they did, they took his food, they took his clothes, people were dropping dead around him like flies, but he said, “…they will never take my will.” And holding onto that, he wrote a great book and talked about how that helped him get through. So, one of his quotes is, “Between the stimulus and the response, there’s a space. And in that space, I have a choice of how I want to respond. And when I make that choice, that’s where my freedom comes from.”

And we can all apply that. We’re not in concentration camps, thank God, but some people are quarantined still and under lockdown, and some people are just imprisoned within their psychology, the way they think about their life. So, you always have a choice. Always. And we don’t always know that we have a choice, but we do, in how we want to look at things. And that’s one of the most powerful quotes.

And the second one is Rumi, the poet, who said, I’m not saying this exact, but basically, “One of the marvels of life is a soul sitting in a prison with a key in his hand.” That’s pretty cool, ain’t it? I really like that one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Bryan Robinson
Well, again, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl’s book. On the novel side, one of my favorite books is Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. It’s a murder mystery but it’s written, it’s a coming of age. It’s just a fabulous book and it won all kinds of awards. So, that’s one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years.

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

Bryan Robinson
This is something I said once, I didn’t even know I said this, and one of my fans sent it to me. And I’ll just read it, “Instead of asking why life is treating me this way, because life isn’t personal, I can ask, ‘How am I treating life?’ If I say this is happening for me, instead of to me, I’m left with what I can do with it. That’s self-compassion in action, and it’s empowering.”

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

Bryan Robinson
www.BryanRobinsonBooks.com. And Bryan is B-R-Y-A-N, R-O-B-I-N-S-O-N.

Pete Mockaitis
And that has that test you mentioned associated with the workaholic?

Bryan Robinson
Yeah. Well, there’s a test on the website called “How Chill Are You?” and it’s all electronically-scored in just a few seconds. And there are blogs that I’ve written, some self-help information for folks on how to deal with stress and anxiety and some of the things we’ve been talking about today.

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

Bryan Robinson
Yeah. In the next week, see how many times you can act instead of react. And what I mean by that, we’re so quick to react when someone pulls in front of us, or steps in line in front of us, or cuts us off in a meeting, or things don’t go the way we want. And become more aware and use that triple A, and acknowledge the part, work on your self-regulation on the inside, and then you’re going to feel so much better, and you’re going to be more accomplished to more productive.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bryan, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you many chills days ahead.

Bryan Robinson
Thank you. You, too, Pete. Thank you.

588: How to Calm Anxiety and Achieve Peak Performance with Dr. Luana Marques

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Luana Marques says: "Once we get stuck on patterns of thinking, we forget that those are habits."

Dr. Luana Marques discusses how to face anxieties and fears head-on using proven strategies from cognitive behavioral therapy.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to stop avoiding and start taming your fears
  2. Why anxiety isn’t always bad
  3. The TEB cycle for calming your anxious mind

 

About Luana

Dr. Marques is a licensed clinical psychologist in the states of Massachusetts and New York and an expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for a wide range of psychiatric disorders.

She received her B.S. in Psychology from the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo) in 2001, as well as her Masters and Ph.D. at SUNY Buffalo in Clinical Psychology in 2005 and 2007, respectively. She completed an internship and postdoctoral fellowship in the CBT track at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and was subsequently hired as a post-doctoral fellow in the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic & Research Unit at MGH. Currently, Dr. Marques is the senior clinical psychologist at the MGH Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders program, as well as an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Luana Marques Interview Transcript

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

Luana Marques
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to…is excited the word? I’m highly interested in digging into your expertise when it comes to anxiety, and fear, and coping, and resilience, all that good stuff. But I want to understand, first, I understand that you had a fear of heights at one point. Past tense, I’m using. What’s the story and how did you overcome this?

Luana Marques
You’re absolutely right. I learned it the hard way. I was actually hiking Yosemite National Park, and when I got to the end of Half Dome, I realized that there are cables there and I had the fear that I was going to fall down. My heart was pounding, a classic fight or flight response. I was already in graduate school thankfully and so I took matters in my own hands to make sure I’d overcome that fear, so it is past tense. I go skydiving as often as I can.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s exciting. I’ve been skydiving once, twice. At least once. And it is a thrill. Well, how did you do it? What were the key steps for you personally?

Luana Marques
So, the key step of anything when it comes to a fight or flight response is, really, approach and not avoid. But it’s not just to approach completely, it’s what I call comfortably uncomfortable. So, the idea is to create your hierarchy, your approach ladder, and to start small. What you’re trying to do is to teach your limbic system, the emotional part of your brain, how to cool off a little bit. And the limbic system is wired really for fight or flight, and so what you want to do here is approach, stay with the fear situation again and again until the anxiety comes down. And so, I started with ladders, then I went up on stairs and roofs, and then I went to Disney, I did 16 rollercoasters in one day. I don’t recommend it. Skydiving is a lot more fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so good. Well, now I’m thinking, I’ve just been playing with my Oculus Quest headset a little bit when I can’t get out in the real world, and they have a plank experience which is just freaky in which it’s like you’re top of a skyscraper walking out on a plank, and it’s not real but it sure makes you feel crazy, like, up there. So, I don’t know where that falls in the ladder, but I guess that’s sort of one other way that you could initiate a type of exercise, experience, encounter, a something, that is not the whole thing but it’s somewhere on the rung there.

Luana Marques
Absolutely. So, the virtual reality world has taken over and, really, today, there’s virtual reality treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder. So, whatever you can do to play with the brain a little bit, and really what we’re trying to teach is it’s a false alarm. And this example of the plank is great because you’re still in your house but I bet you get your heart pounding a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Really, you know, the first time I did it, I was actually…my brother came into town and we went. This was maybe a year or two ago, we went to his VR lounge place, and I sort of embarrassed all of us because I was, “Oh,” made quite the scene, and people looking at a dude with a headset on, like, “What’s his problem?”

Luana Marques
Now it makes sense. And I really like that you’re sharing that, Pete, because often we can’t understand when somebody is anxious, what the experience is like, and at the core of it is this fight or flight response.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, I guess we kind of jumped right into it a little bit of the how and some steps. So, maybe let’s back it up a little bit. When we talk about anxiety, could you give us a definition? It doesn’t have to be supremely, precisely, academically perfect, but just so we’re on the same page for what we’re talking about here.

Luana Marques
Absolutely. So, when we’re talking about anxiety, often we’re talking about a couple things. First is the physiology that comes with this fight or flight response. And so, for a mild sort of just heart pounding a little bit to a full-on sweaty palms, tension, feeling ready to run from threat. So, one component of anxiety is really the physical component of anxiety. The other component of anxiety is where it falls more in sort of the anxious thoughts, it becomes worry, “What if this happened? What if that happened?”

And so, I tend to think about anxiety through the Yerkes-Dodson Law, really thinking about how low levels of anxiety results to low levels of performance. At moderate arousal, we have this peak performance. At mid arousal, peak performance. And then when we get to too much arousal, too much anxiety, then our brain shuts down a little bit and becomes really hard to focus.

Pete Mockaitis
I totally buy that in my own experience in terms of…and I’m thinking about…What was the model you mentioned? What was the name?

Luana Marques
So, it’s called the Yerkes-Dodson Law.

Pete Mockaitis
Yerkes-Dodson Law. I guess I’m thinking about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Flow with regard to if it’s too little, it’s we’re bored; too much, we’re freaked out, overwhelmed; and moderate, it’s like, “Ooh, an interesting challenge,” and we’re in the groove and flow. And I experience that as well in terms of just thinking about career moments, like, “Ooh, this is a big opportunity.” I’m a little nervous and excited about it, and then I’m stretched, as opposed to, “This is wildly overwhelming, and I’m freaked out or I’m really bored by what’s going on here.”
So then I would like to hear, in terms of the research and discoveries, what for you has been the most fascinating, surprising, enlightening discovery you’ve made about anxiety and how us humans work during your long career of psychologist and researcher and real-time adventurist?

Luana Marques
So, early on in my career, a lot of the studies I worked on were questions like not, “Does therapy work?” but “Does it work better with medication?” In therapy, the ones I’ve studied really fall on the cognitive behavioral therapy, so what you’re saying to yourself, what’s that making you feel, your emotions, and what is your behavior, the actions you’re taking. And early on, what we knew is that CBT is not only effective but it can help you rewire your brain. Pre-imposed studies, so 12 weeks of therapy. Pre-imposed function MRI, you see a change in the brain domain that you’d want to see, decrease limbic response, increase frontal cortex of thinking brain.

So, early, what was exciting, is to know that, before we even talk about neuroplasticity, that we could actually change our brain with therapy, is really cool to me. And then, now that we know it works, what gets me the most excited these days is, “How do we get out of the ivory tower and into the streets? How do we actually think about this as brain health and so that you need to exercise your brain with those skills? And how can we get it to everyone?” And that’s really what our research lab focuses on mostly these days.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let us know, what are some best practices if more people want to taste some of those benefits without, to the extent possible, doing a full-blown 12 weeks of therapy? What can we do?

Luana Marques
So, there are a couple of ways you do it. One, on July 12, we’re going to release a course called Mental Health for All, and it is a very simple dosage of the skills I’m talking about. There are four modules, and it’s going to be available for free for anybody in the world. So, if you think about building resilience, you’re going to be able to learn how to slow down your brain, separating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. You’re going to be able to learn how to charge up. So, the role of eating, sleeping, and exercise for your physical and mental health. We’ll teach people how to approach their fears and to also change some of their thinking.

And you can find more about the course on my website DrLuana.com. You can also practice the skills like mindfulness and meditation. Those are definitely some things that are out there, easily accessible, and shown to rewire your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, boy, I’d love to talk about all those things, I’ll just have to take the course. Let’s talk about changing thinking, shall we? We talked a little bit about the going up the steps, and we’ve talked with a few guests about charging up and self-care and energy stuff. So, how do you recommend we go about changing our thinking?

Luana Marques
The first step with changing our thinking is to remind ourselves that thoughts are not facts, and that’s really important. Once we get stuck on patterns of thinking, we forget that those are habits. So, you show up at work and somebody gives you a look, and you might say to yourself, “That person is mad at me.” You jump to a conclusion. And that thought immediately probably makes you a little anxious and you might avoid that person.

So, the first thing is just sort of like listen, “What am I saying to myself? What is exactly that thought?” And then a very simplistic way to change your thought is to say, “Okay, what’s the evidence that I have to support that thought? And what is the evidence I have against that thought?” So, in the example here, you may say, “Okay, maybe that person is mad at me, but I don’t have evidence. Maybe they are preoccupied, maybe they’re tried, maybe they were thinking about something else.” And so, you really want to put the evidence for and against in a balance, like in a scale, and be able to say, “Okay, based on this evidence, do I actually have data that can prove that thought right?”

And if you can’t, then we need to really arrive at a more balanced thought. And the trick here, Pete, is really balanced. Often, when we talk about exploring thoughts, people are like, “Well, is it a happy thought? Is it a sad thought? Is it a good thought?” It really is not. It’s balanced. Sometimes there are thoughts that are realistic. I can’t say to a patient who had an experience of racism that that wasn’t real, right? But if you focus only on that experience, then you’re going to continue to feel upset.

Pete Mockaitis
So, with some fair synonyms for balanced in this context be sort of like accurate, truthful? I get the sense that when you say balanced, you mean that it is reflective of full reality more or less. Is that what you mean by balanced?

Luana Marques
Exactly, Pete. That’s what I mean by balanced. By really looking at the whole picture and understanding sort of all of the facts in front of you, and almost summarizing them in such a way that you can say, “Huh, I’m saying this to myself for a long time. I have a habit of saying this. This may not be an actual fact. It could not be held in a court of law as a fact.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure thing. I’d love if you can maybe give an example here, and let’s talk a little bit, shall we, about coronavirus, shall we, a source of much anxiety these days? Let’s say someone has some thought patterns like, “I can’t do this, I can’t do that. I must do this. I must do that. I’m freaked out that I could catch it and have a horrible time, lose my sense of smell or taste forever,” and they’re just all kinds of anxious and freaked out. How would we go about moving to balance?

Luana Marques
So, the first thing I would do is slow down. So, let’s imagine that was you for a second, that you’re the person saying those things to yourself. So, the first thing I’d want to know is, “What is the situation that triggered those thoughts? Where were you? I’d like to see exactly what you’re doing when those thoughts came up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s say, so I’m the person who’s highly anxious. Let’s say my wife suggested she wanted to go get an oil change, and I thought, “Uh-oh, we can’t have that. There’s all sorts of person interaction there.”

Luana Marques
So, your wife suggests, I can see great situation. So, the first step is to actually anchor in the situation, because if we don’t anchor in the situation, we can’t isolate a specific thought that may get you anxious. Now, in that situation, there were a bunch of thoughts that you had, right? So, let’s walk through the thoughts again. What are the first two thoughts that may have jumped in your head?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. Well, now that we’re anchored in the situation, I’d say, “Uh-oh, she might get it from a mechanic, and then she could be hospitalized, and we’ll be in a world of trouble with taking care of the kids and work and everything.”

Luana Marques
So, I’m going to stay with the person, “She may get it from a mechanic.” Okay. When you say that to yourself, how did you feel? What’s your emotions like?

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I could use the word, I want to say anxious but it almost feel like cheating in this conversation, so we’ll say afraid, concerned, worried.

Luana Marques
So, afraid and concerned, which makes you get worried, right? And what do you want to do? What’s the behavior?

Pete Mockaitis
I’d say, “No, don’t go. Let’s not do that.”

Luana Marques
“Let’s not do that,” right? And your wife then says, “No, I really, really want it.” What does that do to that fear that you’re feeling?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it makes it more, it’s like I wanted to exert some control over in this hypothetical situation, and now I apparently am failing.

Luana Marques
And so, the first thing I’m illustrating for us, before we even get to this balanced thought, is that before we get there, we need to understand what we call our TEB cycle, T for thoughts, E for emotions, B for behaviors. TEB cycle. That’s really separating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors anchoring in a situation. Once you do that, then you look at that thought, “My wife might get it from a mechanic” Now, let’s ask questions out of that thought. What is the evidence – and evidence, I mean, something that could be held in a court of law, that a judge says true – that your wife might get it?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if it was Dr. Anthony Fauci, or one of these health people, said, like, “Oh, the best course of action is just to assume that everybody has it.”

Luana Marques
So, I agree, that may be the best course of action, but how does that help us prove that your wife will get it?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. Well, I guess one authority figure said, “Assume everyone has it so you might…” I guess I don’t have the best stats here. I think some health experts estimated perhaps 10% of people in the US have it right now.

Luana Marques
Okay. So, your brain is saying your wife will get it, and the stats are saying 10% of the people are getting it. So, perhaps the probability may be slightly lower than she’ll get it. Is that fair?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, yeah. It would be 10% or less.

Luana Marques
Or less. What would be the evidence against it, that she might not get it?

Pete Mockaitis
That she might not get it. Well, I guess then the 90% don’t actually get it.

Luana Marques
I know. You see the brain tricks us. The minute you say to yourself, “She’ll get it,” then you’re locked into this worst-case scenario, right? Getting to a balanced thought is really looking at, “Okay, there’s 10% chance, there’s perhaps 90% chance that she won’t, and I bet we could work together through the steps of making her stay so that she could still engage with it in a safe way.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Luana Marques
Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
I agree.

Luana Marques
So, a balanced thought may look like something like this, “My wife is taking a chance but we really need that oil change to be able to keep doing the things we need to do, so we’ll make sure she’s wearing a mask, that she’s distanced, that we’re going to disinfect the car after, and that would decrease the likelihood that she’ll get it.” That’s more of a balanced thought versus, “She’ll get it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. And so then, a balanced thought…well, let’s say it’s as balanced as you can get. Why don’t we say based upon deep research and many epidemiological bottles, we can infer that there’s approximately a 0.34% chance, give or take, that she will contract the coronavirus from an interaction with a mechanic. So, that’s very small. Now, that may be balanced, but it might still have all sorts of anxiety emotion wrapped up in it, like, “Oh, that’s a lot more than zero, and it could be real bad if she gets it.” So, where does that leave us?

Luana Marques
Well, it leaves us to face reality a little bit, and I think this is where it’s hard to fully balance our thoughts when we’re talking about more realistic thoughts. A thought of somebody is mad at me, for example, it’s very distorted and black and white. When we’re talking about a pandemic, there is the reality that some bad things are really happening. And so, there’s this piece of having to tolerate being comfortably uncomfortable, and then I think really trying to right-size your willingness to take some chances, right?

The best chance is to do nothing, to not get the oil change, I agree. But it’s sort of hard to live that way. And so, I think it’s a sense of like, “Can I tolerate some uncertainty?” And if you really can’t, then, in a pandemic, I’d say, “Don’t do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And then I guess it’s balanced in that we can then really compare, it’s like, “Okay. Well, that is the risk that we would take.” And on the flipside, “What is the consequence of not getting the oil changed? I guess there’s a risk that the car will break if you don’t intend to basic maintenance. You okay with that?”

Luana Marques
Yeah. And it is tough. It is a hypothetical scenario and we’re joking around, but it is a tough time. And the idea of exploring thoughts in a pandemic is to be able to at least making sure that you’re not adding to your anxiety. Anxiety is biologically adaptive up to a point. Up to a point, you get to that zone. What we don’t want to do is be tipping over that zone to a really negative area by having thoughts that distort it. So, that’s really where I think the juice is in exploring thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, let’s talk about that notion of not adding to it. I imagine there’s all sorts of implied do’s and don’ts for us right now or any sort of stressful time of change and difficulty, whether it’s economic or social or health, and we got all three at this moment in the US. So, yeah, I imagine, for example, reading news could make you feel more anxious.

Luana Marques
Definitely do’s and don’ts. So, what we don’t want to do is anything that adds to this fight or flight response. So, anything that activates your emotional brain, we don’t need more of that. We have plenty of it. We have a real threat, coronavirus. On top of it, we have an economic crisis and lots of other difficulties, so we don’t want to do anything that turns it on. So, what do we want to do? The opposite. You want to cool off your brain. How do we do that? By turning on your thinking brain, your prefrontal cortex.

So, the five skills that we often talk about, so the first one is anchor and unplug, and you handed it to me beautifully, which is we know, for example, research shows us that during the marathon bombings here in Boston, that individuals that watched six plus hours of the news related to the bombing at home had a heightened stress response than those that were actually there.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow!

Luana Marques
So, the news can actually induce stress.

Pete Mockaitis
Actually there. Okay.

Luana Marques
Right? And so, think about what that says, that just watching, you’re activating your thinking brain. So, we really need to unplug as much as we can from the news, perhaps watch it twice a day. And then you need to anchor your brain on something that’s good: mindfulness, meditation, talking to your family, doing things to slow down the brain. That’s one of the skills that I often recommend based on science.

Pete Mockaitis
Something good. Well, I think about John Krasinski with his “Some Good News.”

Luana Marques
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
So, nice work there, John. I’ve never met him but we’re on first-name basis. So, give us some more examples of maybe even, hey, research-based, sort of a big bang for the buck in terms of good stuff that do good things to us biochemically.

Luana Marques
Well, in many ways, we get actually sort of a second set of skills which you’ve mentioned you’ve talked with several of your guests before, but it’s the idea of charging up. Eating, sleeping, and exercise, our bodies are like the batteries of our heart. We actually have to spend energy to get energy. And the problem is, when we’re feeling really anxious, people get stuck, right? They don’t feel like doing something, so they don’t exercise. They forget to eat or overeat. And we know that those three things not only help your physical body, it actually decreases depression, decrease anxiety, and increase wellbeing. So, charging up is extremely important, and I think not optional during pandemics. It’s one of the few things we actually have some control, for the lucky ones, to be able to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s go there for a bit. So, charging up, exercise, good nutrition. Are there any particular high-leverage areas here? Well, there’s sleep. I mean, can you tell us something that we might not know in terms of…?

Luana Marques
About sleep?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess, in some ways, that’s the hard thing with great common-sense wisdom, you know, it’s sort of like, “Oh, yeah, I should eat healthy and I should sleep and I should exercise.” So, I‘d love it if you could put a little oomph to it in terms of, “Ooh, this particular nutrient makes a world of a difference,” or, “Hey, this study showed that, boy, a little bit of sleep deprivation is actually devastatingly harmful.”

Luana Marques
Yeah. Well, sleep deprivation not only decreases your immune system but also create memory deficits, so that, for sure, we know it’s a problem. But when it comes to sleep hygiene, broadly speaking, one of the things that most people completely violate in the sleep hygiene is that their bed should be used for sleep and sex. That’s it. You should never watch TV in your bed. You should really make sure that when you transition to bed, you’re really actually trying to slow down your brain, and that’s what most people don’t do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, tell us, anything else that you recommend we do or not do before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Luana Marques
I guess I recommend that we really hyper focus on the value of social support, of staying connected. It’s the only buffer that we really know against mental illness. And so, no matter what it is, even having this conversation, right, staying connected one way or another can really help us decrease the chances of developing emotional difficulties as a consequence of this pandemic.

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

Luana Marques
So, my favorite would be “Whenever you really want something, the whole universe conspires for you to have it,” by Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or a piece of research?

Luana Marques
I go back to neuroplasticity. The fact that you can rewire your brain, pre-impose cognitive behavior therapy. It’s incredible.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Luana Marques
I go for The Alchemist. Searching your personal legend, I know it’s a fiction book but it really helped me in my journey here to this country.

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

Luana Marques
Approach, not avoid. So, the most important thing is to be comfortably uncomfortable all the time. I define myself as an over-approach-er, so always ahead of it.

Pete Mockaitis
An over-approach-er. I want to dig into that. So, you’re saying you would approach perhaps even more than…what are we over-approaching?

Luana Marques
So, the thing is anxiety is biologically adaptive up to a point, right? And then when it becomes too much, our brain starts to really stop working, as we talked about. I don’t like the experience of anxiety, like nobody really does. And so, whenever I wake up, if there’s something I really don’t want to do, it’s the first thing I do. I over-approach and I try to get ahead so that I stay as close to the zone as possible. That’s what I mean by over-approaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And, well, it seems related, but how about a favorite habit?

Luana Marques
That’s pretty much it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay.

Luana Marques
Approach. Approach. Approach. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Comfortably uncomfortable.

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

Luana Marques
Recently it’s really been this idea that it’s okay not to be okay, that we all experience strong emotions in the pandemic but that we can also be able to change what we experience by using science-driven skills like we talked today.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn or get in touch or take that course, where do you point them?

Luana Marques
To my website, DrLuana.com. You can sign up for the newsletter there. And we’ll be releasing the course in mid-July.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that’s D-R-L-U-A-N-A.com?

Luana Marques
Yes, you got it.

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

Luana Marques
Yeah, I would encourage you to really work on approaching areas of discomfort, really this idea of being comfortably uncomfortable, and share with us. I’d love to hear more.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Luana, it’s been a treat. I wish you all the best in your approaches.

Luana Marques
Thank you. It’s been delightful to be here, Pete. Thank you for having me.

407: The Key Behaviors of Inspiring Leaders with Ash Seddeek

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Ash Seddeek says: "Your biggest value is not to share ideas, but actually ask good questions."

Ash Seddeek outlines the key leadership behaviors that inspire teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Ten key leadership behaviors that inspire followers
  2. One mistake that quickly kills a team’s creativity
  3. How to manage your bias like a pro

About Ash

Ash develops leadership, executive communications and strategic sales programs. He currently works with Cisco’s innovation startup teams to help them craft compelling value proposition narratives. Ash is also a mentor to entrepreneurs and a communications expert at the American Management Association.

He’s the bestselling author of the books Meaning, Start with a Vision, and The Road to Success.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ash Seddeek Interview Transcript

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

Ash Seddeek
Thank you very much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I was intrigued to learn that you were a Fulbright scholar not once but twice. Didn’t know that was actually possible. Could you tell us the tale?

Ash Seddeek
Absolutely. I actually come all the way from Alexandria, Egypt, where in my earlier life I was basically getting trained to become a linguist at the University of Alexandria. By virtue of my work there as a teaching assistant, I applied for a Fulbright scholarship. The first time I came to the US as a participant in a summer program.

Then the second time I actually applied to be an assistant group leader that essentially then sort of leveraging the first-time experience, sort of leading the group that went the second time around. That’s really how it happened as part of my working at the University of Alexandria.

Lo and behold, days go by and here I am actually leveraging a lot of that linguistics training in a lot of the executive coaching that I do with leaders today around leadership communications.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Excellent. Well, you’ve packaged some of these insights about leadership communications into your book, Meaning. Can you say what’s sort of the main message within this?

Ash Seddeek
The main message behind Meaning was really driven by the experience working at Cisco Corporation, especially at the highlight of the financial crisis in 2008. My job at Cisco at that time was to help understand the messaging that was happening outside Cisco about Cisco and also what the leadership team at Cisco needs to message, especially in Cisco’s largest conference, which is the sales kickoff conference that happens on an annual basis.

I saw John Chambers at that time, he was the CEO at that time, really grappling with how Cisco tried to re-sustain its position as well as also survive that financial crisis that were affecting basically the pockets and the budgets of its own customers.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Then within that you’ve sort of looked at individual leaders and what they were doing and found some interesting patterns.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly. The one thing that I saw and John and the rest of the executive team at Cisco were doing really well, and of course the technology at Cisco, just amazing how Cisco was making use of its own technology to speak across the 60,000 plus employees at that time.

Essentially helping them understand what was going on and re-clarifying the meaning of why do we continue to do what we’re doing, what sort of sustains our differentiation, and how leaders of all aspects and levels of the company can really help articulate that message all the way to the very last mile, every single employee, whether they are all the way in Cairo, Egypt; Dubai in the Arabian Gulf, or China, or India, or even in the US.

The ability to continue to message to the employees why we’re doing what we’re doing and how do we move from where we are today into the future was very critical task and responsibility that leaders need to have all the time.

I think in my mind, based on the research we’ve done for the book, this whole concept of communicating where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going is the fundamental task and responsibility in my mind, that the CxOs need to be communicating with their employees in organizations.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious, how does that shift if it’s at sort of the manager level?

Ash Seddeek
At the manager level, it becomes really a pivotal moment for the manager to understand that, again, a big part of their role is to help their team understand how the message that we’re hearing from the CEO and the executive team translates into what we do on a daily basis. How do we connect the dots between the piece of a product that we’re working on with the bigger product, with the bigger company, with the aspirations that the customers have?

That’s really where, as you’re saying, the manager’s role is very critical because a lot of the time the employees look up to that manager to explain what did John Chambers say and what does it mean to us.

Again, managers have that communication responsibility so that when I work with leaders and we basically talk about coaching and understanding what is a key pivotal responsibility for them, I mention the fact that they need to develop a signature talk that is really there to serve the purpose of translating that corporate vision and strategy and how it connects to what we do on a daily basis so that these employees have a very clear purpose and an understanding of how their little piece is actually part of that bigger puzzle and bigger vision.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, in your book, Meaning, you identify ten particular leadership behaviors that inspire followers. What are those ten?

Ash Seddeek
These ten behaviors and the way that we’ve collected them is we basically worked with – we interviewed a number of leaders across a number of industries. When we looked at the themes we found that there are five behaviors that are really more about that leader and how that leader interfaces and interacts with his or her environment.

Then the next five, and as I’m going to share with you the full list, the next five are really more about how they interface with everybody around them.

When you look at the top ten behaviors for leaders who really are very good at communicating meaning, we see that the very first behavior is about how they accept the reality that business cycles will inevitably ebb and flow. That’s really what we’ve seen at Cisco, the changes that were happening in the marketplace.

The second one is they definitely need to cultivate the habits of listening and learning. Again, there were some leaders that we spoke with that really demonstrated this really well.

The third one is to cultivate authentic humility in the sense that you really need to come across not as someone that knows it all, but someone who is really willing to listen and understand that this other person that I’m talking to may have a much better idea.

Then number four, being able to clarify and focus on the organization’s mission and values. People want to something that is bigger than themselves to hold into. It is that leader’s ability to focus that way, be able to understand what those values are and communicate them.

Then number five is very interesting because it’s really more about what happens to us when we achieve success. Sometimes we think that’s really where it emanates from. It has to start with us. But number five basically says, get of the way so others can succeed in the sense that you need to give people room. You need to give them space.

Sometimes when a question is asked and that leader likes to give ideas, he or she will jump in and give an answer. In my coaching I basically tell them pause, wait, let people in the room answer that question because that’s when you actually get them to see that they, themselves, can bring a lot of the ideas to the table.

Then the second set of behaviors, as I mentioned, are really more about managing relationships. Number six is about building a solid network of relationships knowing that it is incredibly powerful to be able to pick up the phone and connect the dots among five – six players and then all of the sudden you’re able to staff up an innovation initiative very quickly.

Number seven is about building strategic partnerships. Here we’re really talking more about not just internally but also across the industry. Of course, we see very good examples of that at Cisco and other companies.

Number eight is really more about caring for and rewarding people because if you don’t do the recognition and celebration of what people achieve in the company, again, human need, we understand it from people like Daniel Pink and others, they are looking for that recognition a whole lot more than any dollars you give them.

Then number nine is about over communicating with all stakeholders, especially in times of crisis or change. That’s really where we see companies that stay ahead of the necessary work that needs to happen around communication, especially around the times of change. That’s when you see people really doing well when they communicate and communicate repeatedly.

Then others fail when they assume that the change is not that big and it’s not big of a deal and everybody should just line up. Then they realize for human beings, change is real. You have to talk to them and you have to talk to them repeatedly about the why of the change and how they fit into that picture.

Then the very last behavior we see leader’s ability to build trust and buy in is very critical. When we look at all of these behaviors, that’s how leaders then have what they need in terms of internal skills as well as external networks to communicate meaning as we were saying at the very top of our conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Well, thank you for that run down here. I’d like your take on which of these behaviors do you think is the most critical or liberates the most inspiration from folks and why.

Ash Seddeek
I think the one that would really drive a lot of inspiration is having anchors in a value system and a philosophy that this leader or a team of leaders believe in because without having these anchor points in a value system, then we won’t have anything that essentially sort of grounds us.

If we’re facing difficulty and if somebody listening to us is in a very difficult situation, unless they have a value that’s similar to ‘I will rise, no matter what the difficulty is. I have achieved success in the past and I can achieve this success.’ Really holding on to a body of values makes a big, big difference.

That’s why we see HP and a lot of other companies publishing what they call the HP way. It’s the set of values. Apple did the same thing. A lot of leading companies make sure that they have a set of values that they communicate. Sometimes you may need to change them slightly, but you still do it in a way that really shows why we’re doing what we’re doing and how it’s going to help us achieve what we need to achieve.

I think when people see that you believe in something, that you honor it despite the challenges and the difficulties, then highly likely they will trust you more. They will buy more into your message. But if they see you shifting more because of profits and what the market demands all the time, then they will feel like maybe they could do the same thing and they could look for profits and other opportunities somewhere else.

Whereas if you give them something bigger than just the financial aspect, maybe the vision for what the company stands for, the mission. All of those things really give that leader the chance to inspire people, retain them for the long term because they are here not just because of what you give them, but rather what they are able actually to create with you and help accomplish.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love it if you could maybe make it all the more real when we talk about anchor points in a value system. Could you give us some examples of hey, this company has this value and this is how they see it lived out in practical reality for real?

Because I think what’s interesting about values is that sometimes – well sometimes they’re not lived at all and it’s just sort of lip service. Integrity, like many companies have integrity as a value and then many companies show just how little they have when the scandals hit the headlines.

But I guess, on the flipside, I guess I’m thinking about – when I was working at Bain I thought they did awesome with regard to living their values. For example, one of them they’d call it the openness to the one percent possibility. That one percent possibility is that you’re wrong, that you’re mistaken. Then it was cool how it was okay as someone fresh out of college to correct a manager or partner with a different fact that would be contradictory to what they’re saying in a team meeting.

Or while discussing professional development with a manager like, “Hey, these are my goals.” The manager would say, “Okay, cool. And these are my goals and what I’m working on.” That kind of humility was really cool like “Hey, none of us are perfect. We’re all working on something.”

I’m with you. That liberates some inspiration for me in terms of this place is cool and they mean what they say on this little chart of operating principles and I like that. Could you give us some more examples of particular company has a particular value that shows up in a real way that unlocks inspiration?

Ash Seddeek
I think probably one of the best examples I can remember whenever you’re on one of those Southwest flights and you hear the airhostess making the comments just about when you’re landing. She makes you laugh. When you look at Southwest’s values, you’ll see that one of them is live the Southwest way. Under that banner, they basically say you have to have a servant’s heart and a fun-loving attitude.

You take this value and you make sure every employee in the whole Southwest system applies it. Then you see it showing up when you hear the pilot talking and being very personable and giving you the comfort and the trust that everything is going to be fine or when you hear the air hosts making a funny comment and again making you laugh on the airplane.

I think when the value then influences everyone’s behaviors all the way to the point that it becomes part of what you do on a daily basis, that’s really where it becomes an anchor point that everybody understands that’s our culture here because, of course, those values is what eventually constitutes that whole concept of culture the company has.

If people then start to embody it into actions and words, then you’re actually seeing a living example and not just a set of words that are written on a piece of paper. That’s the example that just comes to mind right away.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s a good one. I’d love to hear some more.

Ash Seddeek
When we look at innovation, for example, which is a big value at Cisco and also the idea that you should never really get religious about technology.

I think Cisco and a lot of other companies, they have figured out that if you get stuck in your ways, it will basically lead to extinction, whereas if you adopt more of an innovative mindset that basically says I need to be able to at times maybe walk away from something that I invested billions of dollars in.

When I was at Cisco, if you remember the flip camera, that was an acquisition that Cisco spent a lot of money on. At some point it was clear it was not the right direction where things were going and they were able to then say, “Stop. Let’s shift.”

I think seeing this in real life despite, again, the cost, then it shows you that it’s better to make that decision now, acknowledging the costs and be able to shift direction and focus on something that the market is looking for, also shows you that value.

And of course, at Cisco, when we were walking around with the employee badge, we actually had that written down on the badge, where make sure you never get religious about technology. What you really should be focusing on is what are the customers looking for and how can you be innovative and self-destructive so you can bring these technologies to market.

That’s another example where you need to look back at that value and make sure that that value is helping enlighten and educate the decision you’re making. Again, when we talk to leaders, one of the best things we could do is to really be comfortable really focusing on the values as something that has long-term application and value for the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. I’d also be curious, having studied all these things and synthesized and come up with the themes associated with these behaviors, does it now shine a clearer, brighter light on some behaviors that you’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is just terribly wrong,” in terms of are there maybe little things that leaders or professionals at large do frequently that are really just inspiration killers that you’d recommend we stop doing right away?

Ash Seddeek
I would say it’s been interesting for me over the past three years to realize, to your point, that a lot of the time the words you say on a daily basis, the actions you take on a daily basis are also driven by philosophies and points of view that you have, which in some respect, is essentially a set of values that you believe in.

If you think that the only smart one in the room is you because you’ve spent 18 years learning about networking or about fashion or about this or that, then that’s going to block you out from realizing that there are a lot more ideas in the room.

This really emanates from a value where you think, “Well, you know what? I am the source of intelligence.” Sometimes you only make this mistake of thinking that there are many solutions and I’m the only source for them. Understanding that we may have a bias to favor our own thoughts and then make sure that we manage that and be self-aware of it. Then basically say, “You know what? I would love to hear your ideas.”

Then all of the sudden everybody in the room is very much encouraged and inspired by the fact that you’re actually looking up and you’re basically telling them, “I know you guys are smart. I know you have ideas and I want to hear them.” Before you share anything, you want to sort of almost use that question and query process to uncover innovative ideas.

Again, one of the things I do with a lot of leaders is I basically tell them, “Right now your biggest value is not to share ideas, but actually ask good questions.”

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot, so you’re asking the questions first before you share your ideas.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
You mentioned managing your bias. I imagine at times that can be easier said than done. What are some of your favorite pro tips and best practices for pulling that off?

Ash Seddeek
I think one of the tips I would give people is being very transparent and vulnerable at the same time in the sense that you may tell people, “Hey, I have a tendency to overpower my own thought process and think the only way is probably some of the ideas that I’m bringing to the table, so if you see me jumping in say, ‘You know what, Ash? I’m not coming to you for solutions. I really want to show you a number of options that we’ve come up with and then and only then I’d love to get some of your input.’”

Because otherwise they may actually then think their ideas are not worth sharing with him or her and as a result maybe some innovative ideas never really see the light of day.

As much as these leaders share where their blind spots might be in a way that’s not necessarily showing it as a weakness, but rather as a blind spot that they want to be watching out for and they need to have the trust of their team to help them sometimes make sure that that’s not where we’re spending most our time, but rather we’re spending a lot of our time in uncovering as many ideas from across the team.

That’s really where diversity comes in in terms of the diversity thought and idea and innovation and making sure that collectively we’re finding what’s the best for the organization rather than, “Oh it came from this person or that person.”

I think looking at the outcomes that we’re trying to achieve then helps us really tone down where the source of idea is, not to the point that you completely not go back and celebrate where it came from, but once you are driven more by the outcome, it really helps you reduce the reliance on “Oh, he’s the only one that has these ideas,” or “She’s the only one,” but rather, “Let’s take a look at what the whole team can bring to the table.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that notion associated with the others bringing in the winning ideas. I just think about how often it’s not fun to be wrong.

Ash Seddeek
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I feel like it can be wrong in any number of ways like the exact opposite approach that you thought of is the optimal one. Or for me, I find it’s often about I want to go fast, but we should slow down or I want to go slow, but we should speed up. I find it helpful to reflect upon the times that I’ve been dead wrong and it was so helpful that someone slowed me down or sped me up.

I remember one time I was in PayPal. I was making a payment to someone in the Philippines in pesos or PHP. It’s about 50 to 1 is the conversion rate. I accidently did it in dollars. I’m often frustrated when software goes slows. … said, “Oh, did you want to give 4,000 dollars.” It was like, “Oh no. No, I didn’t.”

Then sure enough, I appreciated all of the ways that software, the security, the two-factor authentication, the texting you this or that can really save the day at times for you.

When I want to go fast and I’m frustrated that it’s slowing me down, I find that it is helpful to remember. It’s like hey, it might not feel so great in the moment to have a force speed you up or slow you down or point you in the opposite direction that you wanted to go, but it sure feels better when you get the desired outcome than the outcome you would have got had you had it your way.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly, exactly. Absolutely, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy for me in the humility, just coming up with those reminders. I’d also like to get your take on if there are any other kind of best practices in terms of tips and tricks, phrases or scripts that just really come in handy when folks are trying to live out and implement these ten leadership behaviors.

Ash Seddeek
I think an interesting idea that actually evolved over the past few months is what I’m now calling emotion one and emotion two. Emotion one, essentially most of us, leaders, whatever walk of life we’re in, a lot of the time when something happens, when someone comes to talk to you, you have that emotional reaction in your body.

A lot of the time leaders who are not emotionally intelligent, they will give in to that first emotion. Maybe it’s an emotion of frustration. Maybe it’s an emotion of “Oh my God, I cannot believe they screwed this up again.” Then the response is going to be one that they will not really like eventually.

What I’m basically starting to tell some leaders I work with is I want you to recognize that first emotion because once you recognize it, then you’re going to know it’s a pause moment, where you realize it is not going to be the best basis for what you want to say or do. What I advise them of doing is I advise them to let that first emotion wear off.

Then we come to the second emotion. The second emotion is really more driven by what outcome do we want to achieve eventually because as you said, maybe sometimes I need to realize that a particular activity I need to slow down in order for me to go very quickly in the future. Once you recognize the very first emotion, if you go with that flow of that emotion, you say something that you’re going to regret or do something that, again, you’re going to regret.

I tell leaders to be emotionally present, understand that the first thing that needs to happen is to realize that there’s no way for you to stop that emotion. Just let it go through the system and let it wear off.

Then ask yourself the question, “What is the action, the word that I need to say and do that would actually help us move our cause to the next step? What is it that I could say that would help that person I’m talking to understand that I emphasize with them, that I understand what they have to go through and that I’m willing to talk to them about what conditions for success do we need to create in order to take the next step.”

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot.
I think a lot of times for me the emotion one is like I’m hearing something that I think is outrageously wrong, ridiculous, absurd, offensive. I don’t know. I’m reacting strongly to something that I think is outrageous. My go-to phrase is just, “Tell me more.”

Ash Seddeek
I love that. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Which doesn’t mean, listeners, if I say that to any of you, that means I’m furious. I sometimes just want to know more and I don’t know the perfect follow up question and I just say, “Keep talking about that,” is what I mean. That doesn’t mean I’m enraged.

But I find that it’s helpful for one, it buys you time because they will tell you more and you can breathe a little it as they’re doing so. And two as you learn more about where they’re coming from and their rationale for the idea, like nine times out of ten it’s like, oh, that’s really not so absurd after all.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I still disagree, but it’s a plausible alternative to the view I had and now let’s sort of see what’s optimal together from here.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly, exactly. Right on. I love that too because, again, it helps you uncover. Maybe there are details that will change what I’m thinking right now. That’s the interesting part is when you actually uncover further details, then you realize something wrong happened with these guys and that’s why they were acting the way they were acting or they’re under some pressure that I did not understand or they were missing a piece of information.

Having that pause in the system, to your point, looking for more information is a very wise thing to do because, again, as leaders, you’re usually working with very high stakes situations. If you go with emotion one, it may actually mess things up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ash, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention about inspiration or being awesome at your job before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Ash Seddeek
Absolutely. I think one of the key nugget I share with people and it’s based on my experience having worked at Deloitte … in San Francisco. But when you develop an outcome-based thought process, it not only inspires you to do really well every single day, but also once you act that way, you also start inspiring other people.

Because a lot of the time if you don’t have that mindset of ‘I am here almost as a management consultant. I am here really to achieve success for my client’ and you start really looking at everyone that works with you as your own client, it helps you detach from the struggles and the challenges and the dynamics of the moment to be someone that is self-composed and is much more result- and success-focused that it just creates an interesting air around you that people want to work with you, people want to be part of any project you work on because you see you have that focus on ‘I am here to help achieve success, not just for me, but for people around me.’ It’s very inspiring.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny, Ash. I guess in some ways I’m naïve or idealistic and also a former strategy consultant for Bain, but for me it’s almost like that’s the only way that I just naturally think and operate and breathe and work. Sometimes there’s a bit of a disconnect in terms of realizing where other people are coming from and their priorities.

But I’d love it if you could maybe give us a bit of a flavor for okay, an outcome-based mindset is one way to go and to think, live, operate in the course of doing work. What are some of the main contenders or alternative mindset worldviews that are driving people if not the outcome-based mindset?

Ash Seddeek
I think what happens on the other side of that is you actually get – I call it sucked in – you get sucked into the dynamics of the situation.

Let’s say the other person makes a comment. You don’t like the comment, as we were talking about emotion one. You get sucked in to the dynamics of the conversation. All of the sudden you’ve created an unhappy other person who thinks maybe you are not open to new ideas or you don’t understand what they want or you’re not listening.

They walk away with that impression about you and perception about you and then starts to build up because she’s going to go or he’s going to go walk out to somebody else and say, “Oh, I was just sitting with Ash and I just got a vibe that he just doesn’t want to listen to what we want to do and I don’t think he’s going to really be able to help us.”

All of the sudden, when we don’t focus on that outcome-based thinking and we get into the flow of that conversation, we give into that first emotion, then we create a dynamic that’s not going to be helpful for us. It sort of militates against wanting to be awesome.

If you want to be awesome, then we have to state with that outcome-based where some of the language I use, and again, to your point, Pete, working in management consulting you know that one of the key things you want to say is, as you said, “Tell me more,” “What does the solution look like,” “How can we help you get it done,” “When we’re done what would it look like?”

You can help people articulate what they’re looking or, whereas if you get into the flow and the dynamics of the personalities, then it’s not a good situation. We see a lot of just toxic environments really coming out of a lot of people giving in to those feelings that happen in the spur of the moment without focusing on what the outcome that they’re trying to build is for that person that they’re sitting in front of.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ash, I’d love it if you could for a moment enter the dark place and articulate what sorts of angry or reactive or what sorts of thoughts and responses internally or verbalized are popping up when folks are in this less optimal mindset when they’re working with folks.

Ash Seddeek
Yeah. I think from my own personal experience, I remember in my early days working at Deloitte, where I went into a client where my mind was thinking, “This company should be a whole lot more advanced than this. They should know a lot of things already. They should have this. They should have that.” I was just getting frustrated with the fact that my own expectations and assumptions about a large organization were not present.

People walked away from the conversation with me saying to my boss, “Well, Ash, was really coming across as very arrogant. We feel he’s really talking down to us.”

As you uncover your perceptions about the situation and what you’re saying, I think the lesson there is figure out first what the other person knows, what their expectations are, validate some of your assumptions before moving to the next step.

That’s what we start to realize then that the most important thing is to really come across as someone who’s there to, as Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand than to be understood.” With that in mind, it really sets you up for success. Whereas when you walk in thinking you’re the smartest man/lady coming to the conversation, you’re really blocking out a lot more opportunity than otherwise.

I love what Stephen Covey says. I think that was the biggest lesson there was rather than going in thinking they should have all this stuff in place already, you basically ask the question, “What are the things that we have already so we can build upon and see what else is missing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Now I’d love to hear some of your favorite things. Could you start by sharing a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ash Seddeek
The favorite quote that I heard a few weeks ago was, “I did it because I did not know it was impossible.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Ash Seddeek
I don’t know what the attribution is, but actually it was a CEO of a startup company. He heard it somewhere. I said that’s just amazing because it allows us to have the freedom to pursue goals and aspirations without getting in mind whether somebody did it before us or not. We just keep going.

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

Ash Seddeek
I think the work that we’ve done for the Meaning book really gave us the chance to speak with leaders in a number of companies. It showed us how even in situations where the business is much smaller, the leadership communication challenges are pretty much the same. Of course, it gets much more compounded in a larger organization.

But the leaders ability to remember that they need to reiterate the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing and where we’re going is very, very important. That was very interesting. Now, I find out that a lot of CEOs, they get so entrenched in the daily grind that they forget that their biggest responsibility is the communication piece. That’s really where the coaching sometimes is very critical.

Also, the board of directors helps them to realize that you need to step out of the business and work on the business. The best part that you could do on the business is to really check on the vision and see if everybody’s heading in the right direction. Then come back and tell them where they need to steer the course so that they can correct any misalignments.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Ash Seddeek
I would say probably my favorite author is Tom Peters. I love all of his books, especially the Brand You books. I think, again, going back to management consulting, he really gives you a lot of ideas based on having been a consultant before. It gives you that insightful view on things, especially on yourself as the brand.

I love when he says the idea of each one of us looking at ourselves as a professional services organization of one, which, again, means everyone around you is a client. It helps free up your thought process. It helps you to really anchor what you do in your own value system of delivering value to the customer and clients and the team that you are a part of. That is being outcome-focused mindset.

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

Ash Seddeek
A favorite tool for me is definitely LinkedIn I think is an amazing tool in the sense that it gives me a much better level of access and knowledge about people I work with, industries I try to reach out to.

I think there’s a lot more to these social media tools that we have yet to discover in terms of how do we actually put it to use to create value for us and other people. I would say definitely LinkedIn is one of my top tools right now given the fact that I’m running an executive coaching practice and connecting with other coaches, connecting with clients, so really trying to find out what are the top leadership challenges that we need to help our clients with.

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

Ash Seddeek
Okay. Okay. I think a favorite habit is to realize that sustaining your energy is going to stem from the fact that you also take care of yourself and exercise, and make sure that you have time for yourself because with an opportunity for reflection, I have seen comes a lot of dividends. Your brain needs time to rest in order to connect the dots.

Sometimes you get an inspiration based on the fact that you essentially sat down and allowed yourself not to do anything. Maybe you’re enjoying your favorite drink or you’re reading a book, but you’re able to relax and be able to receive some of these ideas.

Because otherwise if you’re just, again, just going through the grind and you don’t give yourself a break, you may actually losing out on amazing opportunities for coming up with breakthroughs that your team may need, yourself might need. I think coupling energy-building activities plus also having downtime is very critical.

In terms of apps, probably I think the calendar app on our phones now makes a big difference in keeping us organized. I also use Evernote. I’m still trying to see if Twitter really is very valuable, but I do use it sometimes.

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

Ash Seddeek
I think the best nugget is the idea of being what Tom Peters said around the professional service organization of one. It really helps you to have self-independent thoughts to really take care of what you have to take care of. You never really are giving into being a victim to any situation. You are always feeling like you are in command.

If something has to happen, it has to happen because you started it and it has to start with you. That’s very critical. I think a lot of the time we lose a lot of energy because we’re waiting for somebody else to do something or we think they’re not going to like it or this or this or that. I basically come back and say, “If there’s one action you could do now, what would it be and let’s do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Ash Seddeek
I would encourage them to visit ExecutiveGreatness.com. I will actually prepare for them a few downloads at ExecutiveGreatness.com/Pete/ and they find a downloadable on strategic leadership and also a free chapter of the Meaning book as well.

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

Ash Seddeek
I think to really make sure that they have that independent thought and don’t be affected by the environment as much as sort of coming back to their own desire to succeed and say, “If I were to do something today, what is it and let me make it happen.” That’s going to inspire themselves to do more and also inspire others by what they’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ash, this has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best with your clients and coaching and leadership inspiration stuff. Keep at it.

Ash Seddeek
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been a pleasure.

387: Becoming Comfortable with Uncertainty with Julie Benezet

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Julie Benezet says: "You have to be comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing... and accept that discomfort as part of... getting to something better."

Julie Benezet discusses the importance of taking risks and being comfortable with the discomfort of outcome uncertainty—and how you can achieve that comfort.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How discomfort brings out your best game
  2. The four steps to becoming comfortable with discomfort
  3. Four self-sabotaging behaviors and how to stop them in their tracks

About Julie

Julie Benezet has devoted her professional life to exploring the new, building businesses and helping others do the same. She currently works as an executive consultant, coach and teacher, following 25 years in business and law. She is the founder of The Journey of Not Knowing®, a leadership development program that teaches its executives how to navigate the new.

Julie spent four years as a member of the Amazon.com leadership team that brought the company from the early steep ramp up phase to its emergence as an established business. As its Vice President, Corporate Resources and Director of Global Real Estate, she is credited with leading the delivery of over 7,000,000 square feet worldwide with the supporting corporate infrastructure in just two years.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Julie Benezet Interview Transcript

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

Julie Benezet
Nice to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’re going to have a lot of interesting discussions, but I want to start by hearing some fun tales from your time working at Amazon.com way back in 1999.

Julie Benezet
I think I could any story and it would be deemed insane. Amazon was a complete adventure. Here it was a new company, new industry, new organization, reorg by the hour and no strategy, no capital budget. We were supposed to roll out the worldwide platform of real estate somehow.

The first big pursuit we went on was the pursuit of finding a distribution center in Nevada. We had to work by dark of night. In 1998 when the initiative first started, everybody wanted to know what Amazon was up to because they figured every move they made was going to be a great indicator of its strategy from which they could learn and compete.

I had to travel into Reno, Nevada with a fake name, which when you fly in and meet a broker there, you think that having a fake name is a nothing, but you have to come into a part of the airport so they can’t tell what plane you got off. When they ask you, “Oh, what time did you leave this morning,” you have to make up the numbers so that they can’t back into where you might have flown out of. It goes from there.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Julie Benezet
We looked around. I thought that was tensest part of the journey. We looked around and 500,000 square foot distribution centers aren’t just lying around waiting for you, but we finally came up one that was an occupied on in a place called Fernley, Nevada. It was about to be emptied of a large corporation there that wasn’t doing so well, so we were going to take it over.

We proceeded to negotiate it with a developer who was going to buy it and then rent it back to us, but the key to the thing was we couldn’t disclose to them who we really were. They knew who the broker was, so she had credibility. That allowed them to talk to us, but beyond that they had no idea who we were. Somehow we had to convince them and they had to convince their banker that this is going to be a deal worth doing. Everything was done, again, under cloak of darkness.

We go through this and we get to the point where we’ve got all the deal points made. We’re standing out at the distribution center and my boss, who was the chief logistics officer – he was formally at Wal-Mart – he had a large retinue of people who could come in and figure out how to create a throughput system that was the first of its kind, that could process four million SKUs of product to individual customers. Never been done before.

He invited 24 of his closest friends, who were all the rock stars of the logistics community. But the deal was, again, nobody could know who we were. Anybody was in logistics, including the people who were the managers of that plant, absolutely would have recognized these people. We had to separate them out from our guys, who came in without the benefit of a lease, to sit down and have a day of brainstorming to figure out how to create a throughput system.

My job was to make sure the workers stayed at a distance from the room so they couldn’t overhear names and disclose them to their bosses and keep the bosses out of the building. This is not what I went to college to do. We sweated our way through this.

The last minute the big boss decided he was going to fly into Reno to come out and say hi. We said, “No, you can’t do that,” because he definitely would have known these people. We had to dash into Reno, meet him there, because he wouldn’t have known me, dash back, arrive back, and finally we got our final deal point and it’s time for the big reveal.

The big reveal is when we’re going to send a non-disclosure fax to this developer to say who we were so they could turn around and tell their bank and everybody could decide if they were going to do this deal or not. We get the fax ready, walk over to this fax machine and all of the connectivity in the building went down. Everything. This state of the art place that we’re supposed to be leasing has no connectivity.

I’m sitting there thinking, “Oh my, oh my.” I’m staring at across this 7,000 person town, which is a farming community and there’s not a lot of fax machines hanging around there much less anything else. I finally spot a Best Western Motel. I thought, well, they’ve got those ugly old fax machines, the things with the thick piece of paper that puts out about a page a minute.

I grabbed the broker and said, “We’re going to the Best Western.” We fly down half a mile to the Best Western and sure enough they have a fax machine with the thick paper and one page per minute. The woman was nodding and smiling. She says, “Well, of course, of course.” We’re sitting there and eight pages, each takes a minute to go, so you kind of do the math there or each page took eight minutes to process.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow, eight minutes per one page.

Julie Benezet
Yeah and we have an eight-page fax. I’m sitting there thinking about what I can do in my next life. I’m watching the hotel manager humming. She’s this woman and she’s putting up Christmas decorations and she’s offering – her friends would wander in and she’d offer them blueberry muffins. I’m watching her thinking, “Oh wow, that looks so nice, so calm.”

Meantime, the eight pages get through and the broker goes outside to talk to the developer. She gives the name of who it is. They said, “Oh, okay,” and that was it. I’m a puddle by this time. She comes back and says, “We’re good.” I’ve just had my first heart attack.

I go up to pay for the fax and all this time I’ve been thinking, “Where did I go wrong? How did I choose a life that’s insane like this, that challenges my heart rate, that has all this craziness?” I’m watching this woman decorating her lobby and feeding her friends with blueberry muffins and she seems so calm and happy. Where did I go wrong?

I’m paying for the fax and I’m just chitchatting with her, asking where she’s from. Well, she’s from Claremont, California. In fact, she and I went to junior high school together.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Julie Benezet
I’m looking at this and thinking, “Oh, it’s a small world.” But it was very much consistent with the journey of not knowing. You never knew what you were going to come up against. It was a challenge every step of the way, but you had to know that you loved doing this stuff because the insanity was liberally applied.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is quite a story.  Thank you for really taking us there and painting a picture. Yeah, let’s talk about this book and the accompanying journal. We’ve got The Journey of Not Knowing and The Journal of Not Knowing. It sounds like you learned a thing or two about not knowing and into that. How would you articulate sort of the main point of the book?

Julie Benezet
The Journey of Not Knowing is about pursuing what it is you don’t know, which is a scary place, in order to put in motion something better, a bigger idea. That we lived in the 21st century, where change is the order of the day, that we have to constantly come up with new ideas, whether it is for our team, our community, our family, our career, something that has to meet the needs of an evolving market around us.

The Journey of Not Knowing is how you deal with the fact that you have to be comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing what’s going to happen and accept that discomfort as part of the deal of getting to something better.

We spend a lot of time running away from scariness and say it’s a bad thing and trying to de-stress and say that there’s no value, but in fact what I discovered – and Amazon was very much an example of this – is when you go towards things you don’t know to try something new, it brings up your best game and you really pay attention to what the possibilities are. If you stay with it, you can get to new places that can be pretty compelling.

Pete Mockaitis
What I like the way you’re describing this because it sounds so fun and adventurous and exciting as opposed to just terrifying and nerve racking.

Julie Benezet
Well, it is terrifying and nerve racking, but that’s okay. When I came upon the concept was when I was at Amazon and that I’ve always had an affection for the new. Even as a kid who was afraid of other people, I was always trying to turn things upside down and go a different place. Amazon was this whole concept grown large.

But when we finished that Fernley deal, I came back and literally the next night I’m sitting in my office trying to enjoy – in corporate America the amount of time between ‘Job well done,’ and ‘What have you done for me lately?’ is about a nanosecond.

I’m sitting there enjoying my nanosecond and I get this phone call saying, “Julie,” this was the right hand of the chief logistics officer, basically he says, “Julie, we need you to go to Germany and get another 500,000 square foot warehouse.” I’ll spare you that story, but the key to that was as I’m thinking about this is okay. Of course there’s no parameters. Of course they want it in three months. Of course these things are not just lying around.

I thought of all the impossibilities that we attach to it. Treasury is going to tell me, “No, you can’t get last minute travel.” HR is going to say, “You can’t move your people more than 30 miles from where they are now,” because then we’d have to do a social plan and they’re expensive. Legal is going to say, “Oh, those German lawyers are a nightmare.” IT is going to say, “No way we can get the right infrastructure.” Etcetera, etcetera.

I’m just ticking off in my mind all these totally frightening things and wondering how I’m going to do this, but that’s when it hit me. That’s when I realized that no matter how scary it was and how impossible this could be, no part of me didn’t believe we wouldn’t pull it off.

That’s when I came up with the concept of the journey of not knowing is being comfortable with discomfort of not knowing and realizing that that just goes with the territory, but it will challenge you and it will challenge other people, but it’s worth the adventure, again, whether it’s your career, your home life, your community, your team, whatever.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like a pretty cool place to be in terms of “Boy, there’s going to be a bunch of challenges. Have no idea how we’re going to resolve them all, but I’m certain that we will.” That’s a pretty cool spot. I’m wondering for those who don’t have that level of confidence and certainty when they’re entering into such endeavors, how do you get to that place?

Julie Benezet
Well, I talk about something in the book called the core four. The core four are four ways of milepost to get you on the way through the journey through the unknown.

The first one is to first of all know what your dreams are. What is it you want to achieve? If it’s a career ambition, you want to change disciplines or you want to move up and be a senior vice president, you want to do something different with your life, then it’s important first to label what your dream is and say okay. Often your dream is something that you’ve been avoiding because it’s too scary to you, but that is the one that probably has the most power.

You want to create a different system of team selection, where the teams choose their own members rather than the manager doing it and giving much more power to the team members and you don’t know what that’s going to look like, but you think that could be pretty compelling for people and a great recruiting tool.

The first is your dream. Once you have a dream within that, then you have to say, “Who is this going to benefit?” In the journey of not knowing, your job is to work through the uncertainty to find out what you can learn about what you don’t know.

In anything there are things we know, like I know your name is Pete and I know that you’re on the other end of a phone. I know you have a show. But I don’t know what you’re wearing, but I could ask you. I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but I can ask you and you can tell me or you won’t.

Then there are things that you can’t know either because the other person doesn’t want to tell me. I may sound like a girlfriend you had ten years ago and you just hate even hearing my voice and you certainly don’t want to share that or it’s something that you’re not aware of and I have to be comfortable with that.

When you’re trying to figure out your dream and learning about the people who would benefit, then you have to go after those things that you don’t know, but you can find out. One of the things you need to find out is what are those people, like if it’s your team now, what do you need to learn about them to pull this thing off because you’ve got to get their buy in?

That’s step one. That will also inform more about what that dream is going to look like.

Step two is to get comfortable with the scariness of risk, you’ve heard me talk about this, and accept it as part of the game. The thing that scariness can do for you is it doesn’t have to disable, but it can raise your attention. It says, “Okay, I’m nervous because I don’t know what was going to happen. I don’t know the consequences. I don’t know if people are going to like it or hate it. But I really would like to try this. I have to be okay with that worry.”

That’s an important thing. In fact there’s research coming out now in the area of mindfulness that mindfulness is very good for applying yourself to a task you already know, but it’s not so good when you apply it to something that’s new, that you don’t have enough edge going for you. That certainly is what I’ve witnessed in my career and the careers of others.

Pete Mockaitis
You don’t have enough edge going for you, you said?

Julie Benezet
Yeah, you don’t have enough – are you going to reach and stretch into a place that makes you a little nervous, but you’re willing to try. Because if it’s something that you feel really calm about, you’ve probably done it before and so have other people, so it’s probably not a new enough idea. It’s maybe not fixing the problem.

There’s a lot of these things, these new ideas are to fix old problems that people don’t want to talk about, don’t want to face or there’s some person standing in the way that nobody wants to stare down. But that allows you to go into those places where it’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it. That’s why it’s important to go towards not away from discomfort and recognize that is an empowering thing rather than a disempowering thing.

The third is to watch out for self-sabotaging behaviors. These things are your defensive behaviors that I call hooks. Everybody has defensive behaviors.

Defenses are just to take away discomfort, that if I’m in a situation where I find the people are condescending and make me feel little and upset and yet they might be people that I really need to help me with my project, but if I find that I’m reacting that way, one defensive behavior is just to disengage, just check out or tell myself I don’t need them. I’ll figure it out some other way. I’ll walk away from it.

A very common one is micromanagement, that micromanagement is about trying to take control of things. Instead of waiting to see how something or whether something is going to turn out, instead you want that instant feedback.

When you micromanage, “Well, Pete, can you move your paper over three inches? Could you please call so-and-so and tell them thus-and-thus? Would you put the stapler to the side?” I do this micromanagement role play with people and they just love it because everybody – if you don’t know what micromanagement is, you’ve never worked.

But what it does is when you get into it, it gives you near-term comfort and gives you this sense of control, but it takes you off the pathway to something bigger.

Personalizing is a big one. Personalizing is if I hear someone has criticized an event as a reflection on me, instead of hearing what the value is to the broader picture, it will get me. I will spend my time worrying about my own self-esteem rather than what’s going to be valuable to the organization.

For example, if somebody says, “Julie, that was a horrible presentation,” if I have a personalizing thing, I’ll go into unknown territory saying, “Oh, I’m just a screw-up. I’m terrible. I know I should have, would have, could have.”

Instead of stepping back and saying, “Well, let’s see. What went wrong there? Maybe they have already heard that topic before or maybe it’s hitting a nerve ending that they’ve tried to address before and it didn’t go so well and they’d rather not think about it or maybe they just heard that there are going to be layoffs and they weren’t even paying attention.”

What I need to do is get past that hook of personalizing, worrying about how I look and look at how the situation looks. Again, you have to go and figure out what it is you don’t know. Personalizing is particular common among women, but men do it too. It’s very common as I said, but it is one to catch yourself, “Uh oh, get over yourself. Let look out here and see what’s going on.”

The final thing, and this is where the juice is, you need to find drivers to fuel your way through the unknown and the discomfort of finding out new ideas.

Drivers are anything from, “I so dislike the guy who I’m competing against for this bid that there’s no way on this earth that I’m going to let him win. I am going to go deal with the scary analytics department, who always make me feel like a moron because I know they can put together a bid that will be winning so that will help me push through all the discomfort that’s going to take to get me there.”

Or more important are core drivers. Core drivers are about who you are, what are your values, what do you care about, what are your dreams, and what are your life stories. There are a lot of them. Did anybody doubt that when Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream,” did they ever doubt that he really meant it? That gave him a lot of fuel to go through a lot of scary places in the name of civil rights.

In my coaching practice I run up against this depressingly often, particularly women whose mother when they were children told them they would fail, which is incredible. You and I could probably talk for a long time about the dynamics of mothers and daughters and woman and mothers with their own issues.

But it’s a very powerful motivator when I’ve seen woman after woman go out there and say “I am going to go after that promotion as terrified as I am about what it’s going to take to get there, all the speeches I’m going to have to make, all the reports I’m going to have to write, all the people I’m going to have to prove myself to, so I can show my mother that I will not fail.” That’s a core driver and it’s very powerful.

Those are the four steps that get you on the journey through that discomfort towards something bigger.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you. Well, there’s much I’d love to dig into here. I’ll go in reverse order. These drivers, it’s interesting in that the notion that “I’m going to prove to my mother that I can do it and I’m awesome,” or “I want to stick it to this competitor because I don’t like them at all.”

Julie Benezet
It doesn’t have to be laudable, Pete. It just has to .

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well that’s what I was intrigued is that – I guess I’ve been there too with regard to sort of quote/unquote noble drivers and maybe less so. Is there any downside to tapping into a less laudable driver?

Julie Benezet
That’s a good question. A downside. Well, you don’t use it as your press clips.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Julie Benezet
You don’t say, “Okay, we’re going to go get the guys.” Although Ford made a whole – its whole vision for a long time was “We want to beat Chevy,” and that did rather well for them, so it’s not always a bad thing to do.

I don’t think so. Unless you let it consume you in a negative way. If you just say, “This is what I’m using for,” and then use it for the positive of the endpoint you want, then I think it’s very useful. If you use to basically revisit and wallow in past slights from somebody, that’s not so good.

All of these involve leadership in some way, whether it’s for your personal career, for your team. Leadership is simply about having an idea to make things better and bringing other people along to help support you in it.

When you want to get help with your idea, you want to be able – it’s really a sales job. You need to motivate other people to come into the tent to join you here. Having a negative driver is not something, as I say, you translate into your motivational speech. A different way is what if you win this bid, the group will win for itself and how life will be better as a result of this.

You need to make a division between what inside is making you go versus what it is that you need to use on the outside to socialize it and get all those people to help you come along on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you also mentioned back to the self-sabotaging behaviors that you’ll note that these are just sort of responses to natural defensiveness that’s popping up. You offered a couple kind of particular prescriptions, like if you start the personalizing, here’s what to do instead.

I’d love to get your take on are there any sort of universal tips that you’d suggest in terms of if you find defensiveness is bubbling up and you’re starting to go down whatever your particular unique self-sabotaging flavor may be, are there any kind of universal things that can help get you back on track.

Julie Benezet
Yeah, there’s something I call the hook cycle. The hook cycle begins with you being triggered by something. I’ll give you a quick story to demonstrate it so you get the pieces.

Cheryl was a senior project manager at a company. She really wanted to be promoted to director. She made a point of really going the extra mile with the client to dazzle them, so she would do well with them, then finally get promoted.

Well, one day Cheryl heard via the grapevine that Michael, who worked for her, had told her boss that the client was unhappy about their services. Well, this was the first Cheryl had heard about that. She went into this great angry place and she tended to personalize. She had parents who were shamers and blamers because we all carry our life history with us. You have to pay attention to that.

But she went into this place of, “Oh no, this should never have happened.” Instead of thinking about what the client really was saying and why Michael spoke to her boss, she went into this reactive mode. She was hooked by personalizing. The first part of the hook cycle is when you are hooked by something that triggers you.

What can happen in a negative hook cycle is if you don’t catch yourself, then you go into this reactive place, which she did. She went into this reactive place and what she did was she goes storming to her boss and says, “I can’t believe Michael came and said that to you. How dare he? He’s just playing the male chauvinist pig card.”

Her manager is listening to this. He reacts to her reaction. He’s thinking, “Whoa, she can’t manage her people. I couldn’t possibly promote her.” The result is that she is not promoted.

Well, the trick of getting to a better place is to catch yourself when you catch yourself being hooked and stop and to form a new cycle. The new cycle is when you catch yourself – and it can occur in different ways. You suddenly get almost a stabbing feeling, you get really nervous, sometimes if it’s like micromanagement, you get dead calm. Something tips you off that you’re going into a defensive place.

At that point, literally stop and shift to what I call pause and reflect. Even if you are quiet for 30 whole seconds, it will stop the speeding train of reactivity. What it does is it allows you to start to detach from all that emotionalizing and start to shift to a place of looking at it differently.

Then the second part and you build a new cycle and a more productive one. In that new cycle first thing is to give yourself compassion. We all are human. We all have things that cause us to react. That’s okay. We can forgive ourselves for that and acknowledge it. But then say, “But this isn’t going to work. Me going storming into my boss’s office and complaining about Michael, not so hot. I need to come up with a new strategy.”

Then in looking at a new strategy, that’s when it’s like opening the aperture of a camera. As the more you detach and breathe deep or whatever helps to bring in some calm, you literally can see more what’s happening. You look around and say, “Okay, what do I need to learn here.” It goes back to that not knowing thing. “What is it do I not know?”

One of the things that Cheryl did not know was why Michael talked to her boss first. Well, it turns out, so she went and talked to Michael. She learned that well, it wasn’t a planned event. He just happened to be standing in the coffee room next to the boss and he had just heard this information. He just thought he was being helpful as they’re both pouring their coffee.

But he had also worked for himself for 17 years and this chain of command thing was brand new. He had never heard of anything like that. The last thing that had occurred to him was to be undercutting her. She realized that she needed to understand Michael a whole lot better to get a more constructive working relationship. The next step is to work on that relationship.

Another piece of it obviously, they have to go solve for the client problem, which they did. This actually comes from a real life event. I happened to have been the coach for both the big boss and Cheryl, so these are not their real names. But they did go and rehabilitate it, both with Michael and Cheryl. They also had to rehabilitate the issue with the client. Six months later she was promoted to director.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. That’s nice to see how that unfolds there and makes it all the more real. Along with making it real, you mentioned a couple of those behaviors. I’d love to hear a few more so that listeners might recognize themselves in them.

I think one of my defensive behaviors is I just sort of – I start the argument without the other person. I’m like, “I can’t believe he would say that. After this and this and this. Well, he might thing this, but I’d say that. Then he might say this and I’d say that.”

It’s like I’ve already got the whole script. The whole script is playing out before me and I’m getting kind of riled up about an argument that has not happened and very well probably won’t happen. I sort of notice that in myself, so I try to take a breath in those situations. What are some other patterns that show up again and again there?

Julie Benezet
Look at our political environment right now. Nobody is listening to anybody because everybody is going around basically … each other because it’s a very anxious, anxiety provoked thing. It’s not terrible. It’s very human. But what it does is, again, it’s like something that person said to you, you took off – triggered you. How could you recognize that in yourself and then be able to pull up long enough to say, “Well, how do you get there?”

Most of my experience has been and I’ve watched this in negotiation training is the winners tend to be the ones who are quieter and ask more questions. I’m not saying you never can correct, but something to consider is what is it that I can do here to learn more about what I don’t know about this person’s position and why it is we’re not on the same page.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a handy one. Thank you. Any other patterns associated with when the defensiveness is starting to bubble up?

Julie Benezet
Perfectionism is a big one. There are ten hooks. Perfectionism is of course a rabid fear of failure. The perfectionist thinks if they just keep doing it until they get it right, they’ll be okay. It’s almost like a safety thing. It’s a great way of spinning because there’s no end point to it. There’s no such thing as something that’s perfect.

But a lot of people get into perfectionism. For example, if they’re going to go out and sit down and do a customer survey with a customer who they know might not be happy, they might find themselves spending a long time getting the wording just right on this survey rather than picking up the phone, calling up the customer and saying, “Hey, I need to come see you and learn some things here.”

It’s perseverative behavior. It’s round and around. What it can do is while you’re trying to get the perfect product, you’re avoiding making a decision. It can be a real career ender. You see a lot of perfectionists in a number two seat, not a number one seat because they’ll just keep trying to make it nicer and better and cleaner.

You see this in finance a lot. You see it among engineers. We’ve all got pieces of this. I was a lawyer for years, believe me, they’ve got perfectionism down. But what it does is if you don’t make a decision, then you’re not accountable. If you’re not accountable for something, you can’t fail at it. That’s the myth, but that’s what keeps a lot of people in that trough.

Getting out of perfectionism, again, is to first catch yourself when you’re doing it. When you’re adjusting the font for the 14th time on this proposal, you might step back and ask yourself “Am I picking on this font because the font really needs to be fixed or am I failing to look at whether this proposal is really answering the question that the potential client is asking? Is this really going to win the deal?”

Particularly if it involves things that you feel stretched in trying, but may be important to do so. Perfectionism is another big one.

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

Julie Benezet
Oh, I could mention a lot of things. When I wrote The Journey, I wrote it as a story because it’s full of people that are familiar. All of these things are very typical and yet the final goal is to pursue something better, the adventure of improving things and making a difference. I think that’s worth all the sweat along the way.

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Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Julie Benezet

Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Benezet

Well, I tend to look at biographies as telling important stories. I look at research too. But a couple books for example that are very illustrative of what I’m talking about is Shoe Dog, which is Phil Knight’s biography of how Nike was formed. You spend the whole time wondering how it is possible that this company ever succeeded to make a dime much less a billion dollars.

There is a study, it has an important moral. It’s for people who love animals like I do. It’s not a great one to read, but it’s Martin Seligman’s Learned Helplessness. It’s all about how people can get into situations where they feel like they have no control over the end, so they just quit trying. You see that in lots of different ways.

But it was done in the early ‘50s. It remains true today. It has powerful implications. The moral of that one is to find out what it is you can control and to go towards that.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Benezet

One is free writing. Free writing is something where you don’t sit and organize it. You just sit down and you just start writing. Handwriting is better than typing because it’s kinetic. It actually slows you down, so you think better. It improves the memory that comes out of that work, but it also tends to personalize it more.

Free writing is you say, “I just wish I could go down there and tell them what I think. The reason they’re bugging me about this.” It can sound like a word salad, but by dumping it out of your head and putting it on a piece of paper, you start to see things bubble to the surface. “What are the themes, the patterns here that are showing up for me? Oh, I see. These are all instances where somebody treated me like a little thing and put me down and that makes me crazy.”

Another one is white boarding is that people are very visual and whether you’re one person, two or a roomful, there’s something very powerful to going up to the wall and drawing shapes, words, colors, lines, whatever, to talk about what you’re thinking about. I find it’s less structured and, again, it surfaces patterns and thinking and can be very powerful to getting to a better place.

Pete Mockaitis

How about a favorite habit?

Julie Benezet

Well, if you knew me, you’d think this would be strange, but sitting still. Because I like to be very active, strong bias for action, you might have figured that out, when I really want to sit down and figure something out, the idea of being still makes me shift into a different gear and quit distracting myself with other stuff. It makes it impossible for me to run anyplace else.

I just sit, feel, breathe, and let my head drift. I don’t do it for very long. I do it for at most five minutes, but it’s re-energizing and it can be very clarifying because when you have a little meeting with yourself like that, it’s amazing what shows up on the agenda.

Pete Mockaitis

Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they repeat it frequently?

Julie Benezet

One of the things that I hear a lot is about leadership. It’s not a job; it’s a mindset. It’s a state of being where you’re always looking for the bigger opportunity in whatever is going on. If something goes wrong in your job, don’t just fix the little thing, like the team didn’t put the paper in on time. What’s the bigger deal that’s going on?

Why is it that they didn’t come through on that? Did they not understand it? Did they realize that nobody is going to read it? Did they think that the data were flawed? What was sitting behind that stuff that stopped them from doing it because that’s what you go to fix. The mindset is always looking for that bigger opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Benezet

On my website, JulieBenezet.com or there’s Author Central off of Amazon.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Benezet

Dare to dream, face your fears, and go for it.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Julie, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck and more adventures and more unknowing places.

Julie Benezet

Guaranteed. Thank you very much.