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

698: How to Grow Your Career Faster through Reading with Jeff Brown (Host of the Read to Lead Podcast)

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Jeff Brown says: "If you want to achieve success in business and life, then intentional and consistent reading is a must."

Jeff Brown breaks down how to make the most of the one habit that puts you ahead in your career: reading.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to strategically pick out your next read 
  2. How to double (or triple) your reading speed in minutes
  3. Two simple tricks to maximize comprehension

About Jeff

Jeff is an award-winning radio producer and personality, and former nationally-syndicated morning show host. Following a 26-year career in radio, Jeff went boss-free in 2013 and soon after launched the Read to Lead Podcast. It has gone on to become a four-time Best Business Podcast nominee and has featured Jeff’s interviews with today’s best business and non-fiction authors, including actor and author Alan Alda, Stephen M. R. Covey, Seth Godin, John Maxwell, Liz Wiseman, Dr. Henry Cloud, Gary Vaynerchuk, Simon Sinek, Brian Tracy, Nancy Duarte, and over 300 more.

Jeff has personally coached hundreds of successful podcasters around the globe – many of them award nominees and winners themselves – and has consulted on podcasts for the US government, two of the largest churches in the US, and numerous multi-million dollar companies.

Jeff and his work have been featured in Inc., Entrepreneur, and Hubspot, the blogs of Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Jeff Goins, and Social Media Explorer, as well as publications like the Nashville Business Journal, the Tennessean, and hundreds of other blogs and podcasts.

 

Resources Mentioned

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Jeff Brown Interview Transcript

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

Jeff Brown
I am so excited to be here. I have been listening to this podcast for quite some time. I’ve known of it for a while. I’ve even promoted it on my own show a time or two in the last year or two.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. We appreciate that and I’m a fan of you and what you put out there, and I’m excited to hear about how to Read to Lead in a big way. But first, I think, though, we have to hear a little bit about the tale behind you winning a Billy Joel singing sound alike contest.

Jeff Brown
Yeah, I was, as embarrassing as this is to admit, I was in car sales at the time. I spent about 18 months of my adult life selling new and used cars to people. And I remember on my way to work one day, I was listening to the radio station that I wanted to one day work for, I spent 26 years in radio, and they were doing a contest with Billy Joel and Elton John were coming to town. It was that tour of them together. And they were having this sing-alike contest, and I had been singing Billy Joel songs to the top of my lungs in my bedrooms for as long as I can remember, practicing for this very moment.

And so, I called the radio station, I happened to get through, thankfully, and I did “You May Be Right,” I did part of the first verse in the chorus, and they sang along and loved it. And, lo and behold, if I wasn’t chosen as the person who most sounded that day in particular, but just that one day, like Billy Joel. There was also Elton John sound-alike winner, and we got tickets to the show and even joined the radio station that next day and helped give away more tickets. And I dressed like Billy and she dressed like Elton, and we just had a lot of fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. Well, I have to ask, can we have a little demo?

Jeff Brown
Really? Oh, my gosh. I wasn’t ready for that. Let me see.

“Friday night I crashed your party,
Saturday, I said I’m sorry.”

Now, that’s not me really trying to sound like Billy Joel but that’s just Jeff singing, so there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it was a treat. Thank you.

Jeff Brown
I’m sure you loved it. You weren’t really expecting me to do or you just want to do it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I said I’m going to go for it, and if he declines, I’ll edit it out.

Jeff Brown
Oh, that’s the best I could do on such short notice.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it was a treat and we appreciate it. Well, now we’re going to talk about Read to Lead. So, you’ve got a podcast called Read to Lead, and now a book here. And it’s a catchy title and, more than that though, you say that we need to read as if our career depended on it. What do you mean by this?

Jeff Brown
Yeah. Well, I have found this to be the case in my own personal life and every successful person that I talk to, understands the value of practicing this habit. So, for me, up until 2003, I was in my early 30s at that time, and I had never made reading a practice. Reading wasn’t something that I did in my spare time, certainly, but I had a book and an author introduced to me. It was sort of like the stars and planets aligning, when the student is ready, the master appears kind of moment. And that author was Seth Godin, the book was Purple Cow.

And I did not, as embarrassing as this is for me to admit, I just did not know that these kinds of books existed, that if you’ve got a problem, somebody has already solved it, and they’ve probably written about it in a book. And so, that to me was eye-opening. I devoured that book. I went onto Good to Great by Jim Collins, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Pat Lencioni, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman, and on and on and on.

And when I started doing that, I was doing something that 95% of my colleagues were not doing. And so, just by doing that I was already ahead of the pack. But then, as I began to experiment and implement what I was learning, something happened, something interesting happened.

I tried some things that didn’t work, I tried some things that did. The things I tried that didn’t work were quickly forgotten. The things I tried that did work got me noticed, and I began being asked and being given opportunities to do things within the company I was working for at the time. That all came about as a result of reading and then putting into practice what I was learning. That’s the only explanation I can give for why I had opportunities come my way that no one else did.

I don’t attribute it to me being the smartest person in the room because I certainly was not, but I wanted to surround myself with people much smarter than me, and one of the best ways you can do that is with a book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. And that’s kind of my own journey is growing up I just went to the library a lot, and I realized, “Hey, books make you better. Read a book about photography, take better pictures. Read a book about chess, beat my dad at chess.” And it’s just really exciting to see that there’s a book on anything I want to get better at and it’s all right there, and maybe even free such as at a library.

Very cool. So, you and I have had that experience. I’m curious if there’s any studies or research or data that say, “Hey, it’s not just Pete and Jeff. This is a pretty reliable effect that we can bank on. When people do reading, it improves their professional results.”

Jeff Brown
Yeah, there’s probably more studies that I could possibly reference, and we talk about many of them in the book, for sure. But there are studies that show that reading certain kinds of books outweigh reading other kinds of books. For example, reading physical books have been shown to be easier to remember, easier to comprehend, easier to retain than, say, an e-book.

Pete Mockaitis
Really?

Jeff Brown
Yeah. In fact, and this was a study, I think in 2014, it says our brains were not designed for reading but have adapted and created new circuits to understand letters and texts. And they found that readers, and I’m going from memory here so some paraphrasing, but in this particular study, they found that readers of a short mystery on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback form.

And so, for that reason and many others, when people ask me, “Jeff, how do you look at reading? Do you prefer physical, e-books, audiobooks?” I think it depends on your situation in life. There may be a time, you may be at a place right now where all you can do is listen to audiobooks. I say all you can do, that’s not a bad thing.

When I was commuting to a job and I had a little free time, or so I thought, audiobooks were a great way to leverage that commute and those served a purpose for that period of time. Right now, when given a choice, I’d much rather have the physical book in my hand. I like the tactile nature of physical books. I like writing in the book, that sort of thing. So, I think it’s going to depend on your situation and also maybe the kind of book you’re reading.

I think if you’re looking to learn a new skill, a physical book is probably, more often than not, your best option for retaining and comprehension. If I’m going to tackle an autobiography, let’s say, that tends to be, for me, more for entertainment purposes, then I’m more likely to listen to that book being read. So, I think, depending on where you’re at in life, and the kind of book you’re reading, will help you determine which of those formats, I guess, work best for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is some interesting research right there in terms of format. And I guess I’m also curious if we got research associated with results. So, we hear that leaders are readers and that’s catchy. Is that, in fact, empirically validated from some numbers?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, it’s hard to say. I don’t have those numbers in front of me right now but I think it’s safe to say that leaders are definitely readers. But, at the same time, readers aren’t necessarily leaders. That’s a quote from one of our past presidents. I don’t recall at the moment which one. But I don’t think you can be a leader, I don’t think you can be a person that impacts, necessarily, unless you’re recognizing the fact that you always have room to improve, that you need to understand and comprehend the value of being a lifelong learner.

Can you read and not grow? Can you read and choose not to do anything with that information? Yes. I don’t believe that knowledge is power, as the saying goes. I think only knowledge put into action is power. So, there are a lot of people who just read and don’t do anything with the information. That’s not really helping you or anybody else. But if you’re one of those folks who understands the value of being a lifelong learner and actually executing and implementing on what you read, then you’re going to go much, much further.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you mentioned that 95% of folks are not doing the reading. What do you suppose that’s about in terms of are there some key stumbling blocks that show up frequently or folks are unaware that it’s transformational or they just think it’s lame? What’s the holdup?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, I was having a conversation, and I’m not namedropping here, I promise, but I was having a conversation with Seth Godin about the book. I’d reached out to him and asked if he would consider an endorsement for the book, and he gracefully agreed to do that, but not without giving some feedback because that’s what’s one thing that’s so great about Seth is he’s going to give you his opinions and feedback.

And a couple of things he said to me were, “People don’t want to learn.” These were a couple of things that Seth was noting that we hadn’t really addressed yet at this point in the book-writing process. Learning requires admitting that you don’t know something, which we’re taught to avoid. And it is so easier to not learn and simply get back to work. And the other thing he said to me was, “People don’t want to change their minds.” If a book is going to help you get somewhere you can’t get to on your own, that means you’re going to have to change your mind about something. And, again, that’s something that we resist, something that we’re taught to avoid either on purpose or not.

And so, I have learned, and the sort of the way we responded to that feedback, if you want to succeed in anything, you have to grow in your ability to identify excuses or limiting beliefs in your life, you have to own them, you have to take a step outside your comfort zone. You’re not very likely to experience success of any kind, I don’t believe, if you’re not willing to do this.

And so, people who are successful tend to not make excuses and tend to do whatever it takes to go through or over or around or under whatever obstacle they face. And so, here’s the funny thing about stepping outside your comfort zone. Maybe for you that’s reading a book, or reading about something you don’t know a lot about, or reading about something that challenges you. The more often you do it, the easier it gets.

I used to be terrified at public speaking but I recognized at some point that in order to accomplish the goals I’d set out for myself, that’s a skill I was going to need to cultivate. And so, I began reading books about it, and then putting myself in positions to do that more regularly, more often at small situations at first, and worked my way up naturally. The funny thing is the more I did that, the easier it became, through practice and repetition, and the more enjoyable it got. So, I went from dreading doing that to loving doing that.

John Maxwell, who I mentioned earlier, kind of puts it this way. When it comes to not liking to read, or not thinking there’s any value in reading, or deciding you don’t need to read, I think it’s kind of like saying, “I don’t need to think.” When it comes to doing anything we don’t want to do, and something that we understand could make us better, but we’re maybe lazy, for lack of a better word, you’ve got a choice to make.

And this is what Maxwell talks about, and that’s you can choose the pain of self-discipline which comes from doing the hard thing, sacrifice, growth, or you can choose the pain of regret, which comes from taking the easy road and missing opportunities. So, there’s pain either way. There’s pain in the sacrifice and growth now or not sacrificing and growing now, and suffering with the pain of regret later. Which pain do you want? So, I want the pain of growth and sacrifice because that one does not include the pain of regret at a later time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well said. And those resistance pieces associated with not wanting to admit ignorance or change of minds, I’m thinking now about a recent book, Adam Grant’s Think Again, and he shares a story in which he’s chatting with the famed researcher Daniel Kahneman, and he said, “Danny,” I believe Adam called him. Was that like Martin Scorsese, you call him Marty when you’re…? It’s like, “Okay, they’re buds. They’re chums. Danny.”

He said that he enjoyed being wrong because that’s the only way he really knew that he had learned something. He likened it more to a surprised feeling and a pleasant sensation as oppose to a, “Oh, I’m dumb” sensation. And I thought that was very enlightening.

Jeff Brown
That’s very interesting. It kind of reminds me of the first half of my radio career versus the second half of my radio career. And the second half of my radio career, by the way, was spent at the same company. The first half was all over the place. And I was in a lot of small markets and a lot of small radio stations because, at those small markets and small radio stations, I was the big Kahuna, I was the talented guy, I was the honored king, for lack of a better word. I knew my way around more than most and was naturally talented, and liked to stay in places like that because I liked how that felt. But what that meant was I was comfortable; I was in places where I was “the smartest guy in the room.”

Now, in the second half of my career, I lucked into a position where the tables were turned. Suddenly, I was challenged every day, suddenly I was put outside of comfort zone every day, suddenly I was surrounded by people much further down the path than I was, and people that I could learn from, and that stretched me and caused me to grow, and I learned the value of hanging around in rooms where you’re not necessarily the smartest person. That’s where you can do those things like grow and stretch and be all you could be, as they say.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, so I want to dig into the particulars associated with how to read more, better. But, first, I guess I want to hear what’s the process by which you discover and select your next book?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, I think you’ll never go wrong if you begin with topics with people, with subjects, with places, with things that personally interest you. This has been the case for me for the better part of two decades. When I was working a regular job, that was things about my industry and about my particular place in the industry, and skills I wanted to hone.

And when I focused on reading books about those things, I was never bored. More recently, that’s been books centered around mindset, and I continue to read books about public speaking because those are the things I want to get better at, being a better public speaker. More recently, that’s been getting booked and paid to speak because that’s something I want to do more regularly, more successfully.

I’ve read many books on mindset and really understanding the value as Carol Dweck has talked about in abundance mindset versus a scarcity mindset. And I used to be the kind of person that couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that I could someday earn a living on my own, even a better living than I could earn working for someone else. But I had to have that taken away from me enough times, and radios are notorious for that, for me to have a wakeup one day, and go, “Now, hold on a second. How secure is this really when it’s being taken away from me so regularly?”

And so, I read books that helped me come out of that mindset of “I will always do X when I could do Y only if I took the time to read about how to do that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really great. And I guess I’m also thinking sometimes my starting point is like, “Hmm, there’s something I need or want to know, to learn, to understand, to develop, to be better at.” And then I sort of go for it and say, “Well, what’s the book on that?” I search Amazon or whatever. I’m curious, if you’ve got a topic, like let’s just say public speaking, there is a boatload of great books, and I’m thinking Give Your Speech, Change the World which leaps to mind for me from Nick Morgan, a guest on the show. But how do I go about picking from the hundreds of books which one is really worth delving into? And maybe several, but not just one, but how do you make that call?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, I think the first thing you need to do is really narrow your focus. So, even something as specific and narrow-sounding as public speaking can be broken down into so many subtopics. So, I think the key is starting with, “Well, what are those subtopics?” and this can be as simple as going to Amazon and searching through their hierarchy of book categories. And they get really granular the more you dive into it.

But, early on for me, even though I don’t know I would start the process the same way now as far as this particular subtopic, but, for me, early on, I read books on presentation design. I lacked confidence standing in front of a room full of people, and I knew that if I had great-looking slides – again, I wouldn’t do this the same way now – that would take the focus off me and put it on the slides. Plus, knowing that I had great-looking slides gave me more confidence.

So, I started off reading Garr Reynolds’ PresentationZen and Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology so I started with that subtopic. And then later, that led to presentation delivery. I read a book on, later after that, the fear of public speaking and how to deal with the anxiety of it all. And after I read a few books on that, I looked at presentation structure. I’m currently reading a book on how to inject humor into your presentations, called Do You Talk Funny?

And so, that presentation reading journey for me has spanned 15-20 years, and I’ve got dozens of books over my shoulder that tackle all of those different subtopics. I just picked a subtopic that grabbed my curiosity and interest and started with books just on that subtopic. And when I felt like I had mastered that, or really gotten to grasp with that, then I went onto the next public speaking subtopic.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. And then how do you think about, broadly speaking, how one goes about developing the reading habit more? So, folks read not at all or very little, and they think, “Yeah, Jeff is right. I want to do more of that.” How do you recommend folks find that groove?

Jeff Brown
Well, one of the books I read in the last couple of years is Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. There’s also Atomic Habits by James Clear, a very popular book. And I found BJ’s book to be life-altering. And this applies to just about any habit you want to create, and certainly reading is among those.

And so, I would first encourage you to find an anchor habit. Like, what’s something that goes well with reading that you already do every day? And, for me, that might be something, and maybe for you, like drinking coffee. That’s something I do every day. I prepare a cup or two of coffee without having to give it any thought. It’s just ingrained. It’s a habit that I have. Reading and coffee go together quite well.

And so, the recipe, the habit recipe, as Fogg would call it, might be, “When I sit down with my morning cup of coffee, I will…” and this is where you can’t be embarrassed to make it super tiny. That might be, “Open the book and read the first page,” or it might be, “I will open the book and read the first paragraph or the first sentence,” or, “When I sit down with my morning cup of coffee, I will open the book, and that’s it. And then I will celebrate. I will do a Tiger Woods fist pump, or a victory sign, or look in the mirror and just go, ‘Yes.’”

And what I’m doing is I’m programming my brain to think, “Oh, this is something that is good for us so let’s repeat it.” And so, the next morning, you come back and you do that thing again, and it might just be opening the book. Now, over time, you’ll get to a point where you’re like, “Oh, I’m here anyway, so why don’t I just read a little bit.”

Fogg talks about this in the context of having a struggle with flossing. He brushed his teeth like clockwork every day but he couldn’t build that habit of flossing until he decided that, “When I brush my teeth, that’s the habit recipe, I will floss one tooth, and then I will celebrate that.” And over time, again, it became, “Well, I’m here anyway, why don’t I floss two teeth?” So, start there and then beyond that, in other words, break it down, make it as simple as you possibly can, and celebrate however simple that might be, even though it might feel silly, you’re reprogramming your brain.

From there, I would begin scheduling your time to read. One of the first things I say to people who tell me they struggle with finding time to read is I ask them, “Are they scheduling?” And when I say schedule it, I mean just like any other appointment or meeting you might have. Like, this interview we’re doing right now, we scheduled this. It’s protected. Barring some tragedy, we’re going to come together and we’re going to do this.

And I think if you want to read consistently and with intention, you have to give it that level of importance. You have to schedule it. And then when someone asks for time that conflicts with your reading, you have a choice. You can acquiesce and give in to that if that meeting is deemed important enough, or you can look at your schedule and you can tell that person, “You know what, I’ve got an appointment during that time. Can we do it some other time?” And appointment with yourself is no less an appointment in my books. So, protect it to that level.

And that might just be 30 minutes a day, maybe even just 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening, or all at one time if that’s better for you. You need, in that 15 minutes, if you just read five pages, we’re talking, what’s that, three minutes a page. Even I can do that math, so ten pages a day. That’s, over the course of a month of Monday through Fridays is a 200-page book.

Most business books are about 200-250 pages. So, suddenly, you’re scheduling that, you’re reading at that pace, at that relatively slow pace, there’s nothing to sneeze at because that’s a book a month. If you’re not reading much at all, now 12 books a year is a big deal. So, again, start tiny, start small, that might be opening the book, and that’s it, or that might be reading ten pages a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you mentioned speed so I wanted to hear that you’ve got an intriguing bit in your table of contents, and it says, “How I can double or triple my reading speed in minutes.” Jeff, how is it done?

Jeff Brown
Well, there are several techniques, and I’ll admit right out of the gate that my co-author Jesse Wisnewski is the true master when it comes to speedreading but I will say this connected to that since you asked the question. And that is a technique that we talk about called skimming which is directly sort of a cousin of speedreading. And this is something, as a person who reads for my podcast, I host a podcast called Read to Lead, so I’m reading a book a week and interviewing the author on that book.

I had somebody asked me earlier today, who’s like, “Surely, you’ve had times where you’ve read a book, you’ve scheduled an interview, you’ve read a book, and you realized, ‘This is not a book you think is all that great,’ but now you got to do the interview.” And I told them, “No, that doesn’t happen.” “Like, what do you mean that doesn’t happen?” “It’s because, before saying yes to someone and doing an interview, if I had any reservations or I just don’t know them, I don’t know their work, I want to be sure 100%, I will request the book and I will skim it.”

And here’s how that works. I’ll read the table of contents, I’ll think about, “What, in this table of contents, truly interests me?” because in nonfiction, oftentimes, we don’t have to start with chapter one. We might be able to start with chapter five. It’s about that thing we want to know more about or that really draws our interest.

Beyond that, I’ll go to that chapter or chapters and I’ll read just the headings and the subheadings from beginning of the chapter to the end of the chapter. And now I’m starting to get a real sense of, “Okay, what are we getting into here? What are the points they’re trying to make?” And then I’ll go back to the beginning of the chapter, and this might take about 15 minutes, back to the beginning of the chapter, and I read the first sentence and the last sentence of each paragraph, and that’s it.

And you can get about 80% of the meat, the main ideas and key insights from a nonfiction book when you do that. And, again, a single chapter could be done in as little as five minutes to as much as 10 or 15 minutes, and, boom, you’ve got the gist of it. And so, that often works great for me. When I’ve not said yes yet to an author but I want to, and I think I may want to, so I’ll just do that skimming in a few chapters. And if I like what I read, if I like what I’m consuming at that point, then I’ll go ahead and say, “Yes, I’d like to have you on.” Then I’ll go back to the book and actually read it more thoroughly, taking notes, etc., that sort of thing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And so then, 80% for just a few minutes. That’s a huge return. Think about the Pareto, 80/20 rule there. Very cool. And so, any other pro tips when it comes to boosting our comprehension? Because I guess that preview will be great just in terms of another rep for your memory. But any other pro tips in terms of getting more stuck into your brain so really you retain it?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, a couple. One, I’ve been experimenting with for now a couple of years, and it’s done wonders for my retention and my comprehension. And most times, when I talk about this, people are like, “I’ve never thought of that before.”

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing.

Jeff Brown
But once they wrap their head around it, they’re like, “That’s a really good idea.” Most people think it’s a good idea. But with Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Habits, a couple of years ago, this is the first book I tried this with, I had the audiobook but I ordered the physical book.

And I sat down with the physical book, opened the audiobook and put it on one and a half, or 1.75 speed. As Brendon read it, I followed along and it was almost like speedreading cheating because we can comprehend far faster than we can typically read aloud or read the subvocalization that we do in our mind, which is read every word aloud in our heads, which we’re kind of taught to do as kids and we carry into adulthood, which slows down our reading.

And so, speeding up Brendon forced me to follow along at that pace. And the combination of seeing it with my eyes and hearing it with my ears, being able to comprehend at that speed, I got through the book much faster. But that simultaneous audio and reading, or seeing in front of me, just did wonders for my comprehension and retention. So, I don’t do that with every book but I do that with a lot more books than I used to.

One other thing I’ll say, sort of connected to just the whole concept of retaining and increasing comprehension and that sort of thing, is teach the material. I think it works best with physical, e-books versus, say, an audiobook, but teach the material. Look for opportunities to take what you’ve learned, this forces you to synthesize it down into its simplest form, and put it in your own words. If you’re going to teach it to someone else, you need to do that.

And so, whether that’s one-on-one, whether that’s at a meeting at work, whether that’s at a lunch-and-learn, or maybe your local chamber of commerce, put yourself in positions to teach others what you’ve been learning about. Many of the books I was reading early in my career, just because I was doing that thing that most people weren’t doing, reading, got me invitations to teach what I was learning. And so, again, just the act of doing that helped my retention and my comprehension tenfold, I would say.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And so then, on the flipside, what are some things that we should not do? Are there any sort of bad reading habits that we should get rid of?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, I would think, or I would say rather, be very careful with your environment, be particular with your environment. When you read, you’re not going to want to have distractions, your phone. I prefer my phone either not in the room or at least turned over so that the screen is not facing up. I will, sometimes, utilize my phone by connecting it to my noise-cancelling headphones and playing an app like Focus@Will or Idagio, which is a classical music app that allows you to select classical music based upon mood, which is awesome.

But I think it’s important to be in a quiet place, have a reading chair, if at all possible. In other words, a place where you regularly read, and drown out those distractions. One of the worst things for comprehension and retention is distraction, whether that’s a mobile device, whether that’s the door of the room you’re in being opened, or what have you. So, try some of those things, whether that’s closing the door, whether that’s a regular spot, whether that’s noise-cancelling headphones and an app, to counter those things.

But distractions, whether it’s our mobile device, whether it’s an iPad, that’s why I don’t like to read on the Kindle app on a tablet because of the potential for notifications, and the same with my phone. You’re not going to have that with an e-book. But I’ve got other books on that device quietly whispering to me to come read them. And so, again, that’s why I prefer a physical book because it’s just that book. It’s the only thing in my hands right now. I’ve got that and I’ve got something to write with, and that’s all I need. And when I do that, retention and comprehension are easier to come by.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And so, I know that this is probably an impossible question, and one you’ve been asked many times but, nonetheless, I’m going to do it. Share with us, as you think about our audience and what they’re into, and how to be awesome at your job with some universal skills, what do you think are some of the top books that you think really nail it on these fronts?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, a couple that come to mind, and they’re inextricably linked, they’re connected for all time, and the first one is Multipliers, I mentioned this one I think earlier, How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman, actually, a book written with Greg McKeown who would go on to write Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. That book just turned my world upside down as to what I say yes to, what I say no to. And I think, in your job, if you’re anything like most people, you probably say yes to far more things than you wish you did.

And I think it’s important to understand, and I don’t know that Greg talks about this specifically, but what I’ve learned since then in applying what I’ve learned from Greg in Essentialism is that we tend to default to yes when people ask of our time. And if we say no, we feel like we have to defend that no to that other person when no is a complete sentence. And we should, instead, not default to yes but default to no. And if we’re going to say yes, we need to learn how to defend that yes to ourselves. And I think when we do that, we’ll have a much better handle on our time.

Now, as far as Liz’s book is concerned, Multipliers, that book, for me, epitomized what being a true leader is all about. Multiplier-type leaders are leaders who understand how to leverage the collective brain power in the room. I spent a lot of my years in early radio career in command-and-control type leaderships environments. And early on in my leadership career, that’s what I emulated because that’s what I knew.

And so, I was intimidated by a staff member who might know something, more about something than I did, or who might one day want my job. A multiplier-type leader relishes surrounding themselves with people smarter than they are, and they’re not intimidated by that. And I have found that when I’ve worked for multiplier-type leaders, that everybody wins.

When you can equip your team, to shine, and to flourish, and to grow, and to succeed, regardless whether or not you had anything directly to do with that, just creating that environment means you’re going to succeed as the leader. And, again, just leveraging the collective brain power of the room, equipping people to be the best that they can be, and just getting out of the way, just letting them do what they do, and trusting them by default.

One of my former leaders used to say, “You know, I trust you. I hired you to do the job. I’m going to trust you until you give me a reason not to.” And Stephen and Mark Covey talks about this in the Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. I think, as leaders, we need to trust our people. If they’ve given us a reason not to, that’s different. But until they do, trust them.

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

Jeff Brown
I would just say whether you’re someone who is already convinced that reading is a habit you need, and maybe you are already cultivating, or whether you’re someone who’s not yet convinced, if that’s the case, there is something in the book Read to Lead: The Simple Habit That Expands Your Influence and Boosts Your Career for you. And I encourage you to check it out. If you want to download the introduction, the first chapter for free, you can do that at ReadToLeadBook.com.

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

Jeff Brown
Yes, and it would be “We don’t take action because we believe. We believe because we take action.” And then I would punctuate that with “Do first, believe second.” This is something that Seth Godin said to me the first time I had him on my podcast. By well-meaning coaches and parents and teachers, we’re often given the advice “If you just believe in yourself enough, you’ll be able to do anything.” Mind you, that’s not necessarily bad advice, but I think the better advice is don’t worry about that. Let the belief in confidence catch up later. Just do and eventually it will.

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

Jeff Brown
I think my favorite study, and it lit a fire in me, honestly, and I don’t know if I can quote the actual name of the study. But my favorite study was when I read, not long before I started my podcast Read to Lead in 2013, it was a study about how few books people read. Most books read are one book a year, if that. I think the stat was 27% of people didn’t read at all. And I was just like, “I can’t believe that there are that many people in the US,” this was a US study, “that don’t see the value in this.” But then I had to admit, “Well, that used to be me. I used to hate reading. What can I do to change that?” And that was the impetus for starting the podcast.

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

Jeff Brown
I love my new reMarkable paper tablet I got a couple of months ago. So, this does just one or two things very, very well. You can read PDFs on it, you can read epubBooks on it, but it’s mostly a writing tool. And I’ve taken all my notebooks and I’ve gotten rid of all the paper, and all my notes from reading and my daily planning, my planner, is all on my reMarkable 2 tablet, and I absolutely love it.

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

Jeff Brown
It’s just my mantra, my belief, and that is I believe that intentional and consistent reading is key to success in business and in life. Put more bluntly, if you want to achieve true success in business and in life, then intentional and consistent reading is a must in my book.

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

Jeff Brown
Primarily, LeadToReadBook.com. Secondarily, ReadToLeadPodcast.com.

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

Jeff Brown
Yeah, and I hinted at this earlier. Just start. There’s something that you want to do that scares you. Do something, at least one thing, every day that scares you. I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt that first said that. Bronnie Ware in The Five Regrets of the Dying talks about the number one regret of people, being they lived a life that everybody else wanted them to live instead of living a life true to themselves.

And I think that’s the case for a lot of us. We get to the end of our lives with regret not for things we did we wished we hadn’t done, but for things we never tried that we wished we did attempt at. Don’t wait another day. It would’ve been better to start 10 years ago, sure, but you still have the second-best time available to you, and that’s right now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jeff, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of fun and enjoyment and enrichment in all your reading.

Jeff Brown
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it, being here. It was a lot of fun.

660: Finding More Success through More Failures with Jim Harshaw, Jr. (Host of the Success Through Failure Podcast)

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Jim Harshaw Jr. explains how to overcome the fear of failure and use it as fuel to achieve more success.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A mantra to ease the burden of failure 
  2. The simplest way to improve your chances of success
  3. The one common habit of successful people 

About Jim

Jim Harshaw Jr. is an NCAA Division I All American athlete, internationally recognized TEDx speaker, and personal performance coach. He has impacted hundreds of thousands of lives across the world by helping clients and audiences increase resilience, maximize potential, and build high performing teams. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Jim Harshaw Jr. Interview Transcript

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

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Pete, thanks for having me. Good to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to have you here. We’re going to be talking about failure and you’ve got some good failure stories under your belt. I mean that in the nicest way and you probably take it that way.

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, I don’t feel insulted by that anymore. Yeah, I used to.

Pete Mockaitis
You were a Grade-A failure, Jim.

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And we want to hear some stories and some practical perspectives on that because most of us hate failing. It feels really bad. And you have a different point of view. But could you kick us off with your story? Do you have a favorite failure or two and what do you love about them?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, absolutely. So, it’s funny, I was talking to a group of doctors, actually. They’re finishing up their residency and I was brought in to give a talk about a week ago, and I was like, “Man, you’re here because of your success and I’m actually here because of my failure. I hope that doesn’t put you off of this message today.”

And same for the listeners. Everybody who’s listening right now, knowing the profile of the listener of the show, you’re generally a successful person. You’re looking to get to that next level and be awesome at your job, and failure is part of that. Failure is a necessary step on your path and on my path and on every world-class performer’s, it’s the same for them as well.

I get to interview Olympic Gold medalists and CEOs and New York Times’ bestselling authors and astronauts and Navy Seals on my podcast, and they always tell me about these miserable failures that they’ve had, and so we explore that. And while I’m not at that caliber, I will share with you some of my failures. And, really, I want to make sure everybody gets actionable stuff out of this. Like, how do you actually deal with failure and be resilient and use it for your benefit?

So, I was a college wrestler. I got recruited to a great school, the University of Virginia, but I had so much failure, and fear of failure, and self-doubt, and lack of confidence when I got there because I just really never saw a future for myself, for really much of anything, let alone in my sport or academically or professionally. And I got to the University of Virginia, and I looked around and I realized, “Gosh, everybody here has more money than me. Everybody here is smarter than me. Everybody here is better-looking than me,” so it just reinforced all of these feelings of unworthiness, of that next level, whatever that next level would be for me.

And I began my wrestling career and I had set my goal to be an All-American, and in my freshman year I qualified for the national championships, which is kind of the first step, but I failed. My sophomore year, again I qualified for the national championships but, again, I failed. My junior year, pretty much a repeat of the prior two years, I got to the national championships and my season ended with me in the locker room, my face buried in a towel in tears, wondering, like, “Why can’t I do this? Like, what’s wrong with me? Am I not good enough? Am I not smart enough? Am I not capable enough?”

And then I dedicated that entire off season searching for the answer, like, “What is it about me? Why do I keep failing? Like, what’s wrong with me?” And I searched and I searched, and over the summer I went to the Olympic Training Center to pick the brains of some of the best in the world out there. I worked wrestling camps so I could be around other wrestling coaches all summer long and pick their brains. And the next season started and I realized I never found the answer, I never figured out what it is that I need to fix or do better in order to reach my potential so I finally gave up and I let go.

I let go of that goal and I said, “All I can be is all I can be. All I can do is all I can do.” And I ended up having this great successful season. My senior year ended up on the podium at the national championships in front of 15,000 fans in the arena, and I had reached the pinnacle of my sport. I was one of the best in the country at what I did.

And this kind of set me off on this trajectory of success. I was invited to live and train at the Olympic Training Center as an Olympic hopeful. Shortly after that, I got into coaching and I ended up being the youngest division one head wrestling coach in the country. I coached for about a decade, about 12 years, and I got out of coaching and got into business. I started my first business and now was a success, and I’m like, “Man, this is great. I’m on this trajectory, this winning trajectory.” And all these feelings of self-doubt and failure, etc., all that kind of like fell by the wayside and I was like on this trajectory of success in my life.

And, finally, looked up two years later and realized that everything I was trying to build, I was doing the opposite of. I had a failed business, we had debt up to our eyeballs. I had failing relationship with my wife. I wasn’t spending enough time with my kids and I was in the worst physical shape of my life, and I’m like, “This wasn’t the plan. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen to me.”

So, there was this second crucible moment of failure in my life and I, literally, I mean, Pete, I was shutting down that business, I was scrolling like on Craigslist looking for jobs, scrolling past jobs for paper boys and unpaid internships, and thinking like, “You know, I have two degrees from the number-one rated public university in the country, I have all this success in my background. How did I end up here again? Did I not learn the lesson that I was supposed to learn?”

And I closed down my computer. I remember that night specifically. I laid down next to my wife in bed, I’m staring at the ceiling. She’s already asleep. And I’m like staring at the ceiling, thinking, “What was in place of my life when I was able to turn failure into success? What was in place when I was clear on what was next for me, when I knew how to do the things I needed to do, I was able to be consistent and stay focused, and stay on task and on track, and do really hard things for meaningful goals? Like, how do I get that back in my life?”

And I realized there were like four things in place in my life then when I was competing at the highest level and reached that platform of being an All-American, they were not in place of my life at that moment. And I can share those in a minute here, but I went back and I reconstructed this system in my life and it changed everything for me. I tripled my income, healed my relationship with my wife, and started spending more time with my kids, and got physically fit again. Like, it just transformed my life, and that’s what I get to do now.

That’s my mission in the world, is to help people deal with failure, overcome their own self-doubt, have clear and meaningful goals and a plan to achieve them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. Well, yes, let’s do hear about these four principles. First, I’d like to note, so in between your junior and your senior year, you were studying with all kinds of great potential mentors, coaches, and you said there wasn’t any particular bit of learning or technique or thing that you’ve fixed. So, then what was the difference-maker?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, it was this realization. Well, let me share this with you. I’ll use another wrestling reference. So, it’s a woman who’s the first ever Olympian, an Olympic Gold medalist from the United States. Her name is Helen Maroulis. And she talked about how this overwhelming self-doubt that she had, literally, a month before the Olympics and even through the Olympic games. She made it to the finals. Now she’s got to wrestle the best female wrestler in the world from Japan and she had this mantra of saying, “I am enough. I am enough. I am enough.”

And if you go back and you Google it on YouTube, you can see her lips moving when she’s standing in the tunnel next to her opponent and she’s saying this mantra, “I am enough.” And I realized that this is what I had learned. It was literally the night before the opening event, opening competition of my senior season, I was literally sitting in the hotel room on the edge of the bed, going, “Wait a second. I never figured out the secret. I never figured out the thing that I’m missing.”

And I said, “Well, I give up. All I can do is all I can do. I can follow the plan. I can make sure I go to bed on time, put the right food in my stomach, in my mouth, eat healthy, rehab my injury, show up for practice early, stay late, watch film. I can do all those things and everything else, I can’t control winning and losing. I can control the process. Otherwise, I’m enough. And if I become an All-American, awesome. If I don’t, I can put my head on the pillow at night knowing that I did everything I possibly could that was in my power to achieve that dream.”

And so, at that night I, literally, I gave up on the goal, I gave up on the dream, and just said, “I am enough.” And I went out the next day and I competed, knowing that I’m enough, and it’s not about winning or losing, it’s not about the fear of failure any longer. It’s about showing up as my best self and putting everything I can out there, being fully 100% me, and allowing that to be okay and to be enough, and taking my ego out of it. And it became so much fun.

I mean, wrestling is not a fun sport. It’s pain and suffering and that’s when you win. And I had so much fun that season because this burden of failure I was able to set down. And for the listeners, you have that burden of failure whether it’s at work and you’re trying to look good for your boss, you’re trying to get that promotion or trying to get that raise. It’s not about that. You start with the end in mind, that goal, then you work backwards and go, “Okay, what’s the process? As long as I follow that process, I will have control what I can control because there are other things that are outside of my control that I can’t influence, and for those things I’ll let them go and know that I’m doing everything I possibly can.”

And that allows you to fully show up as yourself, as your authentic genuine self. And guess what? The world needs more of that. The world needs you.

And that’s what I realized and that was this moment where I made this mental shift which freed me up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s huge. And so then, when you say, “I am enough,” I guess let’s unpack what specifically we mean by that. I guess I’m interpreting, from all the context, that means, and this is a lot more words, so “I am enough” is a better succinct mantra to use here but it’s sort of this “My intrinsic worth, value, dignity is in no way contingent upon a particular success or outcome. I have no attachment to any of those things. And I am okay and at peace with simply being and doing how I do.”

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Amen. You said it. Can I write that down and then cite that back?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Hey, send me a recording.

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Can we hit pause on the recording and I’ll say that instead of you?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
That’s it. But that’s it. So, I interviewed a world champion on the podcast one time, and he said his breakthrough came for him mentally when he realized that failure was an option. People talk about failure is not an option. Yeah, it is an option and it’s okay if you fail. Like, you actually can’t control success or failure. You control the process that puts you in the best position to be successful.

And so, if you can let go of that failure and fear of failure, and know that everybody fails, like I said on my podcast, I interview these world-class performers and they’ve all failed. Like, failing is actually part of their DNA, it’s part of their story, it’s why they’re good at what they do. They’re not good despite those failures. They’re good because of those failures.

John Wooden, he’s a legendary basketball, he said, “You can’t give 110%.”

People talk about 110%. Like, you can’t give 110%. You can only give 100% and that means if you go out and you give 110%, that just means that other times you were giving something less than 100%. That’s what that means. The first time I heard that, I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, that didn’t really resonate with me.” But the more I thought about that, the more I realize, like, all you can do is all you can do, and that’s okay.

You can’t show up and try to be somebody you’re not in something that you’re not. If you’re making a sales proposal or interviewing for a job, you can control the studying that you’re doing and the test and the sample interview questions that you practice and rehearse. You can control all that but, when the day of the interview comes, let all that go. Let all of it go because fear and anxiety decrease performance. I don’t care if it’s in sales, I don’t care if it’s in public speaking, or in sports, or in anything else, but fear and anxiety decrease performance, so let it go. It’s not going to help you. Don’t carry it with you. Let it go and understand that failure is an option.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s beautiful. Well, I want to talk about the four principles. But, first, you quote Tom, the CEO of IBM, who says, “If you want to…” well, you do it better. What did he say and how do you think about it?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
He said, “If you want to double your success rate, double your failure rate.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
And that’s the crux of all of this, is you have to be willing to fail and to be okay with it. There was a fantastic study out of Northwestern business school, at Kellogg School of Management, and they studied failures who became successes in three different areas. So, it was grants to the National Institutes of Health, they studied investor-backed startups, and they wanted to find something a little bit off topic to really study this and have a breadth of examples, and they studied terrorism attacks.

And what they discovered was all of the successes, if you can call terrorism attacks successful, all of the successes started as failures. All the winners started as losers, but not all the losers became winners. So, what was the difference between the losers and the winners, the failures and the successes, the failures who went to success, or the failures who just kept on failing?

Well, the difference was how soon they tried again. And the ones who succeeded tried again sooner. So, they’re learning, they’re taking what they learned, they’re being resilient, they’re getting up, they’re dusting themselves off, and they’re trying again, and that leads to success.

I interviewed Tim Ferriss on my podcast and he said, “Just because you fail doesn’t inherently mean you’re going to be successful. It’s the learning that comes from failure and then applying that learning to your next iteration, to your next attempt, is what leads you from failure to success.” So, for the listener, when you’re saying, “I applied for all these jobs and I didn’t get them,” or, “I failed at this presentation I tried to make,” or, “this raise I tried to get,” or, “this promotion I tried to get,” like, try again. Learn from that failure and try again.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have any pro tips or tactics for maximizing the learning and maximizing your emotional ability to get up quickly?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Now, in the podcast, I’m interviewing these amazing people, and on the podcast especially, I started asking them, “If there’s one thing, one habit, one thing that you do that you most credit for your success, like what is that thing? What’s the secret? What’s the one thing for you?” And it’s so fascinating, Pete, for the New York Times’ bestselling author, it’s never the writing. For the Olympic God medalist, it’s never the training. It’s never the thing that you think it’s going to be.

The actual thing that they say is they’ll say things like, “I journal every day,” or, “I meditate,” or, “I work with a coach,” or, “I plan my day in advance,” or, “I spend half an hour at the end of the week reviewing my week prior and planning my week ahead,” or, “I take a retreat once a year with my spouse and myself and we look back on the year behind, and we look forward to the year ahead, and we create plans and goals and action plans, etc.”

And I put this all under one umbrella and I’ve coined this term productive pause. And if there’s such a thing as a secret to success it’s a productive pause. And the productive pause is this, this is the definition. It’s a short period of focused reflection around specific questions that leads to clarity of action and peace of mind. Like, who doesn’t want that? Clarity of action and peace of mind.

So, this is like in the military they call it an after-action report. When I look back at my career as a wrestler, and if I could pick one hour that was the most valuable one hour spent the entire season, it was not in the weight room, it was not in the practice room, it was not watching film. It was sitting on the couch in my coach’s office setting my goals, setting my goals for the year, setting the goal and creating the plan to achieve that goal. That’s the most important, most valuable one hour, and this is a productive pause.

When you hit the pause button, for example, after a failure and you say, “Okay, what went right? Well, I did this and this and this and this. This went right. All these things went right. Okay, what went wrong? Well, this and this and this went wrong. What would I do again? What would I do next time if I could do it again differently? What would I tell myself if I could back to prior to that failure? What would I tell myself?”

If you simply ask yourself those three questions, “What went well? What didn’t go well? What would I do differently?” those three productive pause questions will bring you tremendous insights, and now you can get back up sooner and try again.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, I love it. Well, so that might be one of your four things, but I want to make sure we hit these four principles. What are they?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, so there’s sort of four pieces to this framework. And number one, it’s this. When I was competing, I knew what I valued. Like, I probably couldn’t have stated as core values like I can today, but I knew what I value. Like, I wanted to be tough, I wanted to live my life a disciplined life, I wanted to be respected, I wanted to go on to success after the sport. Like, these are all the things that I value just because this is what my mentors and my coaches, this is how they lived their lives and these are the things that they did. I’m like, “Man, that’s who I want to be.”

And so, number one is get very clear on your core values. Number two is this, when I was competing, I had goals that aligned with my values, not goals that aligned with my mom and dad’s values, or my teammates’ values, or anybody else’s. Like, these were the things that I valued. And in the real world, what happens is people set their goals based upon what’s parked in their neighbor’s driveway. They set their goals based upon what they see on social media or what the mass media is forcing down our throats and telling us that we should want. You have to set your goals and align it with what you value because failure doesn’t change what you value. Like, if you fail at something, it doesn’t change what’s important to you so you become more resilient when you have aligned goals.

And in my program, not to get into the weeds too far, but we set goals in every area of our lives: relationships, self, health, and wealth. And relationships, pretty self-explanatory. Self is sort of three subcategories: growth, impact, fun. Health is health and wellbeing. Health and wellness is going to be physical health, mental health, spiritual health. And then, the last one, wealth is wealth/work/career goals. Those are the four areas and so we set goals in all of these areas. Goals that are aligned. They’re tethered to the values.

And so, those are the first two steps. The third is this. Like, when I was competing, I had a coach who kicked me in the rear end if I needed it or picked me up and dusted me off when I needed that. I had teammates with similar goals, we’re like-minded people pursuing similar goals. I was accountable to them; they were accountable to me. I had nutritionists and sports psychologists and strength and conditioning coaches, on and on. I had the support system in this environment, and I call it the environment of excellence.

In this environment of excellence, it’s not just people. It’s actually four things. So, there are four things under the umbrella of the environment of excellence, which is the third step. And these four things are this: M-A-P-S. Just like you need a map to get from point A to point B, you need to know your maps to get from where you’re at to where you want to go in your life.

So, M stands for media. Like, what’s the media that I’m allowing into my life? Like, when I was competing, I didn’t watch much television, but when I did, I was watching the national championships or breaking down film of myself or my opponents. I used to fall asleep with a mindset audio in my ears with my Walkman, if you remember those Walkmans, back in the day. I used to listen to these mindset audios. And so, the same now.

So, for the listener, you’re doing the right thing, you’re listening to How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast. This is the kind of stuff you need to be bringing into your life and then blocking out things like the news. There’s a minimum effective dose of it but are you consuming it constantly, or social media? So, the first one is media.

A is for area, like your physical space around you. When I was competing, I had a poster on the wall with my hero, this Olympic champion. I had my goals written down in front of me. I had a training journal. I had healthy food and snacks. Like, I had an optimized physical space. Right now, I’m talking to you, Pete, I’m standing at my standing desk. Like, this is part of my environment of excellence. So, that’s A for area.

P is for people, we already talked about that, who are the people you’re surrounding yourself with. And then S, and this is really, really important, S if for speech. That’s your self-talk and your out-loud talk. There’s a great quote that says, “If our mind is a super computer, our self-talk is the program that’s running it.” Like, what are you saying to yourself? Like, are you saying, “I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not capable enough because of that failure”? Or are you saying, “I’m smarter, wiser, and stronger because of that failure”?

Those two stories are there, they’re going to take you down different paths. So, that’s the environment of excellence. And then let me give you the last and fourth and final sort of phase or module in these four steps to this framework, it’s this. It’s nice to have core values, like really clear core values and aligned goals in this environment of excellence but if you stop there, what happens when you show up at work the next day and the boss puts a big project on your plate, or you get sick, or the car breaks down, or a global pandemic happens? You can’t put your goals up on a shelf. You have to have the fourth and final piece in place, and that’s a plan for following through.

Like, if I lost a wrestling match on Saturday, coaches are like, “Hey, Jim, I’ll see you tomorrow morning at the team lift 8:00 a.m. Be there.” It’s like, “Oh, man.” Like, this is a plan for following through even when I didn’t feel like it. And you have to have that system, that structure, that framework in place to make sure you follow through, you come back and you check in on your goals, you have a monthly goal check-in, you write those, I call them micro goals, like these smaller goals that are part of the larger goal, you write those down.

Every single month, actually, I’ve got mine right here in front of me, they’re here, these are my micro goals, and I write them on the back of my business card, and I keep these in my wallet. So, these are the type of things you have to do to ensure follow through. So, those are the four steps or four phases: core values, aligned goals, environment of excellence, follow through.

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

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Well, it’s this. It’s nice to sit here and talk about failure in like, “Oh, yeah, you can learn from failure and it’s valuable and it’ll help you grow, etc.” Like, failure sucks. Failure hurts. It’s not something you’re seeking. You’re not trying to go out and fail but you’re just becoming understanding of it, you’re becoming aware that this is a normal thing for very high-performing people, for the best people in the world, it is a normal thing.

And understand, like, “Yes, it’s going to be painful.” I know it’s painful. I know. I’ve cried the tears both when I was in college and as a grown man of the pain and suffering that comes from failure. You are enough. Get up and try again. Build this framework into your life and keep going.

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

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, the quote that I’ve always lived by was “There’s two pains in life: “The pain of discipline and the pain of regret.” The pain of discipline, do it now; or the pain of regret, “I wish I had done that thing.” So, that’s a quote that’s just always stuck with me.

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

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Most recently it’s been that one that I just shared with the study that came out of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. It’s just fascinating to understand that winners were losers, and winners were the ones who got up faster when they were a loser. So, get up and try again.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
How to Win Friends & Influence People. This is such a game-changer and I’m probably not the first person to recommend this, but this is such an important book on human relationships and how to deal with people. You mentioned favorite study, and another one of my favorite studies is the grant study out of Harvard which is the longest longitudinal study on human happiness ever.

And what they’ve come to realize, proven, is that happiness comes from connection and relationships. And this book will help you strengthen your relationships and just be more emotionally intelligent. It’s like the original book from an influencer, Dale Carnegie, written back in the 1940s, I think it was. So, How to Win Friends & Influence People.

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

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
For me, it is The Five-Minute Journal. The Five-Minute Journal is a productive pause. There are three questions in the morning, two in the evening. In the morning, it asks you, “What are you grateful for?” And then three things you’re grateful for, and, “How will you make today great?” Three things and then an affirmation.

And then in the evening, it asks you, “What are three amazing things that happened today?” And then the last one is, “What could you have done to make today even better?” And when you ask those simple five questions, super short productive pause, takes than less combined five minutes, it helps you be grateful, it helps you reflect on your day as opposed to just kind of moving onto the next thing. It’s about mindfulness and bringing you into the moment.

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

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, it’s, “We all need someone in our lives who holds us to a higher standard than we believe that we can attain.” There’s a lot of fear of hiring somebody like me who’s a coach, and people think like, “Oh, I should be able to do this on my own.” Well, no, you shouldn’t. Yeah, certainly, you’re listening to this podcast, you’re successful at some level, but there’s another gear inside of you. And whether it’s me or somebody else, like find somebody else who can hold you to a higher standard than you believe that you can attain because that will push you, that will drive you, that will help bring the best out of you.

We see this, again, going back to athletics as sort of the public example. I love watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. You look at all these Olympians down there, they all have one thing in common. They’re doing different sports, they’re from different countries, but they all have one thing in common. They’re the best in the world at what they do and they all have a coach. And so, what about you?

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

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
JimHarshawJr.com. You can find everything there. You can sign up for a free one-time coaching call with me. It’s just JimHarshawJr.com/apply. My podcast is on all your favorite podcast platforms, so it’s called Success Through Failure. And if you just go to any social media outlet, just search for Jim Harshaw, you’ll find me.

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

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
I challenge you to hit the pause button. Take a productive pause, whether it’s using The Five-Minute Journal, whether it’s reflecting on your day, reflecting on your most recent failure, setting goals and creating a plan to achieve them. Hit the pause button in the next 24 hours and evaluate where you’re at and where you want to go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jim, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success and even fun in your future failures.

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Thank you, Pete. It was great to be on here.

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:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

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.

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.

634: How to Get Ahead in Your Career by Developing Your Professional Value with Don Miller

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Don Miller says: "The only way you make money is you make somebody else more money."

Don Miller shares how to advance your career even without the need for a fancy title or degree.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The critical skills an MBA doesn’t teach you 
  2. The harsh truth every professional must accept to succeed 
  3. How to craft a compelling business case 

About Don

Donald Miller is the CEO of Business Made Simple (BusinessMadeSimple.com), an online platform that teaches business professionals everything they need to know to grow a business and enhance their personal value on the open market. He is the host of the Business Made Simple Podcast and is the author of several books including the bestseller Building a StoryBrand. He lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Elizabeth. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Don Miller Interview Transcript

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

Don Miller
I’m so glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am excited to talk about your latest work Business Made Simple. And one of your theses is that we don’t so much need a college degree or a bachelor’s or MBA for career success, and that’s actually your own story personally. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Don Miller
Yeah, perhaps I have a chip on my shoulder but I grew up really poor and mom wasn’t home till about 7:00 p.m. and so I just learned bad habits and didn’t pay much attention in school. So, it wasn’t until, gosh, I think I was 25 or 26 that I even discovered that I wanted a career. I sort of felt sorry for myself with my friends off to college, and thought, “Well, I have to go back to college and figure this out.”

But a guy happened to give me a job in the warehouse of a publishing company, and I was just going to wait a year and then go to school because I had moved state and was going to get residency. Within four years, I was president of the publishing company and just discovered that I had a knack for business like some people do. And it happened to be a publishing company and so I was interacting with authors, and so I just thought I want to write my own book. And wrote a book, and that book ended up being on the New York Times’ bestseller’s list for about a year.

So, I left the publishing company and started just being a memoirist for a long time. And then about the time they wanted me to write my 8th memoir, I realized that if you write your 8th memoir, you’re a clinical narcissist. And so, I just wanted to be a regular narcissist, not a clinical narcissist so I switched gears and actually wrote a business book, because in order to be an author, I had to start my own little private enterprise, and I had ran a publishing company so I wrote a book about storytelling and how to clarify your business’ story. And that book ended up selling half a million copies.

And, suddenly, I had 30 employees and we scaled this business to, we’ll do about 20 million this year. We did that about five years. And I realized that the whole time, and I think your listeners will really understand this, the whole time I was scaling the business, it was just chaos. It was just organized chaos. And the more people I met who had business degrees and the more people I hired who had business degrees, none of them knew how to fix it.

And what I realized now is that from zero to 10 million, it’s basically chaos anyway. You have to just sort of lead and guide the chaos. So, I wrote Business Made Simple as almost the blue-collar version, almost the trade school version of business school. Where in a business school, you’d go and you’d read a whitepaper on trade with China, you’d study a Volkswagen ad from 1973 and how to reach suburban housewives five decades ago, and none of that, none of it, you use when you actually get a job in the business world.

In fact, business degrees, I’m convinced, really just get you an interview and to the bottom rung of the ladder. At least they get you on the ladder, which is great. But then you have to figure out how to climb the ladder. And what we found was the hidden staircase. We found that there was a certain order of skills that you had to develop as your company got bigger.

And I turned around and started explaining those to people in short five-minute videos. A 100,000 people signed up for those videos, and realized, “You know what, if I took a year and really organized this well, it could be better than a business degree.”

And so, the book now, it comes out January 19th and it’s called Business Made Simple. It’s 60 daily entries. You pour a cup of coffee, you read the daily entry, and then you get a video that day in your email box. And it will literally teach you how to negotiate a contract, how to sell, how to give a speech, how to manage a group of people, how to run an execution framework. It’ll teach you how to clarify a message, how to create a marketing sales funnel, how to create mission statement and guiding principles.

My favorite is the first 10 entries, are just the character of a value-driven professional, what characteristics do people have who tend to climb the corporate ladder very, very quickly and make a lot of money. So, I love this book. It’s the book that I wish I had when I was 22 years old, right when I realized I should’ve gotten to college like my friends. And now I hand it out to college grads, saying, “Here’s what you should’ve learned when you paid all that money for school.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Boy, there’s so much I want to dig into. So, the hidden staircase is a particular set of skills. Is that fair?

Don Miller
It is, yeah. I think it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Like Liam Neeson.

Don Miller
That’s right. Less deadly. Less people are dead at the end of it. More people have more money at the end of it. But, yeah, I really think it is. And it’s actually amazing to me that in MBA programs, they’re not teaching this. They’re not teaching mission statement and guiding principles. So, how do you actually align a team? How do you get a team to say, “We’re going to align around a mission here”? They don’t teach you to clarify a message unless you go to Vanderbilt University because they actually teach my framework in the Vanderbilt MBA program on how to clarify a message.

I teach an execution framework. Every company that passes about maybe $3 million, they need an execution framework. You need a series of meetings that you have at the same time on the same day, sometimes every day, sometimes once a week, and sometimes once a month, with a worksheet that you fill out and usually stand for these meetings. And at the end of that meeting, usually in the morning, everybody has complete clarity about what their five priorities are for the day, and they are kept accountable to meet those priorities.

And then, in the fourth quarter, you assess how you did, and your compensation package is actually tied to that. You install that execution framework that I talk about in this book into your company, and some companies will double in productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. And so then, it’s just a matter of doing it and ensuring then that the right things are getting executed and the focus remains where it needs to go, eh?

Don Miller
That’s where it is. I really think that the majority of succeeding in business is focus and intensity. Focusing on the right things, letting go of things that you don’t need to focus on. And then intensity, intentionally blocking out the hours to get those things done. But it’s easier said than done. You literally have to have your entire team on the same page aligned around a mission. It sounds easy but most people can’t get it done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, to that end, I’d love it if maybe you could share an inspiring story of someone who dug in and learned the stuff and saw some cool results from it.

Don Miller
Well, the most inspiring story is just our team and what we’ve done. I’ve got PhDs on my team. I’ve got people without a degree. I never ask in the interview whether you have a degree. I ask really one question, “How can you make us money? What problems can you solve? If I bring you on this team, how would you make us money?”

And you should see the looks on, especially the college grads’ faces or whatever. They’ve never been asked the question, and yet the whole point of me hiring you is to give you a paycheck that is an investment that you would give me a return on.

The very first entry in the book is about, it starts the 10 characteristics of what I call a value-driven professional. And the first characteristic is this: they see themselves as an economic product on the open market. And, Pete, that sounds probably really coarse and really harsh.

Pete Mockaitis
Dehumanizing.

Don Miller
Dehumanizing, yeah. And I would agree with that, it is dehumanizing. But in the reality, God doesn’t see you as somebody with an economic price tag on your head, your spouse doesn’t see you that way, your kids don’t see you that way, I don’t see you that way. Donald Miller doesn’t see you that way. The market, 100%, absolutely sees you that way. It’s just a fact.

If your skillset involves being able to cut up a potato, put it into a metal basket and dip it into oil for three minutes and pull it up, if that’s what you’re capable of doing, you’ve got a $15 an hour number above your head. That’s what you are worth, and that’s a terrible thing to say except when you realize that that same person is in control of what that number is.

So, if they say, “Okay. Well, I know how to deep-fry some potatoes. I’m going to learn how to unify a team around a mission statement and guiding principles so that we’re all aligned. And then I’m also going to learn a business strategy, how to keep cashflow strong, how to keep overhead light, how to keep products profitable, how to get your marketing engine going, your sales engine going, and how to look at cashflow so that we don’t run out of it. And I’m going to master that.”

You, all of a sudden, have gone from 15, to 25, to 45. And if you can do what I just said, at the end of that year, you’re capable of being a CEO with a little bit of practice, so now you’re at $150 an hour. You’re actually in control of that. So, it’s only an offensive statement to say you’re an economic product on the open market if you don’t have control of the number. And what’s amazing is most people don’t realize they have control of the number.

So, when you actually realize that, you start learning the skillsets that allow you to be a good investment. Well, how do people actually get rich? Well, the way people get rich is they’re a great investment. Our company has gone to about $20 million. We did that in five years. No venture capital, no private equity, no bank loans. We’ve gone to $20 million. How did we do that? We did that by making other people $200 million. That’s the only way you make money is you make somebody else more money.

Or, you solve somebody’s problem, or you increase the amount of time that they have. You decrease their frustration. You increase their status. Whatever it is somebody is paying you for, if you just promise yourself, “If somebody gives me 100 bucks an hour, I’m going to make them a thousand bucks an hour.” If you have that mentality, you will be wealthy.

One time an acquaintance, came up to me after a speaking he gave me, he said, “You know, you and I live in the same town. Why don’t you fly home with me?” And I said, “Well, what flight are you on?” And he said, “Well, no, I have an airplane.” The next morning, I get on this $50 million jet with this guy, and I’m asking what he does. He’s a hedge fund manager and blah, blah, blah, and I said, “Well, this is the life, man. I can’t imagine ever living like this.”

And then he said something about, “I was flying one of my clients around and they kind of like this drink and we didn’t have that drink on the plane so we had to stop and get some,” or whatever. He was just telling a story. And I realized, “Oh, he actually has this 50-million private jet because people pay him and he makes them even more money. So, now there’s a guy with some jumbo jet who’s the king of Dubai, or whatever, who actually has even more money.” And you start realizing, “That’s the key.” The key is to be a great investment so you’re giving people a strong return.

And so, when I wrote this book, what I wanted was you start at whatever you’re at, some of you listening are worth $30 an hour, some of you are worth $50 an hour, some of you are worth $12 an hour, you read the first one and you become worth about $5 more. And you read the second one and you become worth about $5 more. You read the third one you become worth about $5 more if you execute it and actually practice these skills in your professional career.

And what I wanted was you start this book being worth $15 an hour, you end it worth being $150 an hour if you actually execute the skills that you learn in the book. I wanted to make people worth more money. But the first thing you got to do, if you want to do that, is admit you’re actually an economic product. If people see themselves that way, they tend to make a ton of money on the open market.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s zoom into a few of these particular skills. Let’s say our audience are professionals. If we want to get quantitative, I mean, incomes vary wildly, but let’s just call it 75 grand a year, and maybe a few years out of their bachelor’s, so just to paint a picture, maybe half have direct reports and half do not. I know it’s a wide audience. But zero in a little bit for us in terms of what is a skill that professionals generally need and is highly valued, and what can we do to get better at it right now?

Don Miller
Well, one of the things you need to do, if you have a boss, let’s just talk to the folks who have a boss, what you want to do is you go to your boss with an idea, and you say, “I want to do this.” What you really need to do is go to your boss with a business case. And my team members know this. Don’t come to me without a business case.

And so, instead of coming to me, and saying, “Don, we really want to launch a new podcast.” Well, they would come to me and say, “Don, we want to launch a new podcast. It’s going to hit this demographic. On that podcast, we’re going to focus on these three products and only these three products. If people buy these three products, we’ll have their email address and we’ll upsell them to these other two products. If the podcast does what our last podcast did, we would anticipate that 2% of the people listening to the podcast would buy these three entry-level items and 5% of those would buy the upsells. So, we’re talking about 6.2 million. We think that that’s going to cost about a million dollars to produce so we should see a profit of about 5.2 million pre-overhead.”

You start talking like that to your boss and they’re going to promote you because almost nobody talks that way. They just go, “I think this is a good idea. Let’s throw spaghetti at the wall and see if it turns into art.” And people who understand business get a little bit tired of that. And so, that’s the sort of thing that this book teaches you to do.

If I just flip open this book and just put my finger down, so I just did it, put my finger down, there’s five pages, this is number 3 on negotiation. Here’s a skill that if you don’t have a boss, or if you do have a boss, it doesn’t matter, almost nobody has taken a course on how to negotiate a contract or negotiate a deal.

So, let me just give you one thing. The page that I turned to is that you need to understand that there’s always something “below the line.” So, you’re negotiating, it’s a package deal, there’s this bestselling author that you want to speak at your conference, they’re $50,000 to take the stage, there is something that that author wants more than money. And if you actually do a little due diligence, you’ll figure it out.

For instance, I’ve done this. I’ve told a bestselling author that I couldn’t afford to bring to one of my conferences, I said, “Look, I’ve written a lot of bestselling books. Would you want to spend about four hours together, just talking about whatever your next book is about? We can maybe outline some chapters of it or we can talk about a marketing plan. I can’t afford to pay you the $125,000 that you are to take the stage, but I would be able to give you four hours, and I think it’d be worth your time.” The person did it for $25,000.

It even gets more fun than that. My buddy runs a poetry week in San Diego, California at Point Loma University. He wanted Billy Collins to come. Now, Billy Collins is my favorite poet. I’m that geeky that I actually have a favorite poet. He’s really funny and he’s brilliant but he’s probably a hundred grand to come speak. He is like a rock star in the poetry world. He was the poet laureate. He’s a professor at NYU. He doesn’t do very many speaking engagements.

So, my buddy started Googling around on the internet because he’s not going to be able to pay $125,000 to have Billy Collins come. He found that Billy Collins is an avid golfer. So, he goes over at Torrey Pines, he can’t get on at Torrey Pines, it’s very hard, and he says, “I want to get Billy Collins to come speak at my thing. How much would it cost for me to get a round of golf to Billy Collins?” “This guy sounds like a rock star. We’d give it to him for free.” He said, “Great.” So, he calls Billy Collins, he said, “Look, I’ll give you $40,000 and a round at Torrey Pines.” And he comes and he does it, and they raised a ton of money.

There’s almost always something below the line in a negotiation. We think we’re having a financial negotiation but we’re human beings. There’s something that people want and value even more than money. And if you can find it, you can negotiate really, really great contracts. So, you go back and you tell your boss you did that, you’re going to get another promotion and another raise. When it’s time to get a raise, they’re going to give you the biggest possible raise. And why? Because you are such a good investment that, “When we give you a paycheck, we get so much more in return.”

We all do this. If you buy stocks, you buy more stocks that are making you more money, and you divest of stocks that are losing you money. And in the open market, people are like stocks. They don’t want to be but they are. And the real pros, not the amateurs, but the pros, they really like that. They actually want to be an investment because they know how to get you a return.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Thank you. Well, now, I want to hear a lot of things but let’s go with this. Now, what you’re putting forward here totally makes sense to me as a business owner, and I’m thinking about there’s an unfortunate reality in many workplaces that meritocracy, for whatever reasons, is broken or limited or slow, such that let’s say I’ve got a boss and then they do a performance review, and they say, “Wow, Pete, you are just so amazing. This initiative saved us all this money. This other product launch was so successful and profitable. You are just crushing it.” I say, “Well, thank you very much, boss. I appreciate that.” And they say, “And here is your 4% raise for your great performance this year.”

And so, I’m thinking, “Well, as compared to the value I gave you last year, it is miles beyond 4% more,” and then maybe you have the conversation, like, “Hey, it seems like I’m doing these things and I’m making this impact, it would seem appropriate to increase the compensation.” They go, “Oh, you know, Pete, you’re making some sense here, bud, but, unfortunately, with COVID or,” insert excuse, “there’s a hiring freeze or a budget freeze or a pay increase freeze.” So, there’s some kind of a policy something that’s getting in the way of the beauty of value created and compensation for that value created to flow as it should.

How do we deal with that?

Don Miller
Well, that’s a tough thing but when you have the skills to make people money, there’s just one thing you need to do. You need to actually make a business case for yourself. So, you’re not going in and asking for a raise or begging for a raise. If you’re doing that, the person that you’re talking to, the company that you work for, has the leverage. And so, what you really want is you don’t want to compete for the job. You want them to compete for you. And so, if they’re going to keep you and keep making this money, they’re going to have to give you more money.

And if they don’t, if you really are that good, everybody here is an economic product on the open market so you take your skills elsewhere and you charge what you think that you are worth. We have reviews at the end of every year and people get a bonus based on their performance. There are some performers that they’re great, we love them, we give them the most percent, that will be a 5% raise plus they get a bonus based on whether or not we hit our goals as a company. And that’s it.

There are other performers though, for instance my marketing director, we called my marketing director in four months before the end of the year, and said, “Look, we want to give you a 20% raise right now, and at the end of the year we’re going to give you your bonus which is a percentage of your salary as though you would have that 20% all year long.” And he was baffled, he loved it, and he said, “Don, thanks.” Two of my team members called me and said the same. They said, “Thank. This is so generous.”

And I said, “Listen, I hope I’m a generous guy but I want you to understand something. You are so good at making this company money, I have to compete to keep you. I know that some people can come in and get you, and I want you to know that. I want you to know you’re a rock star and if I pay you more, maybe you won’t leave.”

Now, there’s always somebody, some billionaire, who’s going to come in and say, “I’ll pay you some obscene amount of money because I don’t care about the money.” I can’t compete with that person but I can compete in other ways. You like your job, you get great time off, nobody here works really after 5:00 unless they want to. It’s a great environment so I compete in other ways besides money too.

But that’s where you want to get your boss. And let’s say your boss isn’t like that. Well, now you’ve got a resume. You’re going to write your resume completely differently, and the resume is going to be, “If you invest in me, here’s the ways that I can make you money.” And not every company needs the ways that you can make them money, but you’re going to find the ones that you can.

Andrew Grove, who ran Intel for so many years, says that, “Don’t be confused. Every single human being is a company. And you sell your services to other companies in exchange for pay.” Now, I got to tell you also this. We’ve had plenty of these conversations where somebody comes in and they say that to us, they say, “I think I’m worth this. I’ve made the company this much money.”

And in turn we say, “We think you’re worth a 5% raise. We don’t think you’re worth, as an economic investment, you’re two years out of college, you don’t know how to do this, you don’t know how to do that, we’re training you, you’re becoming more valuable but I think you have an inflated idea of the economic value you’re actually worth. If you stay here for two or three more years, I think you’ll learn a lot more. You’ll have more value on the open market.”

We had one person once who got pretty huffy about that and they were pretty upset about it, and they said, “Well, I disagree with you and we’re going to have to have further conversation.” Great. In the next conversation, we said, “Listen, we’re not letting you go, you have two months, we you to find another job. We’re not kidding. We actually think that if we’re going to pay you what you want to be paid, we can get somebody better with more experience on the open market.”

And that person said, “Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. I want to keep my job. I really like it here.” And we said, “Listen, if you come back and you turned in a two weeks’ notice, we’re going to be ticked. If you want to stay here for a couple more years, we will train you, you will get some experience that will make you worth more on the open market.” And that’s what this person decided to do and that is, indeed, what actually happened.

So, you’re going to have disagreements. Almost every employee thinks they’re worth more than their company does, and almost every company is paying somebody more than what they think the person is worth. They think they’re being generous. That tension always exists. But here’s how I want you to see yourself. Always see yourself as an NBA player and negotiating a salary to stay on the basketball team. And you also need to learn what it is that actually makes the basketball team money.

I love the example of JJ Watt, he’s a football player, of course, for the Houston Texas. This is a losing team. They won four games this year. JJ Watt is paid $100 million to play football. And when you watch him, he has negotiated, so during the game they play a certain song and he dances during the game before the snap on this one particular play. Well, why did he negotiate that? Because it gets the crowd riled up and they start chanting JJ Watt, it puts butts in seats, it sells JJ Watt jerseys, it makes the football team money. So, not only is he great as a defensive player, by the way, he’s a defensive player making $100 million.

He figured out how he can make the football team money. He also negotiated that nobody on the sidelines can wear a red baseball cap except for him. So, when he comes off the field, he takes his helmet off, he puts a red baseball cap on. You know why he does that?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then people can pick him out, like, “Oh, that’s him. That’s JJ.”

Don Miller
Exactly it, so the camera can find him. He has figured it out. Now HEB is a grocery store in the Houston, Texas area that paid him another $100 million to be their spokesperson. So, he’s saying, “Buy your eggs at HEB.” Now, what’s he doing? He figured out how to make Houston Texas money, and he figured out how to make a grocery store money, and he’s worth $200 million. That is called a value-driven professional.

Now, if the team doesn’t want to keep him, he can go to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and say, “Look, this is how much money I make at Houston Texas in jersey sales, when I show up on NFL commercials, when I agree to do at least one interview after the game. This is how much money. It’s not just about football.”

And so, as a value-driven professional, if you’re on the marketing team, you’re going to say, “Listen, I built a sales funnel that it looks like it made $4 million that didn’t exist before I got here. I also do a segment on the company’s podcast that goes on every other episode. The leads from that has turned into another $4 million, so that’s $8 million. You guys paid me $45,000 last year. I made you $8 million in value. I think I’m an $85,000 a year person. But before you say no, let me give you three more ideas that I want to implement that I think will make you another $4 million.” That’s how you negotiate.

Don’t come in and say, “Look, I show up on time, I don’t smell bad, I comb my hair, I make sure I pull my old lunch out of the fridge so it doesn’t rot. I think you owe me 5%.” Nobody is interested in that conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, let’s shift gears a smidge away from…so we had that core economic value delivery principle there. You said that your first several installments, videos and pieces of the book, are all about character. Lay it on us.

Don Miller
Well, I kind of wondered, I read these books about character and it’s talked about things like integrity, it talks about things like work ethic. Not that I don’t think that stuff isn’t important. Integrity is incredibly important. But, in my opinion, integrity is a core value of being a human being not of just being a professional. We have places for people who don’t have integrity. We call them prison.

So, you can’t work here unless you have integrity. You can’t work here unless you tell the truth. So, I started thinking, “Hey, what are the ways that real value-driven professionals, people like JJ Watt, what are the ways that they see themselves?” And, amazingly, I got to meet Barack Obama when I was on a White House taskforce. I got to spend time with Michelle Obama, I got to spend time with members of the judiciary, lawmakers, NFL coaches, professional athletes, professional musicians at the highest level. And I was looking for, “What do these people have in common?”

And the 10 core characteristics are very interesting. The first we’ve talked about at length, and that is they really do see themselves as an economic product on the open market. The second is that they see themselves as heroes not victims, so they identify as the hero in the story not the victim in the story, and that’s really critical. At no point will any of these people start feeling sorry for themselves. Heroes don’t feel sorry for themselves. They may not like their challenges but they take their challenges on. And those challenges transform the hero into a better version of themselves.

Victims suck a lot of the energy out of the room. And there are actual real victims in the world. I don’t mean to victim-shame anybody but most of us see ourselves as victims when we’re in fact not. My friend Henry Cloud defines victims as somebody who has no way out. And most of the time in my life where I’ve seen myself as a victim, I actually had plenty of ways out. I was just too discouraged to actually take them. So, we have to make that transformation from victim mindset to a hero mindset.

The third is they know how to deescalate drama. Drama in the workplace costs people a lot of money. And the reason it cost people a lot of money is because it sucks all the energy into the dramatic employee, and it’s that energy they can’t use to make a product or serve a customer. So, people who know how to deescalate drama, they’re actually worth a lot more.

Another one is that they accept feedback as a gift. We just interviewed Mathew McConaughey the other day. He loves criticism. He loves it because it makes him a better actor. Number five is they know the right way to engage conflict. The more you rise as a leader, the more conflict you have to deal with. In fact, the more power you actually have in a company, the more time you spend only dealing with problems. And so, if you understand how to engage conflict and resolve conflict and the ways to do that, you are going to rise because people hire you to solve problems. And the more problems you can solve, the more money they pay you, and the more promotions you get.

Another one, day six, this was on tough for me because I felt it a lot. It was they long to be trusted and respected more than they want to be liked. And leaders who want to be liked, or people and companies who want to be liked, they compromise, they don’t tell the truth. But people who want to be trusted and respected, they tell the truth, they set very clear expectations, and they give people encouragement when they hit those expectations. A lot of people don’t like their coach but they trust and respect that coach to make them a better player. And, in my opinion, that’s an even stronger bond.

Day seven is they have a bias toward action. I’m just going to say it really bluntly, I’ve met a lot of really dumb people who are not very intelligent who are billionaires. And the difference is they take action when other people are still thinking about it. So, a bias towards action is a fantastic competitive advantage.

Day eight is they do not choose to be confused. And this is something my business coach taught me years ago. I was thinking about a problem employee, and I was going over my problems with him and how I wanted to deal with it. And my coach said to me, he said, “Don, you are choosing to be confused.” I said, “What do you mean choosing to be confused?” He said, “Step outside yourself and look at the situation and clearly articulate what you need to do.” And, immediately, I said, “I need to fire him.” He said, “Don, you knew it the whole time. You were choosing to be confused because there’s something you don’t want to do. It’s obvious what you need to do. Stop choosing to be confused.” Isn’t that fantastic?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’m going to sit with that. Thank you.

Don Miller
I’ll tell you what, I choose to be very confused about whether a cup of ice cream is good before dinner. I mean, before breakfast. I mean, before going to bed. I choose to be confused about that all the time. The truth is it’s not, right?

So, day nine is be relentlessly optimistic. People who are relentlessly optimistic, they tend to try harder things and not give up when the challenge is greater than they expected. So, optimism actually means you fail more than the average person because you try harder things, but you get so delusional about the fact that you can do it that you keep trying and trying and trying, and you accomplish more than people who don’t try.

Day ten is from Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford. And she says to us to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. And that is believe that you are a human being, always changing, transforming and getting better rather than somebody who is fixed. So, never say anything like, “I’m bad at math.” Really, the way you want to word that is, “I’ve not chosen to study math enough to get very good at it. But, of course, I’m capable of being good at math. I just haven’t chosen to study math.” That’s a fixed mindset, “I’m bad at math,” versus a growth mindset that says, “I’m perfectly capable of being great at math. I just haven’t chosen to study that very much.”

When somebody sees themselves through the growth lens, they tend to escalate in their skillsets much, much quicker than those who feel stuck like they were born bad at math. And she wrote a whole book on that, and it’s fascinating. It’s a fascinating study. In fact, I brought in a teacher for an entire day for my company just to teach everybody in the company a growth mindset. And we’d constantly say, “We don’t know how to do this but let’s all have a growth mindset.” And it’s led to an enormous success for us.

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

Don Miller
There was a guy, well, two guys, who delivered a bed to our house today. And they were in their early 20s, one of them had served in the military. As we talked to each other and I was helping with the bed, and we started telling each other stories and those kinds of things.

I said, “Hey, before you leave, can I just give you a copy of this book Business Made Simple?” And I said, “Listen, I don’t know your story about college, but I didn’t go to college. What I discovered though was a way of making money and being a value-driven professional that allowed me to go around the college system. And I wrote it all down in this book. In 60 days, you can be, whether you went to college or not, so much more valuable than almost anybody around you if you just understand and apply these principles.”

And they looked at me, and said, “Dude, this is amazing because we’ve just been approached by somebody who wants us to start a business with them by buying a warehouse and we would be delivery people and so on and so on.” I said, “That’s a great opportunity. Read this book. Take that opportunity. But let me tell you something. Learn that for about three or four years and then go buy your own warehouse because you need to own the business. That’s the key. And this book will teach you how to run that business, run your friend’s business, and run your own business someday.”

And I almost got choked up with tears in my eyes walking away because that was me. My first job was Popeyes Fried Chicken, my second job was delivering Chinese food, my third job was Kmart, my fourth job was Radio Shack. This is talking about somebody without a degree. And then somebody gave me a shot at a publishing company and I end up running that company and starting my own company.

If somebody would’ve handed me at Popeyes Fried Chicken, this book, I think it might’ve ignited my entrepreneurial imagination and maybe saved me about 15 years of running around not advancing in my career. It really is the hidden staircase. We’re all trying to climb the ladder but there’s a hidden staircase, and I think I’ve written it down in this book.

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

Don Miller
It’s from Victor Frankl. Are you familiar with Victor Frankl?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Don Miller
He saved my life many years ago. About 12 years ago, I read Man’s Search for Meaning, and he saved my life. I’ve been working on a new project that won’t be out till later this year called “Hero on a Mission,” and my brain is stuck in that right now.

But what I love about Viktor Frankl is, and Sigmund Freud at the time Frankl was alive, was going around saying, “The dominant desire of men is to pursue pleasure.” And about the same time, Alfred Adler was going around, more or less interpreting Nietzsche, saying, “The dominant pursuit of men is the pursuit of power.” And Viktor Frankl came along and said, “In my opinion, you’re both wrong. I think the dominant pursuit of men is the pursuit of meaning. Women and men want to experience a deep sense of meaning. And when they can’t find meaning, they numb themselves with power and pleasure.” And I just thought, “That explains our culture.” We don’t have meaning and so we eat ice cream and watch Netflix and entertain ourselves and distract ourselves with social media because we don’t have meaning.

But what I love about Viktor Frankl is he actually gave us a prescription to experience meaning, and it’s existential. You don’t find it in a philosophy book. In fact, he says you can’t find meaning in a book. What you can find is a recipe that if you enact that recipe, that formula, it will give you meaning. And the first was find a product or a project that you can build, something that demands action, that takes your time. Find a community of people who care about you or also spend time in nature. In other words, become involved in something outside yourself, that attracts you and brings you out of yourself and into a reality that you’re not the only person on the planet.

And then the third was find a redemptive perspective for your suffering. And what he meant by that is no matter what sort of painful thing you go through, find something in that pain that’s actually benefiting you. So, maybe it’s humbling you, or maybe it’s making you more empathetic, or maybe it’s building muscle, emotional muscle or physical muscle, whatever it is. And if you do those three things, you’ll experience a deep sense of meaning.

And, lo and behold, about 12 years ago I read that book and started applying what he called logotherapy, a therapy of meaning to my life, and, truly, I have not woken up a single day without experiencing a deep sense of meaning. I’ve woken up really sad, I’ve woken up really tired, I’ve woken up really angry or frustrated, but never ever without a deep sense of meaning. And I am so grateful for his book. It’s been the most eye-opening helpful discovery in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Don Miller
I actually created my own day planner, and you can get it for free. It’s at HeroOnAMission.com. And I fill up this planner every day and it helps me organize my mind and my time. It’s actually a reflective meditative exercise. I fill it every morning. And that has been the key to my productivity.

Another thing that I found unbelievably helpful was studying story and story structure. My favorite book on story structure, now it’s a 600-page book, typeface smaller than your Bible, is Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots. But, really, when you study story, you’re studying life, you’re studying what matters in life, and you’re asking yourself all sorts of questions about what kind of story, not what I want to write but what I want to actually live. And with Viktor Frankl, the study and the understanding of story structure has been a fantastic tool that helped me experience more meaning.

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

Don Miller
If you go to BusinessMadeSimple.com, you can read all about what we’re up to. And if you’re interested, go on Amazon and buy Business Made Simple. We’re not sure what they’re charging for it now but it should be about 20 bucks. You get the 60 videos, but if you forward your receipt from Amazon to this address, book@businessmadesimple.com, I’ll send you a free mini course that I created called Zero to Ten. And it’s five videos on how I took my company from zero to 10 million. It’s not as hard as you might think it is to do that but it’s really, really messy. And so, I hope you kind of make your way through the mess in that course. So, you just forward your receipt to book@businessmadesimple.com you get that free mini course.

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

Don Miller
There are four characters in a story normally. Four kinds of characters: hero, victim, villain, and guide. The hero wants something and overcomes challenges; the victim is helpless and exists in the story only to make the hero look good and the villain look bad, the victim doesn’t play any other part in the story; the villain is seeking vengeance; and the guide is the wise sage helping the hero win.

Now, here’s the challenge. Every day, those four characters exist in story because those four characters exist in you, and all four exist at the exact same time. On any given day, you can catch me playing the hero, the victim, the villain, or the guide. I am convinced that the more we identify as the hero or the guide, the better our life goes. And the more we identify as the victim or villain, the worse our life goes. So, if you want to control how your story ends up, spend more time being the hero, more time being the guide, less time being the victim, and less time being the villain, and things are going to go okay. So, the challenge is notice which character you are playing from hour to hour throughout the day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Don, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in business that you’re making simple, and life, and keep on rocking.

Don Miller
Well, thanks so much for the time. It really is an honor.