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KF #30. Self-Development Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

655: Building Better Habits via Better Systems with Most Days’ Brent Franson

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Brent Franson shares tactics and tools for building powerful habits based on his experiences of being surrounded by addiction.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How Brent leveraged technology to break his bad habits
  2. The keystone habit of behavioral change
  3. How to stay motivated even when you fail

 

About Brent

Brent Franson is the Founder and CEO of Most Days, an app backed by science, built to help you understand what you need to do to improve your life and achieve change.

Previously, he was on the founding team of Reputation.com, the worldwide leader in online reputation management. Reputation.com was named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum.

Brent was also the CEO of Euclid Analytics, a leader in retail data and analytics. Under his leadership, Euclid was acquired by WeWork in 2019.

Brent has been named a LinkedIn Top Voice, and has regularly contributed to Forbes, LinkedIn, Inc, Entrepreneur, and other publications. Brent is a father, and an athlete who enjoys his routine, reading, running, skiing, skydiving, and anything that involves pushing his own boundaries.

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Brent Franson Interview Transcript

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

Brent Franson
Yeah, thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am eager to dig into your wisdom. And you have an interesting backstory that kind of informs, inspires, motivates the work you’re currently doing with your app Most Days. Can you share it with us?

Brent Franson
Yeah, certainly. So, I’m from Boulder, Colorado. I’m the oldest of four, we’re all within five years. And Boulder was this very fertile ground for me when I was young. I was most likely to succeed in eighth grade and I was the Winter Ball King, it’s kind of lame suburban accolades. And then my sophomore year in high school, my parents got divorced, and they were both very distracted with that.

And so, they’re going to be multiple versions of a story like this but, basically, what happened was I started rebelling and a lot of the parental supervision just changed pretty dramatically. And what happened was all of the kids in our friend group and in the neighborhood, who had similar issues, had things going on at home, had parents who weren’t around as much, they ended up spending a lot of time in the home. Some of them actually moved into the home full time.

And so, it turned into a little bit a Lord of the Flies situation where everybody was fending for themselves. And I wish I could say it turned out well; it didn’t. It, ultimately, has a good story but I rebelled in a very, very aggressive way. I ended up being kicked out of the public high school that I was going to in Boulder. I was sent on court mandate, basically, to a boarding school in New Hampshire. My parents had said, “Hey, if he gets sent away somewhere where he can kind of get better in dealing with the things, dealing with the acting up.”

So, I went to this tiny boarding school in central New Hampshire. I was kicked out of that boarding school during my, what was effectively my second senior year, so I was forced to repeat it. And in that group and in my family and kind of as for many of us, what happened around us was there was a lot of coping with the situation and coping with the changing environment.

And so, I’ve seen a lot of addiction, an addiction of all kinds. I’ve dealt with, I don’t identify as an addict, but I’ve dealt with a lot of kind of unhealthy habits that have hurt my life at various points. And then, also, in being surrounded in a bunch of different ways by addiction, I’ve seen the flip side of it. I have a lot of people around me who have many years or a decade or more of sobriety.

And what this whole story, and what this whole set of experiences has really taught me was the power of behavior change. I really became familiar with the behavior change, frameworks and addiction. Addiction is really interesting because the negative consequences of addiction are caused by repeating an unhealthy behavior over and over again. And then the cure, and cure is the wrong word, but the way out of addiction is to change that behavior. So, there are some pills but it’s largely not…you don’t take a prescription for it. It’s not a surgery. You’ve got to change the way that you’re living your life. You got to change the way that you’re coping. You’ve got stop repeating that behavior over and over again.

And so, this set of experiences has led me to the business that I’m running today. But, more importantly, I think, being really focused on understanding how can behavior, or how can the things that we do most days, there are a lot of things that it’s hard to do every day, how are the things that we’re doing most days, how can those improve the quality of our lives, the length of our lives. And then coming off of the background experience in which you see how much it can, you know, doing the wrong things every day can really hurt your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s an interesting sort of backdrop starting point. And I want to zoom in a bit on, so, in between then and now, you’ve had some pretty stellar successes in terms of software business leadership and exits and all that sort of thing. You’re really making it happen in the business world in terms of you were most likely to succeed. The prophecy proved true in terms of you’ve had a great deal of success.

So, can you share where and when and how did you get yourself into a behavioral groove that was really supporting you in such that you were starting to see some really great results in terms of your behaviors and the results that flowed from them?

Brent Franson
I think it took me a long time. Really, the reality of what happened was I was a very heavy pot smoker in high school and early in my 20s. I’m 38 now. And in 2004, I went to rehab. I spent 30 days in a rehab for just trying to stop smoking marijuana.

And the 30 days in rehab was really good for me because I just struggled to stop on my own, and I completely stopped, I learned a bunch of skills at this rehab in Arizona, and then I completely changed my scenery. So, I had actually started a company when I was in high school and it’s still operating today, but I was back in Colorado after I’d dropped out of college and I was running this business and my environment really wasn’t working for me.

And so, I moved to Palo Alto in 2004-2005, which was a very good time to move. At that time, the epicenter of Silicon Valley, really, was Palo Alto, and so things really turned me for me then. This habit that was really plaguing me, I shed that. I still dealt with some substance dependencies after that so that wasn’t completely the end of it.

And then I just pulled myself out of an environment that wasn’t working for me and I plugged myself right into the middle of, basically, the best place you could be as a young aspiring entrepreneur in technology, which was Palo Alto in 2005. So, that was the turning point for my dark period for maybe 15 to 23. It’s been quite a different story since I made that move.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, tell us about the Google Sheets and the behaviors and the habits that you were cultivating. And how did that take root?

Brent Franson
Yeah, so what ended up happening was I picked up a bunch of habits for coping with things, for figuring out how to sleep, for just dealing, generally, with emotions during this tough period of my adolescence. And it became very clear to me that if I did a certain set of things, most days that I was in a good place, I was in a good headspace. When I didn’t do those things, I wasn’t.

And the tipping point for me and really building a system around this was I was the CEO of this venture-backed company I didn’t found called Euclid, and it was a stressful role and I was having trouble sleeping. And so, I started taking Klonopin which is for anxiety. It’s a benzo, it’s very addictive, but I was taking it just for a short period of time. It’s often prescribed similar to Xanax for short periods of time for anxiety.

And I realized it was hard for me to get off of it. It became very difficult to sleep without taking this Klonopin. And so, I went cold turkey. And it was very difficult to do. I lost a bunch of weight. I was really anxious, I couldn’t sleep, and my doctor didn’t really have any good advice for me.

And so, I spent a lot of time researching and figuring it out. Hey, I’ve seen this in my family. I dealt with it early in my 20s, I thought, “Hey, I don’t want to be dependent on a benzo like Klonopin.” And so, I found this thing called the Ashton Manual which is Dr. Heather Ashton is a pharmacologist in the UK who ran these benzo withdrawal clinics in the mid ‘90s. And to get off of benzos, what you need to do is you taper off as you do many of these. So, you reduce the amount that you’re taking very slowly.

But this one, particularly in the Ashton Manual says, “Okay, now, start. As you dial down on the Klonopin, increase something called Valium,” and then you’ll be off the Klonopin but you’re on a higher dose of Valium, and then you come off of the Valium and then you drop off of Valium and you’re off of both of them. And that is the smoothest way, basically, to get off of something that is hard to quit.

And that required this very strict daily regiment of, “Okay, here’s the amount I’m taking of the Klonopin and then the Valium,” and it’s all over a six-week period so I built this spreadsheet and started tracking what I was doing there. And, in addition to that, I started tracking meditating, working out, sleeping, and eventually the system got really crazy. I mean, today I track 45 different things that I do each day and have been for six years now.

Pete Mockaitis
Forty-five, that’s wild. And so then, can you share what are maybe just a few of the behaviors that make a world of difference and that are extra leverage?

Brent Franson
Well, I think getting the basics right. So, basically, the primary categories are going to be, well, we all know these categories: sleep, diet, exercise, community, and mindfulness. I think one thing that’s been key for me, and I don’t know how true this is in other circles, in the technology community for a long time, like bragging about how little you sleep was some rite of passage.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, man. Hustle.

Brent Franson
It’s like, “Yeah, I sleep five hours.” “Oh, I only sleep four hours.” And Bezos is very famous where he credits, hey, he sleeps eight hours every night, and that’s a big part of his ability to be productive. And so, I think over time you realize, “Okay, there are these five categories of things that I need to be focusing on and investing my time in,” and you realize which ones are more foundational.

If I sleep well, basically, I have more willpower. I’m more likely to exercise, I’m more likely to meditate, I’m more likely to engage in productive relationships with my family. I’m less likely to create friction in my relationships, which eats up time and creates frustration. If I have even a small amount of alcohol, it’s likely to impact my sleep which impacts the willpower, and the cycle continues.

And so, I think there’s all of the basics in terms of those five categories. And then there are some things I think that are less obvious. Every day, I have a voice memo that I’ve record, so I record a new one every four to six weeks or something, and it’s four or five affirmations that I say to myself. So, things that I’m trying to work on, things that are getting at me. So, I tend to be somebody who wants to please people, and so one of the affirmations is, “You don’t need to rescue people. You don’t always need to say yes.”

And so, I record myself saying these things, and then there’s a pause in between each statement that allows me to say the statement out loud after I hear it, and I do that four times in a row, and that’s remarkably effective at stomping out those patterns. I end up refreshing those voice memos every four to six weeks because you’re realizing, “Oh, I’m not engaging in the rescuing thing that I didn’t need to be doing or whatever it might be.” So, a lot of them are really standard and there are some random ones like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s beautiful in terms of like sometimes that’s how progress feels in terms of it’s not like, “Sweet victory,” but it’s like, “Oh, I guess this isn’t really necessary anymore. Cool.” And it’s just sort of like a quiet victory that happens just like that but something worthy of celebration nonetheless.

Brent Franson
Yeah, I think, generally, for me, one of the key insights, and this is something they talk a lot about in addiction, in addiction they say, “Progress not perfection, one day at a time.” And so, if you’re trying to change something about your life, if you’re trying to adapt a new behavior, you’re trying to lose weight, you’re trying to drink less, whatever it might be, trying to get up early and work out, self-compassion is really important. And the real change comes just a little bit at a time, and that compounds day over day.

And so, one of the things that was helpful for me, in the pot habit or I was a cigarette smoker in my early 20s, is this notion of, “Don’t quit quitting.” And so, you’re going to fail. If you’re trying to get up early and work out, and you’re not normally somebody who works out early, or you’re trying to quit smoking cigarettes or whatever it is, you’re not going to succeed right away. And, often, we fail at the thing, we don’t get up in the morning, we’d beat ourselves up, there’s a bad feeling associated with that, and then we dismiss it and we don’t continue.

And I think actually the skill you want to cultivate is this, “Hey, it’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day. I didn’t get up early this morning.” That’s fine. Don’t beat yourself up for it and see if you get there tomorrow. And if you go from not doing it at all to doing it once a week and then you’re doing it twice a week, and if in a year or two years, you’re now workout in the morning four days a week, who cares that the ramp was slow.

And so, I think don’t quit quitting, and so it’s more about getting back on the horse than it is how many times you fall off. Get good at just getting back on and not beating yourself up. And then the second, which I think is related, is focus on consistency over intensity. So, if you are somebody who doesn’t run and you want to start running, if you walk out the door with your running shoes on, count it. If you go around the block, count it.

And what’s going to happen is if you’re able to go around the block and you weren’t doing this at all before and, now, you’re doing it two times a week, three time a week, you’re going to start going two blocks, you’re going to start going three blocks. The length is going to come over time. The consistency is the hardest piece. And this is what we know about habits.

Really, a habit is kind of defined as something that you do subconsciously, that’s just automatic and you’re not thinking about it when you do it. So, when we try to adapt new habits, they’re hard because you’re going to proactively think about them. And so, if you build it in and you’re doing it consistently, even at a low intensity, the intensity will grow over time, they’ll become more and more automatic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. And we talked about the self-compassion, I think that’s one thing. As soon as I saw your email, and your app is called Most Days, I was like, “That’s the perfect name.” So, what is the big idea behind Most Days?

Brent Franson
We’re building a platform where we’re trying to take everything that we know about behavior change and put it into one place. And so, there’s two primary pieces. So, no matter what you’re struggling with, and something like 97% of people have at least one health ailment. We all kind of have something.

And so, no matter what it is, there’s a set of things that you can be doing most days to improve the quality or length of your life.

And so, in Most Days, you can either create a routine or you can subscribe to an existing routine. So, we have routines for anxiety, depression, OCD, relationship, loneliness, stress and a whole bunch of different categories that are written by psychologists and neuroscientists primarily from schools here in California, from Berkeley and UCLA and Stanford. So, it’s a set of things you can do most days that are rooted in science to improve the quality of your life.

Or, you can just create your own. Like, my routine is I’ve got four or five routines on Most Days. I’m a father, I’ve got a parenting routine. I’ve just created them from scratch. I’ve been hacking on myself, trying to improve myself for the last 20 years. That’s then nested within a social network. And so, each day you mark “Yes” or “Not today.” We got feedback from our members that they didn’t feel good about saying “No,” and so we say “Not today,” which I think is great.

And then your yes responses are posted to a feed of people who follow you so you can be in single-player mode, you can follow other members of our community, you can invite a sibling or whatever, but it’s creating this peer-to-peer accountability, and we’re trying to drive the shame out of the product. So, celebrate the wins, let’s not shame anybody for the things that they’re not doing, and then tomorrow is a new day. And if you have a down day, you can improve the next day.

And then the final piece of the platform is just analytics to understand progress over time. So, one of the things we ask you each day is kind of “One to 10, how are you feeling?” And so, that gives us the ability to understand “What are the habits? What are the inputs? What are the things where you are investing in your own happiness and quality of life?” And then the output is like, “Oh, is it working?”

And so, the analytics allow you, “Okay, how are you doing on your habits? What percentage of time are you completing these?” And then we can start to connect the dots and show you, “Okay, here are the habits that are most tightly correlated with high quality of life, etc.” so you can start to get an understanding from the data of how those things are working.

And this is all modeled, I mean, loosely, off of what we see in addiction. And so, if you walk into an AA meeting, there’s going to be a plan, so there’s 12 steps in AA, you’re going to have a sponsor who’s telling you to do a certain set of things. That’s then nested within an environment that creates, that’s safe, and where you’ve got a lot of people who are on the same journey, who can share their experiences on the same journey, who can hold one another accountable, and that would be the meetings.

And then you’ve got an understanding of progress over time. Ask anybody who is kind of really active in their sobriety, and they’ll tell you down to the day how many days they’ve been sober. Even if they’ve been sober for 10 years, they’ll often be able to tell you down the day. And then they get little chips after 24 hours or 30 days or 30 years.

And so, we’re really trying to take everything that we know about behavior change and put it into one place. We’re early in our journey but that’s the basic thought behind what we’re trying to build.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And it’s cool. I use it, I dig it, and so, it’s a beautiful thing so thank you for putting that into the world. Well, so then let’s zoom in then in terms of when it comes to behavior change, we have a couple principles in terms of self-compassion and having some support and accountability, having a clear plan and tracking it. Can you maybe bring this to life with perhaps a couple case studies, stories, examples in terms of, “All right, hey, someone is looking to do something, and here’s what they did and how it worked”?

Brent Franson
One of the common things that we talk about and we’re hearing, if we’re talking about New Year’s Resolution. New Year’s Resolutions are interesting because they’re an interesting example of this because we’re starting with a goal and we’re not thinking about the system. So, I think the first key to think about in behavior change is, like, “What’s the system? How are you going to change the system of your life, the system of your behavior to support whatever the change is?”

And so, I’ll give you some simple examples. Like, for me, I had always heard this stat that you’re supposed to brush your teeth two minutes twice day, you’re supposed to be brushing your teeth for two minutes straight. And with a traditional toothbrush, for me, personally, that was hard. I just get bored. I have a short attention span and I just get bored after 30 or 40 seconds, if that.

And so, for me, and I’ve been doing this for a decade now, go buy a toothbrush with a timer and just walk around the house until the thing turns off. And so, I’ve got a Sonic here, the thing, it just buzzes for two minutes and then it turns off. And you almost immediately go, if you’re tracking the data of this brushing your teeth for 30 seconds to brushing your teeth for two minutes consistently.

Another example of this is addiction to the phone. One of the things that I spend as much time as I can is thinking about, “How am I a present partner? How am I a present father? How am I a present sibling?” etc. And the phones are just so crazy addictive, and so there’s a product called the kSafe which you can put your phone in a little like Tupperware container that has a lock with a timer that you can’t disable.

And so, for me, really the hardcore family time is 5:30 to 7:30. My daughter is four and a half, she kind of starts going to bed around 7:30. I put the phone in the safe, I can’t access the phone, so I’m not sitting around drawing on willpower at the end of the day to not grab the thing. I can’t unconsciously just pick it up and start looking at it. The thing is locked away. And I’m telling you, there’s something. As soon as it goes into that safe, that desire to look at it or the phantom buzzing that you can hear, all of that goes away because there’s just not a choice. The phone is locked away.

And so, I think another one that people talk about is if you want to get up and workout in the morning, put all of the clothes out and put your shoes right outside of the bed. Like, lower all of the friction to walking out of the door. And this is going to be different for everybody. There’s no one-size-fits-all. But I think it’s about thinking, “Okay, what system can I put in place that’s going to either make it easier for me not to do whatever behavior I’m trying to stop or it’s just going to make it easier for me to do the things I’m trying to do more of or to start doing?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot in terms of having a resolution alone isn’t very actionable, like, “I’m going to run a marathon this year.” Oh, that’s great, but you’ve got to break that down into the particular behaviors of running, and then think about your particular resistance or friction that’s making it tough, and do what you can to eliminate it. And so, it’s really fun when there’s a technology like a phone safe or like an automated toothbrush.

And so, what are some additional ways we can make it easier beyond buying things? And, hey, buying things is fun, so we can talk about buying things too. But I’d love to hear a few more in terms of like, “Well, there’s, indeed, there’s not a technology that will just zap me with motivation juice.” So, what are some other ways to make things easier?

Brent Franson
So, I’ll give you a couple examples. So, if you read any book on behavior change or how-to tracking, you’ll see common techniques like habit stacking. And so, okay, what is something that you know you’re automatically going to be doing? And then attach something that you don’t automatically do to that.

So, there’s a great book on this by a professor at Stanford named Dr. BJ Fogg who, the example he cites for him personally is he does a couple of pushups after he goes to the bathroom. So, he knows he’s going to go to the bathroom regularly, that’s not going to stop. He’s trying to adapt the habit of strengthening his upper body, and so he stacks those habits together.

And I’ll give you, from my own personal life, is, like, if I really go through the core parts of my routine, primarily my mindfulness and journaling routine, so that routine includes, most days, I’m trying to meditate, I listen to the voice memos, I try to spend 10 minutes learning something new. I journal. As part of the journal, I do a little gratitude practice. I read a little nonfiction. I try to read nonfiction and fiction each day, and that’s it.

So, if I just sat down and do all of those things, it’s 30 or 40 minutes. And the key for me that’s related to habit stacking is if I just get started, so sometimes I drag my feet and I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t want to do it.” I pick up the phone and I’m looking at Reddit or something or whatever we do when we distract ourselves and we procrastinate. But if I just get into that meditation, everything else is actually pretty automatic. It’s very easy for me to roll out of the meditation into the next activity. It’s rare that I would start that set of things and not finish it. The hardest part is getting myself started.

And so, I think either stacking a habit on top of something you automatically know you’re going to do, or finding a little bit of time and stacking those habits together. And then on the days when I just do the meditation, I just do one or two of the pieces, fine. That’s okay. I don’t beat myself up. I’ve got the next day. So, that’s number two, kind of grouping the habits together.

The third thing I’d say is physically a mental framework. So, I think often we perceive something being harder or worse than it actually is, and I think exercising is a very good example of this. The person you are, for me it’s I’m running in the pandemic because there’s nothing else to do, is the person I am when I walk out of the house is very different than the person I am a mile into a run, for me about a mile up – running stops just being just torture and just terrible – and it’s very different from the person that comes back. When I come back from a run, I am on top of the world. I’m not really fast on a run, crazy distances.

And so, I get into a mental state of really trying to focus on how I’m going to feel after I do something as opposed to before you do it, because there’s so much dread sometimes getting into something like a workout and you kind of play it back and forth in your head. You never regret it. You never come back and say, “Why did I do that?”

And so, I think reminding yourself of where you’re going to be, and one of the tricks I use for myself is, “I’m just going to run a mile. Like, from here I can run to Stanyan Street and it’s not that far. It’s mostly flat and I’ll turn around when I get there.” I never turn around. I’m just a different person. I’m in the zone. There’s a little bit of that runner’s high. And so, focusing on kind of how you’re going to feel afterwards as opposed to before can be helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, let’s think about a professional who has some challenges associated with entertaining distractions on the computer, be it Twitter, be it Reddit, the news, shopping, checking emails more than is optimal, that’s come up a few times. What will be some of your top tips for someone looking to make that kind of a behavioral shift?

Brent Franson
It’s similar to what I would say with the kSafe, with the putting the phone away. So, I use something on my computer called BlockSite and it blocks the websites. So, I block Twitter and Reddit and Instagram, I block all of those. So, if I go to them, there’s an additional step I can say, “Hey, unblock,” and you can block them. Put your phone in a different room while you’re working. Close the tabs that are not relevant to the work that you’re doing.

And so, a lot of this, at least for me personally, it comes down to, like, “Hey, I’m my own worst enemy. And so, how do I build little fences around myself to keep me focused?” Right now, we’re recording this, we’re having this conversation, and I took a moment before this call to just close out everything, or else I’ll look at my Slack, I’ll be looking at an email that pops up. And the neuroscience behind that is very straightforward. There’s a powerful little dopamine hit.

And so, I think as soon as you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to have the willpower. I’m just going to be really focused because it’s a really important thing,” I think a lot of that is fantasy. You’re going to fall back into the same habits, and so you’ve got put some guardrails. So, if the phone is distracting you, put the phone out of arm’s reach. Use something like BlockSite. Block out the time on the calendar for the head’s down work.

So, I think one of the things that we do, that a lot of people, and I’ve done a lot of this, fail to do from a time management perspective is you’re only scheduling… there’s only the things on your calendar that involve, “Okay, I’m talking to Pete at 3:00 o’clock, and then I’ve got a Zoom with my boss or with an investor,” whoever it might be. Block out the time you need to catch up on email first thing in the morning and block it out again later in the afternoon, and then focus during the day. You’re not going to be more than a few hours behind.

Close Slack, spend some time getting some work done. Open Slack back up. So, being very intentional in the work that we do. If you’re somebody who’s got a hundred different tabs open and you’ve got every app open all day long, of course, those things are going to distract you.

Pete Mockaitis
And to the point about self-compassion, can we like zoom way into, “All right, these are not helpful things to say to yourself after you’ve not performed what you wanted to perform, and this is what a more compassionate response is”? I think some folks might think, “Well, if I’m too easy on myself, I’m just not going to go through it. Like, if ‘It’s fine’ is my response to a failure, well, then, will I ever kick it into high gear?” So, can I hear some internal dialogue samples of helpful, self-compassion responses to failure, and not so helpful responses to failure?

Brent Franson
Yeah, I think there’s a difference between beating yourself up and being honest with yourself. And so, one of the tips that I heard that’s been helpful for me that I think is interesting is when you’re going through your email, start at the bottom of your email. Start at the email that it’s been the longest time since you’ve responded to. I’m not a total email-to-zero person but, okay, start on the most important thing. That email has been sitting there the longest, if it’s something you need to respond to, it’s probably more important than the one that just came in, even if the content of the one that just came in is more important. You have more time on that.

And I think the same thing is true for important projects. Like, work on the project that’s the hardest if you have a little time that you’re putting off the most first. And so, if there’s a really important project that you’re procrastinating, you got to be honest with yourself about the fact that, “Hey, I have to get that done. And if I don’t get it done, there’s going to be some consequence.”

But I think the, “I’m always this. I’m never that. I should be doing this. Somebody who’s good at their job wouldn’t procrastinate this in the way that I do,” so and so, you’re actually manifesting a particular person. Those kind of feedback loops are going to be actively negative. For me, personally, I got to a place of, like, “Screw it, I’m going to give up. If I can’t win the game, I’m not going to play at all.”

So, honest dialogue about yourself, with like, “Okay, if I keep procrastinating with this, here are the consequences of that. Like, the world is not going to end, but there will be consequences and I’d rather not have to deal with those consequences.” But I think the “shoulds,” and the “comparing,” and the “always” and “nevers,” I think that’s when you know you’re getting to a place where you’re probably not making progress. An honest and empathetic dialogue with yourself and really looking like, “Okay, why am I procrastinating this? What is it about it?” that’s actually going to increase the odds that you complete it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then if you aspire to, yeah, the New Year’s Resolution, run a marathon, and you didn’t get up for the run, “It’s not like I always do this. I’m never going to be a runner. I should really be better about getting up early. Brent runs amazingly well with consistency. Why can’t I be a winner like him?” So, that’s in your not-so-great column.

But then your honest conversation about consequences might sound like, “You know, well, Pete, this marathon is something that you’ve been looking forward to. You’ve got some buddies who are signed up and jazzed for it and it’s going to be a really cool experience. If this keeps happening, you’re just not going to be ready for it and you won’t be able to do it and it’d be pretty disappointing to have to cancel it.” Okay, so what next? That’s like the honest consequence conversation.

Brent Franson
Yeah. Well, then what next is have an honest conversation with yourself about what to do, “So, okay, I didn’t run today. When is the next running group? If I make that, if I make it to that running group, am I on track? Am I falling too far behind? Do I need to be in a different running group? Am I trying to run early in the morning and I’ve never been a morning person and I should actually be doing these runs in the afternoon or the evening or whatever it is?”

So, I think there’s an honest assessment of, “Okay, I might not be in shape to run this marathon if I keep missing these. Is there a way that I can make this easier for myself? Hey, I want Pete to give me a call in the morning,” or whatever it might be. So, I think it’s the honest assessment of consequences. The beating yourself up is not going to help.

And then the second piece is how do you change the system? What about the system needs to change? You need to go to bed earlier. Do you need somebody to give you a ring? Do you need to run at a different time of day, whatever it might be?

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

Brent Franson
No, no. As somebody who has a lot of personal experience with this, I think there’s a lot of people who will say, “Behavior change is hard. You can’t change. You’re not going to change.” And I would just say that’s just not true. You can. It is hard but it is possible. And so, whatever those things are you want to change about your life, as hard as that can seem to see in the moment, it is possible. It takes time and you got to focus on it but it’s very possible. I actually defy people the opposite. I defy you not to change. It’s just a question of how you’re going to change.
Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well, now can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brent Franson
Oh, I like “The Man in the Arena” quote, so I think that’s the Teddy Roosevelt quote and it’s too long of a quote for me to remember off the top of my head. But it’s basically the substance of the quote is I’d rather be among the cold, tired, and bloody among us who are in the arena and who are trying and who are striving for something, and maybe I’m defeated, than among the cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat. So, I think putting yourself out there and kind of striving for whatever you want, that’s where the glory and the greatness is, and victory or defeat is secondary.

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

Brent Franson
The things that are top of mind for me right now, it’s just been so shocking to me as I dig in. I’ve seen this in my own life and then looking at attribution, basically, of behavior change and health outcomes.

And so, like 15% or 20% of health outcomes can be attributed to medical care and it’s 50% plus to behavior, and that’s been so striking to me because I think, in a perfect world in the future, you get a prescription for a drug that’s going to help you, and then next to that you’re getting a prescription for things you need to change that you can change in your behavior, that can help you improve. And so, a lot of the stats and kind of the impact of behavior change has just been, they’re top of mind for me right now, obviously, as I’m spending so much time thinking about this.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Brent Franson
This changes for me a lot. My favorite book are adventure books. And so, The Spirit of St. Louis is a book about Lindbergh and his flight across the Atlantic. It’s just really well-written.

But if you like the adventure stories, there’s a story of called Endurance which is about Shackleton and this crazy survival story down in Antarctica. And so, I love those adventure survival stories.

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

Brent Franson
Currently, my favorite tool is I have two phones and I have one phone that’s just totally dialed down and doesn’t have any apps on it and I’ve grey-scaled the background. And the more I’m carrying that, because you can just swap the SIMs. I have on my keychain, basically, a little kind of needle, it’s a SIM swapper, it’ll pull your SIM out. And that’s been remarkably helpful for me having a phone that’s just very basic. I’m a dad so I’ve got to be reachable but it just doesn’t really have much. It allows me to focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite habit, you’ve got so many?

Brent Franson
Heat therapy. It’s sitting in a sauna, it’s sweating. And so, that, in my own personal dataset has the highest correlation with me feeling good. And so, there’s a whole bunch of interesting science around the health benefits of sitting in a sauna, in a hot dry room basically, and sweating, and so I think that’s my favorite. I also think just top of mind for me now because I haven’t been able to do it, I don’t have a sauna in my home.

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

Brent Franson
I think one of the things I spend a lot of time talking about is that there aren’t that many real rules in life. And so, I think there are a set of ethics that we all want to live by. I want to be honest. I want to be ethical. But a lot of the rules, “You got to take XYZ path if you want to do this or you want to do that.”

Like, there are a bunch of different ways to skin a cat, and so I think a lot of the “rules” are self-imposed. And so, I think thinking creatively about multiple paths to the same place has been really helpful for me, and I encourage others to do the same. I haven’t had the most amazing career, I haven’t had the worst career ever, but I took a different path. I can’t tell you whether or not I graduated from high school, and here I am in Silicon Valley running technology companies. And so, don’t impose unnecessary rules on yourself.

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

Brent Franson
Oh, look, you can email me on brent@mostdays, you can come join us in the Most Days community if you’re trying to change your behavior. We’ve got a supportive community of people who are trying to do this. But, yeah, reach out.

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

Brent Franson
Yeah, the challenge I would give anybody is change something about the structure of the way that you work, change something about the structure of the way that you live your life, and see what happens.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Brent, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you and great luck with Most Days and your adventures.

Brent Franson
Yeah. Thanks, Pete.

647: Cal Newport: How to Break Free from Your Email Inbox

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Cal Newport says: "You don't need advice for how to deal with your overflowing inbox... You need to change the structure of your business so that your inbox is not overflowing."

Cal Newport reveals how the rise of email led to a productivity disaster and what we can do to change that.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How email changed the way we work for worse 
  2. Simple strategies for cutting down the email back-and-forth 
  3. Why we feel guilty when we don’t respond—and what to do about it 

 

About Cal

Cal Newport is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. In addition to researching cutting­ edge technology, he also writes about the impact of these innovations on our culture. Newport is the author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller, Digital Minimalism, which argues that we should be much more selective about the technologies we adopt in our personal lives, and Deep Work, which argues that focus is the new I.Q. in the modern workplace. 

Newport’s work has been published in over 25 languages and has been featured in many major publications, including the New York TimesWall Street JournalNew YorkerWashington Post, and Economist, and his long-running blog Study Hacks, which receives over 3 million visits a year. He’s also a frequent guest on NPR. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Cal Newport Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Cal, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Cal Newport
Well, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, I got to hear one of the most noteworthy things about you, which is an interesting comment to make in this day and age, is that you have no social media accounts. Can you tell us why and how it’s going for you?

Cal Newport
It’s true. I think I’m the last person under the age of 65 and above the age of 12, for which that’s true. I don’t know. I’ll tell you what, this has not been that bad of a period to not be on social media, I think, if you could measure cortisol levels and graph it somehow, you would have all of American culture, all American society, and then me, probably a good 50% below it because I’m just not exposed to the up-to-the-minute fretting and doom-scrolling. So, it’s been good.

So, basically, it turns out it’s allowed. Just for idiosyncratic reasons, a long time ago, I’m talking 2004, I just decided, “I think I’m not going to use social media,” which at that point that was not a fraught decision in 2004 because there was not that much social media but I just sort of stuck with it because, why not? And it’s given me this really interesting vantage point. I’m like an anthropologist able to look around me and watch the impact the social media on everyone’s lives with a little bit of distance. I mean, I’m the last people who’s actually never had an account who can actually study it with some distance.

And here’s what I’ll say, I know what’s going on in the world, I still have friends, I still find ways to be entertained, I still manage to sell books and run a business, so it might not be as bad as people fear.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’ll take it. And have there been any downsides, any regrets, anything you miss? Maybe you can’t miss it if you’ve never had it.

Cal Newport
No, not really. I’ll tell you what happened that helped reduced regret is the big social media platforms, they had initially had this claim that, “We’re valuable because of network effects. We’re the best way to connect with friends and family and we’re the platform where all your friends and family are, so if you’re not on Facebook or if you’re not on Instagram, you can’t connect with your friends and family.”

But they basically gave that up about five or six years ago, and said, “No, no, what we’re really about is entertainment. We’re kind of leveraging your social connections to learn the type of stuff you’re interested in but what we are is a stream of things to look at,” and most of these digital interactions with friends and family began to shift from social media over to tools like text message, or Zoom calls, or other types of tools like that which I do use.

And so, I’m not missing out on the original promise, which is, “This is how you keep up with friends and family,” because that is largely moved off of social platforms. Now, they’re just a highly addictive form of entertainment and, I don’t know, I think I found other ways to entertain myself so, so far so good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s talk about your latest work, A World Without Email. Provocative. Could you kick us off maybe with one of your surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made as you’re doing your research there?

Cal Newport
Well, I was surprised to discover the extent to which how we work today, which I call a hyperactive hivemind workflow, which is, put simply, work unfolds with a constant unstructured stream of ad hoc messaging, whether that’s delivered through email or Slack or whatever tool you want to use. I was surprised by the extent to which that way of working is basically arbitrary.

So, we assume all of this emailing and Slacking, like we do this because it’s a pain but it’s more productive, or this is how work gets done. If we didn’t always communicate with each other, if we weren’t constantly, “Here’s a message,” “Here’s an email,” “Here’s a reply,” “Here’s a CC,” that we’ll somehow be less productive. And it was rationally decided by managers and consultants, and at some point, people figured out this is a better way of working. It turns out that’s not true.

It largely emerged somewhat haphazardly, more it’s just a side effect of what this new tool made available and it interacted in an unpredictable way with just human nature, and you can document this. But, basically, we stumbled into this world of sort of constant, ongoing, unstructured conversation. And then we look backwards and try to justify it and live with it.

And one of the big claims in this book is that there’s nothing fundamental about, “Let’s put an email address, associate it with every person. Let’s put everyone on a Slack channel and just rock and roll to figure things out.” There’s nothing fundamental about that being the best way to do knowledge work. And, in fact, when you really look closely at it, it’s actually a pretty terrible way of doing it for a lot of factors. There are many other ways you could approach it. So, I think that degree to which this is just, in some sense, email is decision that we work this way and not our own was definitely a liberating discovery for me as I got deeper into this topic.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. All right. So, we just kind of fell into it. And so, lay it on us, so why is it terrible? What makes email so detrimental to knowledge worker productivity?

Cal Newport
Well, the first thing I’ll further clarify, just so we have like a foundation for the discussion, is the title is sort of provocatively succinct when I say A World Without Email, but what I really mean, and this would be a less sexy title, is a world without the hyperactive hivemind workflow that email introduced. So, when I say a world without email, what I mean is a working world in which constant unstructured unscheduled conversation is not at the core of how we get things done.

The problem with that workflow, that hyperactive hivemind workflow, is that it forces us to switch cognitive context constantly. Say that four times fast. Because if you have to be maintaining dozens of these ongoing asynchronous, unstructured, unscheduled conversations, all these different threads, because that’s how everything gets figured out, from figuring out how to deal with a new client, to scheduling something, to pulling together bullet points, I mean, all this is happening on asynchronous threads, unstructured, unscheduled, just messages going back and forth, the only way for work to move forward is you have to constantly be monitoring and tending these threads.

That’s why when you look at the data, you see that people check their email inbox, on average, something once every six minutes. It’s not a rational behavior, it’s not a lack of willpower, it’s the only way you can keep up with so much ongoing concurrent communications is you have to keep checking. The problem is every time you check an inbox, you check a Slack channel, you induce a context shift within your brain. So, you’re switching your attention from the primary thing you’re working on to an inbox full of messages, most of which you can’t address right there in that moment.

And then you’re trying to bring your attention back to the main thing, that creates a huge pileup within your brain that reduces your effectiveness, that stresses you out, it makes you anxious, it makes it harder for you to think. So, we basically designed an approach to work that accidentally really reduces our ability to actually do work. We just cannot maintain these two parallel tracks of constantly monitoring communication while also trying to work on other things. We’re not wired for that, it goes against our sort of fundamental neural architecture, and I think it’s been a real big hindrance to both productivity but also people’s happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I’m curious. We had Dave Crenshaw on the show recently talk about the myth of multitasking and talked a bit about switching costs. Can you dig into that a little bit sort of just how costly is it when we do that? Do we lose a few seconds or something much greater?

Cal Newport
I would say it’s much greater. It’s hard to exactly quantify but every time you’re doing one of those email checks, you might induce 10 to 15 minutes of notably reduced cognitive capacity, where one-half of your mind is still trying to figure out, “Well, what about this message from our boss?” And we’ve all had that experience of writing emails in our head, which is like a real indication of our mind. It sees these open loop social communications. It wants to have to deal with that.

Now, the issue is if you’re checking your inbox on average once every six minutes, that means you never escape that effect. So, the typical knowledge worker is basically spending the vast majority of their time in a significantly reduced cognitive state. It’s almost as if every 30 minutes, you walk by and gave everyone in your office a shot, “Here, take some whiskey,” right? It’s less fun but it kind of has a similar effect. So, we’re talking about not, “Oh, I’m wasting a few minutes.” We’re talking instead like maybe you’re at 50% of what you could produce.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in that ballpark of 50%, okay, that’s striking. And could you share, is there any provocative studies or experiments or bits of research that can put an exclamation point on this?

Cal Newport
Well, the idea that there are these switching costs goes is something that goes back to research from even the early 20th century. But there was a researcher named Sophie Leroy who more recently really applied this idea of switching costs to exactly the context of working in an office. And she had a really interesting background.

I tell her story in the book because I spent some time interviewing her. She had actually been in academia, she had been working on her degree, and then she went and worked in industry. And then when she came back to academia from industry, she said, “Man, there’s this thing going on out there that wasn’t like it was before with all of this messaging,” this was the early 2000s, “We have to study that.”

And so, she had this dual background where she had a business background, she was an organizational management but she’d also trained in psychology so she understood the brain, and she exactly was quantifying what happens when you do this context switching and you’re trying to do actual office work. So, she had subjects come in to do this research, and they were giving them office work style tasks like reading resumes and trying to summarize and rank candidates, like the type of stuff you would really do in knowledge work, and they would interrupt them.

So, the researcher would come in and they would interrupt them. They had various ways of doing it but it would be, “Hey, you forgot to fill out this form that we need for our research.” And they could really precisely measure the impact on their performance, so the groups that got interrupted and the groups that didn’t. And you could just see that performance, you can see it drop, and you can just watch the numbers as it drops.

They recall less information. When they’re working on puzzles, they make more mistakes. And so, Sophie Leroy’s research really makes clear the degree to which these switches, boom, you just watch performance graphs just drop.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then tell us, what is the superior alternative?

Cal Newport
So, once we understand the issue is the workflow, the good thing about that is that it takes off a lot of sort of common responses off the table. So, when you understand, like, “Oh, the hyperactive hivemind, this fundamental way that the way we organize work and identifying and assign and review tasks, the way we do this is just messaging back and forth.”

Like, when you understand that is the underlying way you do work, then you realize that superficial fixes won’t get you there. Let’s say, “Let’s talk about etiquette, let’s talk about norms, let’s talk about turning off notifications, let’s talk about checking your email in batches, let’s talk about having a rule that says don’t expect you to answer emails after 5:00 or whatever.” None of that is going to solve the underlying problem so long as the underlying way that you organize work is unstructured ad hoc messaging.

So, in the book, what I really push is forget those superficial fixes, forget the etiquette, forget the norms. You got to actually replace, you have to replace the underlying workflow, “This is how we do this type of work. This is how we identify, assign, and review tasks.” You have to replace it with something better than the hyperactive hivemind. You don’t need advice for how to deal with your overflowing inbox more efficiently. You need to change the structure of your business so that that inbox is not overflowing.

And, basically, two-thirds of the book gets into principles for how to redesign whether it’s in your own life as an employee, or if you’re an entrepreneur that runs your own company, or if you’re an executive of a big team, “How do you begin this re-engineering process? How do you begin seeing your work in terms of these different processes?” And we can actually talk about each process, “This is how we’re going to do this. This is how the information is going to flow. No, we don’t just figure this out on email. For this, we have weekly status meetings. We have a shared document. We have this…” whatever it is.

There are tons of examples that you begin to explicitly engineer how work happens in a way that minimizes all this ad hoc unscheduled messaging, stops all the context shifting, and makes work much more sequential, “This then this, then this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s really beautiful in that I personally had some experiences with that, it’s like, “It seems like I was sending a lot of emails back and forth about this. That needs to stop. How would I go about stopping that? Well, I guess we’re going to make a standard process associated with boom, boom, boom.” And it’s worked. It’s so funny, like you and I, that we have this podcast interview, like we could’ve had a lot of emails between us. We had zero which makes me feel pretty cool, I’m talking to the no-email guy.

And we pulled that off because of the systems and the processes and the automation. It’s sort of like there’s an invitation, you pick a time, and then you get all of the info. And then, on my end, me and my team are thinking about, “Okay, what do we want to ask Cal? Okay, and then you’re going to send me the draft of some things, and I’m going to edit those things, and then I’m going to study it up the day of, and away we go.”

So, lay on us these principles and some examples for, hey, before we’re emailing about this thing, and after, here’s how it gets done.

Cal Newport
Well, let’s make it really proximate to what we’re doing right now, right? So, I’m doing a book launch, so there’s a lot of podcasts to be done, and I have someone at my publisher that I work with to help sort of schedule the podcasts and keep that calendar, or this or that. We had to figure out a process. So, the very easy thing to do would be she could just email me, like, “Oh, here’s one. Does this time work? Here’s another podcast. What do you think about this?” But I said, “Okay, that’s not going to work. There’s going to be so much back and forth emailing that I’ll constantly be context shifting.”

So, we created a process where I thought about the problem. And I had tried before with a previous book. Just to be concrete, I had tried giving the publisher access to a calendar, or I had made open, like, “Okay, here’s times I’m available,” and they would schedule things directly. I didn’t quite like that because I wanted more control over when I schedule things because I have a more nuanced understanding of my calendar.

So, what we did this time is we have a shared document and it has different sections. And what happens is I check it a couple of times a week. She’ll put into the top section, like pending, “Okay, here’s a podcast,” or, “Here’s the link to schedule it,” or, “Here are some time you’re available. Which one works for you?” And I just go into that shared document and just annotate it, like, “This time works for me. Okay, I went to the link and set up this interview. Here’s a question.”

So, I basically go into this shared document twice a week, spend about 20 minutes in it, and all of this happens. Now, it might seem like, “Well, what’s the point? Is it really that hard to just have figured this all out on email?” And one of the big principles, to argue from the book, is, yes, that matters. So, to take those two checks that are 20 minutes and to spread it out over 20 emails is a huge difference in terms of the impact on your cognitive performance because those 20 emails are unfolding throughout the week. It’s a conversation you have to keep tending. To tend it means you have to keep checking your inbox, and it’s a thread that’s kind of an open loop in your mind. There’s a huge drag to having you go back and do those back-and-forth communications.

Which brings me to a larger point about this type of process engineering is that it’s annoying, it’s almost always less flexible and convenient than just emailing that’s why this hyperactive hivemind is so entrenched because it’s easy and it’s flexible and it’s really convenient. But flexible, easy, and convenient in the history of business and technology rarely is the formula for getting the best work done or getting the most work done.

And so, example after example in my book come back to the same point which is it’s like often a pain to say, “Let’s actually think about the right way to do this in a way that minimizes all these messages.” It’s a pain. It might generate some hard edges. There might be some exceptions where bad things happen. Still worth it. Still almost always worth it because, again, the way to get the most value out of your brain is almost differently going to be something different than what would be the easiest way to organize work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I dig it. So, we think through it. And do you have any particular prompts or guidelines or steps associated with how we might do some good structured thinking and collaboration about, “Hey, what is the process by which this thing gets done?”

Cal Newport
Well, one thing I talk about is when you’re trying to optimize a process, think about context switching as being something you’re trying to minimize. So, just like if you’re optimizing a manufacturing process, you might try to minimize like the time required to produce a car. In knowledge work processes, you want to minimize context switches, “So, how many times am I going to switch my attention to this thing in order to get it to completion?”

And so, if your process involves back-and-forth emails and there’s going to be a dozen back-and-forth emails to figure something out, you’re now context shifting a dozen times to complete this process. So, if you could come up with an alternative where maybe, “Okay, I spend some time in a shared document for 20 minutes twice,” you’ve now reduced the amounts of times you have to shift your attention to this and back significantly, and that makes a big deal. And then the other thing to try to optimize is the degree to which you have to keep track of things in your mind or you feel like things are somewhat unscheduled or out of control.

So, the more you can actually have a sense of comforting structure, “Oh, I know how this works. It’s in the system. It’ll come up automatically. I don’t have to keep track of it in my mind. I don’t have to hope that I’ll just wait to get an email at some point, that’s just like, ‘Hey, what’s going on with this thing?’” That you feel like, “This is controlled. It’s not just in my mind. I don’t feel overwhelmed by various things,” that’s another thing to optimize.

So, those are the two general metrics you want to push people: less context shifting, less sense that things are just up in the air, in your mind, or ad hoc, or out of control.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got it. So, those are the things that we’re optimizing for in terms of let’s minimize those bits. And so, I guess there’s probably a million different ways we can make a process to get something done. But could you maybe share a few of your favorites in terms of, “Wow, these are maybe pretty flexible. They cover a wide array of stuff, work that needs to get done, as well as they’re pretty darn time-leveraged when you do it”?

Cal Newport
Well, one thing that seemed to come up a lot was making task assignments more transparent. So, we often use email to assign tasks and to check on tasks, we keep track of tasks just because they’re messages in our inbox. That’s where we keep track of everything on our plate. When you look at companies or groups that have moved all these tasks out of just people’s individual inbox and onto shared like task boards or project management systems, there’s often huge wins to be had.

And you can go and look at a Trello board for your team, or a Flow board, or an Asana board if you’re more techie, and you can actually see, like, “Here are all the things we’re doing, and here’s their status, and here’s who’s working on what.” Once a day you get together and you all look at it, and say, “Okay, where are we? What do you need? Here’s a new thing. Who should take this on or shall we leave it over here?” That seems like a basic thing but it makes a huge difference.

I profiled a guy who runs a marketing company and when they shifted. I talk about how they shifted from their inbox, just everything was kind of in there, to these Trello boards, one per project. And I actually had them show me the Trello boards, and I go through them, and I kind of go through, “Okay, here’s specifically what the columns are and here’s what’s under it.”

The relief they got when now their workflow is not about, “Open your inbox and rock and roll with messages,” but, instead, “Go to the Trello board for the project you want to work on, look at the status of things, take what’s assigned to you, make some progress on it, update the information. All the information you need to make progress is here on the Trello board attached to different cards. You don’t have to go find it in an inbox.”

Just the relief they got from that being the workflow, “Oh, I’m working on this project now. Here’s all the information on this project. Here’s what I’m supposed to be doing. Here’s everything I need to know to do this. Let me work on this. Let me update this board. All right, I’m done. Next project.” You switch over to that board. It was so much more relieving than, instead, just having this inbox open where, “Yeah, you’re hearing about that project but also other projects, and everything is coming in, and the whole thing is riled together.” So, task boards come up a lot in groups and teams that have moved away from a hivemind.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I’m wondering if we zoom into the individual contributor, if they don’t feel they’ve got a whole lot of power or influence to restructure the fundamental processes of how stuff is flowing, do you have any pro tips on how to navigate those conversations or bring it up?

Cal Newport
Well, one of the things I actually talk about is running your own shadow processes individually and having basically an invisible interface to everyone else. So, let’s say you’re at a big company and your boss is a jerk, he’s like he’s not going to want to hear this. He’s like, “I don’t care. I want you to answer my emails. It makes my life easier.” You can internally have these processes. And I talk a lot about this, like personal task boards or personal communication protocols where you really work out your various processes and how information comes in and out of them, how you keep track of things to try to keep yourself out of your inbox.

And instead of actually trying to explain it to everybody and say with autoresponders, like, “Here’s how I’m doing it now and this is how it’s going to work,” you just do it internally. And they don’t even maybe realize that you have these processes, they don’t even really realize that, “Oh, I was ready to just send a bunch of messages back and forth with you to, whatever, set up this meeting or pull together this report. Andfuiltwhen you replied, it was actually there’s a list of times, you had a Calendly schedule app, it was like ‘Choose one of these times and I will have this information ready, and it’ll be in this folder. Look it up before. We’ll meet at this time.’” You’ve described some process in an email. They don’t even realize it’s a process, they go, “Okay, whatever. Great. That saves me some messages.”

But internally you have it all processed, or you have different Trello boards internally for your different roles, and you’re keeping track of who you’re waiting to hear back from, and things you need more information on, and what you’re working on this week. I talk about how I ran a stealth ticketing system for a while when I had an administrative role where I had to answer a lot of questions from students in my department at Georgetown for an administrative role I ran. I didn’t make them use a ticketing system but I was moving all their messages into a ticketing system so I could much better keep track of them with my program manager, we could see what was going on where, who we’re waiting to hear back from, we can annotate them with notes, and then we’d just email people to get back to them again.

So, that’s one of the things I talk about just how to basically structure all of the process in your own life. Even if all the people around you aren’t restructuring how they do it, even if they’re still bothering you without constraint, if all that incoming goes into internal structured processes, you can still have a massive win in terms of how much context shifting and email wrangling you have to do.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I don’t know about all the listeners, but as I think about this, I’m super excited, like, “Heck, yeah, let’s get processes up and going for everything.” How do you recommend thinking about where to start or how to zero in on your first couple wins here?

Cal Newport
Use your inbox as a guide. So, you’re in your inbox, you’re overwhelmed, that you’re annoyed at all these messages. Start asking the question as you’re answering these messages, “What is the underlying process that this is a part of and that this message is trying to help advance towards completion?” And so, you just let the messages you’re getting be a guide. Then you can start saying, “Okay, this process kind of comes up a lot. Like, a lot of these messages have to do with whatever, like pulling together the weekly client memo. Or a lot of this have to be like answering questions from clients about the status of the project.”

So, now, you’ve let your inbox be the guide, “Oh, a lot of my communication is about this.” Then you can ask the key follow-up, “What would be a better process for accomplishing the same thing?” So, then if you see a lot of your messages in your inbox or your clients asking you questions kind of ad hoc, “What’s the status here? What’s that?” you might realize, like, “Maybe what we should do…” and this is just an example from the book, “…is like schedule a weekly status call with each client, we let them know where things are, we listen to them, and we immediately send them, after the call, a record of everything we committed to during that call, and they know that we are going to be on the phone the next week.”

You do that, for example. You may reduce your back-and-forth emails from a client down to basically none. Just the same thing done. The client wants to know what’s going on, to make sure the ball is not being dropped, to make sure that you’re actually doing the things you said you’re going to do, that’s a lot of what client emailing is, it’s just that they’re not sure, like, “I don’t know. Are you really doing this? Do I need to keep bothering otherwise I don’t know what’s going on?”

That’s just a case study but now that you’ve seen that’s what a lot of your emails were, you could actually come up with a better process that has a lot less back and forth. So, let the messages in your inbox influence you, “What is this message about? Is there a better way to get that general type of work done?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig it. And how about some of the internal emotional guilt stuff in terms of, if folks, they have incoming messages and they feel, from habit or compulsion, the need to frequently check the inbox? You say, “Well, hey, part of it that’s kind of how it has to be done because your processes are so unstructured, what alternative do you have?” But if we’re starting to move in this direction and there are some emotional guilt or resistance or trickiness, how do you recommend folks address that?

Cal Newport
Well, that guilt is really important because it’s at the core of why email makes us so miserable so I really get into those studies where basically the way we’re wired as social beings means it is really hard for us to see an email message in our inbox from a person we know and to not answer it. And it’s a deeper part of our brain. So, if you feel guilty about these things, as a general notice to your audience, that’s not a flaw. That’s a deeply human reaction because there might be, let’s say, a prefrontal cortex part of your brain that says, “I know I don’t have to answer that email right away. We have norms, they’re not expecting an answer right away. It’s okay if I write them back next week.”

That’s fine but there’s a deeper part of your brain that says, “Someone in my tribe is tapping me on the shoulder. If I ignore them, that’s a problem. If I ignore someone in my tribe who’s tapping me on the shoulder, what’s going to happen when we come into the famine? They might not share their food and I might starve.” We have a huge genetic compulsion to take otherwise communication very seriously. So, email really contradicts that instinct because, again, our paleolithic deep brain knows nothing about email etiquette. It’s just like, “Here’s a person I know, they want something from me, I’m ignoring them. Danger! Danger! Danger!” and that’s why we feel this anxiety about our inbox and the fact that it’s always growing.

So, that’s a really real thing and it’s a problem. It’s also a problem because this guilt is not equally distributed among people. So, there’s research I talk about in the book where they could look at how you scored on the big five personality scale, and based on how you scored on various attributes of that scale, they could measure real differences in how stressed you get about batching email.

So, for some people, your personality type is naturally such that you get incredibly stressed if you say, “I’m going to wait to check my email till the end of the day because all these people need me.” Other people have personalities in which they don’t mind it that much. Now, the issue is the people who are probably more willing to ignore their inbox till the end of the day are probably going to get more important things done, which means they’re going to move ahead probably faster than other people.

And what you’ve now done is accidentally selected for in your company that people that are essentially more jerks from a personality scale, less conscientious, are going to do better in your company. And so, now you’re selecting for the executive ranks to be less conscientious and more like jerks, which is not what you actually want to happen. It’s an unintended consequence.

So, I think that is also an issue and so, I don’t know, this is probably not the most optimistic answer but this is why I’m saying until you fix the underlying processes, this is going to be a real problem and it’s going to apply unequally. As long as there’s a lot of messages that you’re not answering, you’re going to be stressed, and that stress is going to vary dependent on your personality. So, your best bet is to figure out how to reduce the number of messages that end up in that inbox. It’s just not the right tool for doing a massive amount of communication.

Pete Mockaitis
So, lay it on us, where and when is email appropriate, when it’s something sort of new, one time, different, undefined, uncharted? What are your thoughts?

Cal Newport
Well, it’s a fantastic communication protocol, so if you need to asynchronously deliver information from one person to another, from one place to another, it solves a lot of problems. Before that, we had fax machines, memos, and voice mail, and those were all pretty ineffective and pretty high-friction ways of communicating asynchronously. So, for the delivery of information, for the delivery of digital files, for the broadcasting of information, email is a fantastic tool. You would not want to get rid of it.

Where it is a problem is where it becomes the primary medium of collaboration. So, if the primary unit of you working together with people to solve things, just back and forth messages, that’s where you get into the problem. If you want to email out, whatever, “Here’s the new parking policy at our company,” that’s a great use of email. It’s better than printing it out and having to put it in people’s mailboxes.

If you need to deliver a contract to someone, or let’s say I want to send you a headshot or something, yeah, email is great. Better than putting the mail or using the fax machine. So, it’s a great medium for asynchronous delivery of information and files but it’s a terrible medium for being the primary tool by which you actually interact and collaborate with people.

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

Cal Newport
I would say, more generally, when it comes to email and when it comes to the shift, at least the way that I see it, the less that I’m trying to convince people that they should move away from this type of hyperactive hivemind, everything is just back and forth messaging, it’s more giving the message that that shift is inevitable. There is a lot of money on the line.

Just like when Henry Ford figured out the assembly line, no one made cars the same way again after that. The same thing is just beginning to happen in knowledge work. There’s no way ten years from now we’re all still just going to be plugging into email inboxes and checking every six minutes. There’s just so much productivity and value and human happiness on the line.

This transformation to a world in which we have more sophisticated ways, less convenient maybe, more annoying, more overhead, but more sophisticated ways of actually collaborating, that means we get a lot more done and we’re a lot happier in general, that’s going to happen. So, the only question is, “Are you going to be ahead of the trend or not?” And that’s the way I like to see it.

So, I’m kind of prognosticating that we’re in a very early stage of knowledge work in the digital age. The way we work today is just our very first rudimentary attempt to figure out how we should work in an age of computer networks. The history of commerce and technology tells us that transformations take a long time, but then the phase shifts can be pretty rapid. We’re going to have a rapid phase shift away from this world of constant communication. So, again, hopefully, this is a book that’s predicting the future, more so than it’s trying to convince people that we need a better future.

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

Cal Newport
A favorite quote that came up kind of in the context of this work came from Neil Postman who was a really well-known sort of philosopher and social critic and technology critic. And he had this really important quote for at least my own thinking about technology and the world where he was saying, “Technological changes are not an addition; it’s ecological.” It’s not addition, it’s ecological. I’m a little bit messing that up but the basic point is when a new technology comes along, it’s not just like, “Oh, you’re in the world you were before, plus the addition of this new technology.”

Instead, a lot of technologies tend to change the entire world, change the whole ecology. So, he famously said that when the printing press came along, it wasn’t like you had medieval Europe plus a printing press. Like, no, you had a whole different Europe. It just changed the way everything worked. I like that quote. That’s the way I see a lot of technologies.

In 2001, we didn’t just have the 1991 office plus email; we had a completely different type of office. What worked meant the ecology of work completely transformed once this tool is here. And so, that quote is important to me because it tells us we got to be pretty self-aware of the way that new technology can completely change things often in ways that no one planned or no one intended. And once you realize that, then you might say, “Maybe we should step back and push back a little bit.”

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

Cal Newport
There’s a bit of research I enjoyed in the book because it was devious where they’re trying to understand exactly what we’re talking about, how communication is something that’s really deep in us, we get really anxious when we can’t communicate, when we know someone wants our attention and we can’t give it to them.

And so, there’s this great study where they brought people in and they hooked them to heartrate monitors, and they told them it’s a study about something unrelated. And then they had a confederate come in and say, “Hey, your phone is interfering with our machines and we’re just going to move it to get the electromagnetic radiation.”

And when they moved the phone to the other side of the room, they turned off the silent mode. So, they could only do these with iPhones because iPhones have the switch on the side. And then they would call it. So, you’re in the room, you’re doing this experiment, you’re all hooked up to all these heartrate stress monitors, thinking you’re supposed to be working on this computer screen, and you hear your phone ring.

And it’s a really cool experiment because, obviously, they did not expect to be able to communicate, they didn’t need to communicate, they had turned their phone on silent so they’re completely comfortable with the ideas of, “During this experiment, I will not be communicating with people.” But, still, hearing the text message buzz on the phone, their heart, their galvanic response, all the indicators of stress jumped up because they’re all hooked up to these things and they could measure it.

So, I just love that experiment because it meant they were calm even though they knew rationally, “Oh, yeah, I turned off my phone. I’m not going to hear from anyone who calls me. It’s fine.” They knew rationally that was fine, “I’m doing this experiment. It’s fine.” Still, hearing a text message come through made the stress response go up.

That’s all day every day in the world of email. It’s like no matter how you tell yourself, “It’s okay. I don’t have to answer all these emails. We have expectations. We have norms,” there’s a deeper part of you that when it just sees or hears that person’s name and it’s in bold and you can see they want something from you and you’re not answering it to them, we get stressed. And so, I thought that was a beautifully designed experiment to try to capture that real effect.

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

Cal Newport
One I like to recommend is Amusing Ourselves to Death, also by Neil Postman who I mentioned. It’s short and it’s brilliant and it’s really original. And, basically, it gets at that ecological notion. His argument is when you change the technologies with which we communicate or send information, you can actually change the way our brains understand the world, that there’s this impact between the medium and the message being delivered.

Postman studied under Marshall McLuhan who actually said the medium is the message. Simple idea, beautifully delivered, but it completely changes the way you see technology. It moves you away from this notion of like, “Heck, it’s just tools and it can do some things well, so use it in the way that it does things well. And if you’re having a trouble with the tool, you’re just using it wrong.” It’s like the typical nerd, engineer, or like our typical response.

And Postman comes in and says, “No, no, it’s way more deeper than that.” This was before email but basically you could extrapolate from him. Like, the mere presence of email can change the very structure of what work means, and his work was about television. The presence of television changed the way we understood the world. He’s really smart, really accessible, and I recommend it, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

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

Cal Newport
I’m a big believer in time blocking where you actually schedule out what you’re going to do with your time as opposed to going down a list. And so, having a good notebook in which you’ve schedule out what you’re going to do. Give every minute of your day a job. Don’t just go from a list and say, “What’s next?” Instead, say, “From 1:00 to 2:00, I’m working on this and I have a meeting from 2:30 to 3:00.”

Having a good notebook in which you do that is a complete gamechanger. So, in the fall, I put out my own planner called a Time Block Planner that helps you make these plans. But whether or not you use my planner, I have used notebooks and I’ve built these analog plans for my day for whatever it’s been, about eight years now. So, that simple of a piece of a paper in which I see the whole plan drawn out is, by far, one of the biggest impactful things I have in my professional career.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Cal Newport
I do a shutdown ritual and I’m a big proponent of this, that when you’re done with your workday, you have a shutdown ritual where you basically close all of the open loops. So, you look at your inbox and make sure you’re not missing something, you look at your calendar, you look at your plan for the week. If you’re captured like notes or ideas on scraps of paper, you get them into your system. So, you close all the loops, “All right. There’s nothing else I need to do for work tonight. I have a plan for tomorrow. I’m not forgetting anything.”

And then you have some sort of phrase or ritual you do to indicate that you’re done with that routine. So, like I used to actually say the phrase, “Schedule shutdown complete,” which was like purposefully nerdy. I talk about this in my book Deep Work, and there’s a whole subculture of people who, when they see me now, are like, “Schedule shutdown complete.”

But it was weird on purpose because what happens is that later in the evening when you begin to feel some work anxiety, instead of going through it, instead of…

Pete Mockaitis
A schedule shutdown has been completed.

Cal Newport
You say, “Why else would I have said that stupid phrase unless I had actually gone through the whole thing?” Now, in that planner, I actually added a checkbox that says, “Shutdown complete.” So, instead of having to say that out loud and risk the mocking of everyone within earshot, you can put a checkmark next to the phrase. But the whole point is you have something really weird and clear you do to indicate you’ve done the shutdown ritual. So, if you get anxious, you just say, “I did that weird thing, which means I did a ritual, so I’m not going to get into the particular anxiety. I’m just going to trust myself that I would not have said something so dumb unless I’ve actually gotten things under control.”

I love that ritual. I’ve been doing that since 2007. I started it as a grad student and it’s incredibly effective.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you say or have written that people quote back to you frequently? It sounds like “Shutdown ritual complete” is one of them. Any others?

Cal Newport
Yeah, I get “Shutdown complete” a lot. For some reason, so I have this podcast Deep Questions where I answer questions from readers. And, for whatever reason, we went down a rabbit hole of…I don’t know how I encouraged this. It’s just like one of these cycles of superfluous references to Greek mythology. So, I do these mini episodes once a week where people kind of call in with questions, and now it’s become kind of a competition to see who could work in like the most superfluous reference to Greek mythology in trying to set up their question about workplace productivity. So, I get a lot of that from people now. I don’t know how that started, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
“How could I soar like Pegasus to new heights of productivity?”

Cal Newport
Oh, yeah, Hydras. Earlier today, I had a Bacchus reference. That’s a good one. I had a question from a classicist recently, a classicist professor, so that was intimidating because she actually knew the whole canon. So, yeah, I don’t know, but I get that a lot. I get a lot of Greek mythology.

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

Cal Newport
So, you can go to CalNewport.com if you want to find out about the books and sign up for my newsletter. I’ve been writing a weekly essay there since 2007. If you want to hear me instead of read about me, Deep Questions is my podcast. If you want to find me on social media, as we’d mentioned, you’d be out of luck.

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

Cal Newport
It is a hundred percent possible for almost anyone or any job to get to a place where your email inbox is something like it was in 1995. It’s something you check maybe once a day, “Hey, here’s this file I needed,” or, “Here’s a reminder. Let me look at it,” and that’s the only role it plays in your life. This idea that you have to constantly be checking and communicating to do your job, that might be true about your job as constructed right now, but it can be reconstructed.

So, my challenge is do not give up on this utopian dream of a world without email by which I mean not a world in which you don’t have an email address but a world in which email does not play a central role to how your work actually gets done.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cal, this has been a treat. Thank you so much and keep on rocking.

Cal Newport
Yeah, thanks. It was my pleasure, like Icarus flying close to the sun on wax wings, I think. I’m trying to make the reference work. I’m trying to make it work.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe not afterwards.

646: Redefining the Rules to Make Work More Enjoyable with Vishen Lakhiani

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Vishen Lakhiani shares foundational principles to make work more fulfilling.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How the most successful people find bliss in their work 
  2. How to keep stress from fazing you
  3. Why hustling hurts your career 

About Vishen

Vishen Lakhiani is one of today’s most influential minds in the fields of personal growth and human consciousness. He is the founder and CEO of Mindvalley and behind several top-ranking health and wellness apps. He also has two New York Times best-selling books, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind and The Buddha and the Badass. With an incredible passion and drive to unite humanity and challenge the status quo, he has built a movement of growth-seekers, spanning across 195 countries, engaging more than 15 million followers on social media, and nearly half-a-million students online each year. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease! Save $20 on a $150+ purchase with promo code AWESOME. 
  • Monday.comExperience a 14-day free trial of the Work OS that boosts the ownership, joy, and efficiency of work. 

Vishen Lakhiani Interview Transcript

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

Vishen Lakhiani
Pete, thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. And, first, tell us about A-Fest. It seems like the coolest thing and I want to hear the story as to how it came about and what goes down there.

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, first, for those of you listening, A-Fest, it’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around that word. It’s A-F-E-S-T, it’s a festival I created 10 years ago because I wanted to be able to meet fascinating people, hang out in paradise locations, and grow my network. Back then I was just starting out my career, I was a kid in Malaysia, and I had bigger dreams in my tiny little country. Now, obviously, there’s no point talking about A-Fest because, like any other festival, it shut down for two years because of COVID. It’s devastating. I miss it but it’ll be back next year in 2022.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s the A stand for?

Vishen Lakhiani
I’m laughing because I’m embarrassed to say so. So, the very first A-Fest started because I was fascinated by surfing. I sucked as a surfer. And in surf lingo, there’s that word, “Awesome, dude,’ so it stood for Awesomeness Fest because the very first happened at Witch’s Rock in Costa Rica, which is a famous surfing site. And I didn’t know there’d be 15 more of them all around the world but the word awesome stuck to it. Everyone got free surfing lessons when they showed up. And then when we realized that you couldn’t build a festival around the concept of surfing, we’d be awesome and it just became A-Fest.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we love awesome here at How to be Awesome at Your Job so that’s kind of why I zeroed in on this one, and I think awesomeness is a great thing that needs to be celebrated via festivals. And so, I look forward to the day that that and other awesome events return to the world.

And I want to dig into more about feeling awesome versus miserable at work. You’ve got some perspectives here. Can you kick us off by maybe setting some foundational principles? Like, what’s missing from our work lives?

Vishen Lakhiani
Rather than what’s missing from our work life, let’s talk about a different concept and then it becomes evident what is missing, okay? So, this whole podcast is about how to be awesome. Now, I gave a speech once in Calgary and the speech was called “The Theory of Awesomeness.” I love that word.

Now, “The Theory of Awesomeness” suggested this. It suggested that there is a state, back then I called it the state of awesomeness. The word awesome in 2008 meant this for me. It meant being in a state of mind where there were two ingredients in your life. Now, the first ingredient is awe. It’s awe towards a future vision. That means there is something that excites you, that tickles you, that gnaws at you, that makes you want to build, to create, to produce, and you cannot wait to get this out to the world. So, that’s the first lever.

But there’s a second lever, and that second lever is, as you’re building, as you’re creating, you are not pushing forward your happiness. In other words, your happiness, your bliss, your feelings of magic and being in the flow do not come from you hitting your goal. They come from you moving towards your goal. In short, the awe is not towards the end goal but the awe is the journey.

Now, when you combine both of these together, what happens is you have a really wonderful state of human existence. You have a vision calling you forward but you also have bliss in the present. This is the ultimate state of human existence. It is to have visions that pull us forward but to be blissful in the now. It is the merger of your future and your present. It is why so many great men and women across history spoke about life in these esoteric terms.

For example, Bruce Lee said, “The point of a goal is often not to hit the goal. The goal is simply a force of direction.”

And then there’s this poem by this historical figure. So, I’d like to read this out to you, guys, because it illustrates this point of the dance between vision and bliss. This man wrote in his 82nd year, he wrote this down:

“I was early taught to work as well as play;
My life has been one long, happy holiday–
Full of work, and full of play–
I dropped the worry on the way–
And God was good to me every day.”

Now, when you listen to that, it sounds like some beautiful farmer like plowing his field, enjoying the sunshine, but that was actually written by John D. Rockefeller in his 80s. John D. Rockefeller created Standard Oil. He was the richest man of his era, potentially the richest man who ever lived if you count for the value of money back then. That was written a hundred years ago. But, again, John D. Rockefeller doesn’t talk about chasing goals. He talks about a life which was one long, happy holiday, full of work, full of play. His worry dropped along the way.

And this is just further evidence that people who are crushing it at work are not stressed out. They are not facing extreme anxiety. They are dancing this delicate dance between visions pulling them forward and bliss in the present. The dance between the future and the now, this is what I call the theory of awesomeness. And this is the state of awe that I think all of us need to be in. Now, this is what is missing from work. Because if you look at work, we see work as separate from play. We see work as separate from living.

And I remember once hearing Richard Branson say this, he was asked, “How do you balance life between work and play?” And he said, “Work? Play? To me, it’s all the same thing. I just call it living.” So, this is what I believe is missing from the way we’ve been trained to show up at our jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I’d love some more of that for sure. Tell us, what is the path by which we land there? Because I imagine if you’re Richard Branson or John D. Rockefeller or any professional, that they had some issues. I’m sure there’s some lawyers saying, “Hey, we’re suing you,” there are some acquisition targets they wanted to get but then the price was higher than they wanted to pay, whatever. So, like, they’re playing the business game at a higher level and they have disappointments, things that they want to happen but don’t happen, and things they don’t want to happen that do happen. So, how do we get into this rocket mindset where it’s all good?

Vishen Lakhiani
Beautiful question. So, to answer that question, particularly what you said, “I’m sure they have things that they want to happen that happens, I’m sure they have things that they don’t want to happen that happens.” I want to share with you a conversation I had with a famous business school professor. His name is Professor Srikumar Rao. And Professor Rao used to teach classes at Columbia, at Kellogg, at other famous business schools like London Business School, and there was something really unique about Rao. His classes were not on business. I mean, they were on business. This was an MBA program. But his classes, rather, explored the art of living. They were called classes on personal mastery.

And what Rao did was he would bring in wisdom from ancient sages like Confucius or ancient sages and saints from India, and he would implant this wisdom in the minds of his MBA students. Now, his classes were so popular, there was a line to get in through the door. Students who graduated from his classes would form alumni groups because they would bond so firmly with other students. I sought out Rao as a mentor after I saw a video of him giving a talk on Google, and that video blew my mind.

And so, I sought him out as a mentor, and as we became friends, I remember one day he came to me and he said, “You know, Vishen, all of this stuff that American business schools are teaching are bull.” Now, he didn’t actually say bull. He’s a very polite man. He used a far more polite word, I think, but I’m not a polite man so I think my brain changed it.

So, I said, “Rao, what do you mean?” And he goes, “What they need to teach is consciousness.” And I said, “But they do teach consciousness.” And he goes, “No, no, no, no, no. You’re confusing consciousness and ethics. Since Enron, all business schools teach business ethics. Consciousness is beyond ethics.”

And I said, “Well, do explain. What do you mean by the need to teach consciousness?” He said, “To be truly conscious, you have to understand one thing.” And I said, “Well, tell me, what is this one thing?” Rao went on, he said…Now, Rao, he’s a man of Indian origin. He’s American. He lives in New York but he speaks in his Indian accent so you can picture this in his Indian accent.

He said, “Business schools need to teach that the most important thing is not your business. If your business hits a billion dollars, it doesn’t matter. If your business fails, it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is, ‘Did you grow?’ If you become a billionaire, I don’t care. Did you grow? If you go bankrupt, you shouldn’t care. Did you grow?”

And he said, “The point of life is growth. When you make growth the number one thing, and you measure everything in, ‘Am I better today than I was yesterday?’ in some way, your life takes on a whole new meaning. Growth has to be the number one goal but we don’t teach that, do we? We teach chase the money, chase the career, and that is the problem with how we are training today’s business folks.”

So, that’s a very important lesson. Growth should be the number one thing. Now, back to the theory of awesomeness: vision and bliss. A core concept of growth is to make yourself better and better at being you. Now, when you make yourself better and better at being you, what happens is that all the bold things that you’re seeking to do, they come to you faster. As you grow, your business grows. You’ve read that from countless books on personal growth.

But the other aspect of growth is mastery of yourself. It’s not just becoming better; it’s becoming more comfortable in your own head. Now, what mastery of self means is being able to navigate the complex ebbs and tides of being human, being able to navigate extreme emotion, being able to deal with anger but not have anger consume you, go through failure but not have failure define you, see everything as “Is this helping me grow?”

Now, when you do that self-mastery plus constantly seeking to become better and better, That is how to be in a state of perpetual awe.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s awesome in terms of the mindset there in terms of, “Is this helping me grow? It’s all about the growth whether I hit the goal or I don’t hit the goal. It’s all good.” Well, so then let’s talk about some of this emotion self-mastery stuff. So, we’re just going to have to duck some of the naughty words and just say them freely so we can do this. So, for example, in your book The Buddha and the Badass, you talk about how we can master the art of unf-withability, which sounds like something I want for myself.

So, we’ve established some of the foundational ingredients for that. How do we move forward in terms of really developing, I don’t know if you want to call it a skill or a set of skills in the realm of emotional regulation self-mastery so that we get there? Because I imagine, Vishen, right now, if listeners say, “Okay, that’s my thing. I’m going to say, ‘Hey, is this helping me to grow? Am I making growth my number one thing? Okay, I’ve got that decision made internally and, yet, if a curveball gets thrown my way, I’m probably, the first time or two or many perhaps dozens of times, going to be feeling some of the stuff.” So, how do we take our first steps here?

Vishen Lakhiani
So, first, let’s set a vision. Remember what I said, right? You must have a vision. You must have a direction pulling you forward. Let me paint a vision of what I mean by self-mastery. And to understand this vision, I want to read you a poem from the Rumi, it’s called “The Guest House.” Now, the poem says this:

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”

This is the epitome of truly being able to have mastery over your emotional states. Our natural state should always be bliss. But this doesn’t mean that we push away sadness. This doesn’t mean that we don’t get annoyed by failure. It means we embrace these emotions. We open our doors to them, we welcome them as guests, we feel them, and then we move beyond them.

When you cultivate that, what happens is that you develop what, in psychology, they sometimes refer as resilience or grit. And this is one of the most incredible things you can have. Even if you look at people like Elon Musk, I once actually asked Elon Musk, like, “If I could put you in a blender and distill your essence, what makes you Elon?” And he said, “You know, I think what makes me who I am…” and so he answered this in 2013, he said, “…was my ability to endure extreme pain. I have high tolerance for pain.”

Now, high tolerance for pain simply means that if you go into the darkness, you embrace it and you move beyond it. Elon can accept his pain and then bounce back. But not everybody can. Many people, they sit in that pain. They make that pain define them, “I’m a failure. I suck. Why does this happen to me?” But that is not in the criteria of truly being able to become awesome at your job or at work. You must see pain as your friend.

And if you go through pain, what you want to ask yourself is, “Is this pain helping me grow?” Now, it turns out that one of the most powerful ways we grow is through pain.

In Zen Buddhism, they call this Kensho moments. Most of us go through Kensho or growth through pain. If you’re listening, ask yourself how many times has someone broken your heart. But because of that act of your heart breaking, you gained a better understanding of what you want in a relationship.

How many times have you been fired from a job – I’ve been fired twice – or been near bankruptcy? I’ve been there nearly three times. But it led you to greater fiscal responsibility or to finding a job that was even better for you. How many times have you ended up sick or in a hospital and it made you realize, through growth, that you go to take better care of your health?

So, you see, when you understand, when you make growth your number one goal, that’s the first rule, you start to see suffering and pain as Kensho, as a lever for growth, as the great educator, as the wakeup call. And that mindset shift is one of the key ingredients of people who are really doing awesome at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So, I’d love to get your view then, when it comes to growth “Am I better today than I was yesterday in some area?” do you have any particular ways that you love to capture, measure, gauge, quantify that growth? We talked about the business metrics not mattering so much, but they’re so easy to measure. We can see in the bank account, we can see in the income statement, the revenue growth. What is trickier to graph or measure or see or appreciate can be some of the internal growth things. How do you recommend we get our arms around that?

Vishen Lakhiani
So, firstly, if your audience is on MindValley, they would already know the answer. Now, on MindValley, there’s a free tool that you can use. It’s Life.MindValley.com. It’s a 22-minute assessment that has you measure your life from 12 aspects of personal growth.

Emotions, for example, is one, “What are your persistent emotional states?” That’s like what the Rumi poem spoke about. Finance and career are two common ones that are very much spoken about in the American education system. But then there’s also relationships, there’s character, “How are you with your habits, with your routines, with your values?” There is your physical fitness, your spiritual states. There are 12 different things or dimensions of life. And by taking this survey, Life.MindValley.com, you get a score and you also see where you stand among the hundreds of thousands of people who have also taken the survey.

Now, what the survey tells you is where you might be crushing it and where you might be lagging behind. And when you see where you’re lagging behind, that is what you want to start exploring further.

Vishen Lakhiani
Now, the thing about your career is that you want to specialize. If you’re a designer and you want to increase your hourly rate, you go deeper and deeper and deeper into design. You become the best designer you can be. You don’t jump from design to, say, copywriting. But in your personal life, you don’t specialize. You have to be balanced.

You cannot be crushing it at work, be making millions of dollars but have a messed-up relationship with your family, nor can you be the ultimate mom or dad, the ultimate family person but be completely broke. You need balance. There’s a certain wheel of life that has to be balanced out. And this is why this assessment that we made free helps you identify where you might be off kilter.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then we talked about different areas of life. And when we used some of the words like crushing it versus lagging behind in a performance-achievement-y world, kind of bring me up to another point of yours I wanted to discuss. And you say that hustle as the path to success is a myth. And we get some things wrong about hustle. Can you set us straight?

Vishen Lakhiani
Absolutely. So, there’s this prevailing theory out there that hard work is what makes you successful. There are many people like Gary Vaynerchuk who speak about hard work. But hard work only applies if you’re a lazy bum and you’re just hooked on computer games. Then get off your butt and hustle and put in some work. But most of us are not like that. The typical person listening to this podcast isn’t some guy hooked on computer games.

In that scenario, hard work is actually dangerous. You see, we have to move in life in a balance, and all the most remarkable people who are really successful do not work hard. Jeff Bezos just gave an interview, and he said, “You know, I sleep eight hours a day.” That’s a lot more than the average American. The average American sleeps 6 hours 52 minutes a day. Jeff Bezos, eight hours.

I’ve spent significant time on Necker Island with Richard Branson and I observed how Branson works. He has this beautiful balance between work and then play. He will be on his mobile phone on a hammock. He doesn’t have a laptop, everything is on his mobile phone, and then he’ll go swim in the ocean and kite surf for an hour, then go back to his mobile phone. It’s a beautiful balance. Now, I call that dance the dance of acceleration and navigation.

You got to accelerate at your work but you got to step back. People like Steven Kotler who wrote a book on high performance says that after about three and a half hours, you got to go from acceleration to navigation. And navigation is where you sit back and you think. In my case, I like to relax with a cup of tea and just think, or even take a nap, or meditate, or read a book on poetry or personal growth, then you go back to work. That dance, acceleration and navigation, happens in the day but it also happens in the month.

For example, I’m going to be working a 60-hour week this week but following that, I’m flying to the Maldives to spend eight days in a paradise island in navigation. Now, in navigation, I’m not doing what we think of personal work. I’m writing, I’m journaling, I’m reading books on personal growth. I’m working on new manuscripts. This is how, it turns out, the top performers work. When they work, they are protective of their physical state. And now, science is starting to back this up.

For example, Shawn Achor who wrote the book The Happiness Advantage cites study after study after study that shows that happiness, or positive states, directly correlates with work performance. Examples, doctors who are happy are 19% better at diagnoses. Salespeople who are optimistic, 55% better at closing sales.

Now, Shawn Achor’s work has been developed further by another researcher called Shirzad Chamaine. He wrote a book called Positivity Quotient, and what he did in his studies is he found that the number one factor of high-performing teams is they are positive states. The more often the team is in a positive state, the better the performance of the team. And it turns out that to create these positive states, you don’t overwork yourself. You got to play that dance.

Now, in America, we’ve created this awful rule that hard work is a path to success. You know who created those rules? The robber baron, the titans, the factory owners who want people slogging away at a factory.

It is a lie that hard work results in success. It is an awful lie. It breaks lives. It destroys relationships. It messes up with your health. Work and productivity is the dance between focus, between acceleration, moving towards your goals, and watching your emotional states, and putting yourself in the optimal states where you can think, you can create, you can ideate.

Pete Mockaitis
You used rule, which is one of the main things I associate with you – brules. And one them is that, hey, hard work is the key to success. And you say, nope. In fact, adapting that mindset is problematic. So, can you define for us brules, and give us some other examples, and make sure how we conquer them?

Vishen Lakhiani
So, a brule is what I coined in my first book The Code of the Extraordinary Mind in 2016. Brules are a simplification of a complex world. When we look at the world, we create rules to help us navigate this complex world of human dynamics. These rules come from culture, from beliefs, from religion, from a country’s government, from our teachers, our preachers, the media, and these rules have a purpose. They help us navigate.

We know that when someone greets us, to say, “Good morning.” We know to say “Thank you” to a waitress. Easy rules. We learn these as kids. But then there are brules that serve not much of a purpose but are just blindly carried forward from generation to generation to generation. What are brules? Well, hard work makes you successful is a brule.

Another example of a brule might be, in terms of how we define relationships, how we think about our health, how we think about money. The question is what may be a brule to one person, may not be a brule to another. The way to understand is to look at your life. And Alan Watts, the great philosopher, suggested this exercise. Ask yourself, “What do I believe? Because I learn through my own experience is true,” versus, “What are my beliefs that I were told is true?”

Now, when you start putting this together, it’s a disruptive exercise. Let me ask you this question. What is it that you came to understand as true because you discovered it to be true?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, there are so many things. I mean, it is disruptive in that it is so all encompassing. We could talk about it small and big in terms of like the nature of reality and human existence, or productivity strategies. So, yeah, I’m just looking at a glass of water right now, and so one thing that I believe to be true, from a lived experience, is that drinking plenty of water feels great in terms of making me feel alive and vital and healthy and smart and sharp, and it’s also very easy to forget to do, and then wonder, “Why do I feel so crappy?”

Vishen Lakhiani
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s just like a visual stimulus, there’s a cup of water there, so that’s one thing.

Vishen Lakhiani
Yeah, exactly. That’s great, right? Now, what is it that you took to be true because you were indoctrinated into it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess, this is so small stakes but while we’re on the topic of hydration, like someone said, “Oh, you need to have eight glasses of water a day.” And that’s just something that’s just repeated and I’ve sort of dug into the science behind it. It’s not really founded anything, it’s like, “How big is the glass? Who says eight? What if you’re like a tiny 80-pound woman or a Mr. Olympia hulking bodybuilding man, like, one size does not fit all? That’s silliness.”

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, here’s a bunch of other brules that most people believe not because it’s real but because they were told to believe it. One is, “A woman’s place is in the home.” Another one might be, “You need a college degree to get a job.” And so, there are so many brules that we blindly take on without evidence simply because that’s the way it’s always been.

Remember that great quote from Steve Jobs? He said, “At a certain point in life, you come to realize that everything we think about life is made up by people no smarter than you. And you can change things, you can poke things, you can make things happen. And once you understand that, your life will never be the same again.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. And so, let’s just take, “Well, hey, you’ve got to get a college degree to get a good job.” I think that that’s something that, yeah, that’s just sort of in the air, and there are some truths to it in terms of we could look at some stats to show that, on the whole, people with college degrees earn more than those who don’t, or we could look at many individual job posts that claim “Must have a bachelor’s degree in these or related fields.” So, there’s a smidge of evidence that can point you in one direction, although I know of truckloads of evidence that say that that’s not true at all.

So, yeah, what’s the next step? We take some time to say, “Okay, hey, what are some beliefs that I’ve come to understand in my own experience?”

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, what you’re asking me to do is to simplify life, is get the great secret of life in the tiniest soundbite as possible, and you can’t do that because everybody has to discover their own secret.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s probably a fine transition point, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Vishen Lakhiani
“The most extraordinary people in the world do not have a career or a business. What they have is a mission.” And what I mean by this is that you would do the work that you do even if you didn’t get paid. It is your mission. It is your art of living. It is your contribution to the world, and this sums up that idea I said earlier.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
One of my favorite experiments, and this actually has to do with what we were talking about earlier, that positive states, that positive emotions, amplify your productivity at work. So, Shawn Achor did an experiment, I believe it was at the company First National. The CEO Gary Baker, he said was not a numbers guy, and Shawn wanted to suggest to Gary Baker that if he wanted to transform his company, he needed to do a simple 2-minute exercise with all his managers every day.

So, Gary Baker thought it was a joke but he decided to try it. Now, this was the 2-minute exercise. The managers, when they started their day, would set a timer for two minutes, and in no less and no more than two minutes, they would open up their email and write an email of appreciation to someone else in their company. Shawn Achor said anything beyond two minutes is too much of an obligation, less than two minutes is ideally too short.

So, Shelly might write an email to Tom and say, “Hey, Tom, just wanted to appreciate you for the wonderful idea you gave me last night and helping me improve my keynote presentation.” That’s it. Now, what they found is that in one year the company started to go through like a radical transformation. They went from 650 million in revenue to 950 million in revenue with no new headcount.

The number of job applications went up 237%. All of this because employees were spending two minutes a day appreciating each other. And it goes to show that emotions and our states of bliss really have a massive impact on our job. Shawn Achor said, “What was going on is that as you appreciated someone, you were actually practicing a form of gratitude. You were recognizing elegance, beauty, like great work. And then when they replied, you were getting another dose of happiness because you are being recognized for appreciating someone. It’s a beautiful cycle.” But that surge in positivity that it caused within an organization was transformative for Gary Baker’s company.

And this is probably one of the most interesting studies I’ve come across. I wrote about it extensively in my book The Buddha and the Badass.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Vishen Lakhiani
I’m holding it up right now, The Poetry of Rumi.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
Airtable. You got to love Airtable. It’s a no-code coding software. It allows me to build any application I want to make myself more efficient in any way.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, taking supplements every morning, but also meditating to “The 6 Phase Meditation” which is a meditation process I pioneered. There’s going to be a book coming out on it. It’s a meditation process used by super performers in just about every field. And it’s about retraining your brain to operate in that state, that dance between vision and bliss. It’s called “The 6 Phase Meditation.” You can find it on MindValley or you can Google it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. And not to go too deep down this one, I’m sure we have a full episode on supplements, but give us the hitlist, top daily supplements that Vishen swears by.

Vishen Lakhiani
Magnesium to help you go to bed. I believe in healthy sleep. 5HDP, wonderful in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, people quote back to you frequently and ascribe to you?

Vishen Lakhiani
People love some of the words I created to help us navigate the world, words like brules. Conscious engineering. All of these you’ll probably find in my book.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
Follow me on Instagram @vishen or go to MindValley.com.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
The most important thing you can do, which will transform your life, transform your job, is to get a MindValley membership. It will just freaking change your life. Go check it out.
Pete Mockaitis
All right. Vishen, this has been a treat. Thanks so much and I wish you lots of luck in your growth adventures.

Vishen Lakhiani
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

623: Mastering the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in the 2020s with FranklinCovey’s Jennifer Colosimo

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Jennifer Colosimo says: "It takes a lot of confidence to have humility."

7 Habits expert Jennifer Colosimo discusses how to practice Stephen Covey’s principles more consistently in your daily life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 7 Habits and why they’re still relevant today
  2. How proactivity improves your effectiveness by 50X
  3. The two habits that make the biggest difference in your career

 

About Jennifer

Jennifer Colosimo is a 7 Habits expert as well as President of the Enterprise Division for FranklinCovey. She has led teams in operations, human resources, IT, sales, learning and development, and corporate social responsibility while with Accenture, DaVita, FranklinCovey, and several private equity backed organizations. Her titles have included chief learning officer, COO, EVP, Vice President of Wisdom, and Vice President of Sales. 

She co-authored the book Great Work, Great Career with Stephen R. Covey, and has been a featured keynote speaker and panelist at numerous business, government, and education conferences. She has also delivered onsite training and keynotes to more than 50,000 people across 45 states and 12 countries.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Jennifer Colosimo Interview Transcript

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

Jennifer Colosimo
Appreciate you having me, Pete. Thank you so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really looking forward to digging into your wisdom. In a way, this is sort of like a stroll down memory lane. The 7 Habits was one of the first books that got me in to think, “Wow, there’s books about how to just live life better. I want more of these in my life as a teenager.” And you actually had the honor of co-authoring a book with Stephen Covey himself. Tell me a little bit about that.

Jennifer Colosimo
I did. Stephen passed eight years ago so this was a few years before that. We co-authored a book on building a great career, it’s called Great Work, Great Career and many of the principles in there are based on The 7 Habits. So, my voice was primarily different stage in my career, obviously, than Stephen was, and how I applied them at that different stage.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve had a couple FranklinCovey folks on the show. Can you share any fun stories or anecdotes that give us a bit of a feel for who that man was and the impact he’s leaving?

Jennifer Colosimo
In the years that I worked with him, the one thing that I think really stands out, that I don’t know that you can say about everyone, is that person was an authentic, same person, work, home, he did his best to live what he was writing about. He believed it completely and with total passion. And it didn’t matter if you saw him at a grocery store, or were at a board meeting, or were working on a book. He believed in the principles and put them into practice in his life.

Now, I probably had it easier because he was a mentor and advice-giver. I worked and have worked in the past with some of his actual family members. I think as teenagers, they sort of got a little bit tired of some of the principles and have all come back to living them. But I think they would finally be like, “Dad, could you just be like a dad?” And he was but he lived his principles.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s funny. I think my family feels that way about me sometimes a little bit on not-so grand a scale. And I understand he can also be a bit of a goofball at times.

Jennifer Colosimo
Oh, he was a joker. He said funny things. He would take you off guard because you would wonder, “Is that serious? Are you being serious?” until you really got used to some of his jokes. I mean, one of my favorite things, long, long time ago, is he kept his speaker microphone on while he ran out to use the restroom. And we were chasing him, basically being like, “Turn it off. Turn it off before you get in there. We can still hear you talking in the hall in the big room.” And he just joked it off.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, so I think this is going to be a fun one. I think many of our listeners have probably read or listened to or, at least, heard about The 7 Habits, but many of us have probably forgotten some of them. So, maybe before we dig into the nitty-gritty, like, “What are those seven habits?” could you maybe give us an overview of what impact have they had over the last 30 years? And why do you think this book, this message, has really just lived on and on and on?

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, a couple of things. Number one, when Dr. Covey said effective, he meant the ability to get results now and maintain your ability to get those results in the future. That’s a more complex skillset than, “Can I just get a result right now?” And those principles, in order to be effective, are, frankly, timeless. I mean, when I say words to you like the ability to make choice, having empathy, collaboration, personal management, which is often geared now into social and emotional intelligence, social management. Those principles of effectiveness of how you would get results now and in the future are timeless.

What changes is the practices of how you put that into place. And when we came out with the 38th edition, while we didn’t change any of the original texts, there are pieces added in by Sean Covey, Stephen’s son, kind of updating some of the practices and adding some detail to each of those but they’re timeless principles. I mean, how can you not say, “You’ll be more effective if you make choices that will get your result now and in the future.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I mean, it totally is just true. And, you know, it’s funny, I was listening to the audiobook just a few months ago, and I hear him in my voice now, P/PC balance and the golden goose, production and production capability. So, let’s dig into it a little bit. Could you give us maybe the one minute each version of what are the seven habits of highly effective people?

Jennifer Colosimo
So, the seven habits were not original thinking. Dr. Covey would say they’re aren’t original thinking. What they are is organized in a way that actually builds effectiveness. So, they all start with a verb, and the first three are focused on what is called private victory, “Are you self-aware? Are you confident in who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish?” So, they focus on, number one, being proactive, which is the habit of choice. In summary, things happen. We know a lot that’s happening right now in the world. Things happen and how you choose to behave defines who you are and making that choice.

Habit two is “Begin with the end in mind,” which is the habit of purpose and vision. So, “Do I let life just take me and I’m in a wave across the ocean, and I react to what comes my way? Or, have I set out, ‘This is who I want to be, what I want to achieve. This is my life’s mission to take it to the most detail big picture’?”

Third, “Put first things first.” So, you can make choice and you can have a purpose and a vision, but if you don’t make choices day to day and managing yourself, then that will never come true, right? You have to manage yourself, and not every little thing, but you have to manage yourself in order to make that vision come true. With that private victory, you have a level of confidence that allows you to be more effective in relationships. It may be counterintuitive but it takes a lot of confidence to have humility.

And the next three habits, focused on relationship, are requiring you to look at how you better collaborate, how you have an approach to an abundance. Think win-win, notice it says, “Are you looking for mutual benefit?” You don’t always get to it but are you trying? Habit five, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” I would say has an immense amount of skill-building built into it in how to practice empathy, how to actually understand someone. Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply, “When will her lips stop flapping and I can reply?” And so, that’s a big skillset because empathy is so critical in the workplace in order to build connection.

And to get to the sixth habit, which is synergize as a verb. Really, this is the habit in our terminology now of innovation, of building inclusive environments, “How do I think win-win, build understanding, express myself with I-messages in a way that we can create something better, whether that’s a result at work or in a relationship?”

And the seventh habit circles all of those, the private victory and the public victory habits, called “Sharpen the saw.” And the basis of that is balance, “I can’t be as effective as I possibly could be if I’m not physically, socially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually defined as something that gives you a greater sense of meaning unless I’m sharp.”

I mean, think about it. If you’re really sick, it’s hard to be effective. You can do your best but it’s hard. If you’re struggling with a relationship at work, you know the person that you now are meeting all the time on Zoom but used to sit several cubicles over, if you are constantly just always upset at them, how effective can you be?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. That’s a nice rundown there. I love it. Well, you are an expert. You have the title of the seven habits expert because I think a lot of us are like, “Oh, yeah, I kind of know the habits. It’s like be proactive and, you know, win-win.” So, I like that. That’s excellent.

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, thank you. Again, an expert just means you now know what you don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jennifer Colosimo
But it leaves a lot of holes of you thinking, “I don’t know that well enough.” But thank you for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, before we put you on the spot here as we dig into a little bit more details, so I was struck by…I love numbers. And so, in The 7 Habits, it says under “Be proactive,” that the difference in being proactive versus not being proactive makes for a 5,000 plus percent difference in effectiveness. Now, that’s a big number, 50X. Can you sort of lay that out, how that is true and even possible for anyone who says, “That seems too big”?

Jennifer Colosimo
That seems too big, that being proactive would make that much more effectiveness.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jennifer Colosimo
And, actually, this has worked behind it in terms of neuroscience, in terms of data that says researchers that will say the level of effectiveness you can get in different jobs has different quantum leaps. So, let me just talk about maybe different categories.

I worked fast food as a teenager, if I am the very, very best at flipping hamburgers then what’s the percentage difference in effectiveness you’re going to get? And we’re only on the line and we’re not working that much with other folks in the restaurant, we’re not client-facing, “Oh, you’ll get a different percentage. They’ll be cooked different, it’ll be faster.”

Pete Mockaitis
Or maybe doubling if you’re a chief burger sensation.

Jennifer Colosimo
Maybe doubling, maybe doubling, if you’re just…yeah, you’re a savant at it. But when you go to a more complex job, let’s say nursing, and you think of patient care, talking, speaking with relatives, making very quick decisions based on all of your background, how much effectiveness seems reasonable there?

Pete Mockaitis
More. I don’t know the number.

Jennifer Colosimo
More, right? We don’t know if we’re at four to five thousand percent. Actually, and some of this work comes from, you can see it. There’s a newer book from Netflix, I’ll think of the author, where they basically said their approach to hiring was they believed there was 5,000% in software developers.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Yes, that is ringing right now…

Jennifer Colosimo
Do you remember the book?

Pete Mockaitis
…in terms of, I think I was looking at their culture deck which maybe made reference to this or some Netflix document. So, yeah, understood. And so then, different domains, that’s a great point right there. So, different domains have a different ceiling or capacity to be differentially effective and, I guess, hey, the more responsibility you have, the more that’s going to be more variability there. So, how is it specifically that being proactive can unleash that 5,000 plus percent difference?

Jennifer Colosimo
So, obviously, a lot of it is based on the technical domains we were talking about, right, the technicalities of that job. But, and when you think about the communication pieces, regardless of, let’s use the one that we’re saying has a huge differential, software developers, they still need to communicate with those on their team, to sell their ideas. Some may aspire to higher-level leadership roles. They may aspire. And as you think about being proactive and making choices, the really direct link is we’re talking about social-emotional intelligence, “How well do I communicate? What choices do I make?”

So, let’s just give an example. “I’m the most talented software developer and I can’t sell my ideas because I can’t communicate in the form that the finance person understands or that my sales manager understands. In addition, everybody on the development team seriously just wishes I wasn’t there. I’m not viewing my results as both the results as a developer, a very talented developer, but the results I’ve obtained in relationship.” And that’s a bit of a mindset shift, “Do I make choices to get to the end in mind I’m looking for even if it’s just, ‘get my new game on the market’? Am I making the choices that help me get to that end in mind? Or, am I, basically, sabotaging myself because I’m not being proactive and taking a space between things that happen and my response?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I buy that in terms of if you’re proactive versus reactive, think of software developers, that’s sort of like, “Hey, I’ve got a really cool idea.” Proactivity would be to sell that idea, to package that idea, to get stakeholders, collaborators rallied around it to test that out, to see if it’s even a good idea that people can care about this or it’s just kind of my thing.

And that very well can make all the difference in terms of, “Yeah, that’s the breakout feature that makes this program or game like the coolest thing that everybody has to have,” and then you can have huge sales flowing from that, maybe 50 times of sales, as oppose to you’re just like, “Ah, well, you know, no one really cares and I guess I got to just sort of finish my to-do list.”

Jennifer Colosimo
Right, “I’ve just got to finish my to-do list. People don’t listen to me.” I think one of the deepest…well, this is actually something that Stephen would say, I’m paraphrasing, that one of the deepest needs of the human heart is to feel understood. And so, you may be a very talented, and we could go to any role of any of your listeners, but if you want to build your influence, are you influenceable? Are you working on your self-management, your social management, in addition to that technical skillset?

You know, LinkedIn, and I’ll miss some of them, but said the skills that people are really looking for that are soft – so I’ve got to assume you’ve got the technical skills, you’re the best in this whatever – are empathy, collaboration, self-management, communication skills, all things that are in The 7 Habits.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that makes sense. All right. I’m convinced, 5,000% is real. No hyperbole there. Let’s talk about being understood. That’s a deep need and I think there’s not a lot of that going around. How does one do a great job at understanding others and having them feel understood?

Jennifer Colosimo
So, a lot of the seven habits is really based on, first, who you are, building character, second, how you think, and I’m going to start there, and then how you behave to get the result, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jennifer Colosimo
So, with mindset as the starting place, this is the mindset that I would challenge if you’re really trying to truly, in your intent, you’re thinking, “I do want to understand. I really do. This isn’t fake. I really do,” can you stop the chatter in your mind, literally, stop thinking, “Do I agree or disagree? Do I have another example of that that I want to either judge or assess? What’s my response?” Stopping, “Do I want to have a comeback?” Simply, can you stop?

So, let’s assume I’m listening to you and I’ve decided, and I might even be angry, I might even totally disagree so this is an incredible discipline, so I get hit with this amygdala hit of like, “I’m totally ticked off.” Can I stop and say, “Okay, I’m going to stop all that chatter, I’m going to listen for…” and if I’m lucky I can see you. Hard in social media days but if I can see you, I’ve also got nonverbal cues, I’ve got your face, I’ve got your tone of voice in addition to the words, “How does Pete think and feel about this? How does he think and feel? And can I accurately summarize it?”

Probably not parroting back because that might make you crazy, like I’m just parroting, so, “Pete, you’re upset about X.” “Well, yeah, that’s what I just said.” But what I found is as long as you don’t put that response out, as long as you’re waiting to actually get to understanding, “So, let me summarize if I heard you correctly. What I’m hearing is you,” this is the most basic, “feel blank about blank.” And often you’ll say, “Well, that’s not totally it. You missed this small piece.” “Okay, so I missed this piece. So, in summary, you feel blank about blank,” putting in different words, “Your assessment is, your thinking is. No emotion. I’m truly trying to get to understanding.”

If you have that discipline, you will, at a minimum, develop an understanding. And the purpose is not to get necessarily to an agreement. You don’t have to agree but you can get to understanding as long as you can control the chatter in your mind and truly focus on what the other person is thinking and feeling.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, it’s funny, what comes to mind here is I was chatting with…this was a real rock star over at the Northwestern Mutual financial network, so life insurance, sales. I wasn’t super interested in having this meeting but he was a friend of a friend, so I said, “All right,” and he was so good because we had one meeting where that’s all that he was doing was understanding, seeking to understand my stuff.

And then so we met again like a week or two later, he’s like, “You know, Pete, I heard you say this and this and this. And you mentioned this and it what was really important to you is this.” And it was like it was the weirdest experience because it was like he was some kind of a prophet or like a psychic, and it’s like, “I know I said all these things to him, but it is a unique experience to have someone have really absorb all of that and kind of gotten to the heart of things,” which is why he’s leading the practice, he’s really excellent and has a big team, I don’t know.

So, yeah, it is wild how powerful that is. And so, you just mentioned the most basic level is, “You feel blank about blank,” so I’d say, “Jen, you feel frustrated that there’s a family member in your life who needs an XBOX.”

Jennifer Colosimo
We talked about this, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“You feel frustrated that there’s a family member in your life who needs an XBOX, and it is very hard to come by, and you sort of feel like they’re putting you in an impossible situation and that’s really uncomfortable.” I don’t know if you actually feel that way.

Jennifer Colosimo
I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you may have mentioned it.

Jennifer Colosimo
I want one. But, see, the difference between that conversation, number one, I mean, the question back to you, you mentioned it was weird. Whether you decided to purchase or not, because that’s in a sales environment, was it weird because you actually felt, “Wow, yeah, I am understood. That’s what I want”?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it was weird because, well, one, I guess he was talking for like 10 minutes, about 10 straight minutes of him talking of understanding me, and it’s like, “I don’t know that that’s happened before.” So, it’s weird just because it’s novel.

Jennifer Colosimo
It’s novel.

Pete Mockaitis
And that it was so dead-on. I did not end up…I kind of wanted, I didn’t need it but I wanted to support this guy, it’s like, “Man, he’s just so great. I want to help him out.” It’s like, “But I really don’t have any kids, I don’t have…”

Jennifer Colosimo
Yeah, I don’t need it at all.

Pete Mockaitis
“I don’t need an insurance right now. Maybe later.” So, yeah, that’s why it was so weird for me.

Jennifer Colosimo
So, if you think about it, one of the big hints of you…and I don’t mean it to mean used, but to really say, “I am going to try to understand.” And, again, intent is big. I said who you are. You don’t want to use this to be a manipulative person. You’re using it because you actually do care, really. I think people know when they’re being manipulated, right? They know.

If you are truly trying to care, it’s less about technique than it is caring. And the hardest time to do it is when there is – but it’s also your best signal – high emotion or some level of conflict, right? I mean, think about how hard that is especially if…you summarize well. I am frustrated and I would like to find an XBOX. But if you and I were truly arguing and you just said…

Pete Mockaitis
“Mom, you won’t give me anything cool.”

Jennifer Colosimo
“Mom,” or work, right? You know, “Jen, what you did in that meeting completely…I mean, I can’t believe that’s what you did. It’s ruined this project,” and I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m being attacked.” That’s why those first three habits are so important because if I can’t feel confident enough in myself that I don’t need to win this argument, I’m truly thinking about how you and I are going to work together in the future and I, all of a sudden, become very curious, “Wow, I must’ve really done something. Pete is mad.”

I’m not responsible for you being mad. That’s not what I’m saying. I may be based on actions but I’m not taking the responsibility. I’m taking the responsibility to understand because I would like you and I to maintain our work relationship. Possibly, I’ll apologize. Possibly, I’ll get to the point of where I understand and I’ll say, “So, Pete, do I understand?” “Yes, you do.” “I see it differently. Could I share how I see it?” We may not come to agreement but it’s part of thinking about, “How do you gain influence in an organization? How do you get to your potential? How do you get sponsors and allies that will support you?” And a big part of it isn’t just your technical skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. And so then, let’s talk about the different levels there. So, we arrive there via curiosity, via being very kind of solid and firm in your character and foundations, and genuinely caring about the person and their perspective, and having that curiosity to dig in. And then the basic level is, “You feel this about that.” What’s the advanced level? What’s the master of understanding vibe?

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, again, I think intent counts much more than technique here. In fact, I would totally assert intent counts more than technique because if you’re truly trying to get to it, people will give you a lot of leeway than if they think you’re using a special technique. And if I can see you, I could nod because you might have some emotion that keeps you going for a minute, and I’m processing, okay, like, “Okay, wait it was that? Is it that? Is he mad at me for that or was it this?” I’m processing, I could not, I could say, “Mm-hmm, go on. So, when that happened, it caused this? Right, I’m summarizing back some of the things you said, paraphrasing,” or it might be just staying silent, but you know I’m not using empathic listening if I say, “Pete, I totally agree.”

Now, I might get to that but that’s not me getting to understanding. That’s me totally agreeing with you. Or, “I disagree,” or, “You know what, my sister kind of thinks the same way,” or, “You know what, this work group that we worked on, they agree with me.” It’s the, “I’ve taken everything away and I’m just trying to understand you.” Does that get to more advanced?

Pete Mockaitis
It does, yes. And I’m thinking sometimes when I’ve done this well, which is rarer than I’d like to admit, I guess I almost think about it like…we had Chris Voss, the FBI hostage negotiator, on the show, and in his book he talked about sort of like identifying sort of what is the religion of the person you’re working with. Not really like Catholic or Mormon or Muslim, but like the worldview and ultimate beliefs that are kind of underneath this. And I think that’s a good lens as well as sometimes I think about it in terms of like if I were an actor who needed to convincingly portray this person, it’s sort of like a Sprite commercial, “Excuse me, what’s my motivation?”

Jennifer Colosimo
Exactly, “What’s my motivation?”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s sort of like, “What is the motivation?” Like, if you were a director, or a screenplay writer, or an actor trying to imbue that character with a life and a motivation and a backstory and a belief or religion, it’s sort of like that’s kind of what I think, for me, is how I kind of try to see if I’ve really nailed it. And it’s been kind of rare but it’s been awesome when it happens, you’re like, “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel.”

Jennifer Colosimo
“Yes, you get me. Yes, you get me,” which is huge when we’re talking about effectiveness whether it’s in work, in your family, in relationships. You don’t have to agree with me, although I would love it if the whole world agreed with me but that’s probably unrealistic. But that felt need of you understand me, especially in times that are a bit turbulent, to use, a bit turbulent where there doesn’t seem to be much understanding, I think that’s a nice way to say it.

Frankly, have you ever been at work and you’ve solved a problem that wasn’t even the problem? Because, you know this, and people bring this up to you all the time and you just hear two words, you’re like, “No, no, no, no. I got this. Here’s what you do,” and they walk away and then you find out later that was not even the problem at all. It can be that tactical of, “What is really the problem here that we’re looking at? Have we defined it and are we working at that? Or am I so impatient, I just hear two words, and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no. I know this problem. Solve it this way’?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Well, boy, so many directions we can take off from here. Maybe could you share, in your experience, what is the habit that has the – it’s kind of like consultants, right, we could put everything on 2×2 matrix – the habit that is the most lacking amongst professionals and the most costly in terms of, “Boy, this is really hurting your career and if you nailed it, your career would soar”? Maybe that’s one habit that nails both of them or maybe it’s two separate ones, but lay it on us.

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, I think the one we just discussed is the one where you’re going to really kind of get the exponential. It’s quite an emotional intelligence but intent skillset and it requires self-awareness. It’s like a hard one and it really accelerates. The one I would say, truly, that is foundational to being effective, so getting the results now and in the future, is, and that’s why it is habit one, as I mentioned, they’re progressive, is choice. And let me give you an example.

Some of what the company I worked through has done has worked with inmates in the correctional system using the seven habits. And habit one, while if you and I are discussing it, or you read it in a book, and you see some great hints, you may be able to integrate so much more of it into your life. Habit one takes months in the correction facility because it’s basically saying, “Regardless of what has happened to you or does happen, you have the ability to make a choice in how you think and behave.” And just think about that for a second.

In The 7 Habits, there’s four gifts that are human-based, so you have to have the self-awareness to be able to say, “Okay, this is how I feel.” You have to be able to have the mental, like be able to look out into the future and say, “What I do now matters and this is probably the best to fulfill my vision.” You have to be able to tap into conscience, “And here’s what I value and here’s who I am.” And then you have to have the independent will to act in the face of things that may not have been natural to you.

And it’s even as much as using language that is proactive. There’s neurotransmitters when you use positive language. This used to make me crazy. I used to say, “That’s to woo-woo for me,” even though I’ve been around this forever. But when you think about me saying to you, “I’m going to the grocery store. I’m flying to LA. I’m going to work out,” the difference between that and, “I have to work out. I have to go to the grocery store. I have to fly to LA,” truly serotonin differences in the way you use your language, which is part of habit one.

So, honestly, where I think for many professionals who are good at it, that’s where we have the most opportunity to be solution-focused, to ensure we’re making those choices, and to use those gifts. And then, probably, the biggest career advancer when it comes to building credibility, connection, collaborators is habit five, the “Seeking first to understand then to be understood,” because you also have the skillset to be able to convey your ideas with respect.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that just makes me feel great as the interviewer because the two I zeroed in on, and I was like, “You tell me what are the two?” It’s okay, we got synergy.

Jennifer Colosimo
And you knew. Was that a leading question?

Pete Mockaitis
No, I thought, I was like, “Hey, I’m going to pick two that I think are important and I’m going to throw it to you and say, ‘What are the two…’” Okay, cool. Well, we’re on the same page. Hey, how about that?

Jennifer Colosimo
We are.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then let’s talk about how one develops these or any habits? How does one embark upon change, personal transformation in general? Like, what are your top do’s and don’ts here?

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, one is basic and I bet you’ve had other guests even say it, is that it takes at least three weeks to form a habit. It does. Really conscious effort, you know this if you’ve tried something new like physical, “I’m going to go running.” The first week you’re all, “Yay, yay, I’m running.” The second week, you’re kind of achy, maybe you can miss Wednesday or Friday and by the third week, you’re like, “Ahh, as long as I can get out one day,” right? It takes three weeks to be able to form it in any kind of…and then, obviously, it gets easier after that. That’s why trainers are literally saying, “You got to commit to three weeks.” Most diets, three weeks.

But when you think about it, you have to have a commitment. And, frankly, books, including The 7 Habits have actual things in the back saying, “If you want to improve this, watch your language for four days and see how many times, ‘You have to,’ ‘You have no choice,’ you use victim language, and how many times you use proactive language,” right? Each of these has a practice you can put into place.

One that I’ve been challenged, I’ve done a significant amount of executive coaching, is to say, “You need to have a sticky note that says, “The first time I feel a strong emotion, I’m going to stop and pause, examine what the feeling is, think before I speak, and try to put these practices, whatever they may be, into practice.” Like a reminder as soon as you feel emotion. Because how can you predict when you’re going to feel a strong emotion while you’re working? But most of them have practices you can put into place.

One of the most details, habit two “Begin with the end in mind,” actually encourages you to write a mission statement. And you can Google mission statement builder. There’s an app, free, but something that we have at FranklinCovey, and then there’s others. Write a mission statement. “Put first things first,” has many tactical hints and tips – managing your technology, managing distractions. So, it really depends on the habit that’s yours, “Is this more of a think than do? Is this, ‘Okay, I’ve got the think down. I just need to do’?” Which one is it and which practice will help you the best?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. And maybe the last question before we hear about your favorite things. In a world where everything seems urgent, how do we escape and really do those important but not urgent things?

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, of course, there’s a lot in The 7 Habits and I recently read a book that I think inspired me, and I don’t know if I say his name correctly. It’s a book called Indistractable, Nir…

Pete Mockaitis
Nir Eyal.

Jennifer Colosimo
Yeah, Indistractable. Have you read that book?

Pete Mockaitis
He’s been on the show.

Jennifer Colosimo
Oh, I didn’t see that when I looked through the other podcasts that I was listening to. I honestly think his practices, well, the principles of personal management, and the mindset pieces we do a quadrant model of how to think about urgent versus urgent versus important versus aligned to your values and managing your technology. I think some of his practices…did he talk about the tree app that he has in his book? Do you remember?

Pete Mockaitis
The tree app? I don’t have a picture in my head of a tree, so.

Jennifer Colosimo
It’s an app that you pull up a tree and you say, “This tree will be built on my app as long as I focus on this task for this amount of time. And if I take my mind off that task, and I have to click it and it kills the tree.” There’s all these great hints, obviously so many. So many will say, “Establish your rules. Here’s where you turn it off. Here’s how much time you say that you’ll respond to your email. This is when you’ll respond to texts. This is when you’ll do social media,” and some of that is even in The 7 Habits even though some of those tools weren’t there. I think the mindset of urgent versus important and tying it to your values, but there are a lot of practices to put that into place. I was really inspired by his.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s great. So, there’s a lot of practices, but if we go ever deeper to the foundational root, you’re suggesting it’s more of about having kind of like a total clarity on what’s important based upon an understanding of your values.

Jennifer Colosimo
Yeah, and I’ll say imagine there’s kind of a beam, since people can’t see me. If on one end of the beam are the things that you profess to value, and some of the work that is proposed in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to write down statements that you would want people who know you in that role to say about you. So, maybe it’s my retirement party and I wish people would say this about me at my party. Maybe it’s a partner or spouse, here’s what I would want them to say. What would they all say? My ideal is this, and this is what I’m trying to do in my life.

And on the other side of the beam is how I actually act every day, and no way would I get any of those tribute statements based on my actions. Well, then you philosophically know, no matter what tools you’re using, you aren’t aligning your important things with your actions each day, so how do you get closer to that? And one of the strategies that’s in The 7 Habits that’s worked for me is, of course, you can’t align your whole life to that, but do you choose one thing for each of your roles that you will do – It might be relationship-focused or it might be result – that would get you closer to that tribute statement each week? And on a weekly basis, do you do at least one thing that moves you closer to that vision?

And if you’re not doing anything in alignment with who you say you want to be and what you want, frankly, you’re not going to have a very credible claim to feeling peaceful let alone effective.

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

Jennifer Colosimo
You know, one of my favorite quotes, and it gets attributed to a lot of different people. Albert Schweitzer, I think, said part of it. Stephen Covey used to say it but I love this quote, “In everyone’s life, at some time, an inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.” And then sometimes people add, “Let’s be thankful for those who rekindle the inner spirit.” Because I think about times my own flame has gone out where I’m kind of like, “Okay, I’m completely depleted.” The people that will burst you into flame and bring back you and what you can contribute, I mean, what an amazing contribution.

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

Jennifer Colosimo
My favorite research, and I realized this by thinking about how many times I read it or look at profiles, is really Martin Seligman’s and positive psychology. His books on Flourish, Learned Optimism, the positive psychology assessments that have been built, I just find that work so fascinating, and it goes so deep in thinking about how your mind drives, truly, positive psychology which is different than happiness but more of that sense of fulfillment.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jennifer Colosimo
My favorite business book most recently, and, of course, it’s not the newest book, but I love Ray Dalio’s Principles book. Love. And my favorite author doesn’t write enough, I have two. Donna Tart, and she’s only written a few books. And then I love Tana French. She’s an Irish author who writes mysteries.

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

Jennifer Colosimo
Honestly, I would say it’s less tool-based, although I am, especially I work from home right now, working at home, I really love IM chats. So, you could use a variety of tools. Sometimes it’s been Slack, sometimes it’s been Zoom chats, sometimes it’s been Teams chat, but with my close workers, I think it feels more like that we’re in the same environment because people can pop in.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jennifer Colosimo
My absolute favorite habit, and as you might expect, I get asked for career advice a lot, of course, it comes from The 7 Habits, Pete. You would’ve had to have expected that. But my favorite habit is proactive. I say the number one thing you can do in your career is say, “Based on the situation I’m in, what’s the best thing for me to do or say right now?”

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

Jennifer Colosimo
What gets quoted back to me a lot as an original quote is, “You have to have curiosity. If your curiosity dies, you’re dead.” Especially at work.

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

Jennifer Colosimo
I would point them to FranklinCovey.com. That’s where you’ll learn more about what we’re doing and all of our books and all of the works that we have for individuals. Me, personally, I’m at @jencolosimo on Twitter. I have tweeted very little over the past several months because I had to do a bit of a calming myself. My be proactive was not to be Twitter but that’s where I am on Twitter. Also on LinkedIn at Jennifer Colosimo.

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

Jennifer Colosimo
My final challenge is to take up the challenge we invested the most time in this conversation on. Bring empathy into the workplace. Although you can’t force others to bring empathy into the workplace, you will release more potential, you’ll be more fulfilled if you bring empathy into the workplace yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Jen, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you all the best as you’re practicing the seven habits.

Jennifer Colosimo
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate the time.

602: Finding Greater Enjoyment and Fulfillment through Capacity Building with Robert Glazer

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Robert Glazer says: "You got to know your values."

Robert Glazer discusses his simple framework for achieving greater clarity and accelerating your development.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to know if you’re living below your potential
  2. How to clearly define your core values and purpose
  3. The small wins that lead to tremendous growth

About Robert

Robert Glazer is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners, a global partner marketing agency and the recipient of numerous industry and company culture awards, including Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Awards two years in a row. He is the author of the inspirational newsletter Friday Forward, author of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller, Elevate, and of the international bestselling book, Performance Partnerships.  He is a sought-after speaker by companies and organizations around the world and is the host of The Elevate Podcast. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Robert Glazer Interview Transcript

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

Robert Glazer
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into so much of your wisdom. But, first, I got to hear, you biked from London to Paris within 24 hours. First, how is this possible with water? And, second, tell us the story.

Robert Glazer
Yeah, our London team created an industry event, it’s a fundraiser, to bike in 24 hours. I get to hang out with the London team, support the industry, so I flew on the first day of school. So, yeah, you bike from London to the south, and then we slept on a ferry for what I thought was three hours but we lost an hour, so it was even less than I realized. And then, basically, like pitch black at 5:00 in the morning, we were on the other side and started biking, and you wake up and you realize you’re in the middle of Normandy. So, it was pretty crazy. It’s technically 23 because of that hour. We finished right down the Champs-Elysees, and right under the Eiffel Tower, so it’s a pretty iconic finish. I had never done anything even half that amount of distance.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Very cool. And can you orient us a bit, for those who are less familiar with you, in terms of the London team and the industry? Where are you situated there?

Robert Glazer
So, yeah, I run a company called Acceleration Partners. I founded it, it’s a marketing agency, and we manage what’s called affiliate programs, large-scale affiliate programs, so kind of digital partnerships between brands and all kinds of different publishers. And we’ve been expanding in Europe, and I built up a Europe team. Our MD in London is a big cyclist so she had this crazy idea. But it was awesome. I mean, from a bonding standpoint, there were some people I was biking with in the middle of the night, in the middle of the morning, and had some great discussions. It was actually a really cool experience.

It’s not something you can do without the infrastructure, so there’s a company that sort of provided the infrastructure, but it was awesome. I tell a lot of people: good learning. I didn’t really read very much, like I’m not big on instructions, like I didn’t read a lot of the instructions and what we were doing until I was packing. And then I was like, “Crap. What have I signed up for?” So, it’s good learning there. Sometimes it’s better to just sign up and say yes and not know all the details because if I had read all the warnings and the things and the rest, I would’ve probably scared myself out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really true. I think in terms of if it’s…I guess if you don’t have to have a lot of technical knowhow, like just keep paddling or pedaling, that works in terms of if there’s a risk of you psyching yourself out, that might be wise. Well, very cool. So, let’s dig into you make great promotions happen and you pulled that off with your book Elevate. What’s the big idea behind this one?

Robert Glazer
Yes. So, Elevate came out of something called Friday Forward, which was a note that I started sending my team about five years ago every Friday. It was originally called Friday Inspiration. It had tips, self-improvement. I decided to improve my morning routine, and was told to read something positive, and a lot of the positive stuff I was reading was a little rainbow and unicorn-y. It didn’t do it for me.

So, I decided I would write something that would encourage our team to kind of want to get better, do better. It wasn’t about our business. And it started to get shared outside the company, I realized it, because…

Pete Mockaitis
Without your permission.

Robert Glazer
Without my permission. The teammates would write back and they’d say, “Yeah, I did that. That’s really cool. But, also, I shared this with my husband, and he shared it with his company.” And I sent it to a few entrepreneurs after a conference because I said, “I’d been doing this with my team and I’ve gotten really great feedback, and I’ve enjoyed doing it.” And they said, “Yeah, well, send it to us,” and it was like four entrepreneurs, “and we’ll take a look. Maybe it’s a great idea.”

And one started his own and has done it till this day, and the other three are like good entrepreneurs, said, “This is great. We’ll just send this to our teams on Friday.” That made me think that it might have value outside the company so I sort of opened it up so other people could sign up for it, and renamed it Friday Forward because it had been forwarding. And I look up five years later, and there’s a couple of hundred thousand people in 60 countries reading it on a Friday, which is just totally crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
That is awesome. Well, so then what are some of the main sort of themes and messages that are resonating so much and being useful for people here?

Robert Glazer
So, now, I realized I failed to answer the question. So, I went to write a book that was sort of a synopsis of Friday Forward and an agent sort of pushed me to what was the story. And what happened was I spent some time thinking about “What were we doing as a company to grow so quickly? And how were we investing in our people? What did I do? What have I done to really make huge changes in my life a couple of years since I’d started it? Why were these notes having an impact on all these strangers that I didn’t know? All these high-performing people I saw, like what do they have in common?”

It really all came down to the same thing, which is this concept of capacity building, about how you get better, and these four elements of capacity building which are spiritual, intellectual, physical and emotional. And it was a framework that, for me, covered all of self-improvement and showed you kind of clearly like how it was connected and where you might be doing well and where you might be out of whack. So, I’d say nothing in it is new itself. I just think the framework has not been presented in that way for people to understand “Here’s how you can actually get better in service of what you want most.”

And that was, as I said, that’s actually the approach we took with our team which was “How do we invest in them holistically and build their capacity, and get them to grow along with the business rather than just trying to make them better at their jobs because their jobs would change as the business grew?”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, there’s so much in there that I love. So, let’s just sync up on a term for a moment. When you say capacity, I have a definition in mind for that. What do you mean by the word capacity?

Robert Glazer
There’s a long definition but I actually think capacity is how we get better, that ability to. One key though, it’s not more. I think one of the aspects of building capacity is like, intellectual, it’s like getting a faster chip, is that you should be able to do the right things faster and with less energy. I think people correlate it with volume versus it’s really more of ability. How do you increase your ability in these areas to do more, think smarter, and act faster. Physical capacity, we understand, like that bike race. If I trained an hour a day for 60 days, suddenly I have the capacity to bike 170 miles which I did not have before.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, it’s just sort of like your ability, what you are capable of pulling off, and so that’s exciting. Well, lay it on us then, you mentioned you get an understanding of where you might be doing well or not so well across each of these four dimensions. And how do you gauge that? Like, hey, spiritual is rocking and intellectual is lagging. How do I get to that conclusion?

Robert Glazer
Yeah. Well, would it help if I define them first?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Robert Glazer
So, spiritual capacity is not religious. To me, this is just your north star. It’s usually core values or purpose. Like, what is it that you want and who are you? And if you don’t have clarity on that, you probably are already very wobbly because you may not be going in the right…. You may not be wobbly. You may actually be doing a great job going in the wrong direction. So, to me, that’s first.

Intellectual capacity is how you plan, learn, think, execute with discipline, accountability, set goals. So, now we know what we want, and this is like, “How do we get smarter and faster and better in pursuit of that?” Physical capacity is kind of your health, wellbeing, competition, resilience. How does our body hold us up in this process? And then emotional are the things outside of you. So, your relationships, whether those drain energy or bring energy, and how you react to external events and things that you don’t control.

So, yeah, I think my example before, it’s probably more rare. But if someone hasn’t figured out who they are and what they want, they may be considered successful but they may be like crushing intellectual, physical and emotional capacity in a direction or something that gives them no enjoyment. They’re doing what their parents wanted them to do, what teachers and the society, and they’re just…they’re a world-class doctor and they want to be a writer and have a house in Montana and a cabin. And so, it just doesn’t provide them fulfillment.

But for most people, I think, you got to know your values because that drives your key decisions, then you get excited about what it is that you’re going to accomplish, then you pay attention to your emotional and physical capacity. So, physical capacity is the easiest one because this is out of whack I think when we’re tired, when we’re stressed, you think about that like you lose control of the big picture, you’re not learning as much, you tend to fight and argue with everyone. So, that’s when you can see it’s out of whack.

And if your emotional capacity is maybe out of whack, maybe you’re probably on an island, you’ve been kind of detaching yourself from the world and from other people and just trying to go at it, and you need those people in order to have the kind of success that you want to have. So, I think sometimes it’s easier to notice where we may feel a little bit out of whack. Intellectual capacity, COVID is a great example, right? Restaurant industry, you had people shut down overnight, and there are people who sort of give up their hands and say, “Well, guess we can’t be a restaurant.” And there are others who are like, “We’re going to figure out what we’re going to be to keep people employed,” and they learned delivery the next day, and they setup meal kits, and they just dove in and said, “We got to do what we got to do to keep our people employed.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Well, so then let’s see. So, thinking about our audience and your people in terms of professionals, is there an area you tend to see more often than the others popping up as needing more of a boost than the others?

Robert Glazer
Yeah, I think physical is the one that we particularly now that can easily get out of whack on. It’s like the chiropractic fix of getting back into that. Spiritual is not one you kind of fall in and out of. For most people, they just haven’t done the work. If you ask most people, “What are your core values?” 98 out of a 100 would look at you with a blank stare, or maybe sputter out a word. Two of them will say…

Pete Mockaitis
Integrity.

Robert Glazer
“My core values are A, B, C, and D, and my core purpose is X.” And I promise you, they’re on a really definitive path. So, I think a lot of people, they know it. I always say it’s self-discovery. They know when they get into situations where their core values are violated, but they don’t have the language to make those decisions and stay away from their electric fence until they cross it. And so, they make a lot of bad or wrong decisions on the journey. So, I encourage a lot of people who want to get better to make sure you figure that out because I think it’s really hard for you to live somewhere, have a relationship, have a job that’s fundamentally misaligned with your core values.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we talked about values a few times, and I love the different angles that people sort of approach it from. So, could you give us some examples of, well, I guess we can hear yours in terms of purpose and values, as well as where do people…? It sounds like you’ve done the research, 98% of people just sort of have nothing.

Robert Glazer
Better than scientific but, yeah, for most.

Pete Mockaitis
But we’re pegging you, we’re citing your name in studies with the parenthesis (Glazer 2020). So, yeah, let’s hear, like, how do you get there? And if you have 20 values, you sort of have none is sort of the way I view it.

Robert Glazer
Yeah, like if you have 20 goals, you have none, right?

Pete Mockaitis
And I think Brene Brown said in one of her books that she did some research that most superstars have like one or two or three, it’s a very small number, and then they have real directional power. So, lay it on us, some examples, and how we get there.

Robert Glazer
Yes. So, less is more in this, and we’ve done this with our leaders at Acceleration Partners for years. Actually, I had a hard time, I went to a pretty hardcore leadership thing. I was determined how values were important and to figure it out, but they actually didn’t tell us how. And so, I went through a process over a year or two, and then started doing that with my team and built it out. I’ve actually just turned it into a course that’ll launch in a couple of weeks because it’s the thing I get asked most about in Elevate. There are some tips in Elevate to get you started.

But my core purpose is to share ideas that help people and organizations grow. That’s why I’m on this podcast, that’s why I’m writing these books. And my core values are find a better way and share it, health and vitality, self-reliance, respect for authenticity and long-term orientation. And I think there are a couple principles to values. And there’s a way I figured out kind of how to get it out of people, but they need to be definitive. Like, things like integrity, it’s like a company. They actually need to describe how you’re different, and they also can’t be one word because I talk a little bit about in the course about the core validator, and there are a couple things like what makes it a good core value.

So, you got to be able to look at it and say, “I’m doing a good job with this,” or, “I’m not doing a good job with this.” It’s almost like your report card. You’ve got to think about the inverse value of that and it should really rub you the wrong way. And then, also, could you make a decision on it? So, when somebody says something like visionary, you’d say like, “Well, was I being visionary last month? I don’t know. If I have a choice, did I make a visionary decision?”

So, when I came up with a long-term orientation, I realized that was something that was really important. I was thinking about that. That’s usually a really good test. Like, if I have a choice of a partner, an investment, or something I can think about, how is this…what is the long-term aspect of this decision? Am I thinking about the long term? Have I done a good job doing that? And that counter core value. If I’m at a party, I always say, “Imagine the sort of inverse of your core value as a character.” And I’m talking to short-term Pete, and Pete’s talking about, “Oh, I’m making all this money on the…”

Pete Mockaitis
Bitcoin.

Robert Glazer
“…investment stuff, and I’m driving a bus through this…” and just everything Pete is doing is like taking advantage of the short term before it ends. Like, I need to get away from him as fast as I can. That’s a good test of that person actually. The archetype of that person embodies the violation of my core values.

So, one of the tests that we do when we’re trying to see if it’s a core value is we sort of tell someone to come up with that inverse person, “How do you feel when you…?” Some people picture a relative, literally, because the whole thing about a core value when violated, it’s just you’re not comfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think integrity is sort of everything. When I think about values, I think my first kind of aha moment with values, it’s funny, from a business perspective, my company mission is kind of similar to yours – to discover, develop and disseminate knowledge that transforms the experience of being alive. And I really do. I get jazzed about that, and it doesn’t happen very often. And when it does, these interviews don’t air. Don’t worry, you’re going to make the cut. You’re good.

Robert Glazer
I had a couple of these, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what, I don’t think we didn’t really discover anything, we didn’t really develop anything, this isn’t really worth disseminating. I’m just going to have to let it go. And that feels uncomfortable in terms of I’m a bit of a people pleaser. But it’s necessary, otherwise I would feel bad, I would feel very yucky if I created something lame, and consumed people’s time, which is so precious, on something that was inadequately valuable and they regretted spending that time. I regretted spending the time watching the movie Uncut Gems, personally.

Robert Glazer
I was just talking about that yesterday. I think it’s pretty dark.

Pete Mockaitis
It didn’t do it for me. But more to the point, I remember I was a senior in high school, and I was in my car, just parked, eating ice cream from the Custard Cup in Danville, and I came to realize that, yes, when I’m living in accordance with values, my sort of baseline how I feel outside of some really good news or really bad news, it’s good. I’ve just got kind of happy groove. And when I’m not, it’s just kind of blah.

And at the time, they were one words at the time. I think they were defined as integrity, service, growth, and optimality. And by integrity, it really means like not being sort of shady, or deceptive, or lying. And there’s many shades of dishonesty, like not just saying no when the answer is yes, but like what you omit and what you imply. What did Bill Clinton say?

Robert Glazer
“I did not…”

Pete Mockaitis
“I did not perjure myself. My answers were legally accurate but they were misleading.” I was like, “Okay. Well, you’re right. There’s many flavors of dishonesty here.” So, that’s great. So, in terms of the report card, I’d love it, so how do you, I don’t know, measure or score or quantify for your kind of reporting? Do you do check-ins? How does that work?

Robert Glazer
For reporting on like…?

Pete Mockaitis
Like, you do a report card on your values, like, “Hey, how am I doing this month or quarter?”

Robert Glazer
Oh, yes. So, to me, it’s actually when I say the report card, it’s if I had to look back on a decision, like could I have objectively used that as a decision point? And so, that’s why I kind of try to push people. Again, if I had time, I’d go through with you against the word integrity. I could probably get a little more out of you on that, and you could say, “Did my decision to go on that podcast or not have that personal podcast have integrity?” or probably some other phrase that really nails down what that is for you.

So, the report card is pretty binary, as you said. You’re going to feel really good when you’re doing things in service, and you’re going to feel pretty bad outside. So, if you’re in an environment, if you live in a place that people don’t share the values, if you’re in a relationship, or if you’re in an office environment, that’s a really hard thing to work its way around. But if I have a decision, if I’m looking…my decision to continue with Friday Forward when I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know how it would make money or anything, I sort of scanned across, I’m like, “Is this encouraging people to be healthy? Is it finding a better way in sharing it with them? Is it encouraging self-reliance? Is it about being respectfully authentic? Is it about long term?” Yeah, it’s all of those things. So, I should keep going with that.

And that was a huge inflection point when I said, “Why am I doing this?” Similarly, I think there are some other things you could look in your life and say, “Wow, it’s zero out of five for me. Like, I got to stop that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, how about we just, you know, let’s get into it a little bit, shall we, in terms of integrity and saying, “All right, we can do better than that”?

Robert Glazer
Do better than that? Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it live. See what we can do.

Robert Glazer
All right. So, you gave some descriptions but I always feel like it needs a couple words. So, when you say integrity, integrity is also really tricky because I think there’s cultural implications, and there’s people who have different definitions of what’s integral. So, what is the core aspect of integrity? Can you think of a situation or a story where you’re like saying with Clinton, but a personal one where you’d say, “That one is against my values”?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. I guess I’m thinking about times someone asked me a question, and I knew what they wanted to hear, and I told them a version of things that was sort of shaded than what they wanted to hear, as opposed to the most factual, clear picture of reality, and that felt yucky. I don’t care to do that.

Robert Glazer
So, I often gear people towards because mine is very specific, but the word authenticity has a modifier. It tends to work better than integrity, because I think a lot of people, it’s like mine is respect for authenticity. The core values is a unique blend of, and you can see this in my report card, I’m on five, and you can see some of the things we’ve done. I like being honest with people, I like being direct with them, but also respectful and in a way that is helpful and not like…so a lot of people who are direct, who sort of don’t mind hurting people or leaving them in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
“Robert, you suck! Fix it.”

Robert Glazer
Versus like, “You might not have a career in this. Let me figure out how you can have a career in something else.” So, it’s important for you to be authentic. It sounds like it’s important in your voice. Why, in that case, did you tell the person not what they wanted to hear?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it’s the temptation towards people-pleasing as well as sort of maybe there’s kind of opportunities that I want, and I don’t want to see it disappear.

Robert Glazer
You probably actually will have the rarer thing, and this is very similar with someone on my team that had…you’re going to have core values that are in conflict, and so you need to be clear about hierarchical.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Robert Glazer
So, being authentic, she had something very similar, “Like I like to please and make people feel good, and I like to be authentic.” And I said to her, “So, what happens when… What if telling them the truth means not making them happy in the short term, and she was really clear that if push came to shove, it’s the other one. So, probably similar for you in terms of verbiage but you have one around making people happy or making them feel welcome, or something like that. And, usually, that will tie to something childhood, like direct experience, or something maybe where you weren’t welcome, or your feedback wasn’t welcomed. But then that authentic piece will conflict with that sometimes a little bit too.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. So, let’s maybe completely shift gears in the sense of so we talked about values and purpose, and how that takes some deep reflection and work to arrive at it and get it. What are some of the quick wins, the tips and tactics and practices that can give us a boost to some of the other dimensions of capacity in a jiffy?

Robert Glazer
Yeah, like I said spiritual is one that requires some work. The other ones you can kind of make some quick wins each day. That one is kind of different. And I do think that’s a process you should go through each day. You make a list, you do that. In the book, I explain about how to start the list, building, and look for themes. But a common one in intellectual is just changing your morning routine. Getting up, not turning on the TV, not turning on the news, not turning on the phone, reading, writing, making maybe a list of the top couple of things you wanted to do today, kind of improve your morning so that you improve your day. I think that’s a quick win for a lot of people on intellectual capacity. If they haven’t tried journaling in the morning, or haven’t tried meditation, or just not waking up to the kind of onslaught of everything coming at you.

Physical capacity, similar to what I said before, one of my biggest hacks there, and not that people are joining gyms now, but the best investment you can make is put down 50 bucks on some event four months in the future, whether it is a 5K, a 10K, a London to Paris bike ride, because that’s going to create this future commitment for you that encourages you to do the work the next couple of months. And it’s actually the training and the practice, not the event, that gives you most of the value. And if you’re running or training or going to something that really helps build your resilience and your capacity, you’re going to feel better.

And then really easy one on emotional capacity is this concept called a relationship dashboard. One of the things I’m talking about is the notion of these energy vampires. Like, do you have people in your life, family, business, where you feel worse after spending time with them? You actually feel worse. And make this list. I wouldn’t leave this one on your desk necessarily.

Pete Mockaitis
“What’s this?”

Robert Glazer
I’ve done this with people. So, just five names on each list. Who are the people that you need to spend less time with? This doesn’t mean you need a breakup. This doesn’t mean you need to have a whole thing. It just means like, “I’m doing the thing every four days with this person and I’m fighting. I’m just going to slow down the cadence, remove some energy, kind of pull away from that.” And who are the five people that you feel awesome when you spend more time with, you learn, it’s great, and you just haven’t had that time? And you reallocate that, and you send them an email, and you set up a phone call, or you set up a coffee or beer with them outdoors, and you really just reapply that energy towards the people who are really pulling you up, not dragging you down.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s excellent. And so then, I’d love to get your take then, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Robert Glazer
No, I mean, it’s an ongoing process. I think one of the things about capacity building, and when you sort of read about how I describe it, is I don’t think you ever master it. I think there’s a shift, you get out of whack, you notice. Even COVID, I’ve had a really hard time with physical. Both times that I’ve gone to launch my books about capacity building, I’ve burned out my physical capacity in the name of doing that. So, you don’t win this. I think it’s this constant recalibration just to make sure your ball is gaining momentum and rolling down the right hill for you.

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

Robert Glazer
Yeah, one of my favorite quotes is, and I heard it in a yoga class years ago, and I always gave credit to teacher in yoga class, but then I found out it was actually a pretty famous quote. But it’s, “How we do anything is how we do everything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Whew! Yup, I can sit with that for a while. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Robert Glazer
I’m fascinated with all the research on cognitive dissonance, and I think one of the best books I’ve ever read in terms of real-world applicability is called Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). It’s on cognitive dissonance. And it actually kind of explains I think a lot of what’s going on in society now with our entrenched positions and our sort of defense of the indefensible sometimes, which is that one of the things they show is that when you’re kind of in too deep on a position, you need an out because you don’t want to believe like you’re a fool.

So, cognitive dissonance is our inability to hold these two incongruous ideas at the same time. So, one of the things that she notes in her studies is that when these come out and predict the end of the world, you know they’ve done over time, and all of the followers sort of follow them, and then the world doesn’t end, and they say, “Oh, I got it wrong,” and they pick the next date, everyone doubles down on them.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Robert Glazer
Because it’s psychologically…when you think about it, your choices are, “Oh, they got it wrong and whatever verse is like. Oh, I was a total idiot, and I was duped by this person.” So, it’s really…I actually think that…

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s eye-opening.

Robert Glazer
…everyone should study cognitive dissonance because if you’re dealing with other human beings, and you understand…The other study from that book that I found equally interesting was that when DNA evidence came out, and they went back and let people out of prison who had been wrongfully put in jail for life, the prosecutors who were all retired, who put these people in jail, came out of retirement, doubled down and tried to prove that they were guilty even though there’s evidence exonerating them.

And it’s the same concept because they were saying these two ideas is like, “I’m not a bad person. I wouldn’t have put the wrong person in jail. Therefore, they have to be guilty,” right? That was the only way that they could reconcile that, not that they had made a mistake but that something was wrong with the DNA evidence so they were going to double down and try to prove that they were guilty.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that’s such a wakeup call in terms of like our humility and being able to adapt and change our view, and to be able to say, “I was wrong.”

Robert Glazer
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s that, as a human species, we don’t do that so well. Like, that’s eye-popping, that stat. I thought half-ish of folks would say, “Oops, wrong guru. Boy, is my face red. I guess I’ll go find somebody else.” But, no, you’re saying just about everybody stuck with them.

Robert Glazer
They doubled down. And think about this, think about what we’re seeing now with COVID-19 and globally, there’s some pretty clear playbooks about what works. But how many leaders just want to make up their own thing and say that they didn’t know? It’s kind of fascinating how much reinvention of the wheel there is, and sort of denial of reality, and, “I didn’t know.” And you say, “Look, call Taiwan and ask them how they have 200 cases and 4 deaths in a country of 25 million and their plan.” I just think a lot of leaders have gotten themselves stuck in this rut of wanting to think that they know the better way to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, I think it might’ve been the movie or documentary The Fog of War which talked about like military leaders and just sort of the hard reality that you’ve got to face up to is that over the course of your career, you’re going to make mistakes that get people killed, and that’s the weighty responsibility that’s on you there. And to not sort of sugarcoat it or run from it or justify. Ooh, this is…you’re giving me a lot to chew on already from a quote and a study.

Robert Glazer
That is part of this thing called the Stockdale Paradox from Jim Collins, which is Admiral Stockdale who survived, I think, 10 years in a labor camp and tortured, and he just said he was resolute that he was going to get out, and it was going to be the defining part of his life. But he was always realistic as to that it was going to be bad. And everyone who didn’t make it through was overly optimistic. So, he always talked about the remaining optimistic in the long term but sort of accepting the brutal facts and the reality. Yeah, a lot of people have made mistakes in this, and certainly they should make mistakes in something that’s totally new. But very few have been willing to say, “We made a mistake and we’re switching it,” or, “That was wrong,” or there’s just that dissonance of “I wouldn’t do that.” I think we would understand how people who’d did something they’ve never done anything before would make some mistakes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think we remind them all the more for their courage and humility and honesty. Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Robert Glazer
I do love that book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me). That’s the one I tend to recommend. Also, I like Atlas Shrugged, I’ve read it twice. It’s such an amazing story if you haven’t read Ayn Rand’s book. It’s just great. I know some people don’t agree with her philosophy, but I just think her writing and character development is amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool? You’ve got a book about how to make virtual teams work, so I imagine you’ve seen a lot of tools. So, lay it on us, what are some of your faves?

Robert Glazer
I’ve always loved my OneNote or Evernote, I mean. It’s amazing how much if you organize something, you always go back and find it. But in the virtual world, I actually think some of these video software, asynchronous video, where you can send someone a note, reach out to them. People use it for sales and for marketing, and it’s always very personable. I’ve even used it because the need for communication in virtual environments goes up, and there’s things you need to communicate, and it’s nice to have the context of the meeting, but I don’t need to get everyone on that to listen to a monologue. So, sometimes I’ll just record the pitch I want to give and the note I want to give, and just send it out to everyone to listen at their own answer.

Or, someone wrote me an email a month ago about a really complicated issue. I had been doing more of this asynchronous email. I realized that that email reply was going to take an hour because it was like it had to be delicate. I just turned on the video and I said, “Hey, X, I know this is complicated, but I’ve been thinking about it. I really want us to do this. Here’s why I love it.” And it doesn’t have to be clean in a video. I’m not going to send an email with tons of mistakes or uhms or whatever. So, just that five-minute video, she went back, she’s like, “I got it. We’re on the same page.” And that’s when I started to realize just changing some of the modalities about how we communicate in that environment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, totally. And from a word count perspective, most of us can speak about three-ish times faster than we type. Automated dictation isn’t the best. So, for asynchronous video, I’m loving Loom, my stuff. What is it that you’re using?

Robert Glazer
We use Loom. Vidyard is another one that’s popular.

Pete Mockaitis
Digger?

Robert Glazer
Yes, it’s called Vidyard.

Pete Mockaitis
Vidyard, okay.

Robert Glazer
I think V-I-D-Y-A-R-D. I might have the exact spelling or pronunciation wrong. Sometimes I’ll just pop on Zoom and record.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Robert Glazer
But, yeah, Loom. Our team has used Loom. And you stand out. I mean, think about all the sales pitch emails and the stuff you get today. And I’ve always laughed when someone sends me a video, or it’s interesting, or it’s personable. Look, in a tough time, it is better doing something quality at a lower volume than relying on low quality, high automation. It just doesn’t…

It’s funny, for about two months into COVID, I feel like people laid off their automation and felt a little bad about it. Then they just started like throwing, “I know these are difficult times for you, but are you interested in a blah, blah, blah?” You’re saying about the spirit and the letter of the law, I know you just threw the sentence in there, but you really didn’t seem very authentically like asking me how things are going for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. Very good. And a favorite habit?

Robert Glazer
Favorite habit is I think journaling or morning routine. And even for me the Friday Forward. Anything that can become that keystone habit in your life where you do it really well and improves all of your other habits.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, people kind of highlight a lot in your books, or tweet back to you frequently?

Robert Glazer
No, I think the one thing is they just appreciate, particularly in everything that’s going on, focusing on the aspect of building other people up and trying to help them be better. We just have a massive, and I just get lots of thank you notes, they take the time to do that. When you think about what’s going on in social media these days, it’s like everyone’s tearing each other down. And just think about how much energy that takes versus if you were to go online and actually try to prop someone up for a day, and the vicious circle versus the vicarious circle.

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

Robert Glazer
Yeah, so I’ve got everything all integrated at RobertGlazer.com. You can get and try the Friday Forward there, see the books, join my podcast and some other articles and interesting stuff there.

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

Robert Glazer
Yeah. I like “How do you anything is how you do everything.” I think, really, take the little stuff, the thing you don’t want to do, just do the little things better every day. And one of my favorite stories of Friday Forward is Ann Miura-Ko who’s actually going to come on my launch party, one of the top female venture capitalists in the world. She got a big break like as an intern in an engineering office, her dad was always about doing everything well. Like, I was going to make really good coffee, really good donuts, and she got asked to give a tour, and the guy turned out to be the CEO of HP, and he invited her to come for an internship, and it really like kicked off her whole career.

So, just always reaffirms to me, you have the ability right now in what you’re doing today to do a good job at it, or the ripple effect, or sort of mail it in and then have the ripple effect of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love that so much. It reminds of my mom’s story. She worked at Credit Union, and then she noticed that the CEO of the Credit Union was vacuuming the floors after work, she’s like, “Why not? I vacuum floors.” And so, she volunteered to vacuum the floors. And because she showed that initiative, she was just like above everybody, and, thus, was sort of selected, groomed, to be the successor, and it just shows what that can do when you put in that extra effort and go for excellence there.

Robert Glazer
Absolutely. It’s actually often the little stuff that sort of builds our personal brand, and that we’re definitely living in a world of personal brands these days.

Pete Mockaitis
Robert, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck with Elevate and all your adventures.

Robert Glazer
Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.