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523: How to Create Lasting Behavioral Change with Dr. Kyra Bobinet

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Dr. Kyra Bobinet says: "Mindlessness is the new mindfulness."

Dr. Kyra Bobinet explains how to close the gap between intention and behavior to form better, lasting habits.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Powerful behaviors that build life-changing habits
  2. Just how long it takes to form a habit
  3. Quick ways to ease stress and anxiety at work

About Kyra:

When it comes to health engagement, Dr. Bobinet has 5 words of advice: be caring, authentic, and useful. As the CEO-founder of engagedIN, Kyra devotes her life to helping people crack the code of how, what, and especially, WHY we engage.

Kyra has founded several healthcare start-ups, spanning behavior health, population health, and mobile health. She has designed behavior change programs, big data algorithms, billion dollar products, mobile health apps, and evidence-based studies in mind-body and metabolic medicine. All of her designs, whether for at-risk teens or seniors, are rooted in the belief that true caring is our greatest value.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dr. Kyra Bobinet Interview Transcript

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

Kyra Bobinet
Absolutely. So much fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom because you’ve spent a lot of time studying something that I’ve wondered a lot for quite a while, and, apparently, it’s called the brain behavior gap. Can you first tell us what is that?

Kyra Bobinet
Yes, sir. So, everybody will recognize it as, “I know what I should do but I don’t always do it.” And that’s the difference between what you know what you should do, your brain, and what you actually do, which is your behavior. And it’s kind of this fun, humorous aspect of being a human that we all face this issue in trying to get ourselves to do things that we don’t end up doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I have wrestled with this question ever since I remember in high school marching band, and toward the end of the summer, we had what we called band camp, which the movie American Pie has ruined the idea of band camp for people. But, anyway, we’d spend just about eight plus hours a day, Monday through Friday, for a couple of weeks just working on the marching and the playing, and I thought, “Man, we made a huge amount of progress in terms of putting that show together,” and I think, “Boy, what can I accomplish if I could just hunker down and work that much solo on something?” And I still don’t I’ve cracked the code on how to actually do that.

Kyra Bobinet
Oh, dear, yeah. It’s such an interesting thing to listen to people’s stories of trying to sequester themselves there. It’s almost like a runaway dog running away, your puppy, it’s like, “Come back, come back,” so it’s really crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so tell us, what makes it difficult and what should be done?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah. So, the reason why this happens is we have, basically, two gears you can think of it in our brain. One is our fast brain I like to call it. It equates to Daniel Kahneman’s work on System 1 thinking. All the autopilot, all of the mindlessness, all of the stuff that happens by habit and without thought, that’s kind of fast brain. Think of tying your shoes, brushing your teeth, yadda, yadda. And then there’s this slow brain which is the sort of ideals, the problem-solving, the hard kind of mechanics, and decision-making, and willpower, and all that juicy stuff, but that’s in short supply. So, if you were to take a ratio, the fast brain is like 95% of what we do, and the slow brain is about 5% of what we do.

And so, oftentimes, the slow brain gets its ass kicked by the fast brain, and we’re just doing the normal distraction things or the things that feel good right now, the immediate gratification, and the slow brain just doesn’t have a chance. So, everything that we deal with as behavior designers, and that I’ve learned to do with behavior change, is to work with those two gears and get them to align.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, I guess I’d love to hear maybe a story associated with someone who had something they knew they should do but weren’t doing it, and then they enacted some approaches to see some cool results there.

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, absolutely. The general principle that people can take away is make the good stuff faster and make the bad stuff slower. So, one of the amazing stories came out of Google where they had an M&M problem, and they offer a lot of free food, and there’s even jokes here in Silicon Valley about the Facebook 15, or the Google 15, almost like in college when you gain 15 pounds because you have so much free food and just endless trough of food.

So, they were having this problem with M&Ms, and they decided that they had to create some barriers, some friction, if you will. And so, they took them from eye-level bowls that were open with a big scooper, and they put them in jars, closed them up, and put them down by your knee caps. You had to kind of squat down, which a lot of people weren’t willing to do, and then monkey open the jar, and get in there, and then they had like a little tiny scooper.

And so, that’s one example of kind of putting friction in between you and the autopilot that will probably not serve you. So, whether that is the snooze alarm, some people have a real problem with hitting snooze. And so, how do you create that friction for yourself to not hit snooze? Do you move the phone away, your alarm with your phone on it, away from you further? Those kinds of things. And people, once they understand how this works, they get really creative. It’s just amazing to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that on so many levels. When you said M&M problem, I was thinking of the rapper, I thought, “Are they playing Eminem too loudly? Oh, no, no, the chocolatey treats that are high-calorie. I can see it.”

Kyra Bobinet
He’s brilliant. He’s absolutely brilliant.

Pete Mockaitis
No, I think that’s quite brilliant in terms of making them hard to access. And I’ve done that before in terms of if I’ve got a six pack of delicious beer and I want to drink it more slowly, I just try to really put it deep in the back of the fridge so I have to be pretty motivated and committed to kneel down and reach through and make it happen. And, sure enough, it makes the six pack last more days.

Kyra Bobinet
Exactly. Out of sight, out of mind.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s great and very well-articulated to make the good stuff faster and the bad stuff slower. So, that’s reshaping the environment. And I’d love it if you could give us a few more examples of some smart moves that have helped people out.

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, absolutely. There’s this concept called The Ulysses Contract, and this is from a colleague of mine, David Eagleman, who’s a neuroscientist at Stanford. And he actually talks about this with respect to getting yourself to do the thing. The Ulysses story is very famous in The Odyssey, where he, basically, is on a ship and he really wants to hear the siren sound so he has his sailors lash him to the mast of the ship so that he doesn’t jump overboard which is what the sirens make you do, and then he stuffs all of the men, the sailors, with wax in their ears, or cotton, I can’t remember, and so they can’t hear the siren sounds. They’re navigating the ship and he’s able to enjoy the music without that.

So, what Dr. Eagleman talks about is, “How can you put yourself in a situation where you absolutely have to do the thing?” So, oftentimes, when people purchase something, a cruise or a trip maybe that makes them take vacation because they’re really bad at taking vacations or taking time off. Daddy-daughter dates, even date nights with your spouse, those kinds of things are kind of these Ulysses contracts. They’re things that, once you commit to them, you put so much into it that you have a disincentive to bail out, in that way you kind of prevent your future self from making the wrong choice.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking if we zoom into workplaces and professionals, how have you seen some additional approaches play out in that particular context? So, we’re at work, we want to do more of the good stuff, less the bad stuff. What have you seen work out well for folks?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, absolutely. So, all of us have had this what we’ll call phantom invites that we put on our calendar, right? I call that behavior fantasy, where you have a standing promise to yourself in the future and you just shoot right through it. It’s just so many times you break up with that promise with yourself so that it doesn’t actually even get your attention anymore. All of us have that, whether we put workouts there, or go to sleep early, or only work on the report until here, or even start, like procrastinators like myself, starting something is the hardest thing to get yourself to do.

So, you’re kind of wrangling yourself into that. There’s a number of different strategies, so you can actually create social accountability, which is kind of a consequence. If I tell somebody to hold me accountable, I set a deadline for that person then there’s a social element, and our brains are extremely social so we will, most times than not, get that done or get close to that deadline that we set for another person because we’re obligating ourselves, again, in the future in that kind of Ulysses contract way.

Another thing that people do is create a reward system for themselves. So, that could be an emotional reward, that could be giving themselves a treat of some kind. Hopefully, it’s not going to work against your health in any way. But if there’s something you’ve been really wanting to do, a freedom, a delight, just a little celebration that you want to send that signal of dopamine and even oxytocin, which is another reward chemical, to your brain by really making it a point to celebrate and create a reward system at the end, much like you would train an animal.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, please, share some examples of great rewards and celebrations. And we had BJ Fogg on the show earlier who had some great perspectives on this, and I think it warrants some elaboration. So, we want to be careful that it doesn’t sort of work against other goals, like, “Oh, it’s going to be a delicious Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup,” or something, I don’t know, with high calories. But what are some great rewards and celebrations you’ve seen really work for some folks?

Kyra Bobinet
Yes. So, the best ones are in context, meaning that they’re related to the actual effort itself. So, if you are trying to get something out on a deadline, then to basically build in a lazy day for yourself the next day. And in most cases, and in most workspaces, you can kind of take it back a notch for a little while and go for a long walk, or take a little extra time, or even do something different on your break if you have a really rigid break system timing-wise.

So, those kinds of things where you feel like you’re free, and you’re in control, and you’re the boss of yourself, and you’re not really tying yourself to the dutifulness which so much of us do at work, as being dutiful to others or to your team, and, really, just doing something nice for yourself. And I think it’s the hardest thing in the world for people to do to really have a moment of selfishness that really helps to signal to themselves, “Hey, I’m here for you and I’m taking care of you.”

And that, really, I find in all the people that I interview in research, they really stop rebelling against themselves when they have those little treats that they give themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Well, so we talked a bit about behavior change and shaping the environment. Let’s talk about, specifically, habit formation. You talked a bit about the celebration-rewards piece. Could you maybe orient us to the overall science behind habit formation?

Kyra Bobinet
Yes. So, this is super fascinating. I started out in workplace stress reduction in one of the programs that I created. I created a mindfulness program that was kind of the first in class when I was at Aetna and has since kind of been taken up by Headspace and Calm and some of these apps. So, those are all really great and I’m still a proponent of mindfulness. But I find that unless I can make something as mindless as tying your shoe, it’s not going to survive your modern life.

So, we have a new model we need to really follow of behavior change, which is habit formation, vis-à-vis unstoppability, being unstoppable, being the ability to just keep going and going and going. And one of the things I found in my research on habit science is that there’s a new area of our brain that’s been characterized called the habenula, and that’s a mouthful. But it’s, basically, in charge of two things. One, it is a detector of you thinking you failed. So, if you think you failed, I could throw you in an FMRI machine and this part of your brain will light up, right?

So, the second thing that it does, if it lights up, if it gets turned on like that, is it kills your motivation to try again. And this, to me, was shocking and kind of the reason why you see people do really, really well in terms of changing their behaviors, they set goals, they track them, they do all these things, and then, one day, including this happened to myself, including one day you just stop doing it. And I had patients like this, and I would say, “So, what happened?” And they would literally blink and look at me blankly and say, “I have no idea.” They don’t know how they go there because it happened subconsciously so the person doesn’t even consciously know that they lost their motivation. They just don’t do it.

And so, one of the things with habit formation is that if you practice, and if you practice and practice, you’ll find something that you can get to go. You can close that brain behavior gap, get yourself to practice, and practice, and practice. And as the brain responds to that repetition, what it does is it creates almost like a highway. It lays down the asphalt so that you can drive even faster. So, that behavior goes faster and faster and faster, and it becomes part of your fast brain, that autopilot mindlessness area that we talked about at the beginning. So, that, to me, was just amazing and shocking, and so it completely changed the paradigm of how to change a behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I think there are all sorts of implications there, the habenula, you’re thinking you failed so it kills your motivation to try again. I guess I’m imagining then, one implication may be that you want to maybe reduce the size of the thing you’re trying to habituate so that you don’t fail, you keep on winning again and again and again, and building that highway. Is that accurate?

Kyra Bobinet
You know, that’s the safest thing, and I know BJ, who’s one of my mentors, is really into making it small. I do think that you can really get a higher percentage of shots on goal if you start with small. But I’ve seen people start out with something big if it works for them. To me, the thing I’m drawing from the science these days is what matters most is if you find the thing that turns you on, and that works for you, that fits into your life, no matter how big or small it is, usually it is small especially with somebody who’s a little shaky in their confidence in that particular area, which is what BJ is really good at. It’s just like getting that wheel to turn in people, and simplifying it, and making it tiny. He calls his program Tiny Habits even.

So, I do believe that that’s a really good kindergarten place for everybody to start safely, but I also noticed in my own research that the more important thing that we found is something called the iterative mindset, that we’re calling the iterative mindset, because we found people who changed their habits, big habits, big lifestyle habits against all odds, but they did it by finding their experiment, by looking at it as an experiment, and then iterating or tweaking and tinkering with it until it worked for them. So, maybe you can kind of see that as a small change too.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, and while we’re talking about laying the highway, I guess maybe I’ve seen all kinds of different ranges quoted in different places. But how long does it take to form a habit? Is it 28 days? Is it 66 days? Does it depend, and what does it depend on? Can you lay it down for us?

Kyra Bobinet
Well, Pete, I just so happen to be nerdy enough to know the answer to that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please.

Kyra Bobinet
Actually, you know, about four years ago, I asked myself that same question, and I had my neuroscience team really, really scrub the scientific literature and put together a model based on the evidence that was there. So, actually, it takes one full year to fully, what’s called myelinate, which is that pavement in the brain that makes it superfast, electrical signal can go way faster, for a new habit to form, and that’s with fairly, daily, if not multiple times a week, repetition of that habit.

And so, what happens when you have a highway after about a year is that you’ve got now two copies of the same behavior. You have the old copy of, in my case, I used to go through the drive-thru all the time as just an easy way to get a meal, and as I broke that habit, my competing habit, my adult one-year old habit, was to cook at home for my kids. And once you have that cook-at-home thing, you can still go through the drive-thru, you still have that old highway. And most people don’t understand it. It’s not that they’re not patient about building the new highway, it’s that they make the mistake thinking the old highway is in disrepair.

Pete Mockaitis
So, a full year. Interesting. And so then, I imagine that’s like a full-blown highway and myelination is there. Kind of intermediate step before that or how do you think about that?

Kyra Bobinet
Right, there’s hope. There’s hope, Pete. Yeah, so what we know from the science is that around eight to ten weeks there is this kind of automation that starts to kick in, so it starts to feel easier and easier, more automatic. And then over the time that you do it, you’re basically sending so many signals to your brain of, “Hey, this is my new normal,” that your brain makes it feel more comfortable.

So, over the course of that year, you’re going to get more and more comfortable, it’s going to become more and more you as opposed to not you, and it’s going to get more and more automated, you can  use less and less brain energy to make it happen. So, that’s where the mindlessness really kicks in. To me, we should all be looking at mindlessness as the goal.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s fun. It’s a fun when you think about that mindlessness, which almost sounds like a bad thing to be avoided. And, today, mindfulness is everything. Obviously, mindlessness is the thing to pursue but it makes sense in this context, and I appreciate that. So, very cool. Well, so then, I guess there’s many, many habits one might choose to build. I’ve heard some cool research or thoughts on keystone habits, you know, habits that can sort of unlock a whole lot of great results. Tell us, when it comes to a well-designed life, what are some of the habits that tend to really do have some powerful ripple effects?

Kyra Bobinet
You know, the more I do this, and we’ve been building a software around this, and what we’re finding is that it is literally a matchmaking exercise between that person at that time in their life based on everything they’ve tried before, or they’re burnt out on, and what they’re open to, and what can kind of reengage them, and then what excites them, what fits their life, what fits their schedule. It is almost like that old adage where you’ve got a floating circle in the ocean, and an ocean turtle, a sea turtle, just happens to pop up their head right in the middle of that circle. That’s kind of how bullseye it has to be.

And so, I think that right now what we’re facing is, “How do we sift through all of the millions of options in any particular topic area and really find the thing that works for us, that works for me right now that’s going to, again, turn me on, that it makes sense to me, and it really is interesting to me?” And just having that, I call it, seeking behavior is the most important thing it seems.

And there’s another neuroscientist that I really admire, he passed away a couple of years ago, named Jaak Panksepp, and his conclusion was that there were seven emotional channels in the mammalian brain, we’re mammals. And he noticed that the number one most dominant emotion was seeking, seeking behaviors. So, think Google, think online shopping, think looking for a mate, looking for a job. That power of that looking is itself very therapeutic and positive for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that feels like another hour of conversation right there. Wow!

Kyra Bobinet
We’ll get a part two.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the seeking is the strongest of the seven, and it just seems there’s a lot of implications to that. What do you think are amongst some of the biggest when it comes to folks who are trying to become awesome at their jobs? If the seeking behavior is among the strongest of those seven emotional channels, how do we make that work for us?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, I mean, obviously, the tribe that follows you is of that ilk. They’ve already won that particular contest because they’re seeking, they’re taking in new information, they’re leaning into more and more answers for them, and they are perusing all the wisdom that you’re sharing on this show and the people that you bring on this show. So, basically, they’re locked in there. I think just hearing it might just be another validation of that. Keep doing that, you’re on the right track. That’s exactly what we all need to do.

And, in fact, it should be probably a red flag in that case for this audience that if you stop seeking, maybe look at that. If you get stuck in your career, or in your progress at work, then look at seeking first. Did you lose seeking? Did you lose curiosity? Did you lose spending time wondering about things and opening yourself up? Because that’s where that next round of growth would lead you to.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you. Well, so I also love to get your take when it comes to automating, building good habits and breaking bad habits. Are there any particular behaviors? You mentioned there’s a matchmaking situation, but any sort of small behaviors you recommend we might start doing right away to make it easier to develop these highways?

Kyra Bobinet
You know, in the habit science, there’s two variables that stand out as the most important. Number one is time, the time of day or the time after or before. Your brain understands time as sequences, like, “I do this before I do that,” you know, “I shower before I get dressed.” And it also understands things in terms of time of, “I do this on Sundays,” time of week, time of day. And so, if you’re trying to do a habit and you haven’t anchored it in time or how your brain understands time, it’s likely going to get lost in the wash of your life and distractions. So, that’s one thing I would say.

The other thing that the science is saying is that location is huge. We also understand, “I do this in my car. I do this at my desk. I do this when I go to the cafeteria.” Those kinds of triggers, they’re called context cues, are the thing that really helps to anchor the habit in space, if you will. So, you’ve got time and space, and then there’s the social element, too, which is, “I do this with these people.”

So, one of the reasons why it’s so hard not to be good, some people call it, I don’t call it that, but at a birthday party to not eat cake when everybody else is eating cake is that your brain is saying, “Oh, I eat birthday cake with other people. I don’t just go to the grocery store and throw it in my grocery cart usually by myself. Happy birthday to me.” It’s very social.

So, those are some three ways that I think if somebody who’s thinking about a habit could strengthen it and could really help them to select the right one for them.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, with all this talk about environment and habits, I’m curious in terms of what have you seen in workplaces are some of the, and I know it’s going to be a special fit in matchmaking, person to person, but what are some of the most prevalent bad things in habits and environments, and good things in habits and environments that you’re seeing in workplaces today?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, I would say the most troublesome one is the stress habit that gets turned into gossip and toxicity. So, most cultures don’t have, I’ll call it, an anus for the stress that gets built up there. Pardon, I’m a doctor so that kind of word is available to me.

Pete Mockaitis
It might be the first time where the word anus has been uttered on this show. Thank you, Kyra.

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, the listeners are like, “What did she say?” So, yeah, I said anus.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean, you’re screening it out I think is where you’re going with this, yeah.

Kyra Bobinet
I said anus, yeah, exactly. Let’s say it a couple of times. So, yeah, we need some outlet for all the stress and friction. And people are moving a million miles a minute, they’re going from meeting to meeting to meeting, or they’ve got production schedules, or they’re stocking shelves like crazy, whatever your job is, and you are going back to back to back to back. Most people can’t even find time to go to the restroom at their modern work, right?

So, all of that creates all this friction and all of this like angst and rumination that the brain is going through, and then there’s not a real good mechanism that needs to be designed for really, “Whew!” exhale, the anus, you know, pooping, getting it all out. And so, that then turns into backbiting, gossiping, cannibalizing each other, that sort of thing. And so, I would say that what works for everybody is to engineer some downtime in the middle of the day to find ways to give yourself a mental break. And this is where mindfulness comes in really good, and your three deep breaths, and you literally reset your brain. And you just have to remind yourself how to do that or get your attention to remember to do the good thing that you know to do.

So, those kinds of mechanisms, I think, are universal. And then there’s sort of little productivity things that people, I would say there’s different segments of productivity tricks and hacks that people have. There is the procrastinators, like myself, who need to have external deadlines to bump our noses up against. There’s people who are super diligent, who are maybe introverts who need that quiet time away. There’s people who are extroverts who need to go and pull together a bunch of people and talk everything out.

And so, those are some ways that I see are mushy but could be more clarified if somebody were to take the time and kind of almost journal or articulate for themselves, “What kind of person are you? What kind of worker are you? When do you see yourself really shine and really turn on?” And I think that’ll help people understand some of the habits that are maybe positive and maybe toxic for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s lovely. Thank you. And what are some of the most encouraging great stuff that you’re seeing there?

Kyra Bobinet
My heroes these days is a company called Workday, and they do HR technologies, kind of SaaS platforms. But the thing I like about it is that their people who are in charge of their employee wellbeing are focusing on rumination because one of the good things that’s come out of the mindfulness research of late in the neuroscience side is that we know now that if your brain is on loop in an area called, forgive me, dorsolateral PFC, which is prefrontal cortex. It’s basically kind of if you look at your forehead and you kind of go an inch to the right or left, there’s two little areas there that are basically causing you to focus on yourself.

And rumination is, “Oh, did I do that right? Oh, what does she think of me? Oh, am I going to get fired? Oh, when is my performance review? Am I ever going to get rise up in this company? Do I need to look for another job? Does so and so like me?” all that rumination. And what they know, what Workday is dealing with is training programs, and discussions, and wellbeing initiatives to help people deal with that rumination, because that has been tied to, again, going back to MRI studies, to feelings of depression, feelings of anxiety. We have an epidemic of anxiety these days because of the number of triggers our brain sustains that throws us into rumination on a daily basis.

So, I think the modern workplace is really how do we design for freeing ourselves from these brains kind of loop tendency to get into rumination sequences, you know?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Kyra, I’m fascinated by, boy, I’m counting some research associated with how our current levels of anxiety are just like wildly higher than they were a generation or two ago. And so, that’s whole another conversation.

Kyra Bobinet
Well, what are you seeing in that? Because you live this every single day. You live and breathe in this industry and in this area.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think I heard a talk in which someone said that, in particular, I think they were talking about teenagers had levels of anxiety just sort of like normally like in terms of their day-to-day experience that were comparable to, I think, sort of veterans suffering from PTSD. And I said, “What?” And so, that was eye-opening. So, I’ve got two precious kiddos under two right now, and I’m thinking about their future, I was like, “Whoa! What is going on there? That’s intriguing.” And I’ve yet to do my seeking of many answers there. But you brought up something intriguing there with regard to, hey, we have so many more triggers now for rumination that lead to anxiety. So, could you unpack what are some of those big triggers we’ve got now that we didn’t have before?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah. So, we have so much exposure, right? So, let’s say, take a typical Western person in the U.S. for example, and even before they start their first meeting or activity at work, they have listened to or watched a million things that could’ve triggered an emotion in them. So, all that residue is kind of spinning around in their subconscious, and that’s going to lead to rumination if they do not do something consciously and mindfully about it. So, if they ground out and say, “I send compassion to that war-torn area I just heard about,” or, “I just heard about the fires in my area or a tornado that happened in the Midwest,” or any of those things. Like, it does land in the brain. And even if you think you’re tough and you move on, it mulls around inside.

And so, that’s the kind of fodder or tinder by which this rumination fire just starts to burn, it starts to go and go and go, and it’s subconscious. So, what happens is that you don’t even notice it until maybe, I’ve talked to executives who suddenly have panic attacks on a work trip, and they’re the most solid person in the world, and they’re super extroverted and things like that, but that’s how it’s affecting us. It’s just that constant touch on things you can do nothing about but you have an emotional response to.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Part of the mystery is in place there and I appreciate that. Kyra, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Kyra Bobinet
Pete, what I stand for at this point is just making people unstoppable. For me, the most significant thing in my career so far has been really understanding how iteration and iterators never fail, and they’re in all kinds of industries. So, the one thing I really care about is just really helping people to wake up to that fact, the fact about your brain and how it works, and it helps you get around the habenula and all the little things that blow up in your face. And that, to me, is revolutionary in terms of people’s success at work and in life. And I’m just super stoked about that conversation and that concept and people making that their own as well.

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

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah. So, kind of along those lines. I had a mentor and he used to have this really interesting voicemail because I’ll call him sometimes for some moral support, or, “How do I do this?” And his voicemail said, “Hi, this is David. I didn’t catch you right now. I’ll catch you later.” And he said, “Don’t ever give up no matter what you do,” and then he hangs up. And that’s my favorite quote of all time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s lovely. Thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Kyra Bobinet
So, for me, it is the iterative mindset study that we did. Again, we’ve been building up this research for a couple of years now on the Walmart Project, and we found that this iterative mindset existed in people who succeeded but then we did, we took a huge chance in broad daylight, in front of our biggest customer, it’s the biggest professional risk I’ve ever taken, and we did this study to see if we could get people to adapt this mindset and if it would change their outcomes.

And we actually found that we could get them to lose weight at the regular one pound a week, a healthy pace, and that they have habit formation that was statistically significant, and they had mindset formation that was statistically significant. So, to me, that was just delightful and really following the science and reading all of the homework before that really helped us set this up for something that was going to work out.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy, that’s powerful. And maybe if we could hear one sentence on how would you articulate, characterize the iterative mindset as oppose to its alternative?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah. And the credit goes to the MacGyvers of the world. This is something that even though I’m putting language to it, this is found in nature. So, people are just so clever, and it’s so amazing. So, these are people that work for Walmart, lower socioeconomic status, they have every stressor every time and money constraints in the world, family not being supportive of them, and they changed their health, they changed their lifestyle to be healthy against all these odds.

And what they all had in common was this iterative mindset, which is two parts that we can tell. Number one is they see what they’re trying next as an experiment. It’s not like this do or die. It’s not a goal. It’s just, “Hmm, maybe I’ll play with this a little bit. Maybe I’ll practice this a little bit.” So, they see it as a practice, they see it as a non-consequential experiment, that’s part number one.

Part number two is when they need to change something, either because a life disruptor came in, they had to move away from their favorite gym, or their shift changed and they can no longer do what they were doing before, cooking for their kids, whatever, they would iterate. And much like tech here in Silicon Valley, that iteration, that relentless iteration of, “I’m just going to iterate and tweak and tinker until I find the next thing that works for me,” made them different from everybody else because everybody else goes, “Oh, I failed.” Boom! They hit their habenula. Boom! They stop trying without even knowing it. And, boom, they quit, they quit trying. And that is the biggest problem.

And every time I talk to clinicians or people who’ve changed their lives, they recognize this pattern, they’re like, “That’s how I do it.” So, I know that it’s real, I know that it’s natural, I know that it’s not like high academia, but it’s something that everybody can do to make their life better. And, in fact, I haven’t met a single person who has made their life better who didn’t do it in this way.

Pete Mockaitis
Powerful. Thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite book?

Kyra Bobinet
Yes. So, my favorite book that I read every night with my husband, just one little passage because it’s teeny tiny, it’s called Tao Te Ching with Steven Mitchell as the interpreter. And I just love it because it kind of messes with my sense of reality. It says, “Do without doing.” And that’s just one of those come-ons, that’s like, “What? I don’t understand.” So, I like making myself feel like I’m confused and I don’t really understand this deep profound philosophy stuff, but I still like to take it in and try to chew on it a little bit.

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

Kyra Bobinet
So, for me, I use a couple of things. For my to-do list, I like the Clear app, and I only look at the top three things every day because your brain only understands, so that’s a three. I also have been using Otter lately to write my new book, and that just transcribes all my words because I’m better at talking than sitting down and making myself write, and that’s one of those Ulysses contract things.

And then I also, every year it’s coming up now, I’m going to do another vision board for 2020. So, I actually do a vision board. I do it with just a big Sharpie and a big nice piece of poster board, and I put it up for the year. And pretty much everything that happens in the year follows that vision board.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, I think that the one that’s been really resonating with people lately is mindlessness is the new mindfulness because we know we’re busy, we know we’re distracted, and we know we have to, if we’re going to change our lives and change our behavior, we have to get it to a mindless state.

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

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah. Well, we have our company website EngagedIn.com. Our product website is FreshTri.com and then my namesake website, you can always say hi to me, DrKyraBobinet.com. I love to hear from people.

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

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, there’s no reason to stop trying, that’s my message is just be unstoppable and get around your habenula. And what I said about the iterative mindset works for you or you need to even tinker or tweak that to fit you or the way you think, do it, because there’s no reason to stop these days. And if you find yourself getting stuck, just shake it off and realize you can iterate your way out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Kyra, this has been so much fun. Thank you and good luck in all of your adventures.

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

511: Tiny Leaps for Your Development with Gregg Clunis (Host of the Tiny Leaps, Big Changes Podcast)

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Gregg Clunis says: "All big changes come from the tiny leaps you take every day."

Gregg Clunis discusses the small leaps you can take to make massive changes in career and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why self-help is often inadequate
  2. Just what you can achieve with one tiny leap
  3. What to do when motivation fails you

About Gregg

Gregg Clunis is the host, author, and creator of Tiny Leaps, Big Changes, a podcast turned book and community whose goal is to help people become better versions of themselves in practical ways. A maker and entrepreneur, Gregg explores the reality behind personal development—that all big changes come from the small decisions we make every day. Using scientific and psychological research, he shows the hidden factors that drive our behavior and shares habit-forming and goal-oriented tools.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Gregg Clunis Interview Transcript

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

Gregg Clunis

Thank you so much for having me, Pete. It is a pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I also want to thank you. You were the one who gave me the idea to have five-minute calls with my listeners which I’ve been doing in celebration of 500 episodes.

Gregg Clunis

Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, everyone, you can thank Gregg for that.

Gregg Clunis
Well, first of all, congrats on 500. That’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Gregg Clunis
How have those calls been playing out?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it’s been really fun. I mean, it’s just fun to connect with people and I find that, hey, five minutes really goes fast.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis
And sometimes people, they have all these bullet points and they’re rushing to cover them. So, I think we’re going to do some more actually. So, I also want to get your take, so you mentioned that you play a lot of Fortnite and, hey, I mean no disrespect, but when I hear Fortnite, what comes to my mind is 13-year old boys playing it nonstop.

Gregg Clunis
Pretty much, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
But I think you can translate it for the rest of us, why is this game taking off like crazy?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah. So, here’s the thing, because I think that that is true of gaming in general, but we have to look at why that’s the case, right? So, 13-year old, 14-year old boys and girls are the ones in a position where they can grind away the game to get good, and for the rest of us, because we don’t have that luxury, we never really get good and, therefore, we never really get to enjoy it.

But the reason that, and I have this conversation all the time with my girlfriend, one of the biggest reasons that Fortnite is as massive as it is and blew up the way that it did is because we all have some connection to gaming, right?

And Fortnite comes out, it’s filling this space, but then they do really, really smart things around content marketing, around utilizing their technology, reinvesting in their company to make sure the game is free, to make sure it’s available on literally every single platform.

So, it creates this hype around it, and because we all sort of have this connection to gaming already, and most people like games, we just don’t have the time for games, it just makes it super easy for us to jump back in.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you, yeah. And I think that’s one of the keys there. I think Minecraft has that going on as well. It’s like there’s this creative element, like, “Oh, that’s kind of a nifty novel thing I hadn’t thought of. Let me give that a shot, see how it goes.”

Gregg Clunis
Absolutely. It’s a really cool feeling to be so connected to it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you for unpacking that and I want to hear more. Well, you actually already dropped a life lesson on us in terms of 13-year-olds spend a lot of time playing the game so they get good, and because they get good, they’re able to enjoy it. It reminds me, in high school, shout out to Fran Kick, I think he’s still rocking as a motivational speaker. Fran Kick gave a speech to our marching band, which I still remember. He drew a diagram, it was like a loop of like a virtuous cycle of, “You do some work at something, like your instrument, and then you get good at that something, and then it becomes more fun to do that something, so then you’d actually want to do some more work at it so you even get better at it.” So, it’s a nice loop there.

And I was like, “That makes a lot of sense to me, Fran.” And so, there’s one tiny leap you all can make right there.” So, Gregg, drop an intro.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, absolutely. That’s a critical element if anyone out there hasn’t read the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, highly, highly recommend it. The core thesis of it is that pursuing your passion is the wrong way to go about it. The right way is to get good at something and, therefore, develop passion for it.

So, he went to all these different careers and people working in different fields, things that you and I would hear and think, “How can somebody possibly be passionate about that?” Right? And they found that these people, they’re doing work that most of us would not find glamorous in any way or exciting in any way, they are super passionate about it because they have a sense of agency over it, because they have a sense of independence and a feeling that they’re accomplishing something, because they have a sense of community. Like, all these different factors, and none of it had anything to do with passion. In fact, passion gets developed from having those things rather than the other way around.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wise. Well, so let’s talk a little bit about your world, Tiny Leaps, Big Changes. What’s kind of the big idea here?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah. So, the whole thing with the Tiny Leaps model, so it started as a podcast about four years ago now. And, honestly, Pete, it was kind of accidental. It was one of those things like all good things in life where I was really angry about something, and so I just decided I had to do something in response to it. And that thing that I was really angry about was what I call sort of the corruption of self-help.

So, self-help is this thing that it can be massively valuable. It can help so many people in their day-to-day lives as they move towards the things they want. But in an Instagram-driven world, it also can be very fluffy, and it also can be very removed from practicality, where certain people who are in certain situations, which I’m fortunate to be in, I can have an eight-hour morning routine, and guess what, it’ll be fine.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not morning anymore when you’re done.

Gregg Clunis
Exactly, right? But I can have this super complicated morning routine and wake up at 5:00 a.m., like I can control every single detail of my life. That’s not practical for the single mother of three in rural Arkansas who is struggling to make ends meet. Like, that’s not something she can do. That’s not something that her neighbor can do.

So, how can we take these principles of self-help that are valuable, like the ideas of setting goals, of making lists, of reading more, of educating yourself? How can we take those things and make them as practical as possible? And so, the underlying philosophy became, “All big changes come from the tiny leaps you take every day.”

And the goal of the podcast and the media company and the book that I published this year, and all of the things that we’re building out, is 100% to just remind somebody of that every single day. It doesn’t actually matter about any individual episode or a blogpost or anything like that. It’s, at the end of this, you’re going to remember all big changes come from the tiny leaps you take every day so that you can use that as a guiding principle in your day-to-day life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love it if you could share with us maybe an inspiring transformation or story associated with someone who took on some tiny leaps and, sure enough, saw some big changes.

Gregg Clunis
Yeah, there’s no better story for me with this than my dad. So, to give listeners some context, I’m an immigrant here, so I’m 27 now. I moved to the United States when I was 7, so 20 years ago. And my family moved us over here because we had hit hard times in Jamaica. The economy had crashed recently. My dad was running three different businesses, all of which went to zero. And he was an educated man, my mom was an educated woman, they had all the trappings of what should be successful, but they were in an environment that didn’t necessarily allow that to happen.

So, we packed up, we moved to the United States. And my dad’s first job here, before we even got here, there was a period of about a year where he was here sort of setting the foundation and then we moved. His first job here was picking apples on an apple orchard. This is a man who was a college professor, who worked in the police, I’m not sure what position, but relatively high up. He’s still pretty well-respected when you say his name down there. And his first job here was picking apples on an apple orchard as a migrant worker.

And he lived in this trailer, that I never visited while he was there but I visited when we first came here, didn’t have heat in the winter, didn’t have proper air circulation, the water wasn’t drinkable. Like, it was a bad situation. So, that’s where he started here. By the time he passed away, which was two years ago now, he was the head of quality control at a distribution plant, a bottling plant that handles major contracts, brands that you’ve heard of.

But he moved up in life pretty dramatically. We lived a super comfortable life and we’re always sort of happy and comfortable because he started from this place and he was willing to look at that and say, “Okay, this is the opportunity in front of me right now and that’s going to lead me to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing.” And, over time, you create that change.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Very cool. Very cool witness there.

Gregg Clunis
And I’ll be honest in saying that the entire Tiny Leaps concept, like I didn’t realize it when I was first developing it, but it’s what I learned watching him and my mom do that, because that is what they did. And I was fortunate to be young as an immigrant here so I didn’t have the immigrant experience but I saw it firsthand. And they couldn’t have done it any different.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, so I’m thinking now in particular about working professionals and some tiny leaps that you’ve seen to be very impactful. What are some of the biggest in terms of those little things you can do that make a world of difference?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah. So, for me, it’s always been it’s so funny. I always find, and maybe your experience has been the same, Pete, but I always find that my life changes because of one individual moment, and I always have that sort of gut feeling of like, “This is the decision that changes things.” But I don’t get to that moment without trying a thousand things before it.

So, same thing happened with this podcast. This wasn’t the only thing I was doing. This wasn’t the first thing I had done. By the time I launched this four years ago, I’d already been creating stuff online for six years, none of which did anything. So, that wasn’t, by any means, the first thing. But when I started it, there was this gut feeling of like, “This is going to work.”

Same thing with decisions I’ve made recently that completely transformed my business. With that said, to get specific, and I only share that because I really want to drive home it’s not about the specific tactics. It’s about how you approach it. It’s this philosophy that if you employ it in your life, whatever your life looks like, will drive results. But to get very specific, one actual thing, that one tiny decision I made in college that I thought was going to be completely inconsequential at the time, I remember I was working on a tech startup. So, I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Finally, I’m away from home, I’m in an environment where I can build something. So, I start working on an idea, and I didn’t know how to build tech.

So, I sat in my room one weekend and taught myself the very basics of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, just enough because I thought if I could at least understand what’s required, then I could find somebody to do it, right? So, I sat for this weekend, used all the free resources, wrote ridiculous amounts of code, a lot of which did not do anything right, and finally emerged with this better understanding of how the Web worked.

That then led to hiring the developer, which is now a really good friend of mine. The long story short, that platform didn’t work, that startup ended up failing horribly, but that skillset of learning how to build websites, learning how the underlying technology of the Web works, that is the reason I got my first full-time job after I graduated. That first full-time job is what introduced me to podcasting and got me interested in podcasts in the first place. And then fast forward to here where podcasting now literally runs my entire life. And that all came because I gained a skillset that I didn’t have before for a completely unrelated thing that does not exists right now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, you’re drawing a distinction there. It’s not about a particular prescriptive tactic, “Learn how to code,” but rather the mindset. How would you articulate that mindset?

Gregg Clunis
So there’s a really good quote that I think is actually really good for this. So, Steve Jobs, there’s a famous quote by him that I’m going to butcher, I apologize, but it’s something like, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. It’s only when you look backwards.” So, there’s all these different actions that you take in your life and it feels random and it feels rambled, but ten years down the line, you look back, and you see how it all fit to where you are right now. And that’s true whether the outcome is good or bad.

So, the actions you took ten years ago led to where you are now. And there are other things, there are circumstances you’re facing, there’s the very real situation of sexism and racism, like there are things that you don’t control, right? But the actions you took ten years ago led to the outcome you have now, whether that’s positive or negative. And the only way you see that is by looking back at it and being willing to be honest with yourself, and say, “Okay, this is how it connects.”

In the same way, if you can look at the actions you take right now, the things you choose to learn, how you spend your time, who you spend it with, and you believe that the actions you took ten years ago led to this, then you also have to believe that these actions will lead to the next ten years. And that’s what the underlying philosophy is, the choices I make right now, no matter how small, they matter. And they matter because they’re the things that connect the dots to the next ten years.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so there’s a lot in there. So, you’re doing some reflections on the past, zeroing in on identifying the patterns and the behaviors and the decisions that led to your current place, and then recognizing that your current decisions lead to the future place. And, thusly, not to just go on autopilot, you don’t really need to be thoughtful about what you’re doing and how you’re approaching things. So, all right, that is great. So, with that application of that mindset, what are some of the behaviors with your clients that you’ve seen frequently have ended up compounding in some great ways?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah, and let me be clear in that. I purposefully choose not to do any kind of coaching or anything like that in the self-help space because I think that’s a part of what led to the industry becoming an issue, a problem in the way that it is. With that said, speaking of listeners, people that have contacted me, the people in the audience, in the community, the big things that I see really driving change always rely around awareness.

So, things like journaling, things like tracking your calories, things like doing the…I know Seinfeld didn’t actually do this, but that whole like checkmark on the calendar every single day thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Seinfeld didn’t do that?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah, he came out saying that he’s not sure where that came from.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no.

Gregg Clunis
It’s a cool story though.

Pete Mockaitis
That really is write jokes every day.

Gregg Clunis
Yeah, exactly. But I will say I’ve done that though and it actually works really well because at some point you do feel like the calendar looks so pretty with all the Xs, you don’t want to like ruin it. But, anyway, so what I’ve found is that people tend to engage in our day-to-day lives pretty unconsciously. Like, even if you think about the last time you got into the car and drove to your job or a place that you visit pretty frequently. there’s a good chance you got out of the car at that location without remembering the one single right turn that you took, or what street name that was, or like you don’t consciously take in that information.

And there’s a reason for that. We’re pretty well-adapted to filter all of that stuff out. But we do that throughout our entire days, because if we’re doing a lot of the same stuff, which most of us are, we have our routines, we have our things that allow us to make it through life. If we’re doing a lot of the same stuff, we filter it because there’s nothing new happening. What that means is all of the bad habits that we build up, all of the things that we just unconsciously do that are holding us back, we become unaware that we’re actually doing it.

Like, we might know, “Okay, yeah, I went to Starbucks” or whatever it is, but we’re not actually internalizing that in any way. And by taking it out of our heads and writing down everything, starting to get very, very deliberate about our tracking, whatever the goal might be, it could be, “I want to save more money,” or, “I want to get this promotion,” or whatever it is, like if we start becoming deliberate about the actions we take towards those things, and the actions we don’t take towards those things, at the end of the week, we have something we can look at that tells us exactly what we did and didn’t do and how much time we spent on it.

And there’s no debating that. Like, it’s on paper. And that awareness is what eventually leads to a change in behavior because now you’re looking and you’re saying, “Oh, crap, I really didn’t do as much as I thought I did.”

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. And so, with the journaling or the tracking, are there any kind of particular questions or themes you explore? Because I think one way of journaling is to just sort of the chronology of what went down, “I woke up. I ate this food. I took a shower.” And so, I’m imagining you have something else in mind when you say the word journaling.

Gregg Clunis
No, I found that it’s like what works for you is going to be different than what works for me. I can’t remember the word for that right now. But it is very unique to the person. Like, I have a list of questions that I ask myself but that changes literally every single week. What I found, like the bare minimum, and this is mostly what I do when I journal, to be honest with you, Pete, it’s literally just making a list. And I won’t log my entire day because there’s parts of it that I don’t need to track. If my goal right now is fitness related, I don’t need to track necessarily my financial stuff. Like, that’s not where my focus is.

So, I’ll make a list of everything related to the actual goal throughout the day and I won’t look back at that list with any kind of judgment or with any kind of, like, “Oh, I need to hold myself accountable,” or anything like that because that only leads you feeling bad, and that doesn’t drive change. What I will do though is make that list, and at the end of the week, I will schedule time with myself to review the list and purely come at it from, “This is what reality is. How do we change that?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Yeah, “This is what reality is. And how do we change that?” That’s resonating. I’ve been thinking a lot just randomly about the word should and I guess use should for all kinds of things. And I’m thinking about behavior change, “I should not eat out so much,” “I should get to work earlier and do some things,” “I should get to inbox zero.” And what I find intriguing about that is that the word should is sometimes used in sort of like a moral, ethical obligation sense, like, “You should pay your taxes.”

Gregg Clunis
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And other times it’s used in the sense of behaving differently. And I think that there’s some power in just exploring what we mean by should in terms of are we just saying that, “Well, sure, if I were to eat out less, I would derive some benefit in terms of saving money or eating more healthfully.” But in the grand scheme of all the pulls and competing demands of life is that a prudent worthy priority and what will be the downsides and what’s going to be sacrificed as a result of that, and is that indeed optimal? So, it’s like, “Should you really?” Is the should valid?

I guess I’m going a little bit in circles here, but I think what’s powerful about getting clear on tracking the actions associated with the goal is that you can sort of feel better about what you’re doing and what you’re not doing, and seeing if, in fact, a real change is worthy of being made.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think, to that last point, I think we often also, and I’m still exploring this, I’m not sure if it’s going to be the topic of my second book yet, but it is something I’m very interested in so it’ll be something. But I think we have gotten to a point where a lot of us are chasing productivity or accomplishment or whatever it is purely for the sake of productivity or accomplishment or whatever it is, and not so much because that thing actually needs to happen for us.

And I’ve started to, one of the issues I have with the self-help space is that you can find there are entire communities. I don’t know if you know this, Pete, there are entire communities out there of people trying to hack every single second of every single day to squeeze out maximum productivity, and it sort of started as a weird corruption of Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek concept but it’s gotten really weird.

And a big thing that I’m noticing is that productivity, in a lot of ways right now, is the disciplined pursuit of bullshit. “Let me get this thing done because my life needs it or because people around me need it, or whatever it is.” It’s more so like, “Let me just check this off because it’s what I should be doing,” to use that term.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And that sounds like it could lead you into some dark places as I kind of play that out in my mind with regard to that.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, absolutely. There’s an entire industry around like brain-enhancing supplements to maximize productivity. It’s a weird world out there.

Pete Mockaitis
And I suppose with prudence and a goal-oriented approach, that might be just the thing in terms of, “Oh, it would be helpful if I were able to focus longer based upon my objectives and this thing seems to have some good science behind it, therefore, we’re taking it.” As opposed to any opportunity to do anything we’re reaching after.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think that that is the distinction, right? There is, and it goes back to the idea of conscious versus unconscious. Like, you can fall into the trap of becoming productive unconsciously and that’s not a good thing ultimately. Like, you were just chasing tasks because you feel like you should, and chasing the supplements because you feel like it’ll help you chase those tasks which is fundamentally built on something that didn’t matter.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess some thought-provoking stuff here, Gregg. I’m chewing on this. Well, I’d love to get your take then, when you are zeroing in on going after some tiny leaps and you’re experiencing fear, resistance, “Ugh, I don’t feel like it, low motivation.” What do you recommend in terms of summoning the force to get it done?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah. Well, so the first thing, and this isn’t going to help you in that moment but it is something to acknowledge when you are more level-headed, is that motivation isn’t enough. And I think we all unconsciously know this because motivation fails us the moment we actually need it but it’s just not enough to do anything in life.

There’s so much pain and sacrifice involved in changing any small thing in your life because that change is viewed as loss. It’s a loss of that thing that you had, even if that thing was bad, even if it was negative, you started to, in some ways, some small way, identify with that thing as a part of you, and to change it means losing that part of you.

So, there’s a lot of pain and sacrifice required to make any change in your life, and motivation is not enough to get over pain. One of my favorite quotes, and I’ve been meaning to look up where this came from originally, but it’s that, “People do far more to avoid pain than they will to gain pleasure.” Being motivated to gain something is not enough to push through the pain of losing something.

So, with that said, if you do find yourself in that moment where motivation fails you, one thing I’ve found to help me really, really dramatically is to get up and do something else. And that’s one of my biggest issues with the “productivity” industry because humans are not machines and we can’t just endlessly plug away at something. By getting up and doing something else, you’re allowing your subconscious mind to deal with that problem. You’re allowing your body to get the rest it needs. You’re allowing your mind, your eyes rather, to get the rest it needs.

By doing something else, you’re giving yourself the refresher you might need to be able to come back and use willpower or whatever it is to push through the rest of that task. So, don’t be afraid just because something has a due date on it. You’ll probably get it done faster by getting up and doing something else for a short period of time rather than struggling through it for the next hour and only getting five minutes worth of work done.

And just to add to that, there’s a really good book that I highly recommend. It’s called Two Awesome Hours and I’m going to look for the name of the author right now, but it’s written by an NYU neurologist that changed the way that I look at productivity and like what we should be aiming for in our day-to-day lives.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what is the premise of Two Awesome Hours?

Gregg Clunis
So, as you can probably imagine, Two Awesome Hours is built around this idea that you should be aiming on a day-to-day basis. And this is much more like career-focused, but on a day-to-day basis, you should be aiming to, like, your target is two hours of focused uninterrupted work. That’s it. Now, it might take you eight hours in a day to get those two hours, but they’ve done the research on this. Most of us working in eight-hour day do not work for eight hours.

So, by getting hyper-focused around the idea of, “Okay, I’m just going to get two done, that’s it, just two hours,” that allows you to cut out all the distractions, that allows you to give yourself the space to drift as you might need to. So, if you’re getting distracted, let yourself get distracted for a shorter period of time rather than fighting it for a long period of time. And just playing with this idea of, “What would it need to look like for us to focus for a two-hour window rather than going into it with, ‘I need to focus for the next eight hours,’?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig it. Well, tell me, Gregg, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Gregg Clunis
No, I mean, ultimately, listen, when you’re trying to do something in your life, that change, it is big, it is painful, it is a representative of loss, and you shouldn’t downplay it. Like, I think the biggest problem that people have with personal development, and this is certainly true for me, I’m not speaking as a guru here, I’m speaking as someone who struggles with it. The biggest issue that we all have is that we start to beat ourselves up when we don’t hit the goal or when we aren’t as productive as we need to, and then we look for alternatives to fix it, and how are we going to optimize this thing, and whatever it is.

And the truth is, like, this stuff is hard. Like, it is legitimately difficult to do. Approach it with that understanding and give yourself the room to work through that difficult thing. You wouldn’t wake up tomorrow and expect to be able to hit a grand slam in the World Series. But, for some reason, we wake up tomorrow and expect to change our entire lives. That’s ridiculous.

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

Gregg Clunis
The one that really comes to mind for me is not really a quote that I think everyone is going to be able to relate to, but for those of you who do, I think it’ll help a lot, and it’s from my dad. So, for most of my life I’ve been like that ambitious person. Like, I had the big dreams when I was a kid and worked hard and all of that stuff, right? But my biggest flaw was always that I jumped from thing to thing and I would fall massively in love with something, and a week later I’d be done with it and onto the next thing.

And I remember my dad sat me down, maybe four or five years ago, and looked at me and just said, “You have all the potential in the world but you’re going to sabotage yourself.” And it didn’t click for me. Like, when he told me, I actually remembered being very upset. Like, I felt personally attacked, and like all of the defensive stuff, right? It was after he passed away that it finally settled in for me what he was trying to tell me.

And so, for those of you listening that struggle with that, jumping from thing to thing, I want to just pass that to you. You have all the potential in the world, but unless you are able to rein yourself in and spend enough time on something to be able to actually give it a chance of succeeding, you’re going to sabotage yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, we had Jay Papasan on the show in one of the earlier episodes talking about The ONE Thing, just an amazing book, I think.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, phenomenal.

Pete Mockaitis
And he said that, “I learned, as a writer, that there’s a massive difference between being creative, like staying up and having ideas, and actually producing publishable work.” And the latter kind of required him to wake up and consistently put down words at a particular time in his calendar to get the job done.

Gregg Clunis
Yeah, there is a distinction between the two, and both are required, both are good, but at the end of the day, creativity just lives in your head. The thing that puts it out is showing up every day and actually carving that creativity into something. And just real quick, so the book I mentioned before, Two Awesome Hours, it’s written by Josh Davis. And, again, highly, highly recommend it.

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

Gregg Clunis
Ooh, that’s a good one. So, years ago when I first started the show, I think it was Episode 4, I was looking into what happens in the brain when you meditate. Now, I cannot remember, for the life of me, who the study was from or any of those details, but the thing that I learned from it is that when you meditate, it increases, over time obviously, it increases the amount of gray matter, I believe, in the brain. And gray matter is responsible for memory recall, it’s responsible for keeping yourself like calm, and all of those management type things.

And so, there is an actual scientific link, and this I think was the biggest takeaway to me, was meditation isn’t just fluffy. Like, there’s an actual scientific link between you meditating and taking that time, and over time, that increasing your ability in the moment to stay calm and relax and handle complex situations.

Pete Mockaitis
And you mentioned a couple, but how about another favorite book?

[36:01]

Gregg Clunis
There is a book that I’ve finished four days ago, it’s called The Power. And the concept of the book, so it explores what would happen in a world where women suddenly had all the power. So, this isn’t spoiling anything, but something happens and women, for whatever reason, are able to use electric powers essentially. And it’s not magical in any way, like it feels very normal, the way she writes it.

And so, phenomenal book for those of you who like fiction and also love politics and sort of power dynamics and exploring those things.

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

Gregg Clunis
Notion. I recently discovered Notion.so. And when I tell you, I’ve never been able to use any project management tool for my business. They just never felt right. Notion, every single thing that I sit here and I’m like, “Oh, I wish it could…” I immediately try it and it can do it. Now, I don’t know what the team behind it is doing to make that possible, but please don’t stop if you’re listening to this.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Gregg Clunis
I would say journaling before bed. And it’s something that I’ve been able to maintain as a habit. I definitely slip, I would say, every other night or so, but whenever I do it, it feels like I’m able to actually clear my head and get better quality sleep. And the only nights that I don’t do it are when I end up staying up late for other reasons, and because it’s now late, I just essentially crash. But the sleep quality is never as good if I don’t journal.

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

Gregg Clunis
All big changes come from the tiny leaps you take every day. It’s such a simple concept but I think that most people know it. So, speaking of my book, one of the number one reviews for it on Amazon is, “Oh, there’s nothing new here.” And I find it funny when I read that, like it’s positioned as a negative thing. But I find it funny reading that because there is nothing new in self-help. You already know what works. The only reason you listen to me or you listen to this show is because you’re searching for some kind of edge to make it work better. But guess what? You know what works. Just do that.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Gregg Clunis
I would tell them, if you like podcasts, which clearly you do, head over to Tiny Leaps, Big Changes. Just do a search wherever you’re listening to this, or on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Pandora, pretty much every platform. And then if you are interested in connecting further, November 1st, which I’m pretty sure this is publishing after that, but November 1st, we are launching the new Tiny Leaps website at TinyLeaps.fm and so you’ll find articles from our contributors, you’ll find podcast episodes, you’ll find videos in the near future, and it’s just sort of the next expansion of the podcast to a larger media platform.

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

Gregg Clunis
I would say look at today, I don’t care what time you’re listening to this, it could be midnight, but right after you’re done listening to us, I would challenge you to really sit down with pen and paper, and just ask yourself, “What is it that I actually want?” Especially with career, it’s so easy to get caught up in just the ladder of it and the cycle of it, but it’s really important to make sure you retain actual control over the direction of things are going and where you want to push it specifically, because otherwise you’ll wake up 50 years from now.

And a good friend of mine, Dominick Quartuccio, explained this to me. The definition of hell is waking up at the end of your life and seeing what your life could’ve been had you done the things you said you wanted to do. So, start asking yourself, “What is it that I actually want to do?” and then start taking those actions tomorrow.

Pete Mockaitis
Gregg, this has been fun. Keep on rocking.

Gregg Clunis
Thank you so much for having me.

508: Becoming an Impactful and Influential Leader with Ron Price

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Ron Price says: "How much time are you spending working on you? Because that's the strength that we're going to draw from for you to be successful in these other areas."

Ron Price delivers insights on how to build your character and grow your influence to unlock your full leadership potential.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The four keys to landing your next promotion
  2. Two approaches to getting excellent feedback
  3. How to get others to listen to you

About Ron

Ron Price is an internationally recognized business advisor, executive coach, speaker, and author. Known for his creative and systematic thinking, business versatility, and practical optimism, Ron has worked in 15 countries and served in almost every level of executive management over the past 40 years.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Ron Price Interview Transcript

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

Ron Price

Thank you, Pete. It’s great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think the first thing we need to cover is your career in truck tire retreading. Tell us about this?

Ron Price

Well, it goes way back. My dad owned a truck tire retreading shop. And when I was 12 years old, my first job was repairing truck tire tubes, and I got paid piecemeal. So, each tube that we’d haul there overnight I think I got a quarter. I have to confess my work ethic wasn’t real great then. There were some afternoons I just took a nap in a bunch of tubes that were piled up.

But, eventually, that led to, after getting out of school, I went to work and learned every bit of the business, did a lot of years of changing semi-truck tires along the highway in Michigan in January and February. And I really learned something about resilience then and eventually became a part owner. And my dad and I, together, owned four different manufacturing facilities across the state of Michigan. So, it was a great place to learn work ethic and to learn how to run a business. Back then we didn’t have credit cards so we had to actually manage credit risks and things like that. It was really a wonderful experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, what a transformation with work ethic from taking a nap in the tubes to being in the cold Michigan winter on the side of the road fixing the truck tires. That’s impressive.

Ron Price
And, Pete, I think I could say that it’s sort of come in full circle because now that I’m in my later 60s, I go back to taking naps again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would maintain that a strategic nap is, in fact, a productive, sensible strategic choice. So, no arguments from me here.

Ron Price
Hear, hear.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I want to talk to you about growing influence, how that’s done, and maybe to kick us off, could you share an inspiring story of a professional who was not so influential, and then they’ve made some changes, and then they saw some real nice upgrade to that?

Ron Price

Boy, there’s so many. I’ve had such a wonderful career of working with great people. One that I think of was a woman who came to work at a business that I was running during most of the ‘90s. I started there in ’89 and retired from it in 2000. She came as a customer service representative answering the phone. And I saw something in her that made her stand out. She really cared about what she was doing. She made you feel like what she was doing was worthwhile every day. And, eventually, that led to us saying maybe she could supervise the people who were answering our phones. And she started as a supervisor of a small group of people and she eventually grew to being a VP of customer service.

She, I would say, this was a company that was about $100 million company, and we had 200 employees spread across eight countries, and she was made the number two, number three person in the whole company. And she started as somebody answering the phone, and she kept learning and growing, and demonstrating character, and she won more and more and more loyalty from the people around her. And I think they would’ve thrown me out had I not promoted her to that position later in her career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. And maybe, I guess we’re going to get into some of the particular principles and actions and tactics, but was there anything in particular you noticed that made all the difference in terms of her rise?

Ron Price

I think it was two-folds. I think one is that she brought her humanity to work with her. She treated people like human beings, and it didn’t mean that she lowered the standards, didn’t mean that she wasn’t clear about what needed to be accomplished. But she recognized that those were human beings that all brought their own life with them to work and it was worthy of respect. That was the first thing.

The second thing is that she was a continuous learner. And she didn’t start out as an expert in this field but she became an expert all the way to the point that she was recognized internationally for the kind of leadership that she brought to incoming call centers. So, during her tenure, we went from a traditional kind of a phone system to a phone system that was hooked up to data analytics and we ended up learning how to do statistical quality control monitoring. We did a lot of things both on the technical side of understanding how to make the most out of a call center, and also on the people development side, of empowering people, giving them clear career paths, letting them see the numbers.

One of the big things that she did is one of the early phone systems that we bought had a big screen that the supervisor could look at to determine how many people were on hold, and if people abandoned, and what our average call time was, all those kinds of things. And she said, this was long before anybody was thinking of this, she said, “Why is it that the supervisor sees this and the whole office can’t see it?”

So, she brought in a huge monitor, put it up near the ceiling so that every single person in that call center could see what was going on. And it was one of the early demonstrations of combining technology with empowerment so that people felt that they could own their job, and it made a huge difference in our culture and in our performance.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s powerful. I can just visualize that like a scene from a movie, you know, triumphantly placing a huge monitor on the ceiling, and it’s like, “Oh, we’re really serious about that. That’s cool.”

Ron Price
Yeah, and, “Why do we need somebody to monitor that for everybody else like they’re children or something? Why don’t we treat them like adults and let them take their own initiative?” You know, the funny thing about it, Pete, was the people paid attention to that and if, all of a sudden, we had a spike in calls and somebody was on a break, they self-governed, they immediately responded because they were all focused on one goal together as a team, and no supervisor had to tell them how to do that. The supervisor was there to support them and to help eliminate obstacles from them doing good work. It was a wonderful example to me and to everybody who was a part of our company.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Well, so your book Growing Influence is a business fable, and it speaks to a lot of people and a lot of situations. But one issue that you cover is why is it that some people get passed up for promotions? What’s sort of the top driver and what can be done about that?

Ron Price
Yeah. And, of course, there are probably a lot of different reasons that somebody could get passed up. Some of them are external, some of them they might not have any control over. It may be something to do with the culture, unconscious biases that exists inside the organization, and sometimes those need to be addressed. But there can also be internal reasons why somebody gets passed up.

I like to think that if a person is really working consistently on being the best version of themselves, and they’re doing that in a way that they develop their character, and they’re doing that in a way that they develop their expertise, that in a healthy environment, the positions, the promotions will come find them because most of us who’ve been in leadership roles, when we’re looking at promoting people, we’ve got a lot of self-interest. We want to promote somebody who can perform, somebody who can get the work done, somebody who gets along well with others, somebody who has intelligence that they bring to their work.

And if you bring all those things, and you don’t throw up a lot of obstacles, you make it a lot easier to get promoted. So, sometimes people, they don’t get promoted because of something that’s happening in the culture that needs to be addressed, and other times they don’t get promoted because they don’t realize that they’re their own worst enemy in some ways. Like, my wife and I were out on a fall walk earlier today, and we laughed about this statement that I find myself making over and over and over again. And that is the darnedest thing about blind spots is you can’t see them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, makes sense.

Ron Price
And sometimes people don’t get promoted because they don’t recognize how they’re being perceived by others. It’s a blind spot to them. And if they understood that, and adapted themselves accordingly, they make themselves much more promotable.

Pete Mockaitis
And are there any particular character or expertise, shortcomings, or blind spots that seem to pop up again and again?

Ron Price

Oh, boy, what a great question. And this really is why we wrote the book is that after years of thinking about this and helping people with it, I thought there actually is a model. It’s not that difficult that makes a big difference. So, first, let’s talk about character.

In the book, we talk about, “How do you define integrity of character?” And most people think, “Well, honest and ethical and you don’t do things when people aren’t looking that you wouldn’t do if they were looking,” things like that. But we want to expand the meaning of that word, integrity, to think about what does wholeness look like for character.

When I go to my doctor and he starts talking to me about the integrity of my nervous system, he’s not talking about whether it’s honest or ethical, he’s talking about whether it’s working properly, whether all the parts are there and they’re properly related to each other. So, we posit that as our definition of character, and then we asked these two questions. The first question is, “What are the values by which I choose to govern my own behavior?”

A great example for me, my number one value that I look at every week, and ask myself how am I doing is personal accountability. And, of course, the power of that value is in how you defined it. So, the first question is, “What are the values I choose to govern myself and how am I doing?” The second question is, “What are the values I choose to relate to other people and how am I doing?”

And, in my case, my number one value for how I relate to other people is collaboration. And that word is almost a spiritual or a religious word to me because I believe that when you really connect with somebody else, you understand what they want, they understand what you want, and you learn how to work together that there’s the possibility for real magic to occur.

And, in fact, that’s what Stacy and I felt that we reached in writing the book Growing Influence is this wonderful synergism that happen when we both brought all of who we were with respect for the other, and we learned how to work well together. So, that’s my number one value for how I choose to relate to others.

So, how do you grow character in a way that other people notice you and it makes you promotable, it makes you more influential? Well, what are the values by which you govern your own behaviors, and what are the values by which you relate to other people? Sometimes we can think of where we fall short and that might help to guide us in what values we want to adapt. But it’s the steady, consistent development of more and more strength in the way that you not only aspire to those values, but practice those values that causes people to want to follow you as an influencer because of how you show up. That’s character, Pete.

I know that’s kind of long-winded, but we use a similar kind of approach to expertise. To be an expert influencer in a way that people listen to you more, you have to recognize that expert leadership is based on creating value for others not just sounding smart yourself. So, the real question is, “What value, what benefit is my expertise going to deliver to other people?” And it might be marketing, or finance, or operations, or, in my case, it’s my tax attorney or my tax accountant. Because of their expertise, because they understand the tax laws, they have a tremendous amount of influence over me when it comes to my tax returns.

Now, they may not have much influence over me when I decide whether or not I’m going to get my gallbladder taken out. But in the area of expertise, they’ve got a lot of power. And if you decide that you’re going to create value for others and then you lay out a pathway for how to get better and better and better at that, you’re gaining power. You’re gaining influence and you’re becoming more promotable.

We encourage people along those lines to pick one or two areas that they’re really passionate about, and start to study the other leaders in that area of expertise. Read what they write, listen to their podcasts or watch their TED Talks, and just begin to saturate your mind with the thoughts of other leaders or experts in that area. And if you do that long enough, there’s something amazing that happens in your subconscious. You begin to take one idea from this person, another idea from this person, a third idea from this person, and you begin to create your own thought recipes. And in doing that, you become an expert yourself.

So, it’s really a practical way. And if you just do a little bit at a time over one year, two years, three years, you become an expert. And, eventually, you’re coming up with unique ideas that nobody else has ever come up with because you’re combining other people’s ideas in new ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s excellent. So, then the action step there in terms of increasing your value is you’re picking an area of expertise and you’re absorbing all the wisdom from the top folks there and, before you know it, you’ve got it yourself, and you’re coming up with original stuff. So, then when it comes to the “living more in accordance with your values,” what are some of the key action steps associated with identifying some of the shortcomings and shoring them up?

Ron Price

The first thing is being more self-aware. Oftentimes, the thing that we probably should work on, the people around us see it more clearly than we do. So, I like to think of this idea that I’ve never seen the back of my head.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Even after a haircut with the mirror in the barber, it’s not as great.

Ron Price
Yeah, it’s a reflection. It’s not the real thing. And, in fact, if you think about that, I’ve never seen my face. All we see is a reflection of our face. So, that metaphor tells us that we don’t even know what we look like, which is a big part of who we are, without the use of something outside of us. And in the same way, you don’t know how you show up at work, whether you’re a leader, or a manager, or you’re aspiring to be one, you don’t fully know who you are without the help of people around you who can be your mirrors.

Of course, they should be people that you trust and that you know they care about your success because you don’t want to get stuck in a house of mirrors. But you want people who are going to give you honest feedback. And it’s amazing to me when we learn how to ask for, and we’re open to feedback and we’re not defensive, how much wisdom we get from the people around us.

When I first started to learn this, and I have to confess it took a long time before I got comfortable enough in my own skin to be able to listen to this feedback, but when I first started to hear it, I had to resist the temptation to be embarrassed, or to feel ashamed, or to defend myself, or to deny that, because they do a pretty good job of pointing out what you’re not so good at.

And when I opened myself up and said, “It doesn’t have an impact on my quality as a human being, on my value as a human being, but they’re giving me really valuable input that helps me understand the difference between what my intention is and what my impact is.” And when I could let them begin to show me what my impact was, it began to open up a whole new level of growth.

And I have to tell you, I’m still working at that. I still really treasure the feedback that people give me, and I’ve trained myself to be quiet and not to defend myself, not even to agree with them, but just to say, “Thank you for that feedback. You gave me some important stuff for me to think about.” And that’s one of the big things that keeps me growing even in my late ‘60s.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you receive it, you’re not being defensive here, you’re saying, “Thank you,” and you’re chewing on it. And then how do you go about making the requests?

Ron Price
Making the requests for the feedback?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Ron Price
Yeah. Well, the way I do it is I let people know, “I understand that there are parts of me that I can’t see without your help. And I believe that you care for me, and you care for my success, and I believe that I could understand myself better and develop better self-awareness if you could give me some feedback.” And there are two approaches I’ll take. I’ll say, “If there were one thing that I could work at getting better at, and that it would make it easier for us to work together, what would you want me to work on?” That’s one way I approach it.

The second way I approach it is, I might’ve already identified, I might say, “I want to get better at planning and organizing.” And I might go to a person and say, “I’m working on getting better at planning and organizing, and I wonder, you’ve watched me, you’ve seen how I do my work, I wonder if you have one or two tips that you could give me for how I could get better?” And I don’t have to agree with the tips. I just thank them for the tips and I might come back later and tell them that I’ve implemented one of the tips or I might not.

But what I found is that if you don’t answer people back with either that “This is why it won’t work. I already tried that,” or, “No, that’s not really true,” if you don’t answer back that way, you make them feel more and more comfortable over time getting more honest with the feedback that they give you. And honest feedback with somebody who’s direct and caring is one of the greatest gifts that anybody can ever give you. And if you develop that openness, that receptiveness where people feel they can give it to you directly and caringly, it’s one of the greatest accelerators to you growing influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. All right. Well, so those are some master keys there. So, if you’re doing those sorts of things on an ongoing basis, I’d love to get your tips for, sort of, when you’re in the thick of things, you’re working on developing your character and your expertise, and you’re getting your feedback, is there anything you recommend some top do’s and don’ts for kind of day in, day out you’re interacting with folks and these things make a world of difference?

Ron Price
The biggest thing, by far, I look back on my career, and it’s had the greatest positive impact of anything I’ve done is making sure that every day I spend time with myself. And that that time is set aside not to look at my task list. It’s not for me to worry or to go read the newspaper, be all frustrated with what’s happening in politics or anything. It is time dedicated for me to think about who I am and who I want to become.

And I started it back and it was around 1978, I was getting frustrated because I was overwhelmed with all of the tasks I needed to get done. And I bought an audio cassette series on time management, and it sat on my shelf for six months because I didn’t have time to listen to it. And I realized how that was my fault. There was nobody to blame but me that I hadn’t given time to that.

So, I started working half hour early. I said for that first half hour, at that time I had a private office, I had a secretary, and I told my secretary, “This first half hour I’m coming in early and unless law enforcement is at the door or somebody’s life is at threat, that’s my time. I don’t want to be interrupted by anything.” And over the years, I worked on expanding that time. I obviously finished that cassette series pretty quickly, but I realized, “Wow, I always had this time and I had never owned it. I had never taken it.”

So, over the years I’ve experimented with doing it different times of day. And, at one point, when I was running this international business, I had expanded that time to four hours a day. I had people in eight countries who were working for us that I was in communication with regularly. I had a senior leadership team that I was working with. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a lot to do, I had more to do than ever before, but because of the way I had worked with owning that time to work on myself. Now, during those four hours I would also work on company strategy and the really big ideas that needed more careful thought.

Now, I’m not there anymore. I retired from that business in 2000 and I have another business now, and I’m about two hours a day right now. But it might sound a little counterintuitive, Pete, but the time you spend with yourself, working on yourself, thinking about your own resilience, your flexibility, your personal accountability, thinking about your own values, that’s the reservoir that you draw from the rest of the day when you’re interacting with other people.

And when I see people who are struggling in their relationships, they’re struggling with their work, I always go back to, “How much time are you spending working on you? Because that’s the strength that we’re going to draw from for you to be successful in these other areas.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no surprise I love that. Hosting How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, there’s a wealth of power that’s unleashed when you do that. And so, I’m curious, when it comes to that 30-minute time or the four-hour time, what is happening? So, in some instances it sounds like you got some content, some programming you’re working through, like the time management audio course. Are there sort of key questions that you ask yourself? Or kind of what’s that process look like in terms of, “All right. It’s me time and I’m getting down, hunkering down to work on myself”? What’s happening in that work?

Ron Price
I mix it up. I use a variety of things because sometimes I think they stimulate my thinking in a different way. But a lot of the things that it’s included reading with a highlighter in my hand, and taking time not just to read but to jot notes down as I come across what I think is an important paragraph from an author. It may be listening to a podcast that is focused on growth. It may be listening to a book on Audible while I’m out hiking.

Oftentimes, it’s journaling and journaling around my values. So, one of my values is courage, and so I might journal one morning about, “How am I demonstrating courage right now? What are the obstacles to courage? What does courage mean to me right now?” It’s these things that help me to self-evaluate and to think about who I am and who I want to be.

And then it may, sometimes, it’s around a problem that’s come up. Maybe I have a problem relationship with somebody that I feel has let me down, or maybe they feel that I’ve let them down. I may take some of that time just to journal about, “What am I feeling? What might they be feeling? What are some different alternatives for how we could work to a more positive solution here?” But it’s always something that has to do with developing my own character, developing my own expertise and my ability to show up stronger in the workplace. Those are a number of the different things that are included.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then your experience has been that when you spend the time there, you reap more time savings, results, efficiencies in the rest of the hours of the day because you’ve spent the time there.

Ron Price
Yes. One of my mentors was a guy named Charlie “Tremendous” Jones. He was bigger than life. They called him “Tremendous” because everything was tremendous for him, and he was a character. He was really a throwback to the old comedians but also as a motivational speaker. And he said to me once, he said, “Ron, you’re going to be the same five years from now as you are today except for two things. The books you read and the people you meet, so value them both.”

And, of course, today we have a lot of other mediums to work from but that phrase always stuck with me, “The books you read…” Because I dedicate at least, a minimum of 30 minutes a day to reading books that are around my profession, or around the development of my character, I’ve now got over 3,000 books that I’ve read. That has an impact on your subconscious. And I wouldn’t say I was necessarily a great container of what I read, but you’d keep doing it and eventually it produces a benefit for you.

And then the people you meet. One of the things that has enriched my life dramatically and I think made me a better leader has been recognizing that everybody I meet is superior to me in some way. And if I’ll be humble and search for it, I can find treasure in every relationship. So, every new relationship, every relationship I’m revisiting, even with our team, maybe I’ve worked with them for 10 years, I’m still looking for more treasure. There’s something they’ve learned, something they’ve mastered that can benefit me. And I always say the expert in the room is the person who learns the least. So, if I can intentionally make myself the student in every room that I go into, I have a chance of learning the most.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. I like these perspectives. And so then, when you are transitioning out away from the solo time into the interacting with other folks, are there any particular things you recommend when we are trying to be influential, we want someone to say yes? Start having great character and expertise certainly is a huge foundation. But is there anything in particular with regard to how you do the communication?

Ron Price
First, I think it’s important to be clear yourself, to make sure that you understand your priorities and you’re organizing around your priorities, because it’s hard to influence other people if they see you changing gears, often going different directions, or chasing shiny objects. So, the first thing is to be clear yourself.

The second thing is to realize that the greatest power in working with somebody else is shared interests. So, is the thing that you want them to do something that falls into the realm of shared interests for them? They may or may not recognize that, but if you can get to that place where they see what’s in it for them and their shared interests, it’s going to be a lot easier for you to work together.

And then I would say the third thing is make sure that you’re giving them the level of support that’s appropriate, which changes depending on what assignment you’re talking about together, what you’re asking them to do. And, by the way, Pete, I’m not talking about this in a hierarchical organization only, and I’m not talking about it with people who are your subordinates. I think it’s just as important to understand the shared interests of your boss, to understand what kind of support your boss needs, to understand what’s going to help them be successful as it is somebody who’s a subordinate or a peer.

So, it’s really those three things. It’s make sure you’re clear, look for the shared interests, and then really clearly define how you can support them to help them be successful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, what are the key things to not do during the course of these conversations?

Ron Price
To talk and not listen. Of course, if you’re giving an assignment, there’s an important communication component of you speaking, but to take the time to ask what they think and to find out whether or not what you’re asking them to do is what they want to do. We find that something like 60%, 70% of the time that people don’t follow through on an assignment that was asked of them. The reason is because the person who gave them the assignment never asked them whether or not they were committed to doing it. They just assumed they were.

So, taking the time to ask and not just assume that somebody is going to follow through. So, I guess you said, “What should you not do?” Probably the biggest trouble we get into is our assumptions, the stories that we tell ourselves without ever validating whether they’re true or not. And I don’t know how many times I thought I knew what the other person was thinking, and I took the time to ask and found out what they were thinking was not at all what I had in mind.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you are asking, “Hey, are you committed to this or what are you thinking?” what are some of the particular questions that seem to yield insight again and again?

Ron Price
“Is this something that you feel comfortable being involved with? Is this something that you feel you can do well? Is this something that you will enjoy doing? And help me understand the timeframe because everything else that you have going on, help me understand the timeframe that you need in order to get this done well and in a way that you’ll enjoy it. Is there anything I’m missing? Are there issues that you’re dealing with or other responsibilities you’re carrying that may get in the way of this that it would be important for me to know about?”

And this last question is, “If it doesn’t go well, how are you going to reach out and let me know that it’s not going well?” So, I want them to feel empowered and I want them to realize that I recognize that there are a lot of things that interrupt what are our best intentions are, and that’s okay. And when that happens, let’s work on it together.

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

Ron Price
I think one of the most powerful models that I learned from another mentor, actually it’s a husband and wife team, Steve and Jill Morris, they taught me something called the “Triangle of Choice.” They said everybody has perceptions, and our perceptions are different. Everybody has wants, that’s really what drives us to get out of bed each day and go to work. And everybody has behaviors. And people will choose the behaviors that they think will best help them close the gap between their perceptions of the way things are and what they want.

And if I can respect that in everybody that I work with, if I can take the time to understand what their perceptions are and help them make sure that they’re accurate, what their wants are, and have a conversation about whether or not those wants are realistic, then, together, we can work on what are the behaviors that are going to close that gap between perceptions and wants. To me, that’s one of the most powerful leadership models I’ve been able to use in helping other people become the best version of themselves.

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

Ron Price
One of them that has stuck with me for many years was written by Napoleon Hill who is an amazing story in and of himself, and I won’t take the time to tell his story. But he said, “Whatever you can vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon, must inevitably come to pass.”

So, I’ve tried for years to prove him wrong. “Whatever you can vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon, must inevitably come to pass.” I use that in my personal life, I use it in my professional life, it’s been a wonderful compass for the way that I want to live my life.

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

Ron Price
I’ve been really fascinated with where neuroscience is going, and I’m associated with a brain science lab where we’re measuring seven different levels of people’s brainwaves. We’re looking at how they respond to things subconsciously. As a matter of fact, we’ll throw a picture or a phrase or word up on a computer screen, and before they’ve had time to read it or absorb it, we already have six pictures of their brain, what’s happening in their subconscious mind.

And what I’m fascinated about is this new science that’s just developed in the last 10 to 15 years, is when we combine it with psychology, it’s creating a whole new science of understanding how people think, what their tendencies are, and who they could become. So, I’m really captured by, or captivated by what’s happening in the world of neuroscience right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Ron Price

Well, it’s hard to get too far away from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it. Every time I read it, I see something new that inspires me.

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

Ron Price
This is kind of cheating but it’s my iPhone.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, sure. Any particular apps that make all the difference?

Ron Price
Well, the apps that I use every single day, I use Reminders. I figured out how to customize it so that it only shows me what I need to get done today. And I have another 250 tasks that are not going to show up until the day that they need to be done. I use Notes quite a bit because it’s a great place for me to capture ideas and categorize them. I use Evernote. I really use Evernote for my reflection about character and expertise. And that morning reflection Evernote is my key tool for that.

And, of course, you can’t get too far away from the Calendar and the way that it helps you to keep track of your schedules. So, having come from the days when you had to do all that on paper, I know people complain about all the noise that we have with email and everything to-date, but I view it as what tremendous power we have in our hands. And I heard it, I’m not a scientist to be able to validate, but I heard that the computing power in our iPhones or Androids today is more computing power than it took to land a man on the moon.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ron Price
It’s that early morning time. I also love hiking, and that’s a habit that I try to get at least six miles in five days a week. But that early morning time is really the greatest source of strength.

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

Ron Price
The thing that people talk to me a lot about after they’ve read Growing Influence is this little dialogue that takes place between the two main characters, where David, who’s a retired CEO, is mentoring Emily who’s a middle manager in a tech company. Just as she’s leaving one of their conversations, he says, “Remember, Emily, lead with logic, follow with emotion.”

And it’s the whole idea that if you want to optimize your influence, never let emotion get in front of logic. And sometimes that means you have to wait and calm down. But people come back and quote that to me over and over and over again, that that really impacted the way that they deal with this noise between logic and emotion.

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

Ron Price
Price-Associates.com. And that leads you to our other websites. We have a lot of videos and podcasts and blogs and all kinds of resources that are available there. So, Price-Associates.com.

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

Ron Price
Well, I think you can already hear my bias, Pete, that is that people really have unlimited potential, only limited by how much they decide they want to develop who they can be. I really think that the more you pour into becoming the best version of yourself, the more you recognize how unlimited that potential is, and it’s a little bit each day, even if it’s 10 minutes or 15 minutes, it’s a little bit each day, over time, will transform your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Ron, this has been a treat. Thanks so much for taking this time. And good luck in all your adventures.

Ron Price
Thanks, Pete. It’s been great to be with you.

500: Building Unshakeable Self-Esteem and Confidence with Victor Cheng

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Victor Cheng says: "I'm worthy simply because I exist."

Victor Cheng discusses the mindset and habits that lead to powerful self-esteem and self-confidence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The foundational mindset that yields self-esteem
  2. The three skills for developing healthy self-esteem
  3. How to recover from confidence-shaking setbacks

About Victor:

Victor Cheng is the founder of CaseInterview.com, the most prominent blog on the management consulting industry.  He also serves as a strategic advisor to Inc. 500 CEOs, and has been featured as a business expert in media, including Fox Business TV Network, MSNBC, TIME, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes.

Victor is a former McKinsey & Company consultant and has been a senior executive in several publicly owned technology companies. He’s a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in quantitative economics, and the author of several business books.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Victor Cheng Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Victor, thanks so much for joining us on the 500th episode of How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Victor Cheng
Thanks, Pete. I appreciate that and honored to be the 500th episode.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m delighted to have you and, in a way, I really think of you, I don’t know if you know this, Victor, but your voice is inside my head almost every workday as I think about how to make epic content and build audience. And you’re sort of like maybe my content conscience, the little voice in my head who won’t let me get away with publishing suboptimal stuff, so I think all the listeners can thank you for that.

Victor Cheng
Thank you. I appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I think one of my favorite tidbits along those lines was we were making a program together for interns, and I had something about, “Hey, have enough clothes ready so that you don’t have to do laundry for two weeks.” And you said, “Pete, this is not sufficient. I need to hear how many blue dress shirts, how many white dress shirts, Like, “Okay. Yes, sir.” And that’s really stuck with me, it’s like, “Okay, am I thinking about this from a, ‘I have two weeks of clothes,’ or am I thinking about this from a, ‘These are the particular garments that you need?’” It makes all the difference.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, I know I think I always like to have, when I help people, I try to be as actionable-oriented as possible and I know some of the preparations you sent over for our talk today was around be actionable as you can, and I strive to do that as best I can and it sounds like you do too.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you, yes. Well, so let’s talk a little bit, you and your team at CaseInterview.com, you serve another audience of professionals who would like to achieve and more and do better. Can you orient us, what’s this brand all about?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, so the case interview term refers to a kind of interview that’s very widely used in the management consulting industry, and I help people who aspire to enter that industry with that interview process, which is very different than other industries. And so, most of my audience are people who at one point in their careers were very interested in that interview process, and most of my readers are either have worked in consulting, used to work in consulting, tried to work in consulting but went in a different direction. And the one thing they have in common, which I think they share with your audience, is they really want to be awesome at their jobs. And so, that’s kind of a tie-in between the two of us.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’re also really great at zeroing in on what do folks really want and need to learn and then building that for them. And so, I understand you and your team, you were kind of surprised when you discovered this need for developing self-confidence and self-esteem. How did that come about?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, the short answer is listening and paying attention. So, I noticed that we would try to help people be successful in their careers in this particular industry. The industry is very difficult to get into, maybe like less than 1% acceptance rate. So, there are a lot of people who strive to get in but can’t, and a lot of them will contact me, and say, “I just feel so down and out. I went very far in the interview process but I didn’t get a job offer that I wanted, or I got a second-tier offer.”

And so, you find these people who are, in many cases, with Ivy League degrees, sometimes multiple Ivy League degrees, feeling they’re kind of worthless when they’ve accomplished almost everything except kind of these one or two things that were really important for them. And so, I realized there was kind of a gap between kind of their achievements and how they feel about themselves. And so, I’m noticing, “Hey, there’s a self-esteem problem.” I see sort of, quite often, within my audience and started to help them with that issue.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating right there in terms of you said multiple Ivy League degrees and all kinds of credentials and achievements, and yet that’s sort of not enough, they’re not experiencing or feeling the self-esteem and the self-confidence. What do you suppose is underneath that?

Victor Cheng
Well, one of the things I like to distinguish between is the concept of self-esteem versus other esteem. And esteem really is how one feels about one’s self. And how one feels about one’s self kind of either come internally, right, and that would be self-esteem, or it can come from external sources. So, when someone is feeling really rotten about themselves because something outside of them has occurred, they didn’t get into this school they wanted to, they didn’t get the job offer, there was recession, their net worth took a big hit, stock market went down, they didn’t get a promotion, whatever that might be, and that is what I call other-based esteem. And that is when you tie your identity and sense of self worth to things outside of your control in your environment that aren’t always your decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so I think that that’s common and I would certainly prefer to have my esteem coming from myself as opposed to the fluctuating whims of the economy or other people’s opinions. So, how do you pull that off in terms of building that internal fortress of self-esteem?

Victor Cheng
Well, this starts with the mindset and the mentality. I think there are sort of two schools of thought or two ways of looking at the world and human worth, right? So, one is what I call the newborn baby approach, which is when a new child is born, like everyone looks at this baby, “Oh, they’re so amazing, they’re so precious, they’re like perfect in every way possible,” even though probably they aren’t in an objective sense, but that they have inherent worth, that they’re amazing purely because they exist. They haven’t got into Harvard yet, they haven’t had major achievements, they haven’t done many, many things in life because they’re literally just existing. And so, that idea of inherent worth I like a lot. And it’s very much associated with healthy self-esteem.

The other approach, which I mentioned, I alluded to earlier, was we tie our identity to outside achievements. So, one of the important things with developing self-esteem is to accept the premise of self-based esteem. And the premise of good, healthy self-esteem is this concept of inherent worth, that you and I, we’re worthy human beings solely because we are human beings and for no other reason. So, it’s a starting point to buy into that belief.

And anytime one’s actions or instinctive impulses of beating one’s self up for some kind of perceived failure, you have to remind yourself, “I’m worthy simply because I exist.” So, that mindset is an important starting point to have to kick off that process. And then the rest of the process really involves a lot of self-acceptance. When you have, externally, wanting to esteem, your esteem will fluctuate based on kind of the whims and volatility of the external world.

And what a lot of people do when they have the external environment changes for the negative, they feel worse about themselves, and they either beat themselves up, feel ashamed, embarrassed, or irritated at themselves, or shaming themselves. And that is a symptom or a sign of lack of self-acceptance, right?

So, when the world changes, when your life changes, when you make a mistake, healthy self-esteem people say, “No, I still care about myself, I still value myself, I still love myself. I may choose to do things differently going forward based on mistakes and lessons I’ve learned, but as a human being, my worth does not fluctuate based on my achievements or how the external world perceives me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, there are so much really good stuff here and these are some really, I guess, profound philosophical nuggets in terms of I’m thinking about many religions or wisdom traditions. We talked about the intrinsic dignity of a human being, whether it’s Christianity, humans being made in the image and likeness of God, or from a secular perspective, like the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. And so, I’m with you, I’m bought into that. But if folks aren’t, do you have any kind of support pillars or evidence or how do you persuade them to make the leap?

Victor Cheng
Well, I think it comes twofold. One is the choice, making that choice consciously, and then the second part is there are certain sets of behavior       s and habits and practices that help reinforce that. And so, I don’t have a magic pill, if you would, on how to get someone to sort of buy into that idea. It really is deciding that’s the way you want to live your life. And after that, it’s making a lot of habitual choices and habit changes, which I’d love to talk about, in terms of reinforcing that. But, really, it comes down to a choice because you either say, “Hey, I’m going to live that way,” or not. And then if you decide to live that way, then it’s getting better at the habits around that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, what are some of those habits that go a long way in terms of reinforcing that?

Victor Cheng
Right. So, once you believe that sort of philosophy in life, if you would, and you’ve come to realize the importance of self-acceptance, there are three other skills that are really important to developing healthy self-esteem. And those are what I call individuation, boundaries, and self-care. So, let me explain what each of those are because they’re kind of, you know, those terms come from the psychology world so not everyone may be familiar with them.

But individuation is a huge one. I think this is where a lot of people, myself included, have had difficulty in making the transition from other-based esteem to self-esteem. And individuation basically says, “I am comfortable with myself, with my thoughts, and my feelings, and my identity. And my thoughts, feelings, and identity will not be altered based on your thoughts, and your feelings, and your identity.”

So, for example, do you have a favorite sport, Pete, or a favorite team?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I don’t follow sports much but my favorite sport to participate in would be swimming or weightlifting.

Victor Cheng
Got it, okay. So, Michael Phelps, great swimmer, most of us have heard of him. You could argue Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer of all time. I could argue something completely different. The ability to have what’s called good individuation is where I can feel confident in my decision on who I think the greatest swimmer of all time is, you can feel confident in yours, and we can both acknowledge that we have a difference of opinion on that, right?

So, where you find is some people with very low self-esteem and no self-esteem cannot agree to disagree, right? They have difficulty agreeing to disagree. And what ends up happening is when you see two people with low self-esteem who lack this skill, the arguments never end because they’re trying to convince the other person they are right.

So, a simple example is my favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla, yours might be chocolate. We could argue who’s right, but what this really is, is a conflict of opinion. You have your opinion for what you feel is the best flavor of ice cream, I have mine, and if we were sort of two healthy people with great self-esteem, we go, “Wait. You like chocolate, I like vanilla,” we agree to disagree, end of conversation, right?

And if you watch most sitcoms, most movies, a lot of marriages, you’ll find people will just argue forever. And the reality is there is no right, particularly when it’s a subjective subject, there is no right answer, right? And it’s really what you decide for yourself. So, people with good individuation won’t get riled up, or triggered, or irritated, or sucked into social media debates about something that’s basically an opinion. And so, that’s one part of healthy individuation, and you can separate the validity of your thoughts around your ideas from other people’s opinions about your ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
And I suppose maybe and this could be a totally different concept.

Victor Cheng
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But I’m guessing that if you’re strong and healthy there, then you can also be okay discovering that you’re wrong and adopting a new belief, like, “Holy smokes, Victor, you’ve brought up some excellent points about Michael Phelps that I was not previously aware of. I’m going to chew on this, and I may choose to adopt your position, but that doesn’t mean that I am a loser or a moron for having previously held a prior position.”

Victor Cheng
That’s right. And so, people with healthy self-esteem and self-based esteem are able to hear feedback without getting defensive because either of us are totally wrong, or actually there’s some merit there and I can consider it, but regardless of whether I accept it or reject your feedback, in no way is your feedback going to impact my sense of identity and worth because I’m pretty secure in my identity and worth.

And so, that’s why there’s a huge advantage at being awesome at your career when you have good healthy self-esteem because you can listen to feedback without getting defensive. And if you look at some notable figures in sort of in the news these days, some very high-profile people cannot take criticism, they cannot admit when they’re wrong, they can’t take feedback, they can’t apologize, they double and triple down on a position even when all objective data and feedback says they’re wrong, and that can oftentimes be a sign of someone who’s uncomfortable being wrong because they tie being wrong to a sense of poor identity. And so, that can be a very difficult situation to navigate.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think there’s a famous scientist, and maybe you’ll know this, but there was quote I thought was awesome. It went something like there were two scientists, they were having a bit of a disagreement over time about a theory of sorts, and then one scientist got some great experimental data, then the other scientist said, “Hey, all right. It looks like your theory is right.” And then the person who changed his view got criticized by the prevailing scientist, but then the changing scientist said, “Well, when new evidence, just that my prior beliefs were incorrect, I change my beliefs. What, sir, do you do?” Zing!

Victor Cheng
There you go. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
I better look that up. All right. Okay, so that’s individuation. And we also got boundaries and self-care.

Victor Cheng
Yeah. So, boundaries would be setting rules for yourself to protect from people who have sort of toxic behaviors. So, one example is like name-calling. Name-calling is very, very damaging on esteem. If you call yourself a name, like, “I’m such a loser,” you do that a thousand times in your life, or 10,000 times, or 100,000 times, it’s going to have an impact, right? So, name-calling and avoiding it is super important to protecting your esteem.

So, one rule is I will never call myself a name, right? And if I do, I will call a timeout and find a different way to express my frustration. That’s an example about an internal boundary, a rule that I govern my own behavior. Another one is around governing what situations I am willing to allow myself to be in. So, for example, for me, if I’m in a situation when someone does engage in sort of very toxic name-calling at me, I have a rule that I will remove myself from that situation.

So, if it is one of my kids, and they’re getting really volatile, I will call timeout for myself. I will leave that room, I let my kids know, “When you’re ready to have this conversation in a respectful way, I’m willing to continue, and let me know when you’ve calmed down.” If it’s a client that does that, which does not last very long, I say the same thing, or eventually I fire them fairly quickly because I don’t want to be around people who would try to bring me down because it is not healthy behavior, not good for me.

So, boundaries are a set of rules, kind of if-then statements, if you would, that ensures that you’re going to be safe and your esteem is going to be protected. It’s a form of self-defense in a healthy productive way. And the way you define a boundary is, “If this scenario happens, then I’m going to do this.” “If I catch myself calling myself a name, then I’m going to immediately stop and try to find some other way to address that feeling.” So, it’s an if-then rule that you decide in advance as you discover the kinds of situations where you really feel very bad, like you don’t want that situation to repeat, you create a new boundary rule for yourself as a way to continually get you safer and safer and protecting your sense of worth.

Pete Mockaitis
So, name-calling, that’s a great area to put some boundaries around. Any other top boundaries you recommend?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, another one would be lack of acceptance of differences. So, for example, you know, we got in this debate of vanilla ice cream versus chocolate. A healthy version of that conversation would be, “Oh, I see, Pete, you like chocolate, I like vanilla. What do you know? We’re different. Okay, that’s great.” And I can affirm and validate that, “I can see clearly, Pete, you like chocolate ice cream,” right? And I don’t have to feel a pressure to try to change your mind, I don’t have to like shame you or say, “Only losers think chocolate ice cream is a bit like…you’ve got to be kidding me, that’s so 1990s.” I don’t have to do any of that putting you down.

So, one form of boundary is to look for people who can receive your ideas and not try to tell you your ideas are wrong. They might share additional information, they might try to persuade you, but they don’t make you try to feel bad just for having an opinion. Another variation of that that’s even more important is feelings. When you have a feeling, a feeling is always valid. A feeling is really a personal experience in how you’re experiencing a situation.

So, for example, if you go to a funeral, and maybe you didn’t know that person very well because you’re maybe with somebody, a significant other and they know the person really well, and you’re very sad because you just felt sad at the funeral. If someone who says, “Why do you feel sad? You didn’t know him, right? Like, that’s so lame,” that would be an example of someone who is encroaching on your right to have your own emotional experience about the situations you encounter.

And it’s neither right or wrong but all emotions have their own experiential validity that can be acknowledged. It’s such a healthy behavior to acknowledge your own feelings and to be around people who are able to acknowledge your feelings even though they don’t necessarily agree with them, and that’s a form of respect that’s important.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, not to muddy the waters too much here, but I’d love it if we can maybe make this even more difficult with regard to, so sometimes we have opinions about things that maybe they are perceived as right and wrong, have big consequences. So, let’s just say that there’s someone who’s vegan and they believe that meat is murder, and that the cows and all of the resources to tend to them are terrible for the earth and the greenhouse gases and CO2 and climate change, and meat is just bad news, and then someone else is an enthusiastic beef eater who’s into that. So, now, these folks need to co-exist and they have strong feelings. So, does that change the game at all or how do you think about those situations?

Victor Cheng
It depends on the context of the disagreement. If it is in general, “Is veganism right or wrong? Is eating meat right or wrong?” that’s one kind of conversation. And the other would be more like policy change, make changing the laws that govern society because laws impact all of us and, therefore, we need to settle that dispute. But if it’s a matter of personal choice, relating a healthy interaction is, “Pete, I see you feel very strongly about being vegan and I respect that choice that you make for yourself. It’s not the choice I’m comfortable making for myself and I can see that we’re different, but I totally honor and respect that that’s what you’ve chosen for your life.”

And you might say, “Hey, Victor, there’s some new information that you might not be aware of, we should be open to hearing some reasons why you, Victor, might want to consider eating less meat or even converting to veganism.” And I would say either, “Yes, I’m open to hearing about it,” or, “No, I’m not,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Victor Cheng
If I say, “No, I’m not,” and you push it anyway then you’re crossing a boundary. You’re trying to control my personal life choices. This is my body, I control what I do with my body, and you’re encroaching on that limit. If I invite you, “You know, I heard a lot about it, I’ve seen some documentaries, I’ve seen some companies that try to make money in that market, yeah, I’m curious. What have you seen? Why are you vegan? Is it environmental? Is it philosophical? Is it moral? I’d be curious to learn more.” So, if I give you an invitation, and you accept that, then you can fully discuss that.

So, it is recognizing when a choice is yours to make, when it is somebody else’s to make, or if it is something that we are in it together. So, for example, we’ve got a coupon to go buy ice cream and we can only get like one pint of ice cream and we got to choose vanilla or chocolate, then we have a decision to make, that’s a joint decision. And we can agree that you like chocolate, that I like vanilla, you think chocolate is the best in the world, I think vanilla is the best in the world, that’s fine. We agree to disagree on our opinions on that but we still have to make a resource allocation decision because we can only get one, and that becomes a problem-solving exercise of, well, how do we solve that problem.

So, again, it depends on whether this is a judgment of somebody’s personal choice or is some kind of joint decision, or social decision, or team decision, or in a couple, a marital decision that impacts both people. So, that’s kind of the distinction between those two.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And now let’s hear about self-care.

Victor Cheng
Well, self-care is recognizing that in many ways you have to take care of yourself because you can’t always rely on somebody else to do it for you. And I think healthy relating is about taking responsibility for your own health, physically and mentally, and to look out for yourself. And I think healthy relating is when two people, if we’re talking about a romantic context, two people in a couple, they’re monitoring themselves, they’re figuring out what they need, they are requesting help from their partner when that help is needed, but it is their own responsibility to look out for themselves and to ask for help when they need it.

I think things get problematic when people sort of assume somebody else is going to take care of them for you, particularly if you just assume it but don’t actually ask or have them consent to it or form some kind of agreement. So, I think good maintenance and support of self-esteem involves taking care of yourself.

So, a simple example, it is very hard to have high self-esteem if, for example, you lack the ability to provide for yourself financially, right? So if you’re in an abusive relationship, whether that’d be like a marital one or working for a terrible boss, if you are dependent on that other person for your financial resources and they put you down, for example, it’s very hard to walk away because you have a form of dependence on them that makes it very hard to assert your boundaries to keep yourself emotionally safe.

So, if you have your own ability to earn your own living, you have a resume that’s strong, you have the ability to go get other jobs if you need to, then it becomes easier to say, when someone steps across the line, to say, “You know, that wasn’t cool with me. I’d like you to stop doing that.” And if it happens repeatedly then I need to reevaluate whether I can be in this form of relationship with you or not. And that gives you a lot of power to take care of your needs when you have the ability and means to take care of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say self-care, I was originally envisioning meditation and massage and sleep, but you’re thinking about just actually having the means to care for yourself.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, and that’s certainly included in that, but it is a very broad sense. So medical health, dental, like the basics of life. It is very hard to feel good about yourself if you feel ill, right? And so those two go together. So, all those skills become a form of esteem. So, think about the opposite, think about sort of the stereotype of the man-child, right? Usually male, maybe in the 20s, 30 years of age, and they just can’t take care of themselves at all. They aren’t able to feed themselves. They can’t do their own laundry, they have difficulty paying bills, and they feel bad about themselves.

And so even though they have inherent worth, they feel bad because, like, “I have to rely on everyone else around me to do anything.” And so, it’s very hard to feel that sense of internal power when a lot of basic needs you can’t meet for yourself. You’re just so reliant on other people. So, you can see how someone would naturally gravitate towards having this sense of worth be tied to other people’s opinions that fluctuate just because they do when you can’t take care of yourself. You get much more sense of a grounded-ness around a volatile world when you have the ability to take care of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, that’s really true. And what’s coming to mind for me right now is the funniest example. But we had a situation in which, well, I guess, so we’re recent homeowners.

Victor Cheng
Oh, cool.

Pete Mockaitis
And so it’s kind of doesn’t feel so great, I guess from a self-care perspective, when I don’t really understand what the heck is going on with so many of the systems, with plumbing, or electrical, or whatever, and maybe people feel this way like when they go to the mechanic with their car. And like, “I don’t know what’s going on, I hope you’re not lying to me and ripping me off with the work that needs to happen.”

And then, by contrast, we had this experience where our refrigerator temperature was just going up in such that it wasn’t even cool anymore and we had to throw some things out, and that was sort of frustrating because it was only like three years old. And so, I went through a process of assessing the temperature with this cool temperature laser gun and watching some YouTube videos.

Victor Cheng
That sounds like you, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, clearing some stuff out and opening a panel on the freezer and discovering that there was a huge ice clog where the cold air flow would go from the freezer so I resolved all of this, and then things worked properly. And I just felt awesome.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
I am capable of ensuring that my family’s food remains safe and cool.

Victor Cheng
Yep, I can totally relate. And I recently moved in this new house. Like, a lot of little things I didn’t like, it’s like light switches and light bulbs are wrong, so I changed all the light switches, they’re all motion-sensor lights. I put timers in the bathrooms because I wanted them to have an auto off, so I changed all that, and a few amounts of electrical works, I changed out a chandelier. I did this like 15 years ago when I first bought a house a long time ago, and it felt really good to be able to do it myself. And, sure, I could’ve hired an electrician but these are literally 10-minute jobs, there’s something very satisfying for me about doing that.

And this will be kind of crossed over from self-esteem into self-confidence. So, what you just talked about, what I just talked about, is we are developing competence in certain areas, and part of that feeling of feeling really good is feeling confidence in our competence in our ability to do certain things. And sometimes people kind of get self-esteem and confidence mixed up, but this is probably a great segue to switch it over to talk more about self-confidence and where that comes from.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, please. Well, how about we hit that distinction, and then we talk about self-confidence?

Victor Cheng
So, self-esteem really is how you feel about yourself and your worth as a human being. It’s very global around the essence of who you are. And confidence tends to be situational-dependent around particular areas of skill. So, I am not confident at dancing ballet, okay? Not my thing, never done it, never taken a class, I watched my kids do it when they’re little, but I feel very un-confident in my ability to dance ballet. In fact, I feel terrified if I had to do that in public.

But when it comes to this case interview thing, the thing I’m known for professionally, I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ve done it so many times, I’m very confident in my core area of expertise professionally. And so, confidence is about a specific domain of activity whereas self-esteem is about your domain as a human being. That’s kind of the difference in scope between those two concepts.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s very clear. And so, when it comes to boosting self-confidence within a domain, how does that go about?

Victor Cheng
First, there’s competence. How good are you at something objectively? There is what I call outer confidence. What are your behaviors and actions, and how do they signal your comfort level with that particular skill? So, an example would be you see something in a job interview and they feel, they act very nervous, very fidgety, they say, “Hmm,” and “Ahh” a lot, and they look un-confident, and that prompts an external person to question their competence. So, it’s this idea of outside or external confidence, how you come across.

And then there’s internal confidence which is really how you feel about your skill level in that particular area. So those three, I think, are more useful way to think about this idea of confidence because sometimes you can act confident but be really incompetent and not know what you’re doing and people figure that out eventually. You can be really good at what you do but you sort of underperceive your own skill level and you sell yourself short a lot. That might be something called like impostor syndrome if you’re familiar with that term. So, it’s useful to have those distinctions because you address each of those particular challenges in those three different areas quite differently.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I’d love to hear, so if you want to build that up, how would you recommend making it happen?

Victor Cheng
Several what not to do. So, one thing people often suggest is to come across as more confident, “Fake it till you make it.” You’ve heard that phrase. And I disagree with that a lot. I like this idea of what I call earned confidence, which means like I put in the work, I feel good about myself, and I demonstrate that. So, in your case, it’s around the refrigerator. In my case it’s around light switches. We put in the work, we learned the skill, we got better at it, we feel really good internally about it, that inner confidence, and then as we talk about what we’ve done, we express our stories and our experiences in a confident way, and it comes across. It’s sort of a standard cycle when everything works really well.

So, the first foundation of all this is to really accurately assess your competence level. Like, what is your skill level in this area? So, with ballet, for example, my skill level is zero, right? My confidence is also zero. It makes no sense for me to try to fake till I make it because I’m just going to look like a fool. Better to admit it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, these are the American Idol people.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, better to admit it than to prove it to other people. So, if I want to improve my confidence as a ballet dancer, what I really need to do is to work on my competence, work on my skill level, and learn, and put in the work, to learn the skill, and to get good at it. And as that improves, for someone with good self-esteem, as your competence improves so does your confidence because they’re supposed to go hand-in-hand when you have a good sense of self-esteem.

So, for those situations where, again, foundation is there, good sense of self-esteem, you’re lacking a skill in an area, you don’t feel defensive about it, you can completely admit you don’t know, you want to learn, you want to receive feedback, the next step really is just to go get the skill. Learn, read a book, YouTube videos, whatever it is, get the skill, practice the skill, get good, and confidence naturally flows from that because you’ve earned it, because you’ve rightfully earned it. So, that’s sort of like the ideal scenario.

Sometimes people have a situation where they have that skill level but for whatever reason they are either over or underconfident particularly externally. And oftentimes that can be sometimes a sign of low self-esteem. So, for example, if I’m really good at what I do, but I constantly put myself down, I’m constantly like really unsure of myself, yet my track record is 100% correct, like my objective track record is amazing, but the way I act about that and express that is very, very poor, that can be a self-esteem, a signal of a self-esteem problem because maybe I feel like I don’t deserve this feeling of confidence that I’ve rightfully have earned but don’t feel comfortable accepting. And so that becomes a different way of solving that problem.
So when you’ve earned the right to be confident but you just can’t do it, that becomes more of an issue of looking at your sense of self-esteem, the things we talked about earlier about self-acceptance, individuation, having good boundaries, and self-care, and you kind of go back to the foundation sort of shore up the foundation. The flipside is also true where if you are always overconfident and the way you express your level of skill is far greater than your actual skill level, that’s called arrogance, right? And you’ll see people oftentimes perceived as arrogant.

In those situations, their sort of cockiness is one that’s not earned and kind of rubs a lot of people the wrong way when they’re overly confident, they have not earned the right to have that confidence. Michael Phelps says he’s the best swimmer of all time. That’s like called accurate thinking, right? He’s confident, he’s not cocky, he’s not arrogant, it’s just true. If I say I’m the greatest swimmer in the world, I’m being an arrogant fool because, clearly, I’m not, right?

And so, if I’m doing that regularly, always overestimating my own sense of competence in an area, projecting a level of confidence that is not earned, that, too, is a form, oftentimes a form of low self-esteem. And it’s a little counterintuitive but the reason that happens is because people with low self-esteem cannot bear the thought of being thought of as poorly, or being imperfect, or having flaws, or having to learn something because they haven’t developed the skill yet so they go around pretending and projecting a level of confidence that’s not warranted as a way to hide the fact that they’re really ashamed of their skill level. And so that, too, can also be a form of self-esteem problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, this is very helpful in terms of the distinctions and a means of folks recognizing themselves in some of this. you can kind of diagnose, “Okay, well, then what are the interventions that’s going to make the impact?” Because it’s a very different road in terms of, “Okay, hey, got to build some skills,” versus, “I got to see if I really do buy into this notion that my worth doesn’t fluctuate with other people’s opinions.”

Victor Cheng
Yeah, and it’s an entire process. I like the word practice. It’s a practice to stay focused on yourself, to stay grounded, and to get your sense of worth from internally. And I think it’s important to only be in situations that can reinforce that and try to avoid situations where that gets eroded over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to hear, if you do take a hit, like so you have many folks that you know who they had big dreams, the dream job, the interview didn’t go their way, or there’s disappointment, or demotion, or getting fired, when you take a hit, what’s sort of your recommended SOS or recovery strategy there?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, so when you want something, you don’t get it, sort of the natural and appropriate and healthy reaction is a feeling of disappointment, right? “I wanted that, I didn’t get it, I feel disappointed.” So, someone with healthy self-esteem will feel naturally disappointed. They’re human, that’s what they do. What’s unhealthy and more indicative of low or no self-esteem is when a setback occurs and rather than be disappointed, they go way beyond that to say, “I’m a loser. I feel worthless.” At the extreme, it’s, “Maybe I should kill myself,” that would be the extreme version of that, “because I didn’t achieve, and, therefore I have no value. When I have no value, well, logically, why would you want to continue living if you have no value.” That’s kind of the weird mental cognitive distortion of that sort of spirals around suicidal ideation and whatnot.

So, the SOS on that really is sort of going back to around self-esteem, and when there is a setback, one of the things you want to do is to have self-acceptance. This goes back to one of the key steps of self-esteem, is having self-acceptance. And one thing I didn’t mention earlier about self-acceptance is rather than using other people’s opinions or achievement as sort of your scorecard on how you feel about yourself, the opposite of that is to have an internal scorecard, if you would, on how you feel about yourself and, in particular, have the internal scorecard not be around achievement but around values, what are your personal values, what’s important to you in life.

And so, I’ll give you an example. So, a couple of my values includes respect, kindness, love, adventure, learning, teaching, these are things that are important to me. And, for me, at the end of my day, like, “Did I have a good day?” That’s the question I ask myself, “Did I have a good day this week? Or this day? Did I have a good week this week? A good month this month? Did I have a good year?” And it’s easy to use as sort of measuring stick to make that determination. Again, the alternative is to have an internal measuring stick around your own values.

So, for me, regardless of whether I have a setback or not, I say, “Well, today, was I respectful to myself and to others?” I go, “Yeah, I think I was.” “Was I kind to myself and others?” “Well, yeah, I was.” “Did I learn something new today?” “Oh, yeah, I definitely learned a lot today because I made some mistakes.” “Did I teach something today?” because I’m big on teaching. “Like, yeah, I did teach somethings to my kids. I turned this failure into a lesson for my kids and so they can learn from my mistakes so I feel good about that.”

And, basically, you kind of go through the list of your own personal values, and you go, “Okay, did I live by my values today? Separate from outcomes, separate from what may have happened, positive or negative, did I live by my values?” And if I do, it was a good day. And if I didn’t then I have the option to do better tomorrow. So, it’s a good way to buffer one’s self from specific outcomes because you can’t always control the outcomes. We can only control what we put into the outcome.

So, you can control the inputs, cannot always control the outputs, and the way to measure your value from a sense of self-worth standpoint is to compare your inputs relative to your values and see if you’ve lived the way you wanted to and did you put in the effort the way that you wanted to. And then if you did, be happy with yourself because you did what you’re supposed to do in the way you want to do it. And what happens, not always in your control.

Pete Mockaitis
And I imagine it really is powerful compounded sort of day after day, week after week, with those check-ins in terms of really forming kind of like an unshakeable core in terms of, “This is who I am and what I’m about and what’s more important to me is how my check-in goes internally than whether you give me this opportunity right now.”

Victor Cheng
Yeah, and I think the inverse is also true. If you don’t do the internal check-in against your internal scorecard, then the temptation is very, very strong to do it with the external scorecard, right? So, “I didn’t get the job offer,” “My net worth wasn’t as high as my friends and peers,” “I didn’t get the promotion. I got passed over.” Whatever setback you have in your external world and have lived it. It’s a miserable way to live because these are things that aren’t in your control. But how you contribute to what you do and how you show up, how you put in the effort, how you conduct yourself and your own behaviors, that is 100% in your control. 

And so that’s why it’s less volatile is because it’s in your control. And you can control it. And if it doesn’t go well, you can change it. When it’s very achieve- and externally-driven, you can’t control it, which means if you had a bad day you can’t even fix it because it’s something somebody else is deciding, not yourself. And that’s a very hard way to have a very calm and peaceful life when you’re always dependent on the whims of the external world, which is at times quite whimsical.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So, that’s powerful stuff. Victor, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Victor Cheng
I’ll mention one other thing that kind of can sort of get people on the wrong track around self-esteem. Self-esteem, when done well, comes from parents with good self-esteem, that’s maybe a better way to say that. So, when they’re pretty comfortable with who they are, they’re very well individuated in the sense that you can disagree with your parents and they’ll be okay with that, and they have good boundaries, and they have good self-care, they’re good parents who have that skillset are going to naturally teach that to the kids.

When that process sort of goes awry is how you end up with adults who have other esteem, like myself for most of my life. And so, this concept of what I call traumas, that’s useful to be aware of. A trauma can be like a major life event. So, like if your parents were killed in a car crash and you’re orphaned at five years of age, like this whole process of building self-esteem gets completely contorted and can get really off the rails, right? That’s an example of a major trauma.

Another example of trauma is what I call a micro trauma. It’s lots of little things that erode your esteem what otherwise would develop in childhood, and that could be as simple as your parents only paid attention to you when you brought back a perfect 4.0 GPA. You got all As and suddenly they’re really excited about that. And you got one B and they kind of look the other way. And it was very clear that you weren’t approved of, right? When that happens hundreds of times, thousands of times in little ways, those micro traumas, they really add up. And so, even if nothing major negative happened in your life going up until maybe age 20, if a lot of little things just repeat over and over and over again, you can still destroy the normal path of self-esteem through sort of this erosion of what I call micro traumas.

So, that’s something to realize. If you haven’t been around people with a lot of high self-esteem, particularly the people who raised you, that’s a very high likelihood you’re going to have the same kind of other-based esteem that they may have. And people with other esteem tend to inflict micro traumas on the people around them. And so, it’s just something to be aware of to get with your own behavior towards others and also to be mindful of the other behaviors that you’re receiving from others to determine whether that’s something you want to be around or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you.

Victor Cheng
Sure.

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

Victor Cheng
There are several that I like coming out of the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I found that book when I was 17, 16, and it’s taken me more decades than I care to count to try to master the seven habits. I think I’ve gotten six down. I’m still working on the last one for the last two decades which is around self-care, ironically. He calls it renewal or sharpening the saw, which is another word for self-care and taking good care of yourself in all aspects.

So, I like all the seven habits. I think one is “Begin with the end in mind,” what do you want to achieve in your life and kind of work backwards. Another one which is really great for self-esteem is “First seek to understand the other person before you seek to be understood.” And so that goes back to our example of why you like veganism versus not, why you like chocolate ice cream versus vanilla, and be able to hear other people. You can only do that really well if you have good esteem where you don’t feel threatened by somebody’s opinion that might be different than yours. You can genuinely hear them and understand them, that’s a very useful skill.

So, I love all of seven habits and I find those quite useful as a way to live life.

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

Victor Cheng
Let’s see. Well, personally, I carry a Leatherman. I have one in my belt right now. It’s a multifunction tool, kind of like a Swiss Army knife but better.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, literally, a collection of physical tools.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, literally. It does really. That helps me function around the house much better. I like that. And then, let’s see, on the job. I like Trello, which is a workflow management tool. I use that as a workflow management tool. I like that for coordinating multiple tasks, I need to follow a set process, that’s really useful for my team from a management standpoint and working in collaboration with others.

And then, individually, it seems really basic but let me explain it because it’ll seem kind of too basic, but my calendar. I think the calendar is a very, very powerful tool and there are probably two things I do with it that are probably a little atypical which I’ll mention. So, one is, and this reminds me, I’m not doing it currently but I’m going to start because I don’t like being a hypocrite. But for many years I would set appointments with myself.

So, most of us will set appointments with other people. I like to set appointments with myself. And the appointments I set with myself or for myself are either do things I want to work on because they’re important, or they are related to self-care. So, there are certain timeslots in a week that I do self-care activities and I will schedule that in there as a deliberate way of taking care of myself in being productive and effective.

And this can be time to read, the time to take an online class, they can be more mundane like I go to the chiropractor regularly, I had one yesterday. That was on my calendar. I carved out time to go to do that. And that can be very, very useful. The other part around the calendar that I use is I really like setting recurring appointments. I use Google Calendar and they can do this sort of every Monday, every Thursday at 2:00 o’clock kind of a thing. And what I’ll do is I will set recurring appointments with people that I’m close to, like my close friends.

And so, the reason I like that is I can make one decision to have a recurring phone call with somebody, like every Tuesday at 2:00 o’clock, and that can oftentimes, in my case, it’s gone on for years, in some cases decades.

And so it takes a lot of time to connect with people with a similar sort of philosophy in life, and that’s very enjoyable without spending, in some cases, more time trying to schedule the phone call than the actual phone call itself, which is very true for myself because I’m quite busy and a lot of my friends who are equally busy. So, I like that as a productivity tool as well.

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

Victor Cheng
Sure. So, one of the things I wanted to offer for your folks is I have a class around how to improve your self-esteem, and I wanted to give everyone an excerpt to that free as a gift. And people can get that at CaseInterview.com/awesome sort of as a gift to all the people who are awesome here looking to be awesome at their careers. So, again, that’s CaseInterview.com/awesome and that’s a free excerpt from my class on how to improve your self-esteem and develop unshakable confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, I think I’ll leave everyone sort of a quote from Stephen Covey, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind,” figure out what you want for your life, your career, and work backwards, it’s a process for getting there. It’s been very useful for me. I encourage others to do it, and I would challenge everyone to think about that and to work backwards and to work towards it once you figure that process.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Victor, thank you so much for sharing this good stuff here and for all the ways you’ve helped me learned and grow. It’s been a real treat.

Victor Cheng
Great. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.

489: The Mindset of the Most Effective Leaders with Bob Anderson

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Bob Anderson says: "'How am I getting in my own way?' is a constant conversation or area of reflection."

Bob Anderson discusses the ways you’re inhibiting your leadership potential—and how to remedy them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising source of highly-accurate feedback
  2. The two leadership operating systems
  3. Powerful questions for unlocking your leadership potential

About Bob

Robert J. Anderson has been a pace setter in the field of Leadership Development for over 30 years. He is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Development Officer of The Leadership Circle and

the Full Circle Group, and the co-author of Scaling Leadership andMastering Leadership. Bob created The Leadership Circle Profile, a 360° assessment used by organizations worldwide to measure the effectiveness of their leaders (individually and collectively), chart a pathway for their development, and assess their progress as they develop.

The MEECO Leadership Institute awarded him the International Thought Leader of Distinction in 2018.

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Bob Anderson Interview Transcript

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

Bob Anderson
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would love to hear, first of all, I understand that you went ahead and got your pilot’s license. What is the backstory here?

Bob Anderson
Well, the backstory was I was trying to figure out how to be a consultant on the road and be home at a sooner time, so those are two competing commitments, right, success in both arenas. So, I decided to learn to fly a little airplane, and I bought a Beechcraft Bonanza, and got an instrument rating, and I could fly in most weather. And it allowed me to get to places and get home sooner. So, leave later and get home sooner.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you actually fly your own plane to like speaking engagements and such.

Bob Anderson
I don’t anymore. I did for a good number of years but I’ve given it up. It’s like I get busy, I don’t have as much time to really stay current.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I was actually thinking about doing this but I think, “Oh, Pete, that’s probably not actually going to save you real time once you get into whatever.” But your experience was, yes, you saved lots of time because you’re flying your own plane.

Bob Anderson
There were times that I was home for dinner that I wouldn’t have been otherwise, and there were times when I was not due to weather. So, I finally said, “You know, I’m not sure this is working as well as I thought.” You need a lot of airplane to be able to get there in difficult weather.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Bob Anderson
So, yeah, we could take 40 minutes on that.

Pete Mockaitis
The ins and outs of aircraft. That’s a skill. For listeners who are considering getting a pilot’s license and their own airplane for your travels we’re going to get to the bottom of it.

Bob Anderson
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But we’re not, that is for another show. You might get some invitations. So, I want to hear, you’ve done some impressive research into leadership, and so I want to dig into it. So, your team, I understand, has surveyed over a million leaders around the world. Can you tell us a bit about that research and maybe the most striking discovery you gained from that?

Bob Anderson
Well, I created a leadership assessment 360 years ago, and it goes much broader and deeper than most 360s, and we’d get into some of that. But we’ve probably given feedback to 150,000-160,000 leaders around the world with the leaders that report to them providing feedback so that gives us the database of 1.5 million and growing to do research with and one of the nicest research databases in the world probably on leadership. And so, we can research that nine ways from Sunday.

Bob Anderson
One of the things that struck us, which was why we wrote. We did this research project on all the written comments.

So, we asked the raters, the people providing feedback, to write in what’s this person’s greatest strengths, or assets, and what are their liabilities and so on. And the data blew us away with the precision with which leaders see the people that they work with and how poignantly they can describe it and how directly those written comments match to the quantitative feedback.

So, if you write in, “Bob is an arrogant SOB,” you’re going to see that a high score on arrogance, right? So, the match, we saw just a kind of surprising match, our statisticians were actually stunned by it, between things people said in writing and then how the quantitative came out.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know. Maybe I’m not capturing why that’s impressive. Wouldn’t we expect that to be the case?

Bob Anderson
I think what we saw in that was that, as a leader, you’re in a feedback-rich environment. We used to think you had to go set that up, “Let’s go create a feedback-rich environment so leaders can really grow,” which is critical. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, right? And so, we realized that you’re breathing it and you swim in it. It’s all around you. It’s the air you breathe.

There’s feedback-rich environment all around you. The question is, “Do you actually tap it? Do you harness it? Do you listen? Do you go out and seek it?” Most don’t. It’s an acquired taste and most would prefer not to go there because it can be strong medicine to really, “Yeah, that’s how you’re showing up as a leader.” And people see you in action and they see you with real accuracy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I guess that’s sort of the takeaway there is that folks who just sort of pipe up with their feedback if you ask them and they’re willing to give it to you, then you can probably feel pretty good that that’s accurate as opposed to kind of off-base or you won’t get it unless we have sort of a scoring system to get it.

Bob Anderson
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m hearing you. That’s great news, I suppose, is that if you want feedback you can get it or at least they know it whether or not they care to share it with you, and you care to listen, I guess, over the challenges. Okay, so you say you’ve got kind of full-blown framework and a kind of architecture there when it comes to defining leadership. And so, you talk a lot about high creative versus high reactive. Can you unpack a little bit of that idea?

Bob Anderson
Yeah, the basic principle, one of them, that underlies our work is that there’s an inner game and an outer game, and you’re playing both all the time. Outer game of your knowledge, your experience, your competency skills, you bring that to every meeting you’re in as a leader, and you’re honing that game all the time. And it’s really an important game and if you don’t play it well, you’d wash out, so you’re working that all the time.

Also, what’s running that game is your inner game, your operating system, if you will. So, the level of maturity in that operating system drives the ways you show up in your outer game and what you have access to in terms of behaviors and capabilities in a moment, and what you may not have access to. And that drives effectiveness in highly-charged complex situations which leaders find themselves all the time.

So, a reactive leader, their inner game typically is authored by others. About 75% of adults will have an inner operating system that’s authored by others. Meaning I tend to be pursuing my objectives in a, what Larry Wilson called the “play not to lose” game, “I’m trying to move forward and not lose faith.” So, what I’m not aware of is that the fear that’s running me and the assumptions underneath that.

So, I talk about the leader who’s overly-cautious and deferential, the inner game that they’re playing is, “You define me, and I’m defined by how much you like me and the kind of harmony in our relationship.” So, not to be accepted is not to be. I lose myself if you don’t see me as a good, likable, somebody who’s a team player and so on.”

Somebody else might have a similar equation but opposite. So, I might define myself as results. My results, my power to drive result is me. That makes me valuable. And so, I’m always running the show. There are times when that’s really helpful and there are times when you need to back off, let others learn, grow, take responsibility, delegate, and so on. But the more your sense of worth and security and safety is tied up in “The results always have to be so perfect and stellar all the time,” the less latitude you have to really allow people to learn and grow with you.

Both of these impacts your ability to scale your leadership which is what the book was about. So, if I’m running every meeting, there are limits to scale. If I’m not able to address the difficult issues and move them forward, my leadership has built-in limits and scale. So, that’s a reactive operating system. It’s outside-in, the expectations of others, long past and in my current environment, are driving me in ways I’m not as much aware of as I need to be. So, their, these beliefs and assumptions have me, they’re running me.

When you shift to the creative, that turns around. You start to notice them, “Oh, I always make up that it’s too risky for me to put my voice in the room with higherups, or speak truth to power, or let go, not take over the meeting. Let the group find their own way. Or not have to impress people with my ideas in every encounter. I can give more space now.” And that’s huge.

When you can start to see your old operating system as just that, “It’s a set of assumptions I grew up with but it’s not necessarily how I want to show up in the moment,” then you have choice. And then what happens is you start to ask the question, “Well, how do I want to show up? Or what do I really want here? What am I really after in this moment, or in my life, or as a leader?”

And you start to, what’s now driving you is that question, “What matters most? What matters most in terms of my life’s purpose and vision? What matters most in terms of the organization that I believe in and I’m trying to create? What matters most in terms of this meeting or what we’re trying to accomplish and get done in this meeting?” That full spectrum is what’s in focus now. And it isn’t that you don’t have the fears, they’re there, but you are now in a different relationship with them. They’re just there, “Okay, I’m nervous. I’m scared. I don’t know how this is going to work out. I’m not sure I know what I’m doing here,” and you go forward anyway.

And you go forward with more presence, more clarity, more authenticity, more flexibility in your behaviors so you can listen or advocate your position as opposed to, “I’m always advocating my position,” or, “I’m always listening.” You have that kind of flexibility to move back and forth, when to push, when not to push. When to take on a difficult issue, when to say, “Hmm, better not right now.” And so, you get much more fluidity with the full bandwidth of what it takes to be effective in complex situations that leaders are in.

In the reactive structure, you have limited bandwidth. You default to your reactive pattern or strategy under pressure, and that has built-in limits. So, that’s what we mean by a creative leader versus a reactive leader.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s intriguing. I can certainly see how, yes, I would certainly prefer to be a creative leader as opposed to a reactive leader. But you’ve gone ahead and got some real research that proves that high-creative leaders are way, way more effective. Can you speak to that?

Bob Anderson
Yeah. Well, we have unearthed, they’re assessment measures, both, right, so all the different variations we talked about, of reactive and the inverse of that, or the corollary to that, in the creative. So, it’s got like 29 to 30 dimensions on it of leadership, and some are reactive, some are creative. So, we have a pretty rich database of, “If you’re more of a reactive in your leadership, here’s what it looks like. If you’re more creative in your leadership, here’s what kind of competence and capability you get access to.”

And then we correlate that with measures of business performance in one case and/or leadership effectiveness measures which are people perceiving you as either effective or ineffective, how effective do they perceive you. And the correlation on creative leadership to perceived effectiveness as a leader by the people that lead is like 0.93. You know, 1.0 is a perfect correlation so 0.93 is about as high as you’d get in this kind of research.

In other words, if you show up as a creative leader, people will see you as an effective leader. And in the inverse of that is true on reactive, and it’s a pretty good strong inverse correlation to effectiveness. And business performance data follows that. So, we have that too, both in terms of what we see with anecdotally or with case studies but also in the research where we can research.

We did a study while ordering Mastering Leadership where after the death of one of our clients who was the president of the association for their industry, the industry took on an entire industry-wide study, a financial industry study, on the relationship between business performance and the culture, whether it be more creative or reactive leadership culture in the organization. And they found pretty stunning, like five times more performance from organizations that were more creative than the ones that were more reactive. The year-over-year performance was about five-fold different.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, these are striking results and so I’m intrigued. So, we talked about sort of the inner game in terms of what it’s like when you’re experiencing and in the grips of being reactive versus you’ve got some more flexibility to be creative. But can you maybe paint a bit of a picture for what are some of the behaviors and activities and approaches of a high-reactive leader in action versus a high-creative leader in action?

Bob Anderson
Yeah, so I’ll tell you one of my own. I can pick and choose here because I’ve got the whole bandwidth, most of us do. We did our 360 on ourselves as a firm and we gave feedback to each other.

And I got a really high score on arrogance and a pretty low score on cooperation or collaboration, which impacts other dimensions but that was the primary pattern in the data and a check. In fact, I didn’t see it coming and you have different breakout groups. And so, Bill, my co-author, and we’re cofounders in this merger, I put Bill in the bus as a category so I could see his scores because if we don’t give boss anonymity then everybody else gets in but not the boss, so Bill sees his scores and he scored me 4.5 out of 5 on a 5-point scale, 4.5 out of 5. Now, I’m the statistician so I know that that’s five standard deviation units above the mean, right?
So, I call him over, and my first move is to talk him out of his scores, he really didn’t mean this. And I said, “Bill, you gave me a 4.5 out of 5 on arrogance.” And he goes, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, that’s five standard deviation units above the mean. You must see me as one of the most arrogant people in the world.” And he goes, “Uh-huh.” And I was like, “Oh,” I wasn’t laughing then. That was hard. He wasn’t willing to back down and say, “Well, that wasn’t really that.” And I got a lot of feedback from the team, and I made a commitment, I said, “Well, two things. One, I’m choosing to collaborate or more. And I want to know when I’m showing up arrogant, so I want your feedback, real time, when I show up in ways that shut down the conversation.”

Well, a couple of years later, I’m in with Bill on an issue and we’re going back and forth. And I’m right, and I know I’m right, and he’s wrong, and it’s not okay that he’s wrong. And I’m writing these emails he’s not responding. I’m writing a long history of why I’m right on this and not getting a response, and I can tell he’s probably pretty upset in his silence and so I’m pretty scared about that because you got two founders that are having a pretty important and significant conflict.

And at some point, I realized that my energy on this was all reactive, and you ask for behavior, so it’s like, “Look, let me tell you where you’re off here. Here’s what you don’t get,” in that kind of tone and energy of interaction, both verbally and in writing. And Bill, to his credit, just didn’t respond to that. So, I went out one day and I was working it, I said, “Okay, what’s this got to do with me?”

And somewhere on a walk, I saw for the first time, I don’t know how insights happen when they happen, but this one was huge, just hit me like a ton of bricks, “Oh, my God. I’m defined by my ideas. My ideas are me. These books are me. Huh, that’s not true. I’m good with ideas but I am not my ideas.” So, when you disagree with me or when there’s real conflict about the core of some of these IP, our IP, well, I’m threatened now pretty fundamentally because I am my ideas. My ideas and my capability around ideas is me.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you’re reacting, I mean, can you sort of unpack a little bit what does that sound like inside your brain? Certainly, your ideas are kind of under scrutiny or under attack. What is your brain saying?

Bob Anderson
Well, if I listen to the silent story in my brain, on the surface it’s going, “You’re wrong and it’s not okay that you’re wrong. Look, who are you to challenge me? You don’t really get it.” There’s that story and I’m in blame, “This issue is your doing.” And so, that’s the way I’m showing up, that’s the weather I’m bringing to the conversation.

The inner conversation is something like, “It’s not okay for me not to be seen as the smartest guy around or the most wise. I need to be seen as wise, more wise than you. But not too much wiser than you because then you’ll reject me or you’ll feel, think of me as arrogant.” So, I’m playing this inner game that I wasn’t aware of. I want to be smarter and wiser than you but I don’t want you to see it. I want you to admire me as brilliant but not be put off by it so I need to modulate, and I’m in it all the time. And then I get threatened when I’m not see that way. “That’s not okay. Okay, now I’m at risk. I’m losing my identity in ways I didn’t ever realize was right there.” And this goes on in every meeting.

Every one of us has these layers in us where we stake claim to our identity. In one of three camps, it’s either in relationship, “I’m okay if you like and accept me, and I’m seen as loyal and supportive,” or results, “I’m perfect and perfect at getting results, or my results and my success is me, my ambition to move up and status, and this career that I built is me. And so, anything that threatens that edifice is not okay and I need to swing into gear, take it over, attack that, push it away, let you know why you’re wrong.”

so, relationships, results, ideas, your intellect. So, head, heart, and will are the three core energies. It’s like electron, proton, and neutron, there’s a three-core energy, and we define ourselves, “I’m really good at this and this makes me valuable.” And you’ll see it. You’ve got two kids below two, right? You’ll see it. They’re different, they come in with different, I think, souls and soul energy. And they will take their unique gift and strength and say, “This is me and I am one child and all heart.”

The teddy bear, loving, caring, and their natural orientation is to be pleasing and that’s a beautiful thing. And it’s a limitation if you start to identify that, “I’m not okay. I have to be seen this way and I’m not okay if I’m not.” So, risking relationship becomes a problem. And I’ve got another son that’s the other side. It’s about drive to make things happy, and that’s a beautiful thing. And, at some point, when I get into more complex leadership roles, that ambitious drive controlling tendency can be an issue.

And so, it isn’t that reactive is wrong, it’s actually a strength that I’m running through a less mature operating system. It’s like I’m trying to run my gifts and strengths through DOS.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember DOS.

Bob Anderson
Yeah, some of our listeners may not, but it’s not complex enough for what we’re into, and that’s the issue. There’s nothing wrong with us, 75% of adults are living in this operating system which is like what we’re socialized into. And then, with the volatile, complex, ambiguous, fast-paced, disrupted leadership environment that we plant ourselves in, that operating system, it just gets outmatched. And we have to be able to manage it.

And as soon as we start to see, “Oh, I’m not my ideas,” well, then, they can listen to you and I can notice when I’m getting defensive, “Oh, here I am again. Okay, let me just keep listening. Tell me more about that. Oh, okay. Well, now, here’s where I disagree with that,” and it’s a whole different energy. And so, this is the shift, so I got down with that awareness with Bill, and I started to laugh because I went, “All this time I’ve been thinking about Bill is the arrogant jerk and I’m the one who’s the arrogant jerk. What’s with that?” Funny.

So, I was laughing about it at this point and I go back home, I get on my computer, and I write in three sentences, “Bill, I’ve been wrong. And, furthermore, I’ve been wrong in the partnership for a while for years, and I’m ready to talk.” That was the email. Very different than, “Let me prove to you why I’m right.” And he said, “I feel your heart, brother. Let’s talk.” We had an extraordinary conversation at breakfast the morning before we did some work with a client. And I just, later on, “Here’s how I’ve been showing up, here’s what I’ve learned, here’s what my commitment is to do differently.”

Our relationship changed the whole dynamic in the firm, so I don’t think it’s any coincidence that since then we’ve been like on a pretty good 30%, 40%, 50%-year growth trajectory. And my relationship with Bill is so much more creative and synergistic. We’re in a company that’s like our job, our competitive advantage is IP, and the quality of our ability to frame that up with leaders.

And so, to take that and 10X it in terms of the synergy that’s in the conversation is a big deal for the company, and so it changed everything. And what’s really interesting is it changed Bill. So, when I got clear on my stuff, there was no intention that Bill would change. Like, that’s the power of this more creative authentic leader, it’s like, “Oh, I’m the one that needs to really get clear and change.” And then you’ll respond in kind or not, but I’m not making a demand on Bill to show up different.

And the field of our new interaction shows up differently and more effectively, and he’s learned a ton from it, and it’s changed him. And he’ll say that very candidly. So, when we do our work as a leader, all things change when we do. And so, one of the things we saw in our research and wrote up in Scaling Leadership is that the kind of the first principle leading an organizational transformation is take it on person as the leader. Step in transparently and vulnerably with the radical, kind of we call it radical humanity, and I have the most to learn here.

Yeah, if it’s going to change it’s up to me. The fact that there’s a level of function or dysfunction in the organization, the culture, is a shadow of me, directly connected to me. So, what do I need to learn here in order for this organization to go the next level? And when leaders step in and lead from that place, everybody is invited to raise their game. And a side of a conversation that now has grace in it, “Oh, you too?”

So, we’re working with a senior team, I won’t mention the company name, a senior team of a large company in the United States. The CEO is working an issue, a conflict with the person that he brought in to help transform the organization, so he’s there to lead the transformation, from like a professional change agent perspective. And they weren’t connecting and there’s real disconnect in their relationship, plus the whole organizational change effort was being interrupted by all this.

And at some point, he said, “Here’s what happens to me when you come at me with that attitude.” It was a kind of attitude, “You’re not enough. You’re not doing enough. You don’t get it.” And the attitude that this change agent was coming at him with, and he said, “I’m back with my dad.” Now, this is a family-owned business so dad was founder. “I’m back with my dad as a kid, and I didn’t mow the yard perfectly enough, there’s one leaf left in the yard that I missed. So, when you come at me with that, I go small, and then I get angry. It’s not okay.”

And so, now you’ve got a CEO very directly talking about his own reactive condition and where it comes from and how it’s playing out in the senior team. And everybody knew it was playing out in the senior team because they watched these two go at it, and then they have their role in it. They stand by, they take sides, they run from it. The whole team is part of that. Everybody is a part of it. But unless you start to really get to depth with it, you’re not going to break through on it.

So, that was a moment where a leader really stepped in, and said, “Okay, I’m going to show up here. But what’s really going for me in this conflict,” and it broke open. It broke the whole conversation open in a beautiful way for them to kind of really work this.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that is powerful and cool. And so, I guess, to pull this off requires some soul-searching, some acquiring feedback. I guess, in some ways, it’s great because now we know what we’re looking for in terms of, “Where do you get reactive? Where do you get defensive? Where do you feel like a small child?” Any pro tips for how we find that and mitigate it once we do?

Bob Anderson
So, that’s one of the reasons I created the 360 was I was at a much deeper level when it gets at this inner game as well as the outer game in the same assessment because I saw this so often with leaders who were championing a significant change effort which they really believed in. And when you meet them, you go, “Wow, this is really extraordinary. What a vision they have not only for the organization but the whole industry.”

And then I would watch them show up in their old pattern of leadership in ways that completely discounted them, discounted their change effort, and people one layer below them go, “Oh, you’re not really serious. And I’ll get on board when they start walking their talk.” And so, any good, well-orchestrated, “Let’s get some feedback in the system. How am I really showing up as a leader? What kind of weather am I bringing? How do I create possibilities and open up the space? How do I shut it down? How do I get in my own way? What are the strengths that I have that I want to keep really deploying or I want to leverage further?” That’s the really rich conversation.

And there are many ways to get it. But getting yourself and your senior team at whatever level of leader you are listening to this, you and the people around you, and the people that report to you or around you, “How do we get in this conversation where we’re learning together how to be more effective both individually and then how we show up together collectively to lead the organization we’re responsible for?”

Pete Mockaitis
And then inside your head, how do you proceed with kind of reprogramming or myth-busting the “I am my ideas,” or, “I am my results”? That’s there, I mean, it’s been a while that. We’ve got to move beyond.

Bob Anderson
Yeah. Well, this is where most of us lack literacy. We’re not ignorant. We lack a literacy. So, at some point, we had to learn math or arithmetic not because we were stupid. There’s a literacy to it that one and one is two, and so on. And then higher mathematics, and algebra or whatever, geometry, and so on. There’s literacy in the pathways of one’s own transformation and how to be self-transforming.

And I’ve talked about two of the key practice. Well, actually, I talked about three of them. So, one is the ability or to listen to your inner game, to this self-talk. So, when you ask me the question, “Well, what were you saying to yourself?” that’s the question and getting good at that, “Okay, so if this meeting doesn’t go well, then we could fall short on results, right. If we fell short on results, then what’s at risk for me? Well, I’m going to get a lousy review from my boss. Great. So, if I get a lousy review, what’s at risk for me?”

So if you learn to track your fear. So, I was working with a mid-level leader that really high-scores on autocratic leadership. And we’re talking about, I said, “You know what that is or what that looks like?” He goes, “Oh, yeah, I pounce. I’m in a meeting, I just take it over.” I said, “Well, why do you take it over?” “Because it’s not going well.” And I said, “So, were you willing to look at that?” He said, “Sure.” So, I said, “Well, just before you pounce, how do you feel? What kind of feelings are going on in your body? Can you describe fear, anger, this kind of upsurge of energy and it’s starts from its gut then to its chest and throat?” “I just feel like [heaves].”

And I said, “Good. So, what’s at risk for you if you don’t pounce?” And he went through, we just walked right down through some form of, “I’m not okay. My results define me.” That’s a practice, and getting good at it, and getting the ability to take perspective on your programming is a literacy. And most of us haven’t learned it.

So, when I drop in, I was practicing that literacy. It doesn’t mean that I always get to the bottom of it by any stretch or that I’ve seen all of my reactivity, or I’m at 60 years old and I’ve gotten, “Jeez, I’m defined by my ideas that’s been running me my whole life. I didn’t realize it.” So, that’s one practice, and it’s a breakthrough practice. It’s breakthrough. It’s like you see the illusion. Underneath fear and the behaviors that it’s running, underneath it is an illusion, “I’m not my ideas. Other people don’t define me. I’m not my results. One failure is not the whole game. If people don’t like me, that’s their issue.”

So, when you can start to manage that conditioning that we all have, you can’t not have it, the question is, “Does it have you or do you have it?” So, when we have it, we’re managing it. And then, the second literacy is the practice of getting clear about, “What is it I’m really after? What do I want most deeply?” I had an experience early in my life of this. I was working for our family business, I grew up in a family business, it was grain business, and I was running the feed manufacturing plant.

So, I’m out in the receiving bay and unloading railroad cars at 2:00 o’clock in the morning, and I’m exhausted and I’m getting finished unloading this railroad car full of wheat. And I get inside and I’m sweeping up the last little bit in this upper bottom car. And I sit down in this hopper and I just catch my breath. I got my dust mask on. And, out loud, un-reflected, unrehearsed came, “I’m not becoming who I am.”

And I’m, “Who said that?” It was authoritative. It just came out of my mouth, “I’m not becoming who I am.” And that began, for me, a process of, “Okay, what was that? What do I really want my life to be about?” And I started what I called my must journal, “What must I be about with my life in order to live the life I came here to live and not somebody else’s? What are my musts? Not my bucket lists, goals, objectives, things that would be cool. But, fundamentally, what do I need to be about?”

And I wrote down things that I didn’t have a clue on. We’re making dog food and I’m going, “I want to help people grow and develop emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.” I’m like, “I’m going to vet the farm on that? What is that?” But I knew it was true because of my experience and my life, there’d been this tension between my dad the engineer and all of my love of technical stuff and building things.

Another must was, “I must have technical challenge in my life.”
And I didn’t know how I was going to help people grow and develop personally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and have technical challenge in my life.

Well, I have both now because I have a business that’s about as high-tech as you get with IT and statistics and surveys, and it’s a pretty technical challenging, rigorously-challenging business, and it’s all about helping people bring forth their highest and best. And I didn’t have a clue. I’m making dog food. So, this principle is a constant focus at one level or a meta level, “What am I here for?” And then it’s like, “Okay, what’s the life I want to create? Or what’s the business or career that I want to create that expresses that?” And then it comes down to vision after vision after vision.

So, I’m going to create a 360 assessment. I didn’t have it that this was going to be global. I mean, it’s grown into quite a global standard. It’s a world-standard assessment. I didn’t have that. I was just passionate about the work, and I needed an assessment that went deeper. So, I couldn’t find one out there so I went and I made it up.

So, all of that is the pursuit, a vision that’s pulling us forward. And, “How am I getting in my own way?” is a constant conversation or area of reflection.

And if you can do both of those, then you show up more authentically in your conversations, more clean, less reactive, more open, vulnerable, willing to listen, not always having to be right, and so on. And then you’re much more effective. So, those three, “What do I want? How do I get in my own way in getting good at tracking that to my inner game? And how do I show up then in ways that are more direct, authentic, straight, and an expression, an embodiment or an expression of the organization and the culture I’m trying to leave in my wake as a leader?” Those are three that I think are really important. And if you practice that, you will boot up a more creative operating system that defines the creative operating system.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Bob, thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite  , something you find inspiring?

Bob Anderson
Albert Schweitzer is one of them, “I don’t know what your destiny will be but this much I do know. Only those among you who have sought and bound how to serve will truly be happy.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Bob Anderson
I’m reading physics for lay people. I’m not a physicist but I think there’s a physics to all this that we’re talking about, a physics to consciousness, and a physics of leadership. And so, I’m fascinated by what they’re discovering at the very edge of physics.

Bob Anderson
You tip your toe into physics and it will bust your paradise. And we need them busted because we’re at a time in human history where we must break through with higher-order solutions. And Einstein said, “The solutions to our current problems can’t be found from the consciousness that created them. It can only be found from the next higher-order of consciousness.”

And that gets often quoted. But I’m starting to really understand it now from the perspective that I think he was talking about, about how you can access stuff like relativity theory, how you can access higher-order knowledge and information, and he talked about that.

And so, I think we don’t have mental models that are at all adequate to who we are as human beings. Our mental models are limiting our creative capacities, our ability to create breakthroughs and ideas, and bring in the kind of new forms of government, new forms of technology, new forms of organization and culture that we need both in organizations and globally to really thrive. So, I’m interested in what physics has to teach us as it can break us out of our limited paradigms of what it means to be a conscious person and how to really create breakthroughs.

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

Bob Anderson
To TheLeadershipCircle.com. The Leadership Circle is our organization. Go there, you’ll see all kinds of stuff that we can talk about.

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

Bob Anderson
Be a learner not a knower. We have so much to learn. And if I can get out of my own way and be a learner and be vulnerable enough to not know, ask for help, ask for feedback, that’s the best place to lead from. Most of us don’t want to go there. We’ve got to always put forward a kind of front of, “I’ve got it all together.” And the best leaders drop that and lead from a place of, “Man, we’ve got a lot to learn here. Me, too. Let’s get started.”

Pete Mockaitis
Bob, thank you so much for sharing the good stuff. This has been fun. I wish you lots of luck in scaling your leadership in your organization and your impact and all the good stuff you’re doing.

Bob Anderson
It was really fun. Enjoyed the conversation. I hope your listeners find it valuable. I enjoyed myself. So, thank you. You did a great job of drawing this forth.