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Mindfulness

399: Maximizing Your Mental Energy with Isaiah Hankel

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Isaiah Hankel highlights the importance of your mental energy, the best time to use it, and how to protect it from the people and things that drain it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The little ways we waste our limited mental energy
  2. How to tactfully deal with people who drain your mental energy
  3. How to gain more energy by closing mental loops

About Donna

Isaiah Hankel received his doctorate in Anatomy & Cell Biology and is an expert on mental focus, behavioral psychology, and career development. His work has been featured in The Guardian, Fast Company,and Entrepreneur Magazine. Isaiah’s previous book, Black Hole Focus, was published by Wiley & Sons and was selected as Business Book of the Month in the UK and became a business bestseller internationally. Isaiah has delivered corporate presentations to over 20,000 people, including over 300 workshops and keynotes worldwide in the past 5 years.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Isaiah Hankel Interview Transcript

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

Isaiah Hankel
Great to be here, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the goods, but first can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up on a sheep farm?

Isaiah Hankel
It was rewarding. Some days it didn’t seem like it, but the one day that always stands out in my memory when I’m asked that question is a day that came every year as a sheep farmer, which is when you would shear the sheep.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought you were going to say that. What made that day special?

Isaiah Hankel
It was just a good insight into sheep behavior and as I learned later, human behavior, because sheep were very responsive to two things, carrots and sticks. It’s one of the many places where we get that phrase, having people respond to carrots and sticks, because humans respond to those two things too.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean literally feeding them a carrot and using a stick?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, yeah, it’s literally with the sheep and usually not literally with the humans.

But with the sheep to shear them, it’s a painless process, but you have to get a large herd of sheep, in this case it was usually 80 to 100 head of sheep, into a funnel essentially with a very narrow opening where only one sheep could fit at a time.

You would think this would be very hard to do, but sheep operated through a herd mentality. What that means is that you could walk behind them with a couple of sticks, bang those sticks together, they’re also scared of everything, and they would go running in the opposite direction. If you just bang the sticks behind them and if ahead of them was the funnel with the large gate that they would be funneled into, they would run right into it for you.

Then just to get them to go that last few yards, to get them to go one-by-one through that gate, you would just tease them with carrots held out in front of them, they’d walk right into the sheep shearers arms. You’d have to wrestle some of the larger ones sometimes, but in most cases carrots and sheep, carrots and sticks would do the trick.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, generally speaking, when sheep are sheared or shorn—

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, shorn.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it enjoyable, like, “Oh man, that was really a weight off,” versus like, “No, this is my precious fur?”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, in the reverse order though. They’re at first scared of the buzzing sound and they’re scared of everything, but then it doesn’t hurt, they’re relieved, it happens in the middle of the summer. They’re very happy afterwards.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I imagine that right after the shearing, the times are good on the sheep farm. You’ve got a bundle of cash coming in.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, times were good. As a farmhand you don’t get paid too much, but you did get paid quite a bit more on that particular day. It was always a sense of reward after working hard with your hands. Looking back, it’s some of the most enjoyable work that I’ve done, somewhat ironically.

Pete Mockaitis
We’re not going hold that against you to any of your colleagues or collaborators, like, “I’d rather be with sheep than you guys.”

Isaiah Hankel
It just made you very present. I think in today’s world behind screens, it’s hard to get present like that in the same way. I think you have to do it much more deliberately now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. Well, you talk a little bit about some of this in your book called The Science of Intelligent Achievement. What’s sort of the main thesis behind this one?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, this book is about how to protect your mental energy and then what to do with your energy after you have protected it, after you stop doing the things that are depleting you on a daily basis.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, that sounds important. Can you sort of lay out that importance, like why do we need to protect our mental energy? Isn’t it going to be fine? Or what’s the attacker that we are defending against?

Isaiah Hankel
It’s usually people, but it’s a lot of things. I think the best way to frame it, and it’s kind of how the book starts out, is mental energy is your most valuable asset.

We usually hear that time or money is your most valuable asset, but we can quickly disregard these as being your most valuable asset because most people, just as an example, certainly in the US, have both a phone and a watch or a Fitbit. These things can do the same thing in terms of telling time, but we buy extra things for little features that we don’t really need. If you’re not buying that argument, go see how many pairs of shoes you have.

When it comes to time, how much time have you spent watching or re-watching your favorite movie or your favorite TV show or watching a YouTube clip? It’s not so much time that’s valuable. Maybe you were exhausted at the end of the day. You just wanted a feeling of comfort. You watched your favorite movie over again. Again, these can be disregarded pretty quickly, especially when you start comparing them to mental energy.

The last one that’s very popular today because we hear quotes like, “Your network is your net worth,” and all these feel-good relationship quotes about your relationships. We think, “Okay, well, it’s just about how many people you know? How many people will give you value for the value that you give?”

What we do there is we eliminate yourself from the equation. We forget that “Oh, I have to have enough energy to stand on my own two feet and enough energy to produce and provide value or enough energy to be present and be the kind of person other people want to connect to.”

We’ve all bought things we didn’t need. We’ve all spent our time on things that were a waste of time. We’ve all wanted to add more to relationships, wanted to give more, but were spread too thin. The limiting factor is actually your mental energy. How much mental energy do you have? You can think about it a different way. How many attention units do you have?

I think a lot of people try to reduce it to something that’s physiological, “Did I get enough sleep? Did I eat?” That’s really what controls my attention. There’s a little bit more to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well so now I’d imagine that that might be sort of the starting point of the funnel, if you will, in terms of just how much mental energy you have to work with. But then it gets frittered away and unprotected. Could you lay out what are some of the biggest drains on our mental energy and how do we prevent those from being drains?

Isaiah Hankel
Great question. Let me tell you how much or how little you actually have to start every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh do, thank you.

Isaiah Hankel
If you get five or six rounds of rapid eye movement sleep, REM sleep, then your willpower levels, your attention units, whatever you want to call it, your mental energy is going to be restored if – of course a lot of people don’t sleep as much as they should today. But if you get that amount of REM sleep, you start out each day with about 90 to 120 minutes of peak mental energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, that’s it. That’s according to several studies. It’s been printed in the Harvard Business Review and of course a lot of primary peer-review publications. 90 to 120 minutes, so two hours tops and that usually strikes within an hour or three of waking up for most people, so right in the morning.

Then if you think of that as like your ten out of ten mental energy time. Then you have about an eight out of ten mental energy for maybe three to five hours during the day. Everything else is much lower. If you start thinking-

Pete Mockaitis
Like four?

Isaiah Hankel
Like four, exactly. Four or five.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Isaiah Hankel
If not lower. If you start thinking what you can actually get done in a month, gets reduced pretty quickly to okay, let’s say you’re just doing what you do during those two peak hours and you have okay, during a work week about ten hours. Think about it, most people that go to an office, what’s the first thing that you do during that time?

Pete Mockaitis
They’re going to get the coffee, check the email.

Isaiah Hankel
Exactly. Scan some email. Then you look at the news. Then by the time you’re done with the news and email and chatting with your colleagues, you are out of your peak mental energy state. It’s very easy when you’re feeling good, your mental energy is peaking, you have your first cup of coffee, you get kind of chatty, to just diffuse and spend all that mental energy.

Here’s the key. I didn’t even mention this yet, during that 90 to 120 minutes, you are four to five times as productive as you are out of that peak time.

Pete Mockaitis
Four to five times even as compared to the level eight energy time?

Isaiah Hankel
Four to five times overall compared to the rest of the time during that day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, wow.

Isaiah Hankel
So time is relative. You can produce four to five times as much work during those peak mental energy, but again, most people don’t protect it—or we didn’t mention meetings. You’re in some nonsensical meeting, listening, some meeting that can probably be done in seven minutes and you’re spending an hour there.

These are just some of the ways that people are diffusing their peak mental energy during the day and why it’s important to start scheduling your day around these peak hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m wondering, you mentioned it hits during the morning, is that pretty universal regardless if you are a night owl or an early bird?

Isaiah Hankel
Good question. The night owl is a bit of a myth. I think it’s around one or two percent of the population actually is biochemically a night owl, where this peak mental energy is at night. A lot of people just like to think they’re a night owl because it lets them procrastinate during the day. But there are outliers of course in all sets of data.

One very easy way, and this would kind of be considered a meta-analysis, not really a peer-reviewed study, but it’s of yourself and you’re an n of one or a sample size of one, is to just take your phone and jot down every hour of the day from the time you wake up to when you’re asleep, so six AM, seven AM, eight AM, and just type down on top of every hour, and you can set an alarm on your phone or your Fitbit or whatever, how you are feeling in terms of your mental energy on a scale of one to ten.

What you’ll find over the course of even four to five days is you’ll start to see a trend. You’ll start to see – you’ll probably start maybe at a six, maybe a person starts at a four. Then pretty quickly you’re going to climb up to a ten. Then your tens are going to be in a row. You’ll have one or two in a row. Then it will go to about an eight.

Then you’ll have lunch. Then there will be the afternoon dip, which is a real thing. You’ll kind of drop to maybe a five or a four. This is what I’ve seen very, very commonly. Then maybe you’ll peak for one or two hours at six or seven after that. Then you’re right down to a four for the rest of the day. Something like that. That’s a typical curve. A lot of it has to do with your cortisol cycle in your body too.

Once you do this for a few days though, you can see, “Oh wow, these are the two hours of the day where I am peaking. What am I doing during those hours?” You start to rearrange your day in pretty simple ways, so you’re using those hours for the things that are most important to you, your career, your personal goals strategically.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that sounds wise. I am all about that. Then I’m curious, when it comes to those, if it’s two hours, do you recommend doing two hours straight through or like having sort of a power brief rejuvenation in the midst of it?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, exactly. One thing you can do is go for a walk. You can go to the gym in the middle of the day if you can get out, just some people walk around the office. But if you do get the blood flowing during that dip, then you can get your mental energies to start to climb again. That’s really the key here is you have control over this.

That question is exactly what you need to be asking yourself. Okay, I usually dip here. Maybe instead of going to the gym in the morning, I can try to go to the gym or get some activity or go for a short run or whatever might be possible in my work life to bypass that dip and at least maintain maybe a six or seven during that time.

The key is just kind of restructuring your day for your peak mental energy or to keep your mental energies peaking rather than just letting them fall wherever your activities in the day fall.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some examples for you or those you work with in terms of what are some great things that you might really try to slide into the peak mental energy times?

Isaiah Hankel
It comes down to every person’s individual goals. One thing that I started doing once I realized that this – when I started seeing this data and I wanted to publish my first book, is that I started taking my lunch break very early.

I started peaking around ten AM. This was when I would get up around six or seven. I’d peak at ten AM. I would be on from about ten AM to about twelve noon. During that time I could write at least five times as much as I could during any other time of the day. What I did was I started taking my lunch from ten till eleven AM, some cases eleven to twelve, and I would go somewhere and I would write.

I got my second book done very, very quickly because of this. If I had not done that, it would have taken me at least four to five times longer. That’s one example.

A lot of people have a goal to start their own business, but they struggle to get a business proposal on paper. They struggle to take that first step. They struggle to do all kinds of strategic things for their life that if they were just using their peak mental energy like 15 minutes a day, they can make real progress on.

It doesn’t have to be right in your peak time. If that’s just an impossibility for you, can you get up 15 minutes before your kids get up? Can you get up an extra 15 minutes early even if that’s like your 7 time, when you’re at a 7 out of 10 and use that time to do something strategic for your life, where you’re really moving the needle on your long-term goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that idea in terms of those things that are important, but you’ve been having some trouble getting movement on. That seems like a perfect combo for, “Ah, a peak mental energy time is what needs to be allocated here.”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, ideally I’m thinking of the four quadrants of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, not urgent but important. That would be the idea stuff that you’re using your peak mental energy time for. Every once in a while it might be important and urgent, but at least you’re always doing something that’s important during that time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. It’s key to do the scheduling and to be strategic about how we are deploying it. Then beyond that, what are some ways that our mental energy gets zapped over the course of the day?

Isaiah Hankel
Once you have your map there and you know when your mental energy is peaking, now start asking yourself what gets in the way of your mental energy or start tracking during the day. Maybe take a couple of notes underneath that list that you’re creating for four or five days and make a list of when you’re feeling the most drain. Who did you just interact with? What did you just do?

Everybody is different. One draining activity or one draining person for me might be different for you. What you’re going to find is that there are certain people that really drain your energy, certain interactions, certain types of interactions

Maybe sometimes with your boss it’s okay, but other times it’s not. If they had a conversation with you during this time right before lunch when they’re hungry, it’s not good, so you can start avoiding that.

Maybe every time you have a conversation with this person, they’re really dramatic and they suck you into their drama and you’re like, “Oh wow, this is usually happening during my peak mental energy, like I’m responding to some text. I’m going down this rabbit hole. If I just stop responding to this person, it goes away.”

Maybe it’s an activity that just completely drains you, you really dislike doing, not something that’s important, that’s hard to get started that you need to do, but something that’s lifeless and just pure busy work that’s not really moving you forward, something you can outsource to somebody else or delegate at work.

Start asking yourself, “What are the activities I can get rid of, the things that are really draining me?” What you’re going to find more often than not is it’s people and that you’ve done a really poor job of being selective and deliberate with the people that you’ve allowed in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, intriguing. So being mindful and aware of the different people and how that’s impacting us with the energy certainly. Then any pro tips for dealing with that, like, “Oh, it looks like these people are sucking the energy and I’d like to minimize my exposure?” How do you do that with tact or grace?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I call it going on a relationship fast. An important caveat here, just like with food fasting, we used to think, oh, if you fast for two weeks, this is somehow good for you. It can be very bad for your body. You don’t drink anything, don’t eat anything for weeks, very hard on your organs.

But we do know that certain types of fasting can be very, very good for your body, intermittent fasting, fasting certain types of food like not eating grains for a period of time or not eating dairy for a certain period of time or limiting foods one by one to see what you might have a food allergy for. All kinds of fasting that once you get more strategic with it, can lead to big insights and big benefits.

Same thing is true for relationship fasting. The problem is that we’re all so connected to our networks and we all have been bombarded with especially in today’s over connected world, that connections are important. You need to have as many Facebook friends as you can. Not just Facebook though, you also have all your other social media connections.

Not just online, because those aren’t your real relationships, you have to go to a bunch of conferences and you have to listen to every single podcast out there and you have to read everything possible. This stuff is good, but are you being deliberate? Are you choosing to read and to consume and to connect with people that are making you better or do you really have no filter? How deliberate are you being?

One good way to answer that question is to step away temporarily, not forever, but for a few days. Step away from your relationships. Of course you have your kids, your wife, etcetera. It’s going to be individualized for everybody.

But there’s probably a group of friends or at least one friend that’s coming to your mind right now as you listen to this that you’re asking yourself, “Does this person really make me a better person or a worse person? How do I usually feel when I interact with them? Is it just competitive? Are they a friend who’s really kind of an enemy?” There’s only one way to find out. You have to gain distance. Emotional distance will provide clarity.

By going on a temporary fast and doing it in a tactful way, you don’t just say, “Ah, I’m not talking to you anymore,” or “I’m in a relationship fast. Can’t talk.” You instead say, “I’m going to be taking some time to work on an important project. If you don’t hear from me for the next couple of days, I’ll get back to you on this date.”

You step away. You implement some of the things we’ve been talking about here, spend some more time on your personal goals, what you’re doing and all of that will become more and more clear as you kind of de-clog your life here with this temporary fast. You’ll gain some real insights by doing this.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lovely. I also want to get into your take on being busy is a bad thing. What’s that about?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, busyness, and we hear this a lot. It’s almost overused. It’s a badge of honor and people think, “Oh I don’t want to be busy for busyness sake, but I still want to be busy. There’s so much to do today and things are so competitive in my career,” or if I’m an entrepreneur I’m trying to get ahead in whatever way. We can just start filling our calendars and what we’re doing with a lot of stuff without evaluating whether or not it’s impactful.

It’s actually very simple to figure out if something’s impactful, you just need to find a metric, some unit of measure where you can determine whether or not you’re moving closer to the overall goal, the reason that you’re doing that activity or further away.

Most people never do this because they never carve out time during their peak mental energy to have the mental energy to draw those conclusions. They’re so busy that they just keep going onto the next thing and the next thing and the next thing, hoping subconsciously that one of these things is somehow going to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Some day one of these things is going to fall into place. They’re going to arrive. Somebody is going to discover them. The boss is going to say, “I see all the work that you’ve done. This is the one thing I’ve been waiting for you to do. Now I’m going to make you a millionaire.” They all have this kind of like hazy, fuzzy, “this is why I’m working so hard” lie going through our head at all times.

If you get honest with yourself, you’ll realize like I stay so busy because a) I don’t want to confront whether or not what I’m doing actually matters because maybe it doesn’t matter and maybe that means that I don’t matter right now, which is not true. It just means what you’re doing doesn’t matter. And b) because I think if I let go of something, if I stop doing it, what if that’s the key to my success? What if that’s the one thing or the one connection that’s going to make me successful?

That’s just never true. There’s always other opportunities, but if you’re not measuring what you’re doing, you have no idea if you’re getting closer or further away or if it’s impactful. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how intelligent you are, you can’t hit a target you don’t set.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. All right. You set the target and you are I guess mindful of the metrics and how different activities are moving that. Could you recommend what are some key metrics that folks have found open up a world of clarity about whether things are really worth doing?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, sometimes it’s easier than others. If you’re starting to write your own book or start a business, whatever, you can literally just count the words that you’ve made progress on in your book or count the chapters or in the business proposal, count the section.

If it’s at work, there’s likely some KPIs that are being measured for you by your manager. Maybe ask. Maybe evaluate and make a list of all the activities you’re doing at work and look at them to see what you are doing them for, like, “Why am I doing this? What does my manager want to see from this? Is this activity helping me gain any revenue for the company? Is this activity visible?” Optics matter. “Is it visible for my manager? Are they actually even seeing the result of this? Is it producing anything?”

Use that data too to go to your manager or your boss and say, “Hey, I’m doing this, but we’re not measuring anything. There’s no KPI. There’s no metric. Can we either set up a metric or can we cut this because it doesn’t seem like it’s impactful?” Just asking yourself why am I doing this, what is the result that it’s bringing? Once you get to the result, and you have it backed up with a why, you can determine the metric.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. You’ve got so much good stuff. I’m a little bit jumpy.

Isaiah Hankel
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But I can’t resist. I want to know it all. You’ve mentioned that other people’s opinions, you liken them to an infection. What’s the story here and how do we I guess inoculate ourselves?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I always think of the movie Inception, where once something is suggested to you, it’s very easy for it to get implanted in your mind and then to grow and then eventually you think it’s your own idea and you execute on it. Now you’re chasing a goal that was suggested to you by somebody else without even knowing it. In the book it’s called the power of suggestion. It’s a real psychological phenomenon.

For example, you come into work and somebody says to you, “Hey, how are you feeling? Are you okay?” Then a little bit later a second person comes to you, maybe it’s just you didn’t comb your hair that day or whatever it is, and they say, “Are you feeling all right? You look a little disheveled.” Now by noon you’re going to go home sick because you think you’re sick and you’re not even sick. Just a very simple example.

We’ve all had something like that happen to us where somebody says something and then now it’s in our mind usually in the form of a question. Maybe they didn’t realize to do it, but that’s how powerful the power of suggestion is.

There’s a lot of studies that have shown that opinions travel through social networks just like the flu virus. The same kind of epidemiological studies that are done for the flu virus, they’ve done for opinions and for moods, emotions and they travel through these networks so that one negative person can have a drastic effect on hundreds if not thousands of people. One person’s opinion can do the same thing through the power of suggestion, through a variety of other means.

You really have to be careful. Anytime somebody gives you an opinion, especially an unsolicited opinion, you have to save yourself. What I do is I say, “I reject that.” Even if you’re just saying it under your breath or in your mind, you reject it. That’s not true because of X, Y, Z. Otherwise you’ll notice that these opinions will start setting up a camp in your brain. They’ll start forming limiting beliefs, limiting stories because our brains are wired to do that.

We have a negativity bias. We hear an opinion, we look for the negative information in that opinion, we set up limitations, and we set up negative stories in our brain to protect us from negativity.

There’s a part of your brain called the amygdala where information flows through it at a rate 12 to 1 compared to positive information. It flows through it right to your long-term memory banks so that negative information is stored 12 times faster and more securely than positive information.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s striking. That’s quite a multiplier. When you say, “I reject that,” can you give me some examples of maybe things recently that you heard then you’ve decided to proactively state out loud or internally, “I reject that.”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, it sounds a little bit silly, but it was as simple as the example that I gave you. Sometimes somebody said, “Do you feel okay?” or “You look a little tired,” “I reject that. I look wide awake.” Right? I will literally say that because otherwise it can start to stack on you. Or somebody says, “You don’t really seem like you’re making progress in this area.” “I reject that. I’m making progress here, here and here. Then here’s also where I’m going to work to make even more progress.”

It’s not about putting blinders on. It’s about framing things differently. I heard it said recently that no frame, no gain. You have to choose how you frame things in your own mind.

There’s something called defensive pessimism, which is really important. I’m not about, again, putting on rose-colored glasses, being overly optimistic. You have to look at the data and look at what’s going on. That’s what defensive pessimism is. You say, “What could go wrong here?” You figure it out and it actually makes you more successful. It’s not about that, but it’s about you choosing how to frame things that are best for you, not letting other people frame things for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Talking about I guess disproportionate mental weightings, how’s that for a segue?

Isaiah Hankel
….

Pete Mockaitis
You mention the Zeigarnik Effect. I may be butchering that pronunciation. But it’s pretty intriguing. Can you unpack that for us?

Isaiah Hankel
The Zeigarnik Effect is – now you have me saying it too. It’s an effect that-

Pete Mockaitis
Zeigarnik.

Isaiah Hankel
Zeigarnik. I think I’ve had to look up pronunciation of that about 15 times. This is an effect that makes an open loop in your brain very hard to let go of. It’s why open loops, things that are kept in our working memory can have a drastic impact over our performance. The psychologist who came up with it was obviously called Zeigarnik. Now I can’t say it ….

Pete Mockaitis
Zeigarnik.

Isaiah Hankel
Zeigarnik. Bluma, yeah. He was a psychologist who noticed that a waiter had better recollections of unpaid orders. I’ve been a waiter and I know this. When you have an open table, it’s very similar to having an open thought or an open loop or a cast that’s not done in your mind. That’s how this effect was discovered.

Imagine you’re a waiter or maybe you’ve been a waiter or a waitress before. I used to waiter at a restaurant called Dockside in …. Great job. We had about five to six tables in a section. If there was a certain number of tables full, let’s say all six tables are full. They’re all eating. All six tables are on my mind all the time. I want to keep them as happy as possible because I want a tip.

If I’m asked at that time anything about the people at those tables, I have an amazing memory of those people, what they ordered, what’s going on. However, as soon as a table gets their check, they pay, and they leave, as soon as that happens and I clear out the table on the computer, if I’m asked the same set of questions about that table, I can’t remember anything. Because now the table is closed, the loop is closed, the task is closed and my brain dumps it from my working memory.

That’s the effect. Most of us walk around with hundreds of open tables in our mind at all times. We wonder why our mental energy is so dissipated. One of the most important things you can do and this is from a book, a famous productivity book called Getting Things Done.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, David Allen episode 15. Woot, woot.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, there you go. Just make a list of all the open loops in your mind. Spend an entire day or spend – what I did is I spent three or four days during my peak mental energy times making a list of every open loop, everything from ‘I want to paint the garage one day’ to ‘I want to pay off my house’ to ‘I have this entire list that I need to get through that’s on my desk.’

We talked about collecting every inbox, which can be virtual and physical now into one place, putting it in a giant to-do list and getting all of those loops down on paper. That’s the first step to getting them out of your working memory.

Once you get them down, you’re going to have at least 100 if you do it correctly. I would say if you’re over the age of 25, you’re going to have at least 100.  Once you get them down, you’re going to be like, “I can’t believe I was holding on to all of this in my working memory this entire time.” You’re going to feel this huge sense of relief.

Then when you go through the list, if you can start crossing stuff off, if you can do it in two minutes – this is going back to the getting things done rule – just do it. Or there might be a lot of things where you’re like, “This is not happening. This is off the list completely.” Then you can file other ones into like a someday maybe file on your computer.

Then the rest of the things that you actually need to get done, you can probably get it down to in my experience a list of 100 to maybe 30 items. That’s it. Again, all of that’s relieved from your working memory. All those loops get closed. Your energy will go through the roof after this process. But again, most people never do it. Why? Because they’re too busy doing stuff that’s not important.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, another fascinating implication of the Zeigarnik Effect in terms of our memory for these open loops is I think showing up in terms of storytelling. This is reminding me of another great author, Robert Cialdini.

In his later book Pre-suasion he figured out how he can really engage in his classroom if he posed a bit of a question or a mystery like, “How is it that this tiny organization was able to grow and overtake this huge organization in marketing or sales or whatever over four months. It wasn’t this. It wasn’t this. It wasn’t that.” Then they’re like, “Well, what was it?”

I think the same thing happens in a TV series or some of these true crime podcasts, where we’re doing an investigation over time. It’s like the brain wants that closure and you’re so intrigued and it’s so top of mind that sometimes you’re not even really enjoying watching the TV series or listening to the podcast, but you’ve just got to know what happens to these people.

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, you want to close that loop. Yeah, you’re right. Everything from marketers to entertainers have known this for a long time. I know one particular marketer that sends an email every day and at the end of it, it’s like, “And tomorrow I’m going to tell you about X, Y, Z.” Curiosity is a very powerful way to create an open loop and keep yourself or what you’re doing, or what you want to be on somebody’s minds on their mind.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, talking a little bit about these different factors in terms of protecting your energy and prioritizing and not being too busy and focusing on the right stuff and closing loops and getting it all out of there. I’d like to get your take on non-negotiables and how this can be a productive means of achieving some of these ends.

Isaiah Hankel
One of the best ways to not allow a loop – one of the best ways to close a loop is to not allow a loop to be opened in your brain. One of the best ways to do that is through non-negotiables.

People have a hard time saying no today. I struggle with this. I think a lot of us do, especially people who are – people that like to seize opportunities. You want to get stuff done. You’re a doer. You think the more yes’s I commit to, the more likely I’m going to be successful, the faster I’m going to be successful. But really it’s the opposite.

I read it in a book, I think it was by Tim Ferris that said you have to move from throwing spears to holding up a shield. This transition point comes at a various stages in your growth of your career, your personal growth, whatever it is.

But you have to be very cognizant that “Should I stop throwing spears at this time? Is it time to stop trying to throw everything against the wall to see what sticks? Has enough stuck that now I need to start holding up the shield and I’ve got to start saying no? I’ve got to say, ‘I just don’t do that.’ I’m not taking on any more projects until this date. I’m not staying online past eight PM anymore, non-negotiable. This is my morning routine that I’m going to execute every single day, non-negotiable.”

There’s real power in that. The power is that you don’t allow extra loops to get open. You don’t allow extra stuff to start stealing your attention and draining your mental energy. You’ve taken a stand to protect your mental energy in a formidable way.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. I’d love to hear what are some non-negotiables that have been really powerful for you and those you’ve chatted with about the concept?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, so a couple I just said have been really powerful. Bookending my day is really important. I have a non-negotiable that at this time I’m offline and I’m home with my family and I’m present with my kids. The end. No matter what I can get done at that time, that’s just the way that it is. It actually makes me work a lot faster and really makes me prioritize a lot more carefully.

Same thing in the morning. This is the morning routine that I’m doing every single day. I have one that’s like a ten-minute routine that can be done anywhere, if I’m traveling – no matter where I’m travelling, etcetera. That is what I do. Then I have certain key days too, like on this day, this is the day that I do calls on, client calls. Only on this day, non-negotiable, no other days. It’s got to be fitting on this day.

If you can set up a few of those – I call it bookending for a reason. But if you can add bookends and a couple of bookmarks to your days and weeks, it gives you a structure and it acts almost like a tripwire to make sure that you’re saving a certain amount of mental energy, otherwise things will just continue to swell and go towards disorder. It’s entropy. It’s just going to happen. This is again kind of a tripwire to prevent the entropy from getting out of control.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess, I’ll ask it later, but instead I’ll ask it now. These ten minutes, what are you doing with your ten minutes there?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, good question. What I try to do and what I’ve noticed is if I can do something physical, if I can take in some information, then if I can put out some information, I feel really good. What I do kind of changes, but one thing I’ve been doing recently, I’d say for the past six months, is I would get up and I’ll do a little bit of core work, stretching, core, just get a little bit of I guess mobility work in, very little. I can do that in a couple of minutes.

I’ll meditate, again, for a few minutes. I will pray for a few minutes. I will read a couple of books that are usually set up into either like a devotional or a book that has really short chapters. Then I’ll do an entry in a gratitude journal. I’ll write a little bit.

This is all really kind of in ten minutes. It’s about a minute or two a piece. It’ll swell if I have more time. It can swell up to like 30 minutes, but at least I’m getting each of those in in a minute. Then finally I’ll do something, I usually will row or could be something with like a kettle bell, just to get the heart rate up a little bit before having lemon water with Himalayan pink salt.

Pete Mockaitis
Himalayan pink salt. I’ve heard of this. Tell me. It’s supposed to be special somehow.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I got hooked on it. I did a podcast with Onnit and I started watching a lot of their content before to prepare just like I do with your stuff. Yeah, it came up. It’s supposed to be really good for cleaning out your adrenals among other things.

Pete Mockaitis
More than any other salt?

Isaiah Hankel
Not just the salt, but the lemon water with the salt. Maybe put a little bit of apple cider vinegar in it. The Himalayan pink salt has a lot of – not chemicals, but like phosphorus, sulfurous, really good – I’m forgetting the name right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Minerals?

Isaiah Hankel
Minerals. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Feels like a word that might apply to salt. I’m just guessing.

Isaiah Hankel
That you can’t get from your normal table salt.

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

Isaiah Hankel
I would say really take seriously figuring out when you are peaking and be greedy for that time. That is your time. That is your essence. What you do during that time is who you are and who you’re going to become.

I think happiness, if that’s your pursuit that we’re all going towards, you have to realize that happiness is doing. Happiness is not just who you are. We all have a being and that’s important, but it’s also doing. We live today doing so much that we don’t think enough about what we’re doing, those activities. If you can own one or two hours during your peak time, you’re going to own yourself.

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

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, this is one I have on my desk. I think for me it’s always been kind of a good mantra that’s kept me focused. It says, “I do not fear failure. I only fear the slowing up of the engine inside of me that’s pounding saying, ‘keep going.’ Someone must be on top. Why not you?”

It might sound too intense for some people. That’s a quote from Patton, but basically it means fear is not the problem here. Failure is not the problem. Apathy is the problem, not caring, not trying to be the best that you can be. That’s what you should be afraid of.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite study?

Isaiah Hankel
Favorite study. Man, I had like three or four and I didn’t decide on one. One that I really like going back to what we talked about today is the study showing people’s performance during those peak mental hours. If you think about it, it’s really showing that time is relative.

How can a being or person during these set times get so much more done than outside of those times. It’s like you’re a different person and your brain is a different brain during those times. It’s something that I don’t think enough people have thought about it. We’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible when we start tapping into human performance through the protection of mental energy.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Isaiah Hankel
Favorite book. Fiction or non-fiction?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll take them both.

Isaiah Hankel
Fiction, I really enjoyed Fountainhead. I read it when I was young. It’s one of the things that inspired me to start my own business to even write a book instead of just going and doing what I was told in academia.

Non-fiction, so many things. The one that I read recently that I think really spoke to me and I read like three times is Relentless by Tim Grover. What I like about it is there’s people who start their own businesses. They’re very driven. People always talk about the dark side of being driven and how it’s bad.

He kind of flipped it and said, “No, this is very good and some of the best things that have ever been created and the people’s top performance and just a variety of things are because of this.” I really enjoyed it.

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

Isaiah Hankel
Something that helps me be awesome, I really can’t get enough of these new Apple pods because I do so many calls and I dictate so much that it allows me – one of the things that I do when I have a little bit more time in the morning is I like to wear a 40 pound weight vest and just go for a walk and listen at like two times speed a podcast like yours or a book. Then I have a dictator that I’ll dictate into. The pods makes all that possible.

Pete Mockaitis
So it’s a separate device that you’re using for the dictation?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, exactly. Because that way I don’t have to stop listening to the book and I can just rant into this. A lot of is just pure nonsense. I’m like, “Oh that’s not really a good idea,” but sometimes there’s these gems that comes out of it. Once I started using two devices for that it was a lot different because otherwise I’d have to stop my phone, what I was listening to and dictate on my phone, etcetera.

Pete Mockaitis
What is the dictation device of choice that you’re using?

Isaiah Hankel
I can look it up real quick here. It is Sony ICD-PX370 mono-digital voice dictator.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the ICD-PX gem.

Isaiah Hankel
I was going to say, you might know that.

Pete Mockaitis
I actually don’t. Do you just keep it via audio or does some transcribing get into the picture?

Isaiah Hankel
No, I would love to know if there’s a better transcription device out there. Well, I use Rev.com. I’m guessing you know what that is. But no. The transcription devices that I’ve seen are highly complex, where you’ve got to have CDs and you have to – no, I wish it transcribed. I don’t think it does.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, how about a favorite habit?

Isaiah Hankel
Favorite habit, getting up at five AM more than anything else. This is something that like a lot of habits, you have to gently move towards. I for the longest time, for years, I wanted to joining this quote/unquote five AM club back when I was waking up at like eight AM. I’d set my alarm for 5 AM. I’d do it for like a day, maybe two and then crash and burn and give it up for a week and then two weeks later try it again.

What I finally did was I just started like 10 – 15 minutes at a time over the course of a week. Every week I’d get up, I’m serious, like 15 minutes earlier and slowly over the course of that 18 months, I’ve been able to start getting up at 5 AM. It’s just a beautiful time because you can shift when your peak hours happen.

I get up now and then very early when nobody else is up and there’s no calls or meetings or anything, I have my strategic time where my mental energies are peaking. It’s empowering to feel like you’re ahead of other people, even though there’s all kinds of time zones and I’m on Pacific Time, so I’m actually behind. Yeah, that’s by far my favorite habit.

Pete Mockaitis
But you’re also into sleeping a lot it sounds like.

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So when do you go to bed?

Isaiah Hankel
I track that and I go to bed at eight PM. I have to because I track it on a Fitbit, which I know is not the most accurate, but I do know – as long as you’re using the same scale, it’s apples to apples. I know what I trend at and how much sleep I need a week. I stick to that.

On a Fitbit, I have to get – I’m actually a pretty light sleeper, so I’ll be awake about an hour every night, at least according to my Fitbit. I know I need about 7 hours and 45 minutes almost on the nose in terms of averages for the week. I make sure that I get that. One of the ways that I have to do it is by going to bed at eight, so I get it.

Pete Mockaitis
So that’s 7 hours 45 minutes of actual sleep time, so the 9 hours of in the bedtime.

Isaiah Hankel
Exactly, so 7-45 plus the one hour, yeah, so it’s right around 8 to 5 yeah. ….

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I hear you. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Isaiah Hankel
A particular nugget?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, just an articulation of your wisdom that folks say, “Yes Isaiah, that was so moving and brilliant when I heard that from you.”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I think it comes down to the relationship fast. Most people don’t give themselves permission to do this because they think they’re being a bad person or they’re going against – we hear words like anti-social. I know it’s probably easier for me because I’m an introvert, a non-shy introvert if you’ve ever read Susan Cain’s Quiet.

But you have to be okay with being alone. If you’re not, you’re never going to really know who you are and you’re never really going to know the power that you have in your own mind and what you can do with that power of being your mental energy and what you can produce with it that will make the world a better place. If you really care about other people, you’ll figure out who you are and you’ll spend some time on your own in a relationship fast, a temporary one doing that.

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

Isaiah Hankel
Go to IsaiahHankel.com. That’s probably the easiest. Or actually the easiest is probably HankelLeadership.com. They can read some extra articles there and get a couple free chapters of the book.

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

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, make your list of every hour that you’re awake for three days at least. Just record, scale it one to ten, what’s your mental energy. There’s going to be some great insights there. Then try to find one hour, one peak hour to protect. Do whatever it takes to protect that hour. It will change your life.

Pete Mockaitis
If I could just get a quick follow up there, when you say one to ten, could you orient us a little bit? How does a ten and a nine feel and how does a five feel and how does a one feel?

Isaiah Hankel
Great question. It’s going to be, of course, subjective, but the great news is it’s just you. You are the only subject, so it’s okay to be subjective in the sense – and you’re looking at a trend. If you do this in three days and your tens are all over the place, that’s a concern. You’re going to need to do it for a little bit longer.

But if you go for three – four days, like when I did it the first time in about, yeah, three – four days, I saw a very clear trend that a ten was at about the same time every day, right around that ten AM.

For you, you can always go back and say, “Oh, now that I’ve done this for a few days, this wasn’t really an eight. This was my ten.” You’ll gain clarity as you move forward. The key is just knowing, if you want to know in practice, what are those times when you seem really, really sharp, like people are asking you a question, you’re not really delaying in your responses, you’re flying through emails very, very fast. You feel like you’re in a flow state. If you haven’t read the book, it’s by Mihaly Csik-

Pete Mockaitis
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Isaiah Hankel
There you go. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I practiced that one.

Isaiah Hankel
A lot of word challenges today. Called Flow. Read that book. Anything that makes you present and sharp, that’s the feeling that you’re going for. When does that happen?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Isaiah, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for taking the time and good luck with all you’re up to.

Isaiah Hankel
Thank you Pete. Great to meet you and great to be here.

396: Insights into Embracing Emotions at Work with Liz Fosslien

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Writer and illustrator Liz Fosslien shares why we should listen to our emotions instead of suppressing them at work. She also reveals how to be considerate of others’ emotions while protecting our own.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we should inspect instead of suppress our emotions
  2. Two ways to protect yourself from emotional contagion
  3. How to decode the wisdom your emotions are pointing to

About Liz

Liz is an author and illustrator whose projects have been featured by NPR, Freakonomics, The Economist, and CNN Money. Liz spent the past three years designing and facilitating workshops that empowered executives at LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, BlackRock, and Nike to build cultures of belonging. Previously, she led product and community projects at Genius and ran statistical analyses at the aptly named Analysis Group.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Liz Fosslien Interview Transcript

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

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I’m really excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. Well, I’m excited to dig into this. First I want to hear the backstory behind you have been eating the same breakfast every day for seven years. What’s the story here?

Liz Fosslien
I have. Yes. The breakfast is seven mini-scoops of non-fat plain Greek yogurts and then a granola bar that I crush into it.

It started as morning is my most productive time and so I just wanted to remove as much decision making from my morning routine. I just wanted to be able to know what I was going to do and then immediately sit down and kind of let all the ideas that had been going around in my brain out onto the computer page. But now it’s a really nice source of emotional support too when I’m travelling or just when life is getting really hectic; it’s just nice to always have the same breakfast.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s review. What’s the brand of Greek yogurt?

Liz Fosslien
Trader Joe’s. I’ve done-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes.

Liz Fosslien
I’ve done a blind taste test because people have questioned my loyalty and I get a perfect score every time, so it’s – I think it’s by far the best.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I agree that it is excellent and it’s a good price. Which amount of fat? Is it the zero and then there’s the two and then there’s the full.

Liz Fosslien
Yes, I do zero. I tried the two and the full, but I thought it just tasted so good that I ended up eating a lot for breakfast, so yeah, I go non-fat.

Pete Mockaitis
How about the granola bar?

Liz Fosslien
It’s LUNA Bar.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I love them.

Pete Mockaitis
I got into this weird debate with someone about whether LUNA bars were made for women.

Liz Fosslien
I think they are, but I don’t really know beyond that being somewhere on the labeling why they’re made for women.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, they’re delicious and I’m a man and so-

Liz Fosslien
They’re definitely delicious. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular LUNA Bar flavor that you’re working with?

Liz Fosslien
It was the Nuts over Chocolate and then Trader Joe’s discontinued stocking that flavor, so since then I’ve been doing the lemon.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve also learned that Trader Joe’s is your go-to shopping location or grocery spot.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, it’s there. It’s convenient. They have samples. I’m not being paid by Trader Joe’s.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I love Trader Joe’s and I just wish they could deliver to us because we get most of them delivered.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess we’re too far away from the nearest Trader Joe’s, but when we go we end up stocking up and it’s usually in the frozen section like their chicken tikka masala and their chana masala.

Liz Fosslien
Oh, so good. Yeah. Yeah. So easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, I ask the hard-hitting questions here on How to be Awesome at Your Job, so I’m glad we’ve got that settled. Now tell us, you’ve got a book, No Hard Feelings, coming out. What’s the story here?

Liz Fosslien
The story is the book’s central idea is just that emotions are inevitable, so we should probably learn how to deal with them. It doesn’t sound that revolutionary on the surface, but I think there is a long-standing tradition in the workplace, this idea that you should check your feelings at the door. That is biologically impossible. We’re emotional creatures regardless of the circumstances.

By suppressing our emotions, we actually miss out on what could be really useful signals. The idea between No Hard Feelings is that you – take for example envy.

With envy, which is one of my favorite examples of something that might be thought of as a hard feeling, is actually really useful information that’s contained within that. I think there is some stigma around if you’re jealous of someone, people might worry that that turns into bitterness and it often does.

But if you just let yourself sit with that, you might realize that you’re envious of a certain person because they have something that you really desire. Then that can help you figure out how to channel your energy and where you might want to go with your career.

We talked to Gretchen Rubin, who’s lovely and she wrote The Happiness Project and The Four Tendencies. She said when she was a lawyer and kind of thinking about what she wanted her next career move to be, she was reading about alumni from her school.

When she read about someone who had an amazing law career, she found it interesting. But when she read about people who had amazing writing careers, she said became like sick with envy. That to her was this really clear signal that maybe she should try pursuing a career in writing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. It’s funny, when you say envy I think of it in like a sinful context, like, “They don’t deserve that. Why them?”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I think a lot of emotions have this stigma around them. Again, I’m not endorsing that if you’re envious you should walk up to someone like, “I’m envious of you.” It’s more just if you hold these emotions that we think of as bad and that should be always thrown in the trash, if you instead hold them up to the light and inspect them, you might find something really useful in there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Then this notion that we’ve all got emotions and they can’t go away even if it’s quote/unquote unprofessional or whatnot.

Boy what do we do with that in a context or culture, environment where you’re sort of not supposed to express that you’re angry at your boss for doing something that inconvenienced you or made your life difficult or you are sad that this thing that you poured your heart and soul and so much time into is getting scrapped and going nowhere. What should we do?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I think something that might be a relief to people who are uncomfortable expressing emotions or in offices where maybe it isn’t as accepted to express emotions, is that there’s a lot you can do internally first. I think the very first thing when you’re experiencing a hard feeling is to try and understand the need driving that emotion.

Last year I was managing a design project and I found myself a few days ahead of the deadline just getting irritated with everyone I was working with. When I kind of went to my office and closed the door and sat by myself and thought about it, no one was doing anything that was super irritating. I really liked the people I was working with.

I realized that I was just irritable because I was extremely anxious about meeting that deadline. The need driving that anxiety was that I just wanted to make sure that we had the structures in place to meet the deadline.

We had a team meeting and kind of went over what the plan was over the next few days and ended up cutting a few things because we just wanted to make sure the core product was impeccable. I felt so much better and suddenly I wasn’t irritable anymore. I think a lot of the work is just what is the need driving this hard feeling.

Then I’ll say the second thing that’s really useful is in some cases to flag hard feelings in a way where you’re talking about your emotions without getting emotional about it. There are days when you’re going to have just a bad day and there maybe isn’t anything you can do about the need driving it. Maybe you’re just generally blue that day or it’s a personal issue that you can’t fix immediately.

In that case, people are going to pick up on the fact that you’re having a bad day, especially a leader, like your emotions have an outside impact on the people around you. If you don’t say anything, you’re just going to cause all this unnecessary anxiety.

Imagine we work together, I walk into an office. I just seem a little subdued. I’m not really responding that quickly or my responses are really short and curt. It’s super likely that you imagine that I’m upset with you or that you’ve done something bad or even worse case, you’re going to get fired. But if I instead say to you, “Hey, I’m having a bad day. It has nothing to do with you, but just want to let you know if I seem a little off, it’s fine. It’s just I have some stuff going on.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Liz Fosslien
I’m not going into detail, but you now get it. I think it also gives you the opportunity to treat me with a little more empathy, so we’ve really done a lot for our relationship without me breaking down, saying that much, oversharing. It’s just that little flag that is so crucial.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so helpful. I remember once I was consulting and there was a partner. We were talking about I don’t even know what, but he said something about his anxiety and that he gets it from his mother. I thought, “Ahh.” I was just so relieved, just like, “Man, whenever I’m around you I just feel like we’re screwing something up.” It’s like, “No, you just tend to be anxious and that’s sort of been that way your whole life and I can chill out a little bit.” It was like, “Ahh, what a relief.”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, it doesn’t require crazy teambuilding thing. It wasn’t like a retreat. It was just one comment.

I think putting structures into place when you’re working with people, where you maybe just go around at the beginning of a team project and everyone answers really quickly what are some things you should know about me, what are some things that have come up in the past that people felt when I was on a team with them, what do sometimes people misunderstand about me. Just quickly answering those and having everyone do it, maybe half an hour, can save so much grief and avoid so much strife.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to dig into what you said about the spreading of emotions. We had a previous guest, Michelle Gielan, and her book Broadcasting Happiness talked about it’s not so much the person who has the most intensely positive or most intensely negative emotion, so much as the one who is most expressive in terms of what’s showing up in that kind of spread.

How should we think about our spreading of emotions and maybe defending ourselves from the spread of something we’d rather not catch?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. The spreading of emotions psychologists call emotional contagion. It happens when we’re in person. I think like you said, this person you worked with was really anxious. I’m sure that you fed on that anxiety and found yourself often becoming anxious around that person. It also happens over text messages. If you’ve ever been in an argument with someone and they suddenly just start responding like, “Sure period,” “Kay, period,” you become stressed.

Humans we just pick up on these signals and start to mirror each other’s emotions. If someone is really stressed or anxious or even they are expressing that and they’re coming to you and they’re venting a lot, I think one of the easiest things to do if you can is just to keep physical distance.

MIT professor Thomas Alan found that people are four times more likely to communicate regularly with a coworker who sits 6 feet away as opposed to one who sits 60 feet away. If you’re in an open office space or if you have some flexibility to move around and someone just seems to be in a really difficult position, it’s okay to kind of separate yourself a little bit to preserve your emotional state.

Another tip that we give in the book that I really like is if someone’s consistently coming to you with the same problem, try and push them towards action. Something you can say is like, “Well, what could you have done differently?” or “What can we do to fix this situation?”

Just one question kind of forces them to – one it helps them because maybe they just have been so bogged in venting that they’re not thinking proactively anymore and two, it really does a nice job of gently shutting down the negativity. I think it’s really about putting a stop on the negativity and then also forming a little bubble in whatever way you can.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. I want to dig now a bit into you mentioned different emotions can be providing us with sort of signal information. I remember, boy, back in the day I read – it was a Tony Robbins book, Awaken the Giant Within. What a title. He even had a whole chapter where he was like this emotion can mean this, like guilt means you have violated one of your core values.

It’s like, in a way it seemed kind of elementary, but at the same time when you’re in the heat of your emotions, it can be nice to just make it real simple. Okay, what can be going on here? Can you give us a little bit of the ‘if this, then that’ recipe book in terms of how we might go about decoding the signal from different emotions?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, so two that I really like. One is if you think about – let’s say you’re making a decision and not doing or choosing one option over the other fills you with regret. I think this is also not groundbreaking. But you should maybe think about why you feel so much regret or why it hurts so much to give up one option.

I say this because I think when it comes to decision making, especially around work, there is again this idea of – I think people come down really strongly, either always listen to your gut or never listen to your gut. There’s some useful emotions and some emotions that aren’t useful, but regret is usually very useful. That’s an important one to listen to.

When I was thinking about taking a new job or staying at my existing job, when I thought about not taking the new job, I felt a lot of regret, so I realized that I was excited at the challenge and I didn’t want to give that up.

The other thing I felt was fear. I think fear can often be a really important signal around maybe you just really want this. I’m often the most fearful when I’m emailing someone that I admire. When we were writing the book, we interviewed a lot of people. I found that writing emails to people whose books I love, like I would put Gretchen Rubin in this camp or Daniel Pink, who wrote Drive and then just came out with the book When. It was – I was so afraid of emailing them.

I realized that I shouldn’t put off those emails because I was afraid. It was just I thought it would be so amazing if these people – if I could speak to them and learn more about them and kind of get to know them. The fear there was just a signal that this was really important to me. Instead of avoiding it, I should just put some more thought into how I went forward.

Pete Mockaitis
So both the fear and regret are pointing to what’s important to you. On the regret side, you’re sort of imagining a scenario in which you have chosen one thing or forsaken another and sort of observing the emotional response.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I think it can be incredibly illuminating into kind of how you’re feeling because your brain is doing all this calculation and then sometimes what it spits out is a feeling.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. I think about that fear in terms of emailing folks who have a real impact perhaps on your fate and then there’s fear and then that fear sometimes knee-jerk reaction is just to oh, do something else instead of maybe asking a better question might be “What could I put in this email that would make it all the more compelling and engaging and answerable?” as opposed to “What else am I going to do?”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I’ve actually started using fear as a way to prioritize my to-do list in the morning. When I think about – I have just a running list with everything I need to do. In the past I found that I kept falling into this trap of just going to the easiest stuff first. Sometimes that was organize my desk. Organizing your desk is important, but it’s not going to move your career forward in a meaningful way, unless you’re a very, very disorganized person.

What I would do is look at this list and then I would identify the three things that I was most afraid of doing or just had the most emotional resistance around. It usually meant it was because they were hard or they were important. Those are the things that I would do first if it did seem to bear out that these are really important things to me. Then I would leave kind of the little stuff for later in the day when research shows that our productivity starts to wane, we’re less able to focus.

Really, again, I think it’s just a great example of you’re afraid of sending that email, maybe that’s the thing you should spend your morning focusing on doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really good. Since you have been there, done that many a time when it comes to “I’m afraid of this email. It’s high stakes. I want to send it out. I’ve got to make sure it’s right.” What have you found to be some of the best practices particularly in sending emails that you fear that get them responded to?

Liz Fosslien
I think one is just to write like a human being. I think that especially earlier in my career I definitely did this, put people off and get into business mode, which is like, “To whom it may concern, I am deeply passionate about,” whatever. That might be true, but just I think having some personality show through makes it – it reads more naturally. It doesn’t feel so much like a form letter, like someone is pitching you on something.

I’d say that’s one of the most important things, which also ties into a nice piece of advice that we have in the book, which is just always emotionally proofreading your emails, so trying to put yourself in the recipient’s shoes.

Something that I have done before with really important emails is I think so often when we find a typo or we find something we could have fixed immediately after we hit send. A way to avoid that is to write an email and then send it to yourself. That forces you to actually click on it and open it and read it.

I think that helps literally put yourself into the recipient’s shoes. Then it becomes clear as you do that, “Okay, what could be better? Where could I put in more specific example? What information is missing? How am I coming across?” I think really just having – putting yourself in the recipient’s shoes goes a long way.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s really cool. I’m sort of imagining myself doing that and trying to get some even extra distance, like I’ll take a little walk and then return to it. It’s like, “Oh, what do you know? I’ve got an email from Pete. Let me take a look. What do you know?”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, yeah. I love that. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I actually – this idea for sending it to myself came from – Mollie is my coauthor. We wrote the book together. There are eight chapters and we split them up into four chapters each and each did the initial draft and then we swapped the draft.

Mollie called me after a while and she told me that my emails were making her feel really bad. I was surprised because I thought that I had been responding in a really fast manner. I was giving her great tips on what we needed to change, what should be edited, what wasn’t working. But then she said, “Why don’t you just read one of the emails you’ve written to me from my perspective.”

I did that and basically what I was sending her were just long bullet point lists of all the things I thought needed to be better in the chapter. Nowhere in that email was like, “Thanks for taking a stab at this. Here’s what I really liked.” That emotional proofing, all of that was in my head, but I had never put it in the email. Mollie has no idea what’s in my head, so she was just getting these walls of critical feedback.

I think that really helped me understand, “Oh, I need to take some of the stuff that’s in my head and put it in the email because it is relevant, it is important and she’s not a mind reader. I can’t – I need to step away from only focusing on efficiency.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very well said. I think sometimes it’s impressive just how fast it came. That’s a quick thing you can say is like, “Wow, great job on a quick turnaround. You’re really cranking through some words this morning,” and then that makes me feel good, like, “Well, yes, thank you. I was cranking on some words this morning. I appreciate that.”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about the feedback point there. Feedback is boy, emotionally rife or rich, shall we say, in terms of both on the giving side and the receiving side. If you talk to managers behind closed doors, they’ll admit they’re sometimes terrified to give feedback to their direct reports. Certainly on the receiving side, feedback can make you defensive or angry. How do you think about feedback and what are some of the best practices for giving and receiving it well?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, so I’ll start with giving feedback. I think really the way to come at it is to consider how do I give feedback that doesn’t pack a really painful punch. Great feedback allows the recipient to more quickly move past this inevitable defensive reaction and move on to determination and action. To that end we really encourage people to do three things.

The first is just focus on specific behavior. When we give vague feedback, it’s so easy for the recipient – first of all, they don’t know what to do with it. It’s much easier for them to ruminate on it and just think and think and then it becomes this big issue that more and more seems like an attack on their entire sense of self.

As an example, if I say to you, let’s say you send me an email and I give you feedback. The first is, “This email just could have been better. I think it missed the mark,” versus “The second sentence in your email was a little repetitive. I think it’s unnecessary and you should delete it to be a little more succinct.”

It’s so easy. You just delete the second sentence and go about your day. Whereas the first when I say, “It just missed the mark. It wasn’t good,” it’s much easier to go home and be like, “Oh my God, it wasn’t good. What do I do? I don’t know how to improve, so what else isn’t good.” Again, it’s about reducing unnecessary anxiety.

The second tip that I really love is present feedback in a way where it’s about building the person up. A great way to communicate that is just to start with saying, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations of you and I’m confident that you can reach them.” That immediately puts them on “I’m here to help. This is advice. I’m not here to tear you down. I’m not here to make you feel bad.”

Then the last thing is just really trying to understand. I think this goes back to the earlier point about taking the time to figure out how do people like to work with each other and how to they like to receive feedback. I love feedback. I love it in the moment. I just always want people to be telling me how I can improve.

Mollie, for example, that makes her really uncomfortable. She would always rather receive it over email and then have some time to think through it and also process her initial emotional reaction. If I’m just spitting feedback at her, I’m going to make her feel bad because I’m operating around how I want to be treated as opposed to how Mollie wants to be treated.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really good. I like that actionable piece. I think about reviews in particular. How sometimes it’s just so vague, like, “Be more professional.” That’s one thing I loved about consulting at Bain was that the reviews, well, boy, they were extensive like five pages single spaced like every three to six months.

My ‘be more professional’ would be like, “Pete would sometimes use language such as ‘cool beans’ or ‘word’ in front of the clients and these word choices don’t convey as much of a professional demeanor.” It’s like, fair enough. I can see where you’re coming from there. That’s way more actionable, “Don’t say ‘word’ or ‘cool beans’ to a client until you’re really chummy,” than “Be more professional.” What does that even mean ‘be more professional?’

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, just thinking about what can you do to really help this person and ‘be more professional’ is just not that helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Then how about on the receiving side of things?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, we like to say that you need feedback to improve. If no one is ever criticizing you, if no one’s telling you what you’re doing wrong, you’re never really going to set yourself up for success because everyone has areas that they could be improving on. You want to make it awesome for people to come to you with hard feedback. I think the best way to do that is to be able to regulate your initial defensive reaction.

One thing is just keep reminding yourself that you need critical feedback to improve. Again, from the other side see it as this person trying to help you. A friend is going to tell you that you have spinach in your teeth. A non-friend is not going to tell you because it’s uncomfortable. It might hurt your feelings. There’s going to be this awkward moment. Really try and see it as this person is here to help me.

Another thing is to use the word ‘what’ instead of ‘any.’ People, I find, often say like, “Do you have any feedback for me? Is there anything I could be doing differently?” It’s really easy for people to respond to that with, “No, I thought it was good.” But if I instead say, “What are two things I could have done better?” it’s hard to say, “Ah, nothing.” People usually can come up with one or two things. Phrasing the question can invite feedback in a different way.

Then my final piece of advice I’ll give here that I really love is keeping, we call it a smile file, but it’s essentially a folder, that can be digital or physical, where you just keep – it can be a folder in your inbox, where when you get feedback or someone thanks you for doing something or says something really nice about you, you save all of that to a folder.

Then when you receive critical feedback, you can go back to that folder and remind yourself of all the things you do well. Then you’re better able to see the criticism as one data point in the entire picture of who you are. It’s like, “I need to work on this, but it’s not devastating because there’s all these other things that I am doing well.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that. That reminds me of when I was in college and I was feeling a little shaken in my confidence because I think I was rejected from all these clubs I tried to get into as a freshman. It was like, “What the heck? I was Mr. High Achiever in high school. What’s the deal here?”

I made a little notebook in terms of all the things that I sort of achieved or sort of gotten great feedback on. Sure enough, you make a big list of 100 plus things, you’re like, “Well, damn. These are minor setbacks. I’m going to find my place real soon here. It’s all good.”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I think it’s so nice to have that to go back to. Again, whatever works for you. I have a folder in my inbox, where I’ll just put a nice email in there. Then even when I’m not receiving critical feedback sometimes it’s still nice to just go back and be like, “Oh, I did some cool things.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m going to put you on the spot Liz. Can you share a favorite bit of feedback or accomplishment that consistently brings a smile to your face and gets you in a good place?

Liz Fosslien
Yes. The book is also illustrated and I drew the illustrations, so they’re-

Pete Mockaitis
They’re really fun.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. Some of them kind of show the research or communicate an idea and then some are just meant to be light-hearted.

It’s not specific, but I think when people email me, I also have them on our website and then on Instagram. I’ll get comments from time to time especially around illustrations about anxiety and feeling stressed about work or feeling overwhelmed at times and normalizing that and saying everybody feels like this.

I’ve gotten comments from people saying, “I struggle with anxiety especially in the workplace and just knowing that you feel the same has made me feel so much better.” That is really meaningful to me I think connecting with people on that level and realizing that a little stick figure can have a profound impact on someone’s mood is incredibly motivating and lovely to hear.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very lovely. You’re bringing back memories for me. I think my favorite from a listener was “Every day an episode comes out, I make sure to wake up early so I can listen to it twice.”

Liz Fosslien
Oh, that’s so nice. I feel like I just got a warm glow from that ….

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you listener.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, that’s ….

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Now we’re both smiling. That’s good. Well speaking of smileys and emojis, how’s that for a segue?

Liz Fosslien
Beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to communicating digitally, that’s tricky because you don’t have the facial expressions, the tone and all that. If we’re texting and emailing and Slacking – not skipping work, but using Slack as a communication channel – then how do we communicate in these digital ways with regard to this emotional piece of things?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. The first thing I would say is when you’re first getting to know someone, don’t just rely on digital communication. If I get a short email from my mom, whatever. We have a good relationship. We’ve know each other for 30 plus years. It’s fine. I’m not going to read into it.

If I’m working with someone new, that’s kind of all the information I’m going on, so I’m going to read a lot more into that email. That’s generally bad because digital communication is lacking in so many non-verbal cues that are really important in communicating actually your meaning and your feelings.

I would just always advise, start with video calls. Even just get on the phone if you can so you can hear tone of voice, cadence, how fast someone is speaking. These are all really important emotional signals.

Then the second is again, it just goes back to really trying to be as explicit as possible to avoid unnecessary anxiety. Let’s say that I’m a manager and I email one of my reports because I’m in a rush, I just say, “Hey, got your email. Let’s talk tomorrow.” That’s horrifying to receive as a report. If my manager sent me that, I’d be really anxious.

By I might have just meant, “Hey, I thought this was really good. There’s a few minor edits, but I can give them to you tomorrow,” but that does such a different thing for the recipient, so really being explicit.

Then the last thing I’ll say is that just typos communicate a lot of emotion. We liken them to just emotional amplifiers. Let’s say I send an email and I’m just slightly upset about something, but it’s filled with typos. Let’s say I send this to Mollie, my coauthor.

When she reads it, she’s going to see the typos and she’s going to imagine me banging away at my computer in a blind rage and not even caring about typos whatsoever. She’s going to perceive it as really angry when maybe I just meant it as “Hey, here’s this small thing that kind of upset me a little bit.” Just paying attention to these really small things that have big effects on how people perceive your email.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing when you call it an emotional amplifier. I guess can it work in a positive way if you think something is excellent and you’ve got some typos, like “Wow, he was so overwhelmed with joy and enthusiasm for my work product that he is blurting it out all over the keyboard.”

Liz Fosslien
Definitely. I think – immediately comes to mind is text messages when you share really exciting information. Then you get back like a ‘OMGQ exclamation point.’ The Q, it does convey you were just so excited to respond to me that you didn’t care about the typo.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. Well, now I’m tempted to do it deliberately, but then I’m like oh, is that inauthentic? Is that deceitful?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, you have to use this information for good, not for evil.

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

Liz Fosslien
I would say one last thing is just I really am a fan of the concept of selective vulnerability. I think more and more people are asked to be authentic, to be vulnerable around each other and it can be confusing to understand what does that even mean. How vulnerable can I be? If I am going through something and I’m really stressed about it, how much of that should I share?

We encourage people share, again, talk about your emotions without getting emotional, but then in a work context, it’s still important, especially if you’re a leader, to follow that up by painting the most realistic but optimistic picture of something.

Again, let’s say that there’s a round of layoffs. If you as a leader don’t show any emotion, people are going to think you’re a robot. Obviously, this is affecting you in some way. But you also don’t want to be standing in front of your employees having a panic attack.

One thing you would do is “I know this is a stressful time. I am feeling it as well, but we are making changes on our end to make sure that we’re going to be in a good position and that we won’t go through this again. We’re also working with people who are laid off to do X, Y, Z.” Just sharing information that provides some hope for people, but also not making them feel alone in their emotional state.

Things are going to be hard at work. It’s normal to be affected by them. I think if we don’t acknowledge that, we risk – we’d lose trust. There’s no trust anymore.

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

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I really like it’s a small mindset shift, but it’s “Any time you find yourself saying ‘I have to do something,’ instead try saying, ‘I get to do something.’”

I am sometimes nervous about public speaking events or about just giving a presentation in front of people. I will often the night before find myself just thinking, “Why did I do this to myself? I’m so scared. I have to do this presentation tomorrow.”

And taking a movement and just saying, “I get to do this presentation. This is a cool opportunity for me. I get to share what I’ve been working on. Maybe someone will respond to it in a way that makes me feel good. Maybe someone will be so interested in it that we have fascinating conversation that deepens our bond also on a personal level.”

A lot of things that we’re afraid of, again, are opportunities. We fear them because there’s a big potential upside, so always reminding ourselves of that. I think that ‘I have to’ switching to ‘I get to’ is a really simple way of doing that.

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

Liz Fosslien
Yes. My favorite study is out of Baylor University. They found that emotions can go viral. Earlier I mentioned that concept of emotional contagion, where we catch each other’s emotional emotions. They found that emotions can spread from one office to another. It works like this.

I come home from work and I’ve had a really bad day because I’ve just been sitting next to someone who is incredibly stressed and I have not successfully wrapped a little nice bubble around myself. I come home and I’m really grumpy towards my partner. We get in a fight and then we go to bed angry. He wakes up the next morning and he’s irritated. He goes into his office and now he spreads that among all his coworkers. This happens.

I think that’s just a fascinating look at how important it is to have some kind of emotional flak jacket and to learn the skills to protect yourself but also to create a great environment for the people around you.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Liz Fosslien
Oh, I’m going to go with Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock, who led HR at Google for ten years. I think their people analytics department is fascinating. They do a really interesting and fun job of quantifying a lot of things around emotions, so what makes a manager good, what makes a good team good, and putting numbers and real experiments behind that I think.

It’s also useful for skeptics around emotions to say, no, here’s quantitative data showing why it is important to make people feel safe throwing out ideas or taking risks.

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

Liz Fosslien
Favorite tool. Is this an emotional tool or an app tool?

Pete Mockaitis
It could be either or both. I’m intrigued. I mean just something that you use regularly.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I would say just flagging how I’m feeling. I know I mentioned this before, but it’s just so useful. Also, I actually use this a lot in my personal life too. I think just any interpersonal thing, just flagging for someone, “I’m a little grumpy.” I done a lot like, “Hey, traffic was really bad today. I need half an hour to get over it,” or like, “I haven’t had coffee. I didn’t sleep well. Feeling a little grumpy right now. Maybe let’s talk in 20 minutes.” It’s just so, so useful, so I’m just going to bring it up twice in this interview.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite habit?

Liz Fosslien
Besides breakfast, I think taking photographs of things. I do a lot of design work, so taking photographs of things I find inspiring.

I will broaden that to say if you just see someone setting an example or doing something really well and you want to emulate it, writing it down in some kind of file or a journal. I think you can screenshot. If someone writes an email that makes you feel really good or you think was really well done, screenshot it and save it somewhere. Just always being aware of the lessons that are out there and keeping them in a file so that you can refer back to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Liz Fosslien
Just that we all have feelings. I definitely experienced this. My parents are stoic, academic immigrants, so I grew up in a pretty emotionally unexpressive household, so just this concept around permission. You are going to have feelings. It’s okay. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a flaw. I think that – which maybe is a little sad – but I think it’s really useful to hear that. It can make people feel a lot less isolated wherever they are.

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

Liz Fosslien
I’m going to point them to our website, LizAndMollie.com. Mollie is spelled M-O-L-L-I-E not M-O-L-L-Y. They can preorder the book, No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, at your local independent book seller, wherever books are sold.

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

Liz Fosslien
Acknowledge your emotion. Next time you feel strongly, sit down, maybe journal about it, and really think about why you might be feeling that way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Liz, thanks so much for sharing the good word and good luck with the book, No Hard Feelings, and all you’re up to.

Liz Fosslien
Thank you so much. This was a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.

391: Preventing Burnout by Examining your Emotions with Dr. Shawn C. Jones

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Dr. Shawn Jones discusses the burnout epidemic and how mindfulness, reflection, and compassion can be used to combat it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three ways people experience burnout
  2. How to re-personalize what you’ve depersonalized
  3. Four best practices for preventing burnout

About Shawn

Shawn C. Jones MD, FACS is a board-certified ear, nose, and throat physician, head and neck surgeon with 30 years of experience in medicine and a thriving ENT practice in Paducah, Kentucky. He’s on a mission to combat the effects of the growing physician burnout epidemic by sharing his own inspiring story of recovery.

Dr. Jones shares his story of burnout and recovery in his book, “Finding Heart in Art: A Surgeon’s Renaissance Approach to Healing Modern Medical Burnout.”

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Shawn Jones Interview Transcript

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

Shawn Jones
It’s great to be with you. Thank you Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your good stuff. Maybe we’ll start with your story, which is pretty compelling. What’s your tale when it comes to experiencing burnout?

Shawn Jones
For me it really started one morning, in retrospect, when I was getting ready for surgery. I was shaving actually and I recognized I wasn’t feeling anything. It really brought a sense of abject intellectual terror in the sense that I recognized I was experiencing absolutely no emotion. I subsequently did what any well-training highly-functional professional would do and I ignored it hoping it would go away and of course it didn’t. It worsened.

Part of my difficulty was that – and I think the difficulty with burnout for a lot of people is that it’s a very disorienting experience, so it becomes troublesome to try to figure out why you’re not feeling quite right and what’s going on. Actually it was the assistance of my wife, Evelyn, who nudged me to get some help and to look into things. That sort of took me down the road of getting some outpatient intensive psychotherapy.

I was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder-related depression. It primarily was work-related stress that caused me to end up there.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me a little bit about the work-related stress. What was going on? PTSD you often think of in terms of war time or trauma/tragedy, and here it was work-related. What was going on at work?

Shawn Jones
Well, I sort of personally liken burnout to, in terms of the work-related stress aspect of it, to sun exposure. You can certainly go to the beach and in one day get totally burned, but you can also over a period of time get small amounts of sun exposure that result in you having the development of a skin cancer or something else.

I don’t think we recognize as well the more chronic forms of PTSD, but all of experience some traumatic things in our lives. Sometimes if we don’t emotionally unpack those, I think they sort of always reside in the midbrain in the part they call the amygdala that remembers those things.

Particularly as physicians, we experience a lot of things that would shock or dismay or be an assault on the emotions and other aspects of our personality for normal people. We’re trained to deal with that, but over a period of time it sort of builds up and if I think you don’t deal with that in some way in a healthy way and unpack that and process it in a healthy manner then it can kind of rise [sic] up it’s ugly head and grab you and that’s what happened to me.

That’s part of the whole purpose behind my book was to raise awareness about how you don’t have to have an absolute blow out where something huge happens. It can be sort of a slow leak that takes your energy and your enthusiasm for life away.

Pete Mockaitis
In your book, Finding Heart in Art, what would you say is the big idea there?

Shawn Jones
I think that knowing that a sense of presence and awareness about who you are and your purpose can really drive you to staying true to yourself. It’s hard to give yourself to anything, to your profession, to your family, to your friends if you’re not in possession of yourself. Maintaining the connection to who you truly are and the true self is part of that. I think finding beauty in the world is part of what helps keep us healthy in that respect.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. I’d love to get your take then in terms of what are some of the practices associated with getting that connection back and keeping that connection strong proactively.

Shawn Jones
The three primary ways in which burnout are experienced or is experienced is through emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a loss of a sense of accomplishment in the work that you do.

Particularly with respect to medicine, but a lot of work is steeped in deep fundamental meaning, it’s hard to figure out how in the world you would ever lose that. How could someone not feel a purpose or a calling or a real significance to doing that kind of work, whether it be fireman, policeman, CEO of a large corporation?

Quite frankly as that burnout envelops you and the emotional numbness takes over, nothing you do seems to matter, so coming back to center and recognizing the truth of who you are and why you were called to do what you do is partially rekindled as a result of reconnecting to life again.

That is done through the emotions, which are the voice of the heart according to the psychologist, Chip Dodd, who wrote a book called The Voice of the Heart. They’re not our heart, but they are the expression. The emotions are the voice of our heart, their outward expression.

Experiencing fully fear, loneliness, hurt and being willing to do that, then you get the gifts that those offer you, which are the fullness of living in what is essentially a tragic place and that connection to yourself, then you think you can experience through the recognition of media. It might be for me observing or looking at Renaissance art. For you it might be hiking Elephant Loop trail in Yellowstone. For another it might be making a guitar.

There are all sorts of ways in which we connect with who we are and become true to ourselves in an artistic sense. Part of that expression I think helps enliven us/enrich us and is one of the reasons those activities are referred to as the humanities because they have a way of keeping us human.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really intriguing here. When it comes to – you laid out three causes: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and the loss of the sense of achievement and significance. You’re saying that experiencing fully the not so pleasant emotions can actually be helpful and preventative against burnout?

Shawn Jones
Well, I think to a degree if you think about it, all of those things that I mentioned, fear, hurt, loneliness, anger, guilt, they are part of being human. One of the things that tends to happen when we experience them is we don’t like them. We don’t like the feeling that they bring, so we want to pack them away and not deal with them. Over a period of time that emotional detritus, if you will, builds up.

They are going to have their say one way or the other, but dealing with them allows you – for example, if your foot hurts, it might be because you have a cut on it. Recognizing that hurt and addressing it and bandaging it, caring for it, brings you the gift of healing. Each of the emotions are like that. They have a gift that they give you as a result of their full experience that you deny yourself if you aren’t fully willing to enter into them.

Part of being a surgeon, for example, is emotions don’t help me a lot when I have an emergency operation to perform at two in the morning. We’re trained in a sense and rightfully so to take our emotions about the experience at that moment and set them aside. I think sometimes, certainly I did, got so good at setting them aside, I never got them back out again.

I think that’s one of the reasons you’re seeing really an epidemic in burnout amongst physicians is because we haven’t been historically trained to get those feelings back out and look at them. I think that’s one of the reasons why … are having difficulty with that now.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious to get your take on it in terms of in practice what does that look like in terms of what you do in terms of, okay, I put an emotion aside and then later on I’ve got some quiet, some opportunity to work with it. What do you do next?

Shawn Jones
I think that’s really important because we all, we know that there’s a lot of data that suggests that isolation and being alone is dangerous for human beings. We all crave connection and relationship in whatever form for each of us that takes. Living in a community and having someone with whom I have a trusting relationship to unpack those feelings in a way that can be beneficial to me.

Even sometimes nobody has to fix anything per se, but to just listen to what I experienced and acknowledge the grief, the anger. “Yeah, that really sounds like that was difficult. What was that like? Wow.” Just having that connection with someone I think I really beneficial to experiencing the gift of having those feelings.

Then as we talked about before being true to who you are. Sometimes we get so busy and there’s so much screen time and busyness in every day, we never stop to take account of where we are and what we’re doing and being truly present in the moment.

Mindfulness is one thing that’s been shown to be really beneficial in helping to be able to center in that moment and be aware of what you’re actually experiencing, which makes it really helpful to come back later even if it’s necessary and unpack those feelings again at a later time.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say mindfulness, are we talking about meditation in terms of just sitting quietly and returning your thoughts to breath or how are you thinking about mindfulness?

Shawn Jones
Well, I think there are a lot of different ways you can do that. Mindfulness space stress reduction is popularized by John Kabat-Zinn, an Emeritus professor at University of Massachusetts, who has created a program there.

He essentially studied Buddhism. As he would describe it I believe in paraphrasing took the trappings of the religion or Buddhism out of that and used mindfulness as a way to center on the breath or other types of things that helps your pulse rate and does all sorts of beneficial things from not just your ability to monitor your body, but it is also been shown to do some really interesting things.

Richard Davidson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has demonstrated that never-before meditators do ten minutes of meditation three times a week for three months compared to a same group of non-meditators who don’t meditate. If they’re given a flu shot, the meditative group has triple the antibody response to the flu shot that the non-meditating group has. It improves immune function.

It has all sorts of benefits I believe that we haven’t really figured it out yet in terms of research, but it’s really been probably one of the most beneficial things to come out of neuroscience research in my opinion in the last ten years is some of that data that talks about mindfulness.

You can also for instance talk about meditative practices that are within the spheres of religion some people would have more comfort with for a lot of different reasons that is the desert fathers of the Christian stripe in that sense, like St. John of the Cross, the Cloud of Unknowing. Rumi was a Sufi mystic who meditated.

There are lots of traditions. All of them seem to have benefits to them, but meditative practices in general I think are very good at being able to discern and to let go and to be present in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a real nice lineup there. I had not heard the study about the flu shot. That’s fascinating. We talked a bit about the emotional piece. What do you mean by depersonalization?

Shawn Jones
A classic example from medicine would be to speak of a patient in a very impersonal way, like “The gallbladder in room 247.” While in some respects, depending on the circumstance, that might be appropriate because of HIPAA and other things like that, that tendency to not relate to people as on a personal basis puts in a distance between you.

I think in that sense, the electronic health record in medicine has been a severe impediment to that when you hear stories of patients going to see physicians and the physician the whole time they’re in the examination room are typing on the computer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Shawn Jones
It’s not a human-to-human interaction. I think the same sorts of things are happening in corporate boardrooms around America, where people are on their phones and not present. I mean really present in board meetings and things of that nature. The technology that is meant to connect us is actually disconnecting us in many ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, so then in terms of your daily workday experience, what are some sort of simple ways we can bring the personalization back into it?

Shawn Jones
Well, I think a lot of this really requires intention. I have to set out with purpose on a daily basis to live my life a different way because it is so easy to get caught up and swept away in the moments and movements that occur to us when we’re very busy.

I think starting the day with purpose even if it’s just five or ten minutes of some meditative or centering prayer/practice is really helpful because it sets the agenda for the day just like you would if you were going to set the agenda for a phone call.

When you feel yourself getting out of control and sort of losing and being distracted, meditative practices will help you be able to take a moment, breathe, remember what you set your intention for that day, re-center yourself. That helps you, again, to be present, to not live in the past, not live in the future, but be truly present in the moment, which allows you to respond to situations and particularly crises in a way that is more appropriate for the subject and the event at hand.

I think those are two things that are really important. The other thing I’ve personally really tried to work on is what I think people refer to as mindful listening. That is making sure that when someone else is speaking that I’m looking them directly in the eye and I’m listening intently to their words and not planning on my response or what I’m going to say or how I’m going to interject.

I think those are three things that have really helped to make a difference on a day-to-day basis.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you set an intention, what does that sounds like in practice?

Shawn Jones
Today I’m going to make sure that I’m not going to be distracted. I’m not going to try to multitask. I’m going to be on task during the day. I’m going to listen intently to people and if I feel myself starting to become angry or to even respond and behave in a way, which I’m not inclined to want myself to be like, then I’m going to stop and pause and be intentional about taking control of that moment.

Just knowing that and setting that intention during the day – sometimes I’ll be in the middle of the day and it will all of the sudden hit me, I need to stop here for a second and sort of re-center myself and do what I said I was going to do today because I feel myself rising up in an emotional way in a sense.

I think that really helps because sometimes you can get carried away. People will come up and they’ll say something, “Oh Dr. Jones, you’re really going to be angry about this.” Before I even hear what the issue is, I’m already like, “Yeah, I’m going to be angry.” It sort of it helps to kind of take a breath and make sure that you’re being you and present in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. I’d also want to get your take on the lever there or the factor that loss of achievement and significance. Do you have some thoughts for keeping connected to that when you’re in the midst of work?

Shawn Jones
That was very difficult for me because I completely lost my sense of purpose to a degree. Somewhere deep down I knew that I’d always wanted to be a physician. I was one of those kids that even though no one in my family had been to college, I knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was five or six years. I never wavered from that.

Deep down I knew that was really who I was, but I just wasn’t feeling like I was accomplishing much of anything. There wasn’t any sense of satisfaction there. Mostly it was because I’d lost myself. I had become detached from my inner emotional environment in a sense.

I think finding that purpose is great. The last thing I think anyone ought to do when you’re feeling burned out is to make a quick decision and change jobs or get out or – I think it really is important for people to take stock of what’s going on and try to get some perspective on it.

Because I think, for me at least, the purpose was there all along. It was the way in which I’d engaged that purpose. I thought by working harder, longer, faster, more that I would find it again. Actually, I needed to do just the opposite. I needed to step off for a moment, take a rest and re-examine that and find me.

Because compassion is the recognition of suffering and the desire to do something about it, to alleviate it in another human being. It’s pretty normal, natural human response to suffering. But when you have compassion fatigue, which is part of that burnout spectrum, you lose the sense of your purpose, so having that compassion rekindled and recognizing that you can only give what you have, it’s really important that you have yourself to be able to give it yourself.

Many of us need to have more compassion with ourselves because we become very negative in our self-talk and that isn’t helpful in developing compassion towards others. Compassion is contagious and I think the more that we extend compassion towards others and towards ourselves then the more compassion we’re going to experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it’s funny when you talk about you’re feeling sort of under-resourced, tapped out, you’re less likely to act compassionately that reminds me of the study of the seminarians who had to turn in a paper. I believe it was about the story of the Good Samaritan. Half of them were told that they were late. The other half was not. I imagine you’ve encountered this in your work.

Then they encountered someone who was just coughing tremendously, like directly in their pathway. Those who were told that they were running late or that the deadline was very near, with alarming frequency just totally blew right by the guy versus those who did not feel they were that rushed were able to stop and help. These are seminarians who had just recently covered that story.

Shawn Jones
Studied the Good Samaritan. Yeah. It’s amazing I think sometimes once we get headed in a direction, how hard it is to turn ourselves about, but that’s a great example of what it means to actually put into practice what logically you’ve put into a different part of your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
When you’re compassionate with yourself in the midst of negative self-talk, what does the corrective or compassionate response to, it’s like, “Oh, I screwed up. I’m such a moron. Oh, I did it again.” It’s like, “Why can’t I ever get my act together with this?” kind of whatever. There’s the beat up self-talk. Then what is the intervention self-talk sound like?

Shawn Jones
There’s a loving kindness meditation. Actually there’s a free eBook called Compassion – Bridging the Science and Practice that’s available. If you Google that online, you can pick it up. It was developed a combination of some of the best neuroscientists in the world. In fact it was at the Max Planck Institute in Germany in cooperation with Buddhist monks who underwent functional MRI scanning. It’s got videos and tutorials.

But loving kindness mediation is essentially is, “I feel good. I am good. I want the best for me. I want the best for other people. I desire only what is good in life and want to extend mercy and compassion and grace.” Really, it sounds almost too good to be true.

The first couple of times I did it, you feel kind of foolish looking in the mirror doing that sort of thing, but it is amazing how that comes back to you at times when the negative self-talk will begin to pop up. There’s really a plethora of data that suggest that those who have a greater profundity of negative self-talk are more susceptible to burnout. It really is important in terms of trying to mitigate against the effects of burnout that you work on some of those.

There’s basically two ways you can try to affect burnout. One is by increasing your resilience. Those are the things like mindfulness space stress reduction, making sure you get plenty of sleep, eating correctly, exercising, all the things we know that we need to be doing and be diligent about in terms of our discipline.

But then there’s also decreasing the work-related stress, making sure you set aside time to do the projects you need to do in a concerted way, being intentional about what you want to do during the day and not being distracted, making sure you limit your screen time as much as you can. Even with me I know that’s difficult because screen time is important for the electronic health record.

But doing the best we can to mitigate the things we know that organizationally cause stress because Christina Maslach, who’s done as much work on burnout at a corporate level than anyone, with Michael Leiter wrote a book in 1997 called The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It.

She said in that book that burnout is an organizational problem. It’s not a failure of people on an individual level. It is an organizational issue. Addressing it at that level is much more complicated and much more difficult because the things I’ll tell you to do in a hospital to decrease stress and burnout, might not work at Procter & Gamble, for example, or other – Google and Apple and things like that.

It’s going to be more generic recommendations about how to decrease stress, so it makes it more difficult to make application in each individual sense from an organizational standpoint.

Pete Mockaitis
Nonetheless, I’ll take a couple generic recommendations if folks find themselves in a leadership capacity, whether it’s for a couple direct report or for thousands, what are some of the generalized best practices to help prevent the burnout?

Shawn Jones
There’s an interesting study that says Americans more than any other culture, generally don’t take their vacations. I think one of the things that really would … is have their people take their vacations. It’s important for the work you do here for you to have time off. We give you that time off and we want you to take it. It’s not a negative and you’re not going to be a hero by not taking your vacation. I think that’s a pretty simple one to institute.

Then be really willing, as we talked about earlier, to listen to people about the things that cause organizational stress. With physicians, for example, and this is true of other leaders, if you allow one of your best workers to do what he thinks is most important 20% of the time, his risk of burnout is reduced 3 times. You can have him doing things he’s really not as interested in 80% of the time if he can do what really charges him up at work 20% of the time.

Finding out what people really are interested in and want to do in their job that fits your job description, the purpose of management in organization in my view is to fulfill the mission of the organization but to allow people the room and the space to accomplish that task while fulfilling the mission of the organization.

Sometimes that’s simply getting out of people’s way and not micromanaging them because that feels a lot of times like mistrust. If you don’t think I’m able to do this job and so you’re going to tell me how to move the widget from A to B and B to C when I’ve got a better way.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s also intriguing about that 20% guideline is that person may very well have a clearer, more accurate, astute perception of what truly is most important than the leader or the manager in terms of so it’s not just work 20% of your time on whatever the heck you kind of feel like doing and playing Candy Crush on your phone, but it’s like – it’s projects related to the organization that you find to be important.

Shawn Jones
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty powerful.

Shawn Jones
Yeah. I’m sure Candy Crush is important somewhere, but it wouldn’t be in most places.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m researching the competitors on addictive app best practices. Cool. Well, Shawn, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Shawn Jones
I think that being really interested in ways to remain healthy in general is a way to incorporate this idea about burnout into your daily life. Most of us have an idea of the things we want to do on a daily basis to remain physically and otherwise healthy. This would just be putting another piece of that into that pie. It doesn’t take a lot of time. It just, again, takes some decision making process and some intention.

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

Shawn Jones
I really think that one by Cynthia Bourgeault is compelling to me. “What the caterpillar calls disaster, the master calls a butterfly.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Shawn Jones
What I like about that is there’s so much that we do not have control over in this life. Things happen and many times we react to that in ways that reflect our dislike of what’s just occurred, but we don’t know how the story ends. Many times when we look back what we thought was really a horrible thing that happened to us in our life turned out to be one of the best things that could have ever happened.

I think it’s important to recognize when we’re in that moment to realize there may be something else at work and to be open to those possibilities.

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

Shawn Jones
The one about the meditators with the flu shot response is one. But there’s another one in kindness research, where a researcher took a blue and a pink elephant and he presented them to very young children, 18 months and younger.

The first elephant, the blue elephant, would – a duck would try to open a box and the elephant every time would jump on the box and keep him from opening it. Then they would show a video with the pink elephant and every time the duck would try to open the box, the pink elephant would come over and help him open it. 95% of the children when presented with both elephants chose the pink elephant.

What that says in essence is that all of us are attracted to compassion and kindness. That’s what we innately are born with in many respects. It says something I think about the heart of human beings and the recognition of what we all desire in a certain sense and what we’re attracted and what we want to be. To me it really makes me feel hopeful for the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is very powerful. I’m going to be chewing on that. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Shawn Jones
A favorite book. I’ve been really enamored with historical biographies. I would say that Washington Irving wrote a biography of George Washington that was thoroughly researched. Part of it is how well it is written and the fact that Irving knew contemporaries of George Washington that were amazing.

But the character and integrity of George Washington is absolutely outstanding in reading the book and the kind of man he was and the kind of – the way he comported himself in different situations, absolutely courageous, was spellbinding for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Shawn Jones
I think for me mindfulness is my favorite tool. It has in many ways transformed my daily life as well as my inner life in a way that has been so helpful for me in so many respects. For me, mindfulness would be that tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Shawn Jones
I enjoy exercising. Believe it or not if you saw me you wouldn’t think I liked powerlifting because I’m 5’ 10’’ and about 175 pounds soaking wet, but I really like deadlifting and squatting and doing Romanian deadlifts. There’s a lot of data that suggests that as you age maintaining muscle mass and functional strength improves your overall health. I enjoy doing that a couple times a week. It really helps me kind of unwind.

Pete Mockaitis
Can I put you on the spot and ask about the weights that you’re lifting?

Shawn Jones
Sure. I will do my best not to make this a fish story. I will tell you that I was in a gym not too long ago with a friend and he was lifting what he thought was a really great deadlift weight, like 350 pounds. A gentlemen came over and said, “Are you finished with that weight?” He said, “Yes.” Then he picked it up and did bent over rows with it. It was like, okay, we’re not at that level. But at first we thought, “Wow, this is really good.” But, yeah, my max deadlift is around 350.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, nice work. Nice work. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate for folks?

Shawn Jones
I think the idea that we all are attracted to the beautiful things in life and what beauty means to each of us is different. One example of that is if you look at the Renaissance masters, the early Renaissance masters, their idea of beauty was perfection. Nicholas Poussin, if you look at his paintings, there’s no dirt, there’s no grime – everyone is perfect.

It’s just beautiful, but it is a different aspect of beauty than if you look at the later Renaissance and the Dutch masters such as Rembrandt or Caravaggio where there is realism there. There is darkness and light. Mixed in with that is the beauty of the relationship between the people and the paintings.

For example, The Return of the Prodigal Son of Rembrandt, it is astounding how seemingly grimy and dirty and torn the clothing can be and yet overall it is aesthetically so deeply moving and beautiful. I think that’s a reflection of life. We have to look for the beauty in everyday life. If we look for it, we’ll find it. It will astound us and it will enliven us and enrich us, but we have to look.

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

Shawn Jones
My website is DrShawnCJones.com. That’s S-H-A-W-N for Shawn. They can follow me on Twitter at ShawnCJonesMD.

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

Shawn Jones
I think setting the intention and if you’ve not tried mindfulness or some meditative practice, it is very easy to start and there are a couple of apps even that will do it as much as I hate pointing to technology. Last night actually on NBC news there a story on Headspace, but there’s also one called Calm, which is very good, which is a great way to start without having to go to a class or do anything where you’re putting yourself out there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Dr. Jones, this has been just – it’s been profound and beautiful. Thanks so much for taking this time and good luck in all you’re doing in helping to heal medical burnout and your other adventures.

Shawn Jones
I appreciate it, Pete. Thank you. It’s been great to be with you.

389: Recharging Your Career with Beth Benatti Kennedy

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Coach Beth Benatti Kennedy shares actionable ways to recharge your career and beat burnout.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five focus areas for recharging your career
  2. How to use a Purpose Mind Map
  3. A more exciting way to introduce yourself

About Beth

Beth Benatti Kennedy, MS LMFT brings more than twenty years of experience to her role as a leadership and executive coach, resiliency-training expert, and speaker. With an extensive background in career development, she coaches high-potential individuals on how to use their influence strategically, collaborate effectively, and focus on innovation. Her clients include Gillette Company, Nike, Converse, and many others. Her new book, Career Recharge: Five Strategies to boost Resilience and Beat Burnout, was published in October.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Beth Benatti Kennedy Interview Transcript

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear your story. I want to start when you were eight years old working at the family moving company. Were you hauling some furniture? What were you doing at eight years old there?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I was one of these kids growing up, my dad came from an entrepreneur family, Steinway Movers. As a little girl I would always – I was always very interested in like whenever the truck would come to our house and asking him a lot of questions and what are you doing Saturday morning because he was definitely a workaholic.

I used to get to on Saturdays go to some of his big jobs. He used to – it’s in New York, so he used to move really big companies. One of them is Pan American airlines when they used to be around, which was one of my favorites. I used to go with him.

He would always bring breakfast for all of the workers, so they would get these fresh New York rolls and soft butter. I would be in charge of making sure they were cut in half because he didn’t want the guys being messy when they’re touching the equipment etcetera, etcetera.

Pete Mockaitis

That is attention to detail.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
No crumbs on the client’s goods.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Exactly, exactly. His trucks were so clean; you could have a picnic on the floor. He is the word passion till – he’s passed away – but was the work passion 100% plus, plus, plus for his career. Anyway, I got to see – that was my job. I’d go around make sure everyone if they needed coffee, would have their coffee and get their rolls.

But I got to do a lot of observing and I got to see a big piece of my model – the Benatti Resiliency model – is connection. A lot of that came from him because he had this gift of connecting with everyone whether it was the gentleman driving the elevator or whether it was the person in the hallway cleaning the garbage. He connected with everyone. It didn’t matter what level you were. I think that was a big, huge part of the success of his business.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Well, just taking the time to provide the rolls and the coffee is pretty cool. At the times, we’ve had movers just two or three people showed up. It’s like, okay, I guess it’s on. Yeah, a little extra touch.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
These were like giant, giant moves, where they had just like five trucks and lots of men, lots of different directions, so it was super exciting for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, so I want to hear a little bit about this model and your book, Career ReCharge. What’s sort of the main thesis here?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I’ve been a leadership coach for 20-something years. I started off as a career coach for the first 10 years. One of the things that I learned being – mostly doing corporate work was that people could – they so wanted to move on with their career or do something different, but what I found was many people were just completely exhausted or burnt out or bored. I had to recharge them so that they had the enthusiasm and the energy to really make that career change.

It’s a model that has developed over the years. That’s where the book came out was actually about four years ago I had a few clients that said you have to share this. I hesitated because it’s really hard being self-employed writing a book.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I hesitated the first year and then the second year I really got involved in a very committed program. It was so exciting to share my clients’ stories who really were even fine with me using their name because they really wanted to share the success of the model.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Well, could you give us a success story right now?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Sure, sure. One of my favorites is a gentleman named Eliot, who was an engineer and I coached him many, many years ago. He was – actually designed razorblades. I was in this company in Boston coaching a lot of employees. Again, a lot of my internal coaching was just helping them be more successful in their job.

At the time he really liked what he was doing. It was exciting, cutting edge company. They get bought by another company. He gets moved to another department. At that point, I actually am not coaching him anymore. I get a call from him. He’s in this new position for about two years and just miserable, not using his strengths. He says to me, “I need to meet with you again. I need to start up coaching again.”

We start up coaching and I realize he is completely burnt out. It was amazing for me to see this gentleman who used to be so – like one of the top in the company as it’s called a modeling simulation engineer, so he could actually design the razorblades – seeing someone who used to be so phenomenal just completely affect flat and just exhausted. Basically he really wanted to start the whole process.

It begins by this five areas. The first one is I zero in on their wellbeing, taking a look at physically, emotionally what’s going on and then starting to offer some – having them actually figure out some good strategies that will work for them.

Then we go into self-awareness, which is really getting clear on what their purpose is, how is their mindset, because we all know if you have that awful mindset, it’s not going to really help you if you’re trying to do a career change. Then one of the my expertise is personality types, so really looking at how is your type showing up and do you need to do any tweaking. We started with those two areas.

One of the things we found when we did his purpose was he was really ready for a change, but it’s scary. He wasn’t even 50 and he’s like, “Am I crazy to leave the golden Hancocks?” With my support and with working through the rest of the model, getting – which the next piece is brand, so we figured out when he did my brand exercises that he could take this amazing skillset he has and market it as a consultant.

The exciting part of the story is he did leave this Fortune 100 Company and now has his own consulting business. He’s actually – one of the organizations that he consults for is the US Olympic Skating Committee. He used his-

Pete Mockaitis
How clever.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yeah, he used his passion of ice skating to now he was actually able to predict what pairs in the Olympics – what country was going to have a better chance of winning from analyzing their strokes on the ice.

Pete Mockaitis
Huh?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
So once you know who has a better chance of winning, what do you do with that?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Basically what the US Olympic Skating Committee is doing with his kind of research is to be able to say, “Okay, let’s figure out who are the skaters we really want to work on for next year? What are the things – why is this particular country doing so well? Oh, we need to – the ice skaters need to work on this to really make it to that first or second or third place.”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so fascinating, when you said ice skating, I was like, okay, I can see the carryover, like the blade going to the skates, but no, you went in a totally different direction.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
He went a totally – his doctorate degree was in this – now it’s a big thing, this modeling simulation, I guess like baseball players. He could actually if he wanted to work for like a professional football team or a professional baseball team, where they do this modeling simulation and they can predict “Okay, you’re holding a bat this way, this is what will happen.”

It was really exciting because till this – I still coach him and he weekly goes through the five areas. The two areas that I didn’t get to talk about – the fourth one is called connection. That’s why I have all my clients every week really take a look at are you proactively connecting with people that nourish you, excite you, enrich you.

This was a huge piece of him being able to make this transition to a whole new career field. He just surrounded himself – I call it ‘who’s in your boat’ – getting really great people to support you. One of them was back to working with a coach because sometimes you can’t do a huge – that is such a huge change he made, you just can’t do it by yourself, even with the most supportive partner.

Then the fifth one is innovation. That’s when you challenge yourself to kind of really just learn and do different things. This is – the innovation for him was he actually had to go back to Northeastern University and take some more courses on some of this technical modeling stuff, I couldn’t even explain to you because I don’t even understand it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. It’s called the Resiliency model, but it seems like it’s bigger than just being able to weather the difficulties that come your way.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yes, yeah, yeah. My definition of resiliency is a little bit different. I think a lot of people think of resiliency as just bouncing back, but my – I really see resiliency also as being proactive in your career because I think a big issue right now is people – we get kind of set in our ways and we forget that we can’t just start working on career development once we hate our job. We have to proactively be doing things for our career on a weekly basis, even little tiny things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, what are some of those little tiny things that make a real big difference?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Basically what I’ve done in my book, I have these little boosters at the end of every chapter, so I’ll just share some of them from brand. Brand, when I think about brand, my definition of brand is what are your strengths, what are your attributes, what do you bring to that position or that company, what’s the impact you’re making and what’s your reputation.

A little tiny thing you could do once a week is spend five minutes on LinkedIn. Take a look at your profile. When’s the last time you updated your profile? What about connecting? Is there someone you just had a meeting with two days ago? Did you connect with them?

Because I think what happens, again, LinkedIn for many people they think that’s a job searching tool. It’s really a pro-active career development tool. It’s one of the – a great way to kind of stay up to date in your career. That’s a little example of a tip.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’d love to hear a few more of these.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Why don’t we start in the realm of wellbeing? What are some of the things that make a world of difference?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I’ll share a few for each booster. The first for wellbeing one of them is how important it is to make sure you’re not doing everything yourself, so having the gift of time. Another one is thinking about – with all the stress going on at work – what are the things you can control and what are the things you can’t control and making sure you’re focusing on things that you can control because it’s so easy to get stressed out  by everything.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to not doing everything yourself, what are some of the top things that people find that, “Hey, sure enough I can get some help with this,” or “I can outsource this,” or “automate this.”

Beth Benatti Kennedy
You’re going to crack up, but I would say probably once a month I will say to someone, “Have you ever considered getting your apartment or your house cleaned?” Now these are people with big jobs like this audience that’s listening and they’ll say, “No, I just can’t do it.” Then I’ll say, “Okay, just try it for three months.” They’ll say, “That was the best thing.”

Even if they have someone come every – like once every three weeks, they fit it into their budget, they’re like, “That is the best thing I’ve ever done,” because now they have more time and energy to do the things that they need to do for their wellbeing like get to the gym for 20 minutes or 30 minutes or go for a walk. That’s – believe it or not, that’s a big one that people really like.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that a lot. What’s cool there is that doesn’t just mean that you’re cranking out another hour of work, but rather that is sort of precious home time – I guess the time you spend in cleaning is sort of a privileged category of time because you’re outside of work and you’re not doing sort of immediate family responsibilities because in a way, cleaning isn’t super urgent. We’ve got a little bit of leeway with it.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
When you get to it, it’s kind of coming at the expense of maybe any number of rejuvenating things from seeing a friend or going for a walk or exercise or massage or whatever that might be for a boost.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Right, exactly. Exactly. Then in the area of self-awareness, for self-awareness, kind of the vibe words I call them, are knowing your purpose, getting aware of your mindset, like I mentioned, your type.

Some of the boosters that I have for that is I have my clients really think about what are there values and are they living them personally and professionally. Sometimes individuals will say, “I cannot get my values in my job or my career. It’s just – this is – I went to school to become a lawyer and I’m in a really tough practice. I’m not living my values.”

Then I will say, “Okay, let’s figure out a way that you can get them personally. Maybe you want to get involved in a non-profit or maybe you want to get involved in another volunteer organization. It’s amazing how that’s instant recharge for your career when you can get your values at somewhere in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us examples of values that folks often come up with that really resonate and are meaningful to them and yet also are frequently not being met in the workplace?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Sure. It’s interesting because I just did this this morning with someone. Some of her values were family, friends, innovation, learning, making a difference. She had problem solving. She had career satisfaction. She had financial security. Those are values that are really, really important to her. She was presently working at a consulting – a really, really competitive consulting company. Through our work now she has decided that she’s actually going back to nursing school.

Part of the reason she’s making this change is to get more of these values in her career, but when she was working at the consulting firm, I was sharing with her, there’s ways – like the one making a difference, maybe it’s that one person, that junior person in your organization that you can mentor. That’s a great way to make a difference even if you’re in a competitive environment.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess when we talk about values there’s a number of ways we could define them. I’d love to get your sense for how do you know you’ve really hit upon one that’s like, yup, ding, ding, ding, that’s a big one. That is resonantly important. Because as you brainstormed or shared those lists there, I guess I might be able to generate dozens upon dozens of such things that would be meaningful. I guess it’s kind of tricky with regard to time, money, attention, energy prioritizing and zeroing in on the biggies.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yeah. That’s such a good question. I always – I actually when I teach I have a full day class, corporate class, that goes with the book. When I do the class I actually have cards, value cards. I let them select 8 cards. They often say, “Oh my gosh, I want to have like 20.”

What I say to them is what are – if you thought of your life like a compass and these cards were going to direct your life and your career in a certain way, which of the cards or which of the values are like your compass? How do you want them? That really helps people because you’re right, you could say, “Oh my gosh, all of these are important to me.” But if you only could have eight, which are the ones that are really calling to you.

This is something else that I also have to clarify is that sometimes people will say, “Is it work or is it life?” It’s an overlap. I think that any coach that says your values do not hit on both, it’s incorrect. You’re really – our values are shaping our entire life. We have to look at career slash life when we’re thinking about our values.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious. They chose eight. How big is the deck of cards they’re choosing out of?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Believe it or not, it’s so funny, I had to just order a ton more of them. There’s like 52 cards. … huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah, just like a deck of cards. You say you ordered them, is this from a product one can purchase or how do you get them?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yes, yes. I have – I’m just grabbing it because I have a few different – I’ve been reviewing a bunch of different vendors. Dick Knowdell is the vendor that makes these.
K-N-O-W-D-E-L-L.
They’re called the Knowdell Card Sort Career Values.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
They’re really designed for career coaches, but I find – people like them so much I often – I give them away at my classes because they’re like, “Oh, I want to do this when I get home with my partner.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is cool. I’m curious in terms of the hard thinking, in terms of which eight get selected – I’m sure you’ve seen this process many times, what are some of the thought processes like when they choose one over another? What sorts of things do you hear? It’s like, “Well, I’ve got,” we’ll just say, “adventure and I’ve got problem solving,” how do they get there?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
It’s funny too because people will often say to me, “Oh, I have to be practical.” I’m like, “No, this is your time. This class is called career recharge, so this is a time for you to recharge your life and your career. You don’t have to be practical. What are the eight cards that you – what are the eight values that you really want to have?” It’s really funny. It’s almost like people, especially in corporate America, really need permission to say, “Oh, so I can say-“

I was just trying to think of one – there’s one that often people say, “Oh, I can select this one?” It’s like, “Yeah, this is your life. That’s – it’s like I decided 27 years ago to be self-employed. That’s a strong value for me. What are the values that are calling to you?”

Sometimes – then this is an important piece of the exercise is then I have the individuals look at those eight cards and put a plus sign if they have it and put a negative sign if they don’t have it in their career or their life. Then if I have a class of say 30 people, I’ll say, “Okay, who has more than five negative signs?” Sometimes it’s one-third the class.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
How can we recharge? How can people really be engaged in their work and really do their best if all the – there’s lots of research that shows people that are following their purpose are happier and healthier and more engaged at work.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say purpose are those sort of – what’s the relationship between purpose and values here? Is the purpose consisting of values or are you thinking of these separately?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yeah. I’ve designed an exercise. I call it the Purpose Mind Map. This also helps people with their branding. What I have individuals do is the first step is figure out what your values are. Then when I think about purpose, what I want people to think about is what is the contribution you want to make in your career. What’s the difference you want to make in the world?

Sometimes it could be – let’s just say you’re an accountant that my purpose is I want to work at this top accounting firm in New York City and I want to be a partner in ten years. For that person, that’s their purpose. But for someone else it might be totally different.

It might be I want to make – I did a lot of consulting for Bright Horizons, which is a daycare company. For those individuals, a lot of times their purpose is I just want to – I want to have an organization that makes the best difference for children and for their providers. It’s so interesting when you think about purpose, it’s really – it goes back to, again, that legacy question. What’s the difference – when you retire someday, what’s that difference you want to make?
It’s a little bit messy because it’s not like a math equation where someone can have an easy answer. It’s something you really have to do all these little steps.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. I want to get your take on when someone says this is their purpose, I think about the accounting firm example, how do you know that it’s the real deal as opposed to, “No, no, no, no, think harder?”

Beth Benatti Kennedy
That is a – that’s a great question. One of the – that actually – something that I will ask that person is “What’s the impact you’re making?” or “What’s the impact you want to make?” and “What’s the reputation you want to have?”

One of the things that happened to me was my first career I was a school counselor in the Boston Public Schools. Our purposes change. At that point I was right out of graduate school and I wanted to just change the world. That was my purpose. I wanted to go in there and I wanted to get these kids going to college.

But after seven or eight years, it was like hitting my wall against a brick because I couldn’t get any impact. I was running programs for parents, no one was showing up. It led me to get burned out because I had this purpose, but I couldn’t make the impact.

Then I was really fortunate. I – by, again, my – I write about this in the book, the connection piece of my model. In graduate school I was sitting next to the training manager of the Gillette Company who gave me a little opportunity to do a little gig at the Gillette Company and do some career counseling.

All of the sudden the light bulb went off. I was like wow, I want to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s not working in the schools right now because this was 27 years ago. I could probably make it in organizations, helping people figure out – making them more satisfied in their careers.

I didn’t even know what outplacement was then, but I was lucky enough to find a graduate degree program in human resource counseling. That was where I got trained as a career counselor. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is exactly what I want to be doing.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a really great distinction there because you’ve got the purpose and you’ve got the impact because some people might say, “Well, shucks, this is what I’ve always wanted to do and I’m doing it, so what’s the missing link?” It’s like, “Oh well, it’s not going anywhere.”

This kind of reminds me of Stephen Covey with begin with the end in mind and thinking about your funeral and what you’d like people to say about you and that kind of hits it there in terms of the contribution and the impact and what you’re about and what you’re like. That’s good stuff.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with – you probably are – Dan Buettner. He has this study; it’s called Blue Zones.

Pete Mockaitis
About the people who live longer.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yes, yes. His – that study is just fascinating because he – it consisted of 73,000 Japanese men and women. This was in 2009. What he found was the individuals that had a strong connection to purpose and I think the word is hysterical because I always have to catch myself if I’m saying it right, but it’s I-K-I-G-A-I, ikigai. What he found was those individuals with a sense of purpose, live longer. Then if you look at the other research that’s part of that, he also talks about how important connection is, being with a community.

For some people their purpose could be – it could be something like “I want to make the world the better place by introducing-“ like I work with a lot of doctors trying to cure cancer so that’s their big purpose. Even though 80% of cancer molecules don’t work; it’s still for them so exciting because they are every day trying to make an impact on their purpose, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. That’s good. I want to make sure we get to touch on the mindset a bit. What are the habits of thinking that are really helpful and not so helpful?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
For the boosters for mindset, one of the – what most people find most helpful is paying attention in the morning and giving themselves a daily intention. For example, it might be – like with this crazy – when things are crazy with the holidays or with it being a new year, it might be I’m going to start my morning off and stay relaxed and focused. They give themselves that morning intention. Some of my executives that get really anxious, they give themselves the intention in the morning of calm and confidence.

Mindset, that’s probably the number one booster is giving that morning intention. Then you can do it throughout the day.

The other booster that people find helpful is what I call the pause breath. Sometimes when you’re just having one of those days where it just feels like everything is going wrong, everything you touch, you just feel this – you can feel the stress through your body, I recommend just take two seconds, do a nice inhale, do a nice exhale. I call it the pause breath.

Do that even before you send a charged email because that’s the other thing that starts to happen with mindset is the negatives start outweighing the positives and all of the sudden we’re emailing someone and we’re saying, “Oh my gosh, what are we doing?”

Carol Dweck has out her book, Growth Mindset. She really talks about how important it is to really – in today’s day and age, we have to be so adaptable to change. What her research shows is the more we’re open to being adaptable, having what she calls this growth mindset, we have greater success at work, greater productivity, greater impact if we’re a manager.

I can notice – it’s interesting, when I interview a client before they start coaching with me, I can tell sometimes they’ve had so many negative things happen that they’re just like – they’re just done. Sometimes that can be the beginning of burnout, that mindset just gets really negative.

It’s not that we can’t have negative feelings, but it’s kind of that 80/20 rule. When 80% of your day is just awful, then you really have to worry about it. But you’re going to have – we all have a Monday or a day where it’s just a horrible meeting or a challenge.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Let me see. Did you want to hear the – I think the brand boosters. But just to emphasize another one that people like is that when you think about branding, like when you’re at a networking event and I know people don’t really like the word networking. I talk about that in my book to call it connection and think about building relationships.

When you meet someone instead of me just saying, “Oh, I’m Beth Kennedy. I’m a leadership coach.” Think about how can you tell a little bit of your story. I might say, “Hi, I’m Beth. I’m a coach, but I really focus on resiliency and preventing burnout in employees in organizations. That’s my passion. I also really encourage people to figure out what they can do so that they’re more motivated, excited and driven in their career.” Isn’t that a lot more excited than saying, “Hi, I’m Beth and I’m a leadership coach?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah and it sort of lets the conversation go into some interesting places, like, “Oh man, I remember when I was burnt out a few years ago I could have used you. I was-“ and then you go. You’re somewhere as opposed to, “Oh, you’re a leadership coach. Okay cool. Well, I am an accountant.”

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s sort of – it’s less of a connecting conversation.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I think for – sometimes attorneys will say to me or engineers will say, “Oh my God, what am I going to – there’s just no way to say that.” There’s always a little tiny story you can share even if you say something about your organization, so “I’m an engineer at this company. One of our specialties is this,” just to add a little bit to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I think engineers often have some fascinating things to say. All sorts of engineers like, “Oh yeah, I work on manufacturing equipment for a Skittles plant.” Okay. I’m all ears. Let’s talk about Skittles.

Or even if it seems maybe less interesting like logistics, like moving stuff around, I can get fascinated by that. It’s like, “Man, that’s a lot of stuff you move around. How do you do that? I find it challenging just to answer all the questions FedEx has for me before I send out a package.”

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Right. Exactly. It’s so nice to hear you say that because I think most – I think the clients that have the most difficult time with that are scientists, engineers and attorneys because that’s what they say they are. It’s like just bring a little bit of that story into it.

Pete Mockaitis
Attorneys have such good stories. Someone is getting sued for something, whether it’s criminal or civil, I think it’s really juicy.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yeah, even if you’re a corporate attorney, again, some people think, “Oh, that’s just so boring,” well, no it’s not. There’s something about that organization that will just make people learn a little bit more about you.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
So that’s just an example of another brand booster.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Sure. It’s so interesting because I love quotes, but I think one of my favorite one is by Thoreau and “It’s go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Pete Mockaitis
….

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I just think that gosh, with life being short that – I love that it ends with “live the life you’ve imagined” because whatever some of those dreams are, whether it’s career or travel or whatever it is to just keep plugging along. I feel like too that’s to me what resiliency is about is about moving forward even when you – for some-

I share in the book many years ago I applied for a doctorate psychology degree program and I didn’t get in. I thought my world was over. Then now I have this career that I couldn’t imagine doing anything better. I couldn’t imagine sitting in an office every day listening to people’s problems. I just think that we just want to – we have these little challenges come, but somewhere there’s a spark of wonderful thing that’s going to keep coming.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
It’s interesting because one of my favorite research studies is – I don’t know if you’ve heard of him. His name is George Vaillant.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
What he shares – he was a Harvard psychiatrist. He did the Harvard Grant Study from 1972 to 2004. He found strong relationships to be the strongest predictor of life and career satisfaction. What was interesting is his research showed that feeling connected to one’s work was far more important than making money or achieving traditional success.

I have seen that a lot in doing 25 years of coaching is that when people feel really connected to their work, they are just – you can just see this level of energy and happiness.

Sometimes I’ll meet with people that are making incredible amounts of money and I’ll say to them “What is your career satisfaction out of a ten?” and they’ll say a two. I’ll say, “What is your life satisfaction out of a ten?” and they’ll say like a four.

The other thing that happens when – and there’s lots of research that’s been going on about this is as we connect with others we get the – they call them the feel-good chemicals. The dopamine and the oxytocin and that’s the other reason why connection is so important, cultivating relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. How about a favorite book?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I was so happy to hear your quote because my favorite book is 7 Habits of Being Highly Effective by Steven Covey. I have to say I quote him every time I train a class I’m always bringing something in from his class. It’s one of those oldies but goodies.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
It’s interesting. My favorite tool I would say is a meditation app, which is called Calm.com. As part of my career recharge class I piloted five different meditation apps myself. Then I had about 30 clients just try different ones. I learned with meditation apps, it’s so interesting. People – it depends on the person’s voice.

One of the things I love about Calm is it’s ten minutes long, which is perfect amount of time for me. Some of my other clients like Headspace. There’s so many out there right now. 10% Happier. But for me, that’s probably – that is something I use five or six days a week.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
My favorite habit is what’s part of actually my resiliency model. It’s called the Friday Five. In my phone every Friday I have a little thing that pops up and it says recharge. I spend five minutes to think about what I’m going to focus on for the next week.

What is that one thing I’m going to add, whether it’s I need to watch that podcast or whether it’s I need to call a good friend that I’ve been out of touch with, but – and I teach that to all my clients that if you can’t find five minutes to nourish your life, then we have to really start to worry. I call it my Friday Five process.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I think the nugget that people seem to really like is I have this little saying. I call it spark success. What I mean by that is to start really small to pick something you want to work on and drive it down to the smallest possible doable activity.

For example, a lot of my clients are trying to figure out before the new year begins, okay, how can I regularly exercise. I’ll say to them, “Okay, what’s the smallest thing that you can do?” Maybe it’s getting off the train and walking to work.

It’s really – they really like that idea of I’m about – we’re not looking for perfectionism. We’re just – what’s a small habit that you can start. Then all of the sudden you like it so much it turns into 15 minutes, 20 minutes, going to the gym, doing yoga classes, but starting really small.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I would point them to my website, which is BethKennedy.com. I’m also on Twitter, which is CoachBKennedy. If you’re on LinkedIn, again, you can see I’m a big LinkedIn person, connect with me on LinkedIn. I have a lot of great stuff going on. There’s been some really awesome posts about some of the exciting things that have been going on with the book.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I would say the call to action is the importance of connection, so to really think about that who is that person, who is the friend or who is the colleague that really supports you and making sure you have time with them together on a regular basis because recharge, it can be so isolating in today’s – everyone’s working so hard and it’s so important to have people on your boat that nourish you and that aren’t toxic.

My call to action is today think of that person you’ve been out of touch with and give them a call or set up a time to meet them for a drink or lunch or dinner. It’s just amazing, it’s amazing what relationships can do for our career and for our productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Beth, thanks so much for sharing the good stuff. Good luck with the book and all your adventures.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Thank you. Very nice to meet you.

355: Channeling Emotions Productively with Hitendra Wadhwa

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Columbia Business School professor Hitendra Wadhwa defines inner mastery and shows how to achieve it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five pillars of inner mastery
  2. Key questions and framework for daily reflection
  3. Two strategies for redirecting your emotions positively

About Hitendra

Hitendra Wadhwa is Professor of Practice at Columbia Business School and founder of the Institute for Personal Leadership (IPL).  Hitendra graduated from the University of Delhi in mathematics and received his MBA and a PhD in Management from MIT.  He has received the 2015 Executive-MBA Commitment to Excellence Award, the 2012 Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence, and the 2008 Columbia Marketing Association Award for the Most Dynamic and Engaging Professor.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Hitendra Wadhwa Interview Transcript

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

Hitendra Wadhwa
Thank you, Pete. It’s a pleasure to be with you and your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us, what’s your role at Columbia?

Hitendra Wadhwa
I have a responsibility as a professor of practice in the Business School to take our MBAs and executive audiences through journeys to prepare them for this world of dynamic change and uncertainty and fast pace that we live in today. I have created a class that I call Personal Leadership and Success. Over the last about 12 years that has been my research and my teaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Then you’ve also founded the Institute for Personal Leadership. What is the kind of core work or ethos over there?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Gandhi, he once said, he said “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would be enough to solve most of the world’s problems.” My aspiration in building this class was to say hey, listen, we have these incredibly talented, very aspirational MBAs and the executives that come over to Columbia.

And in many ways they’re really aspirational and really talented about finding a way to master the universe, but what about finding a way to master your own self as a starting point …. There are theses in personal leadership both in my work at Columbia and then the Institute, is that there is so much more to our potential than we tap into on a normal day.

What if we were both able to for our own selves and for the individuals, and teams, and organizations, and community that we serve, if we were able to get all of us to our fullest potential, to be at our best in every moment, in every day, what kind of a team and organization and a product and impact, and life that you could build?

That’s really in a sense what we do at the Institute is take the research, take the teaching that I’ve been doing over the years at Columbia and put it out there for any individuals to be able to tap into through the content we created, through the digital learning journeys that we offer. Then also through organizations to help them support the individual, team, and organizational transformations that they might be engaged in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, really cool. Now you talk a lot about inner mastery resulting in, later on, outer impact. Can you orient us a little bit to this concept?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Sure, sure. Outer impact means any role of the kinds of aspirations and hungers that we have from the outside. We want people to like us, to support us, to be open to being followed by us, to be inspired by us, to change their behavior based on what we’re saying and doing. As a result of that, to be able to launch products and manage teams and deliver great outcomes to the world and bring about positive change.

All of that is the outer stuff in life and leadership. The mainstream, the conventional view of how to do that, is that we have to define certain qualities or attributes of what makes for a great leadership on the outside to have that kind of an impact.

It could be something today around you have to be very adaptive as a leader. Once we evolve … based on what changes you’re seeing around you. But on the other hand, you also have to have grit. You have to have tenacity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, stick with it.

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah, to stick with it. Yeah, exactly. Then you have to be very extroverted because there’s a very gregarious outer energy that you need in order to … and flourish in the world of people. But on the other hand, there’s Susan Cain and she’s telling us to … quiet, that there’s a lot of power to introversion, to the quiet kind of character of a leader, who seeks to be the thoughtful, quiet, empathetic listener in the room. And everything in between.

You want to be connected today in the world of social media and never eat lunch alone, but build your network, but on the other hand you also have to be very disconnected because you want to practice mindfulness and meditation and peace and be the reflective leader, not the one that’s just constantly in the fray of life and all that.

If you take all of these qualities, the reasons … try to convince me that we have to face up to the truth. The truth is that we are being asked today to be everything and the complete opposite. This is no way there is a simple winning path, a human achievable path to getting there.

Unless you do something like Einstein once said. He said that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” In this case, to me, this obsession with outer behavior and outer speech, what we are saying and what we are doing, as a way to which we have outer impact limits us from recognizing that the greatest lever that we have, the greatest power and possibility that we have is to in fact cultivate what I call your inner core.

Your inner core is this stable, pure, intentional, purpose driven, wise part of yourself, your best self. All of us have caught glimpses of, some of us have more systematically cultivated. When you operate from that inner core, we are just able to in the moment operate on the basis of intention, not just instinct.

To be able to bring all the appropriate facts to bear rather than have biases and distortions that blind us. Be able to make decisions with a certain amount of thoughtfulness and freedom, rather than attachment and insecurity.

The idea behind inner mastery is not as much to in a sense retrofit some wisdom from the outside or some new skill from the outside, as it is to invite people to reflect on and deepen their connection with their best selves.

To continue over the course of their life to not merely be committed and obsessed with the outer impact, but also with the deepening of the immersive living and leading inner core, knowing that when they’re doing that, they are going to be able to operate and bring the best energy, the best consciousness, the best thinking, the best judgment on the outside. So inner mastery leading to outer impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. Then it sounds like your advocating is not so much about internally trying to be more quiet or gregarious or changing your fundamental natural personality, so much as developing into your best self.

Hitendra Wadhwa
In fact, Pete, my hypothesis is that for many of us, there are more possibilities to our personality than what 20th century science has educated or confined us to. When you and I are talking about whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, it is true that the Myers-Briggs suggest to us that you can either be one of the other. It’s very popular too and has been used in organizations.

But I can also tell you this, most of that has been upended by some of the latest science, which suggests that people have the capacity to also be if you might call it ambiverts, where Daniel Pink talks about it in his book To Sell is Human.

There is all this research that suggests that – I remember when I took the Myers-Briggs when I was in McKinsey, I found a couple of dimensions quite intuitive and insightful, but I really rebelled against a couple of them. Thinking versus feeling, well wait a second. Why can’t I be both a thinker and a feeler?

Introvert versus extrovert, why can’t I be both? I feel I draw energy as much from outside when I’m with an audience and I’m engaged with them. Right now I’m drawing energy from this conversation with you. At the same time, I have periods where I love to draw energy from within me. There is an intro and an extrovert within me.

To that end, – I’ll just give you a great example of history. You take Abraham Lincoln. There’s a historian, he in his study of Lincoln, he said – he was a contemporary. He said “I went and spoke with a number of his colleagues and his friends.” He said, “I found that there were not two of them who spoke about Lincoln in the same way. It’s as though he revealed himself to different people in different ways.”

He said “Some said he was a very ambitious man and some said he had not an iota of ambition. Some said he was very cool and impassive and some said he was susceptible to the most intense of tempers.”

There is research, by the way, to show that when we are deeply infused with our purpose, with something we really care for, then when we have to act out a behavior in the service of that purpose, which is contrarian to our – if you want to call it our personality – we actually feel more authentic acting contrarian to our personality because we are acting in concert with our values in that moment, with our principles at that moment.

As a simple example. Let’s say if you really care about supporting your team after they’ve done six months of intensive product development work and launched this incredible product in your market. You might be an introvert, but in that moment, you are actually going to prepare and plan that celebration party for the launch of the product.

When you’re in there, you’re going to go and act out completely opposite your personality, very engaged, very connected, very joyous, very outwardly focused even though it’s against your personality. Not to say you want to do that, but here’s what the research says, you will feel more authentic doing that because you so deeply care about the aspiration of being there to celebrate that beautiful moment with your team.

Anyway, I just want to offer that up to you because the thesis I sort of want to propose to you and to your audience is that 20th century science, which is still what a lot of us operate with regard to the education system that we go through and what organizations also sometimes inform and guide us with their cultures – 20th century science was a lot about who we are. Today’s science, the 21st century science that is very vibrant and continuing to evolve, is actually telling us who we can be.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay, cool. Well, I guess there’s a lot in there. I guess I’d like to get your take when it comes to this inner mastery stuff. What are some of the key I guess sort of roadblocks or things that prevent us from achieving inner mastery and what are some of your top suggestions in terms of actions and disciplines and practices for getting there?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah, that’s a great question. It is a journey. It’s not just a one-time sort of choice we make and then we’re just instantly and magically there. It’s a journey I’ve seen all great leaders in history kind of evolve and grow themselves along. It’s a journey that is a lifetime commitment. There’s no one point where I would offer it becomes perfect and complete.

We like to think in my work of inner mastery along five pillars. There’s purpose, which is about a lot of direction, alignment for your life as to where you’re headed. Stephen Covey used to call it “start with the end in mind.” What is that end that you have in mind feel like?

Then there’s wisdom, which is about emotional intelligence and your thinking, and your mindset and making sure these inner forces are very much harmonized in line with your purpose.

Then there’s love, which is about expanding the heart to seek to take joy in other people’s joy.

Then there is self-realization, which is to start seeing yourself more – not only through your words and actions or your feelings or your thoughts, but also from the spirit that you embody from within, the space of pure consciousness, tranquility, pure joy that great journeyers on this passage and path of life have been able to cultivate, so self-realization.

The last one is growth, which is around this continuous commitment to growth now.

In terms of what gets people derailed from inner mastery, one of the key problems is that we get so invested in our duties, in our responsibilities, in our well-intentioned desire to be of service to our friends, to our family, to our colleagues at work, to our organizations imperatives, to our communities that in that process we get, if you want to call it, spread thin, we get burnt out, we get stressed, we get to digress, digress from that part of us, which is really at the core.

One practice that I highly recommend as a way to stay more true to yourself, to your pursuit of your own … is daily introspection. Take 15 minutes of time every day and structure and organize an activity that takes you into a very soul-searching, quiet, honest, mirror that you can put on yourself.

It could be a form of thought providing. It could be a scoreboard that you create for yourself, where you’re checking in on yourself on a certain set of values of character traits or what have you. It could be just a single question that you ask yourself.

Winston Churchill, for example, he used to ask himself, he said, “I don’t go to sleep at night without challenging myself with the following question, which is ‘did I do something highly worthy today?’” I don’t mean just kind of puttering around and doing things. Did I do something highly worthy today?

Here’s a man who had incredible highs, being at the pinnacle of power, 10 Downing Street and Prime Minister of England at a very critical hour. But he also fell from grace from time to time. At those times when he was away from the madding crowds and thrown out of power, how did he act, what choices did he make, what behavior did he engage in?

This question about did I do something really worthy today – there is a story where his son once was on a train with him when he had been deposed from the Prime Minister’s office. He was out of power. His son asked him, he said, “Father, we’re on this train. We’re in California. We’re on vacation. Why are you going in a small cabin and sweating it out on this hot day and doing work right now?”

After a few hours Winston Churchill came out. He said, “Son, I can’t help it. I must do something truly worthy every day. What I’ve done right now is write a dispatch for this newspaper in England and I’m going to send it.”

Now this man when he was out of power, being defeated in the Prime Minister’s – the political election in 1950 when he was out—1945, sorry—when he was out of power. He ends up doing so much prolific writing over those next five years, that he ends up winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. Think about that pursuit of mastery when the chips are down.

So a daily introspection, a daily question that you ask yourself would be one strong suggestion. Then I do want to sort of just encourage that. Listen, we all fall from grace. We all can’t live up to our highest ideals and standards every day. But that should not discourage us.

Nelson Mandela was once asked by Opera Winfrey, she said, “Mr. Mandela, you’re so incredible. People have such admiration and awe of you. You are a living saint. How do you feel being like a saint?” He said, “I am not a saint unless you think of a saint as a sinner who never gives up.” I think that’s a great working definition for all of us to have.

There’s an article he wrote in his life and his leadership and his struggles and the mistakes he made and the growth he had to go through, and main lessons I reached from it was a great – great people take on great causes. In taking on great causes, they make great mistakes. Through those mistakes, they generate a lot of learning for themselves. They acknowledge their mistakes and they grow from it. That’s the growth that I think all of us can aspire to, not necessarily perfection overnight.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have any suggestions for other powerful questions that could be candidates for a daily reflection?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Well, if you and your audience are open to it I can share my own personal favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Hitendra Wadhwa
I think one of the greatest missed opportunities in life is to befriend death. We tend to operate in a world where we almost want to make death invisible.

I smile sometimes when I’m walking here in my neighborhood in the Upper West Side. There is a funeral home here. It is so discreetly architected from the outside in terms of its façade as to be completely nondescript. Yet, sometimes the garage door is open and I glance inside, I see a hearse that carries people over when they’ve passed over.

I feel a great sense of gratitude when I see that because it’s a reminder to me about the gift of every moment of life and the fact that I cannot take it for granted for myself or for others around me and that it can end at any time. My favorite question is to ask myself that if this is the way I keep living my life as I’m living it right now, then at the moment that I’ll be dying, as I look back at my life at that moment, will I be grateful and happy or will I have some sincere regrets?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great, thank you. Okay. Any other questions that pack a punch?

Hitendra Wadhwa
You’re definitely making me walk into my sort of magic box and take out whatever tools I can, which is great. I appreciate your service to your audience.

Well, Steve Jobs had a similar question. His question was that if today—and it’s a little bit more provocative—if today was my last day on earth and I kept doing the things I had been doing, would I be happy? He said “If many days pass by where the answer is no, no I wouldn’t be doing this if this was my last day on earth, then,” he says, “then something is wrong in my career and the life.” That was his question.

The last one I want to offer you is not a simple question, but it’s more just a framework. That framework is both Nelson Mandela used it and Benjamin Franklin, which is that they created a scorecard for themselves, a simple one sheet paper with a few qualities in it that they were seeking to really work on. Then they would ask themselves, did I live up to that standard, did I live up to that quality today.

In the case of Ben Franklin, he would give himself a black dot if he saw that he hadn’t lived up to that quality on a given day. He did that for each of his 13 virtues as he called them that he had for each day of the week.

In his autobiography that he wrote later on in his life he reflects – he says … – he says “I never really reached a point where I was able to clean up my act so well that I didn’t have a single black dot on those weekly grade sheets. But I do to my satisfaction note that over the course of many years that I tracked myself this way, the number of black dots had decreased.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. I admire – it takes a level of honesty and humility in the first place to acknowledge that it was a black dot day as opposed to squinting and justifying and rationalizing, “Well, I mean the circumstances were such that I had to engage in gluttony or else it would have been rude,” for example. I think that was one of his 13. I think it’s gluttony and sloth and chastity and assorted virtues there.

I think that would be the hard part for me is in terms of like, finding a way to convince myself that I did not deserve a black dot for my behavior after all during the course of this day because there was some extenuating reason.

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah, no, I’m with you. That’s very humble of you to operate that way. I’m sure you have a rich, reflective life, Pete, otherwise you wouldn’t even be doing this show.

Since you’re mentioning some of his virtues, perhaps you might even remember humility, one he added later upon some criticism that he received from a friend of his, who talked about how “You’re very respective, Benjamin, but you’re not very light.” To your point about some of the pitfalls, the other pitfall here is to make sure it’s the right scorecard.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, what I also get into some of your perspective when it comes to – when negative emotions pop up, you’ve got some thoughts with regard to how we can channel those into effective directions. How do we do that in those moments where you’re ticked off, you’re frustrated and annoyed, enraged, fill in the blank in terms of emotion you’d rather not experience. How do you channel those into better places?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah, yeah. Let me share a story about Abraham Lincoln. He used to open – had moments like that where he was very triggered by things that were happening in the field at the time of the Civil War, very stressful time you can imagine for a leader like him. He wasn’t really in complete agreement or alignment with this general doing this thing here and this battle or that general doing that thing there.

He would write these letters to these generals, where we was extremely vociferous in his criticism to them. Some of these letters have been received by the generals and it’s in history as to what they were told and scolded by Lincoln for.

Then there are a lot of these letters that historians found after Lincoln’s passing in the Presidential desk in the White House, unsigned and unsent. They’re called Lincoln’s hot letters. You might be aware of them.

That’s one technique right there for us, which is to engage in this Lincolnesque kind of grace, which is to say, “You know what? I am angry right now. These are the thoughts that I am feeling right now and I am not going to act upon them because I don’t really trust myself right now in terms of my judgment. I’m not seeing things in the fullest and most nuanced of light as I should.”

Maybe in this case what might have happened is that at the time he wrote these letters – he wrote them, but he went to get his sleep, to cool down, hit the pause button, as I call it, and when he was cooler and calmer, he made a call. If he felt at that point that it would be constructive for him to express that criticism in just those words, he might have sent the letter off.

When he felt like, “You know, in the larger scheme of things, I want to keep this general motivated. I think there’s a different, better way to motivate them. I kind of want to let them know this but in a way that will still make them feel empowered and inspired and motivated to do the right things, so net-net I shouldn’t send this letter out in those cases ….”

A simple path for us is just to keep check on what is happening within us. Not just to focus on the conversation, not just to focus on the body language, but to focus on the inner storms that might be brewing.

If we feel that they’re beyond a certain level that we can trust our environment, to recognize that our first responsibility is not to act on the insight, but to in a sense, act on the inside, to calm some of these inner storms and to create a little bit of distance.

Whether it’s just asking for a bathroom break, whether it is just doing a little bit of deep breathing, whether it is stepping away and listening to soothing music, going talking to somebody that can distract you and put you in a happy place because that’s the kind of person they are, going for a brisk walk, sleeping over it. Any and all of these are mechanisms to which we allow in a sense our best self to be emerged rather than get consumed and act upon our inner demons.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so just taking a pause right there. There is one strategy. Any other approaches?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Well, I would offer another one which steps the game higher. This one would require some level of basic mastery that then allows us to play this more advanced game. Hit the pause button, couple other things we can do to just get to feel a sense of ownership over our state of inner awareness and mastery is a starting point.

But then what you can do is really lean into that emotion rather than seek to distance yourself from it or to express it in some sort of non-constructive way, to lean into and ask yourself “Yes, I’m anxious right now. Yes, I’m hurt right now. Yes, I’m angry right now. Now what am I going to do about it?” to in a sense, recapture agency over the situation, over the problem. Say, “I’m going to do something about it.”

I’ll give you an example. Have you heard of Buck, B-U-C-K?”

He is a cowboy. He’s a rancher out here in the US. He was the inspiration behind the book The Horse Whisperer and ultimately the movie that Robert Redford made called Horse Whisperer on which he was an advisor.

Actually, you and your audience might enjoy having him on the show. He’s a remarkable human being. There’s a movie, a documentary on him called Buck. I think you and your audience will both enjoy the documentary as well. Incredibly inspiring.

He when he was growing up – it’s all in the movie – so this is not information he hasn’t shared in public. But when he was growing up he had an alcoholic father. If I recall I think his mother was not there. I think she may have passed away early. He was, among other things, he was beaten up.

He was very good at the rodeo, so he was doing lassoing and things like that. His father would encourage him and his brother to go and do that, but then constantly berate them, beat them up, alcoholic, right? When he was in his teens he had to in a moment of desperation, escape from his home under all the duress and stress. He was raised in foster care.

Fast forward now to the time he’s an adult. He now says that “The pain that I went through at that time and when I reconnect with that pain, it motivates me to want to make sure that people around me and that I can serve do not feel ever that kind of pain, not just people, but even horses.”

There is perhaps traditionally, as I best understand, the way the ranching culture is working here in the US, horses have been trained under the assumption that the way they will obey is by punishing them if they don’t obey during the early formative training years. You inflict some kind of pain on them, driving something sharp into their body or etcetera, as a way to make them realize the value of obedience or the risk of disobedience and so they start obeying you.

His approach is one that is based on love. His approach is one that is based on creating a trusted bond between the master and the horse. He goes around the country, training ranches on how to take their horses, some of whom have been very disobedient, and make them very tame, make them start to really align and harmonize their actions and behavior with their ranchers.

Here he is, he is a horse whisperer. He gets these horses to do things that others have not been able to ever get done before. It’s all coming from this pain that he has experienced at some point in his life. Because he took agency over that pain and said, “I’m not going to ignore it. I’m not going to channel it in something futile and ineffective. I’m going to channel it into something heroic and beautiful.”

Pete Mockaitis
Got you, so that became a powerful motivation there in terms of this his sort of standard that – of how things ought to be and therefore he’s going to do all the efforts necessary associated with making that come to be. That’s cool.

I wonder then when it comes to anger, if you’re thinking about using that to channel into positive stuff. I guess in some ways it’s possible to be angry and then just do a lot of things because you’re angry. It’s like, “This cannot stand. I am taking action. I am going after this injustice.”

I wonder though how sustainable that is because, at least for me, that’s kind of exhausting as a fuel source, that sort of anger. From a hurt, I can see that being a little bit different in the sense of that is something that I know and I just I will not allow others to experience, whereas anger it’s sort of like – it can come up every time you think about the thing that should not be. Is there any sort of nuance in how you go about channeling anger?

Hitendra Wadhwa
That’s a great point. It’s funny because when I started studying some of these great leaders from history, which is one path through which I have sort of built up this whole teaching and work and growth and leadership, I’d assumed that these were incredibly peaceful collective tranquil people.

Yet, when you study their lives, I saw how for several of them, not necessarily all, but several of them a key source of energy for them was their – in a sense, their righteous anger against something that was deeply troubling about the social order of their day.

Whether it was Gandhi with his views on the huge loss that India was facing with British rule and the subjugation and the atrocities being committed against their less advantaged communities in society, Martin Luther King, of course, and civil liberties, Nelson Mandela, of course, with what he was doing, Mother Theresa and her work with the poor, etcetera.

Many of these people were deeply, deeply, deeply—if you want to call it—angry, but they had come to a place where they could lean into that anger and channel it.

The important thing I would offer you is that you cannot have the tail wag the dog. The tail is your emotion. The dog is the purpose or journey that you’re seeking to make in life and leadership.

For those of us who have not yet perhaps gained a certain level of mastery – let’s say mastery could be quantified from level 0 to level 100. If we are at step 34 and Gandhi is at a step 67, we shouldn’t seek to jump from 34 to 67. That would just not make sense.

In our case, if to your point, we have a certain experience that we want or a certain issue that we’re concerned with, were we to get as angry as he was getting, we might get burned by it to your point. We might get consumed by it.

In our case at step 34, it might make more sense to use some of the other tools of emotional mastery to create a little bit of distance and buffering from that emotional state because we can’t handle it. We don’t have the voltage in our light bulb to be able to handle that kind of power yet.

It might make more sense to stay within more confined bounds and to use more confined smaller sparks of anger to kind of get to a good place if that is a path we want to choose.

But as we grow in our capacities, we may be in a position to take on even more heroic causes and to take on even more purposeful, energized, disciplined journeys because we just built that machinery within us, both in our brain in terms of finding and fighting patterns of neurons and just physically and spiritually overall. Until then, to your point, we may want to just stay in more bounded space.

When we do have those intense bursts of any such emotional state, maybe our best mechanism there at step 34, which could be different from … step 67, our best mechanisms there, might be to do some deep breathing, might be to hit the pause button, might be to do some mindfulness, some meditation practice or something like that, just get ourselves into a safe place, into a place where the best in us can operate so that the tail, again, is not wagging the dog. But if the dog is strong enough, they can have a strong tail and still allow the dog to control the tail.

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

Hitendra Wadhwa
Mother Theresa, she once said, she said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.”

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

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah. This is not as much conventional kind of study as you’d expect, but one that I have huge regard and affection for anyway and I think would be of value to your audience.

Bonnie Ware is a palliative care nurse in Australia. She used to essentially look after people who were in the last several weeks and months of their life. They have this terminal illness in most cases and therefore were starting to plan their exit.

She would ask them this question, “What is your biggest regret in life?” The most common answer to that question is the finding from this research that I want to offer to you and to all of us. What do you think your audience might think is the most common regret of the dying?

Pete Mockaitis
They didn’t spend enough time with their family and friends.

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah. That’s very similar to what I hear from my students at Columbia as well. That certainly one of the regrets that she heard from time to time. The most common regret was that I … you get that I was not living a life true to myself. I was living it based on other people’s expectations.

I want to just encourage reflection on that by anyone who is listening here today because notice that that pitfall can arise as much in a personal life as a professional life. That pitfall is not about I should have been hanging out more with my family than my work.

What he’s actually saying is whether it is family or whether it is work, there is a risk that in our desire to conform, to love and be loved, to relate, to be recognized and rewarded, is it a risk that we might be letting the clock of time run out before we have truly lived—truly, truly lived.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Hitendra Wadhwa
If you’re open to it, I’d recommend two. For those who are drawn to really deeper kind of quests about the meaning of life, my favorite book is the same as the one and only book that Steve Jobs had on his iBooks which is Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda. For those who are interested a more sort of focused commentary on life and leadership today, my favorite book is Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Meditation.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get quoted or attributed to you frequently?

Hitendra Wadhwa
The idea that all of us have within us a space of purity, purity of intent, purity of purpose, very wise and joyful and calm and balanced and secure space within us. I call that your inner core.

There is research today to show that if you go beyond the mountains and plains and rivers into the structure of the earth, you have the hot, molten lava, but beyond the hot molten lava you have a solid sphere of pure metal. We call that the earth’s inner core.

Metaphorically picking from that, beyond our outer senses, beyond the hot molten lava of our thoughts and emotions that might volcanically erupt from time to time, beyond all of that there is this space of pure consciousness within each of us. That’s your inner core and that’s the space through which when you get deeply anchored, you’re able to bring out and project and manifest your best.

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

Hitendra Wadhwa
Our website is simply PersonalLeadership.com. There are resources there in terms of articles I’ve written, videos that you can watch and executive programs online that you can take. I’m working on a book that I expect to get published next year. I certainly would be delighted and honored to have you look out for that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Hitendra Wadhwa
One technique that I learned from a colleague, Adam Byrant. I say colleague because he and I often have been teaching together. Adam was a columnist at the New York Times, where he wrote this column for many years called the Corner Office, in which he used to interview CEOs about their leadership journeys. He shared this anecdote from one of his – or there’s two from one of his interviews.

The CEO talks about how she said “I like to practice the MRI rule.” That’s what I want to offer to your audience as one thing to do at work or one challenge to take on at work.

The MRI rule is any time that you are disappointed, hurt, angry, reactive, impatient, about anything that somebody has done, the MRI rule tells you to apply to it the most respectful interpretation, which means before you start including the character or start assuming that the intentions are really poor or bad or etcetera, try to ask yourself are there any other ways to interpret what happened here.

What could be going on in their health? Could they be having a relationship challenge at home? Could they be having a really stressful day with regard to their boss or some other things that are happening? Could some budget have suddenly been cut off from them? Etcetera.

Since you don’t know everything, are there things that you don’t know that could be happening, that may allow for a deeper understanding of what they have just done or responded to. I found that sometimes it’s not even what is happening to them in the present, but what experiences they have gathered over the course of their life that you don’t know about.

When something is triggered from them in a certain way, rather than quickly judge them for it, seek to understand, seek to make the space to recognize that in the rich fabric of their lives, both past and present, there is a lot more that if you knew perhaps, you would get much more sympathetic and connected with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Hitendra, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for sharing the goods. I wish you tons of luck with Personal Leadership and all you’re up to.

Hitendra Wadhwa
Well, I want to congratulate you for the excellent work that you’re doing. I’ve been deeply both inspired and impressed with the path you’re on. This is the modern, new sort of path you’re communicating, connecting and serving audiences like yours. Congratulations to you on that.

All the best to you and certainly to your audience as well. I’m grateful for this opportunity. Thank you and wish the best of success in life and leadership by operating from your inner core.