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917: Training Your Mind For Better Focus, Energy, and Willpower with Oren Jay Sofer

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Oren Jay Sofer shares how to engage contemplative practices to improve your focus, energy, and quality of life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five-item list that will help you focus better
  2. How to be unstoppable in the face of procrastination
  3. The three-second trick for boosting energy

About Oren

Oren Jay Sofer teaches meditation and communication internationally. He holds a degree in comparative religion from Columbia University and is a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication and a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner for the healing of trauma. Oren is also the author of several books, including the best-seller Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication and his latest book, Your Heart Was Made for This: Contemplative Practices toMeet a World In Crisis with Courage, Integrity, and Love. His teaching has reached people around the world through his online communication courses and guided meditations. A husband and a father, Oren lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he enjoys cooking, spending time in nature, and home woodworking projects.

Resources Mentioned

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Oren Jay Sofer Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Oren, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Oren Jay Sofer
Thanks, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I believe something has changed since the last time we spoke.

Oren Jay Sofer
It certainly has.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’re a proud father now. Tell us the tale.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah. Well, my wife and I are both in our 40s, and she came to me a couple of years ago, dropped the bomb, and said, “Hey, I think I want to have a kid.” And I said, “That’s different.”

Pete Mockaitis
Different?

Oren Jay Sofer
Well, different than where we were when we got together 10 years ago. Yeah, so I’m a meditator so I told her, “I love you, and that’s important to me, and this is not a small decision, so give me some time to think about this.” And we talked it over, of course, but I sat quietly with myself and I listened deeply, and I really asked myself, “Is this something that I’m willing to do?” And this image came to me, Pete, of a door opening. And I thought, “Yeah, I want to walk through that door. I want to see what this aspect of life is like. I’m here to learn. And what better learning than bringing new life into our world.”

And, of course, I had a lot of reservations and fears that I talked through close friends with who are parents, which was very, very helpful. One of my biggest fears was the state of our world and what does it mean to bring a new life in right now with so much changing so quickly and unraveling. And one of my good friends, who’s a social justice activist, an organizer, and has been for many years, who cares deeply and has thought very deeply about these issues, and as a parent, said to me, he said, “You know, Oren, I don’t think the world is going to be worse off for you having a child.”

And that really shifted something in me. It made me realize, “This could be a contribution rather than a drain on our society.” So, yeah, I’m now the proud parent of a 13-month-old baby, and we got through the first six months, which were really hard, and just delighting in him and learning so much from him every day, and really feeling like all of the meditation practice I’ve done has positioned me really well to be a dad and to meet this new being, and help him learn about our world.

Pete Mockaitis
That is beautiful. Yes, I was just about to ask about those practices being helpful as I have read a book entitled, I’ll paraphrase a smidge, How to Not Lose Your Poo-Poo with Your Kids because that’s a common situation, Oren.

Oren Jay Sofer
Indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
And have you found that your years of practice have resulted in less of a tendency to be reactive and yell or lose it or otherwise react in a way that you’d rather not?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yes and. So, absolutely, there’s no question in my mind that the many years of meditation I’ve done, and really training myself to be aware of how I’m feeling and what’s happening in the moment has allowed me to make different choices, to notice when I’m getting reactive or frustrated, and ask for help or shift gears. And being a parent has pushed my edges unlike anything else.

Alongside all of the joy, it’s been incredibly humbling to see my patience run out at 3:00 in the morning with a screaming baby who doesn’t want to change his diaper, or feeling sleep-deprived and just not having anything left. So, I feel also this immense appreciation and profound respect for my own parents and for parents everywhere. It’s just been staggering to see how much time and energy and love it takes to keep a little human being alive.

Pete Mockaitis
Amen. Well, good to know that even the most contemplative among us can have that occur.

Oren Jay Sofer
Well, I’ll add one thing that’s been really huge, Pete, which is that I don’t beat myself up for it. When I slip up, when I lose my patience, when I get frustrated, all of the years of training and practicing kindness, and being with the harsh inner voice in my head, has shifted how I relate to myself and my difficulty so that when I act in a way that’s not aligned with my values or my intentions, instead of beating myself up, there’s a sense of tenderness and acceptance for my limitations, which is such a different place from which to learn and grow.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, as opposed to the scolding, like, “Okay, that was not what I was going for. All right. Let’s see what needs to change here and try to do better.” Okay. Well, you’ve got another opus coming out here, Your Heart Was Made for This: Contemplative Practices for Meeting a World in Crisis with Courage, Integrity, and Love. That sounds big. Tell us what’s the big idea here?

Oren Jay Sofer
It is big. The big idea is that, so in the last 10, 15 years, meditation and mindfulness have kind of taken certain sectors in the public conversation by storm, and for some people that’s great, and for other people meditation is not something that’s interesting, it doesn’t work for them, and I respect that. So, the big idea here is that meditation is just one form of what is known more broadly as contemplative practice, which is essentially anything that cultivates reflection, awareness, and connects us with our sense of purpose and meaning in life.

So, the analogy I like to use is just like, say, lifting weights or strength training is one form of exercise, meditation is one form of contemplative practice. So, if you came to me and said, “Well, I don’t like to lift weights so I’m not going to exercise.” We would say, “That’s crazy. Why don’t you take a walk? Why don’t you bike? Why don’t you swim?”

So, in the same way, there’s this whole array of ways to strengthen our inner life and build more inner resources that’s much more varied than meditation. And my book is really about, “How do we broaden our scope and use the time that we have in our families, at work, on the planet, to develop this amazing set of powerful qualities we possess?” Like, energy, concentration, joy, patience, resolve, even things like play and rest. All of these are like different notes in our repertoire, and we can learn how to play them when we have the right tools.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. More energy, more concentration, more resolve, that sounds lovely, like a limitless pill going on. So, I want to really dig into the menu of this contemplative practices, but, first, I’ve got to hit it. Oren, can you share with us the evidence, the research, the basis by which we can claim that, indeed, pursuing some of these to-be-mentioned contemplative practices will boost energy and concentration and resolve, and other positive inner resources?

Oren Jay Sofer
I’ll give you a few datapoints. So, first, the whole field of positive psychology is based upon what’s known as Hebbian neuroplasticity, which was discovered by a man named Donald Hebb in the 1970s which essentially proved that our brains are not fixed, that both the structure and the function of our neurology can shift through repeated practice.

And what’s cool about that to me as a meditator is that modern neuroscience has borne out what contemplatives and mystics have known for millennia, which is that our inner world isn’t fixed, that it’s malleable, and what we do, how we act, and think, and speak every day affects it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, neuroplasticity…?

Oren Jay Sofer
Essentially, the phrase that a lot of people have heard is neurons that fire together, wire together. The more you do something, the better you get it, and that includes being frustrated, irritable, petty, and it includes being patient, kind, and generous. So, this is the underlying kind of property or principle why all this stuff works.

Okay. Then, if we look at specific qualities, we can see both that there’s a neurological basis for them, and that we can enhance and cultivate them. So, take a quality like generosity. A lot of different opinions out there about human nature, and several studies have shown that toddlers, two years old, can and do exhibit generosity.

So, one study that kind of blew me away, toddlers who have, like, a favorite teddy bear and who are really to it, like if you take it away or if it’s missing, they’re going to be inconsolable. When they’re put in a situation, and there’s a stranger who appears to need some comfort and consolation, that toddler will offer their favorite teddy to that stranger. So, there’s generosity, there’s empathy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, as you say that, I’m just tearing up because, I guess, I got three young kids myself but that is a very beautiful point of evidence. And then I’m also thinking about Anne Frank, in spite of everything, I still believed people have a good heart, so the teddy bear sharing, when it’s near and dear to them, at such a young age, that strikes home.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah. And as parents, I’m sure you’ve seen it. I was sitting on the couch the other day with my young son who just turned one, this was actually before he was one, and he was nibbling on a little piece of apple, really enjoying it. And what does he do? He takes a few nibbles and then he offers it to me and puts it in my mouth, and then he takes it back and nibbles a little more, and then he offers it to me.

So, one of the other things that we’ve seen in research on pro-social qualities, like empathy, like generosity, like compassion, like gratitude, is that while there is an innate neurological basis for these qualities, they also need to be strengthened and cultivated. So, we enter the world primed to have these incredibly powerful nourishing qualities for ourselves personally and for our society, but they need to be encouraged by the adults around us.

So, something like compassion can either grow and flourish based on the kind of mirroring and experiences we have as we grow, or can atrophy. One of the examples I like to use, just to come back to studies and research, and this is more of an analogy, is we know that the human organism is born with the capacity to learn any language on the planet. Our neurology is primed to learn any sound and grammar. We can learn any language.

And in the same way, I like to suggest that our hearts are primed to experience and know all of these beautiful capacities, like kindness, patience, courage, curiosity. And the question is, “Do we get the chance to learn them and develop them?” And at any point in life, we can tap into these and strengthen them. It’s kind of like having a high-fidelity stereo, and being able to adjust the treble and the mid and the bass so that we can really enjoy the music as fully as possible.

In the same way, do we have access to all of the potentials in our hearts? And are we able to kind of play all those notes in our lives, and experience courage, and ease, and wonder, and contentment, even forgiveness or wisdom? These are all things that we can grow and strengthen through choosing where we place our attention, which is really where the journey begins, and looking at how we use our attention, and what is competing for our attention in our world today.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, these are big, beautiful, powerful ideas. And so, first, I’m going to go mercenary on you, Oren, it’s like, “Oh, that all sounds nice for mankind and the world, but how does it make me awesome at my job, Oren?”

Oren Jay Sofer
Absolutely, yeah. Well, as you point out quite appropriately, we spend an outsized amount of our time at work, and so how we work is really important. Our experience of our job, our coworkers, our self, isn’t fixed. It’s influenced not only by the external factors, many of which as we know are outside of our control. It’s influenced by what we bring to it, how we pay attention, and how we do our work every day.

So, using these skills, we can develop a different relationship with our work. We can learn to be more effective, to have more of a sustainable energy than this burst of energy and burning out, to have more focus and concentration rather than being scattered all the time. We can learn to really enjoy the aspects of our job that we like and get the most nourishment from them, which then creates a positive feedback loop where we have more energy and meaning because we’re focusing on that.

And, of course, this isn’t to kind of ignore or avoid the difficult things or the things that don’t work, but it’s to ensure that we’re not missing the good aspects of our work and our job and the people around us. And the more we’re able to develop the skills of attention, the more available we are for joy and goodness in our lives and our work, the more effective we can be because we’re not wasting precious time and energy reacting, we’re not stuck in stories from the past, we’re not pushing against things that are beyond our influence to change.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And, again, having that initial energy, concentration, and resolve can just be huge in terms of when, in some ways, that makes all the difference in terms of every minute or hour you’re spending on doing something, the work product will be high or low quality in large part based on how much quality energy, concentration, resolve you can give to it versus how likely you are saying, “Ah, maybe I’ll just handle some easy emails instead because I don’t have the energy, concentration, resolve to power through this tricky, ambiguous, frustrating, and high-value piece of work.”

Oren Jay Sofer
Right. And the beautiful thing about it is that when we’re able to marshal our resources in that way and really dig into a project, guess what, we get to celebrate and rest afterwards. We get to feel that sense of ease and satisfaction in knowing, “I knocked out the most important thing on my list today, and now I can breathe more easily.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Oren Jay Sofer
Brings rewards in the moment and in the long term.

Pete Mockaitis
And I suppose there’s little doubt that if you do something, you get better at that something, if it’s like playing golf, or juggling, or chess, or pumping iron, lifting weights, so we can see, or running, “Hey, I see improvements however I’m measuring that,” in terms of the chess rating, the bench press, 1 rep max, the balls not dropped, or the continuous minutes of juggling, whatever. There’s a means by which we do a thing and then we can see and measure progress.

Could you give us an example of a measure, whether it’s a measure of energy or concentration or resolve, and the protocol, or the program, the workout regiment, of contemplative practice? And what sorts of lift is seen after having engaged in that?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah. So, my focus is through experience. I’m an empirical person so my work is based on my own training and the students/participants that I work with in my retreats and workshops. All this stuff is supported by the neuroscience, but just to be clear and upfront, that’s not my focus or area of expertise. So, let’s talk about concentration, and I’ll talk about it from a personal experience perspective, both in myself and in working with hundreds, if not thousands, of people practicing these skills.

So, the first thing, if we want to be able to concentrate better, the first thing to do is to understand what’s meant by concentration and how it arises. So, oftentimes, we think of concentration as a kind of force your mind to stay with something. And that can work for a little bit of time as driven by willpower but eventually we burn out because it’s not sustainable, and it’s a certain kind of brittle concentration. If something interrupts us, we lose it very quickly.

So, the kind of concentration I’m talking about, I might call stability or a collected mind. It’s really akin to what’s known in the research as a flow state. We’re present, we’re connected, we’re flexible, and we have access to all of our resources. We’re not straining, we’re not tight, we’re not burning up energy unnecessarily. We’re in a relationship with what’s happening. This runs counter to so much in our world and our society today, which is pushing us to be distracted, to multitask and fragmenting our attention.

So, what we’re doing with concentration is we’re regathering our energy, our attention, and learning to channel it in the direction of our choosing. So, how do we do that? How does this concentrated, gathered flow state arise? Well, just think about the last time you were really focused in a relaxed way, reading a book, playing a sport, working on a project. How did that come about? Well, you were probably really interested. There was a natural curiosity. You were probably somewhat relaxed, you’re able to drop into the moment, and you were clear about what you were doing and why. You have certain clarity of intent.

So, these are the factors that we want to get familiar with and learn to cultivate in our life and in our work, “Am I interested? Do I know why I’m doing this? Am I connected to that? Can I relax a little bit?” And that begins just by relaxing the body, just by attending, “Is my jaw tight? Am I clenching my fists? Can I relax my belly a little bit?” and then making a really clear and focused decision, say, “Okay, this is what I’m working on right now.”

And, of course, there’s lots of obstacles that are going to come in and try to throw us off. So, for me, concentration did not come easily. I remember, say, being in college and reading the same paragraph over and over and over again because by the time I got to the end of it, my attention would’ve wandered and I needed to start back over at the beginning. And I’ve seen through all the work that I’ve done with meditation, with mindfulness, I could put my mind to something and it’ll stay there.

So, the other skill here that’s really helpful that I want to offer to folks is being aware of the challenges or the hindrances or obstacles to concentration, and this is a really great tool to use when working on a project, to have a little checklist to run through, and just check and see, “Are any of these five things present? And if so, can I shift my focus into these qualities I’m working on, of interest, relaxation, and clarity?”

So, the first two are wanting and not wanting. So, really getting caught up in wanting to get somewhere, or craving something, or feeling irritated, aversive, not wanting to do this, wanting to get away from something, these will zap our energy and distract us. The second two are about energies. So, either feeling sleepy, lethargic, or feeling restless, anxious, too charged up, “So, I just want to check. How’s my energy? Am I sagging or am I kind of a little hyperactive?”

And then the third is doubt, and this one’s the real killer, “Am I doubting myself? Am I not sure I can do this? Am I undercutting my work here?” So, just being aware of these, just checking in and seeing, “Are any of these present?” already starts to shift the inner landscape. It’s when we’re not aware of these things that they really clobber us and drive the show. So, even if, say, we’re a little bit tired, if we’re aware of that, just that awareness starts to bring more energy.

Or, if there’s some doubt present, as soon as we see it, we’re like, “Oh, wow, look. I’m doubting myself. I’m worried I’m not going to be able to do this or it’s not going to be good.” Just that awareness is already stepping outside of the doubt a little bit. Checking on each of those can give us more access to concentration when we’re working on a project.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you say there are five things on the checklist?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yup. Wanting and not wanting, so this is about craving and pulling away from things, like, “Oh, I can’t wait to get to lunch,” or, “When am I going to get to the movie tonight and go on that thing?” It’s like, “Well, that’s tonight. Can I focus on what’s happening now?” Or, “Oh, God, I’m so nervous about having to present this. I don’t want to do that,” and so worry, we’re resisting something. It’s like, “Well, that’s not now. Let’s just focus on the project. Let’s just be here with what’s happening right in front of me.”

So, just being aware. It’s like when you walk outside of your house, or apartment, and you want to dress appropriately, you want to know what the weather is like. Same way, you sit down to do a project, you want to be prepared to work with the internal weather. Like, what are the conditions that are going to try to throw you off? So, if it’s going to be really cold, you want to bring a parka. If it’s going to be really wet, you want to bring a raincoat.

In the same way, if you’re working with sleepiness and you’re feeling really lethargic and doubtful, it’s like, “Okay, how can I psych myself up? How can I access a little bit more energy? Sit up straight. Take a deep breath. Turn up the lights. I’m feeling doubt. Reflect on the things that I know I’m good at, all the times in the past that I’ve really come through.” One, we need to know what might interfere, and then, two, we need to meet it, we need to work with it head on and address it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And so, when we have not wanting, what do you do with that? So, the awareness itself is helpful.

Oren Jay Sofer
Right, the awareness itself is helpful. Not wanting is usually about avoiding discomfort. So, it’s just based on biologically and the pleasure/pain principles. So, you want to look for, “Where is the unpleasant thing that I’m avoiding?” We’re often not aware of the unpleasant feeling that we’re trying to get away from. So, look for that unpleasant feeling, and then feel it.

Instead of trying to get away from it, which wastes a ton of energy and distracts us, take a deep breath, and go, “How bad is this right here and now? It’s a little unpleasant. Okay. So, how does it feel? Is my throat a little bit tight? I feel a little bit shaky, a little queasy in my stomach, a little pressure in my chest? What is it? What is it that I’m so afraid of?”

“Not in my mind, that’s the picture, that’s the thoughts, that’s the story. What is it I’m reacting to in my body? And if I can just feel that a little bit, it starts to settle because now I’m not running away from the demon in my mind. I’m actually meeting what’s real and true in the moment.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s go more into not wanting. And maybe we can even go live, a demo. Let’s say there is a task I don’t want to do. Well, let’s pick a specific one. Let’s say, “Get some transactions categorized and organized into spreadsheet and sent off to the accountant.” You go, “Ugh, I don’t want to do that. And, often, I end up doing it very close to the deadline because I don’t want to do it. And, apparently, the Post Office is very full in April 15th so I’m not alone.” So, help me out there. So, here I am, I’m thinking, “Ugh, I don’t want to do that.”

Oren Jay Sofer
So, with anything we’re avoiding, there’s two essential kinds of strategies we can use to shift that. Let’s start with one we’re already talking about, which is turning towards the avoidance directly and engaging with it. So, the first step is what you already, which is to recognize the avoidance. A lot of the times, when we’re avoiding something, we haven’t even done that.

We’re not fully conscious that we’re avoiding it. We’re just kind of pushing it away, which means our attention is split, there are some underlying anxieties, so we need to develop enough self-awareness to recognize, “Wait a minute. Something is bugging me.” And then to really be honest with ourselves and acknowledge, “I don’t want to do this.” Okay, that’s the first step.

Then turn towards it inside. Take a deep breath and feel, “Okay, what does it feel like to not want to do this?” It feels, I don’t know, frazzled, you tell me. When you don’t want to do your taxes, when you don’t want to do that. If you stop and you take a deep breath, what’s the actual experience in your body, the sensations?

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s a cool distinction right there. So, we’re focused on bodily sensations as opposed to emotions, like, angry, sad?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, that’s it. It’s going to the root level. So, the first level is going to be the thoughts, it’s, “I don’t have the time,” “I hate doing it,” “It’s too much to do.” Okay, then the next level is the emotions, which is, “I feel overwhelmed,” “I feel annoyed,” “I feel frustrated,” “I feel anxious.” We’re still, to some degree, on the conceptual level. In order for the patterning in our nervous system to start to shift and to have a little bit more flow and wiggle room, we need to engage on the level of sensation which is what’s actually driving us.

So, to feel in your body, “Okay, yeah, how does this actually feel?” And one question, so not everyone has quick easy access to their sensations, one great question to ask yourself is just, “Where in my body do I feel this? Like, is it in my throat? Is it in my chest? Is it in my belly? Or is it somewhere else?”

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s funny, I’m having a hard time with this. I think it’s like, “Ugh!”

Oren Jay Sofer
So, it’s kind of all over.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess if it’s not in my toes, it’s not in my calves, but it’s like, I don’t know, my neck and upper torso, it’s like instead of being filled with a zippy, “Hey, let’s dance a jig and sing a song in joy,” it’s like the opposite of that.

Oren Jay Sofer
It’s like a wet noodle.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s like flopping, “Ugh!”

Oren Jay Sofer
So, this is great. This is great. So, we experience our bodies and our emotions and sensations in different ways, and sometimes an image is how it occurs to us. So, it’s kind of that deep sigh and that gesture you made with your shoulders and your torso in this kind of flapping wet noodle. So, what happens when you just take a moment, don’t have to be with it forever. This is the fear, it’s like, “If I feel this, I’m going to get stuck here.” To just take one moment to feel that on its own terms, the wet noodle, the kind of flappy and just, “How bad is it?”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s kind of like being bored.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, it’s just what it is.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not horrible, it’s just not fun, it’s like, “Okay, it’s just a flavor of boredom.”

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah. So, you look the demon in the face, it’s like, “Oh, this is what this is.” That takes some of the wind out of its sails. It undercuts the source of resistance that’s driving it. Now, the other key strategy here, the other side that we need to work with, is the motivator. So, why is this important to you? What is this going to give you if you do it?

Pete Mockaitis
Gives you relief and keeps me out of jail.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, gives you relief, gives you more time and energy to focus on other things that are important to you, and there’s a sense of a weight lifted, I’m imagining, when it’s done. So, now take a moment to just focus on the experience of relief and that weight lifted, and how good that feels. That can be what you want to navigate towards, like, “This is why I’m doing this.” So, you work from both angles, you kind of unplug the part that’s blocking you.

By feeling it and looking it in the face, “Okay, how bad is this? How uncomfortable is this, this thing that I’m avoiding?” And avoiding it actually gives it energy. To resist something, you’ve got to grab it first, you’ve got to pick it up. And when you pick it up, you actually give it energy. So, when you turn towards it, you’re just like, “All right, let’s just feel this. Let’s just see what this is.” Now, you’re not feeding it anymore, and it can start to peter out.

And then on the other side, “Why do this? What’s this going to give me? What’s important about this to me?” This is one of the things I talk about in the chapter on energy. One of the most sustainable sources of energy is willingness, knowing why we’re doing something. There’s tons of things in life we don’t like to do but if we can connect with the fact that we’re choosing to do it in some way, even if it’s, “You know, I don’t want to have the IRS come and take my house away,” or, “I don’t want to go to jail,” or, “I don’t want to get a speeding ticket so I’m going to drive the speed limit.” It’s like when we’re aware of why we’re doing it, we can tap into a different source of energy.

I think it’s really important, Pete, to get familiar with how it feels when we’re not avoiding something and we’re in alignment to really notice not just your thoughts and your emotions but, again, how it feels in your body, to feel connected and clear about what you’re doing and why. The more familiar you get with that experience, the more awake and aware you are, when you feel connected and aligned, the more quickly you will notice when you’re not.

It’s like developing a little bit of a baseline or a reference for, “Oh, yeah, this is what it feels like when I know what I’m doing and why, and I’m connected to my purpose, to my resources.” Then when you’re suddenly avoiding something, when you’re procrastinating, when there’s some resistance inside, we get really good at just kind of pushing through or pushing that away because it’s uncomfortable.

You’ll start to notice it more and be able to make different choices, and recognize, “You know, I’m doing the dishes right now. It doesn’t help me to not want to do it while I’m doing it. Like, I might as well just take a deep breath and relax, feel my feet on the ground, enjoy the warm soapy water, and clean the dishes.”

Or, “I’m taking my kid to music lessons right now. I’m not at home working on that project, even though I want to be. Like, let’s just relax and enjoy the time in the car.” We get the signal of the resistance when we notice more what it’s like when it’s not there, and then we can use whatever tools or resources we have, as we talked about through that resistance, to put it down.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Oren, this is huge and beautiful. Okay. So, we talked about some of these approaches to deal with we don’t feel like doing stuff and boosting resolve. I was going to go to energy next, so you gave us a tip right there. We tapped into the willingness and the underlying why. Any other perspectives on bringing about a greater energy?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, absolutely. So, energy is huge. We have limited energy in our lives. And I think that the dominant culture in the modern world is this kind of all or nothing approach to energy. It’s this kind of extractive, get as much as possible, as fast as possible. We use caffeine. We tend to push past our limits and burn out. So, how do we develop more sustainable energy?

So, willingness, knowing why we’re doing something is one resource. Another really important resource for developing more sustainable energy is starting to tune into the cycles of activity and rest. So, everything in life moves through these cycles: the seasons, the night and the day, even our breath. All of the time, there are these cycles of doing and then being, doing and then being, but the pace of our lives and the level of stimulation we’re exposed to on a daily basis tends to mask that, and we get disconnected from it.

So, just starting to pay attention to when we’re busy, and then noticing, like, when you complete something, celebrate it, take a pause for a moment, breathe out. After you send an email, instead of rushing onto the next thing, “Great.” It doesn’t have to be long. I’m talking about, like, three seconds. That’s going to boost your energy because, instead of just pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, we get the cycle. We do something and then we breathe out, and then we do something, and then we breathe out. We’re starting to feel this rhythm and it happens on a moment-to-moment level, it happens through the course of the day. That’s going to help us develop more energy.

One more tip I want to give on energy, and this one’s the real tricky one because it’s counterintuitive. If you want to use energy more effectively, initially, and this is just initially, slow down a little and try to feel more how you are working. Okay, I’ll tell you a short story. When I was in my 20s and just starting to learn to meditate, one of the meditation teachers I was training with pointed out, “Pay attention to how you brush your teeth, and just notice how you’re holding the toothbrush.”

And I noticed I had this kind of death grip on the toothbrush. I was squeezing it so hard when I brush my teeth, I was, “Why am I so tense brushing my teeth? I can actually relax. I can just hold the toothbrush with just the right amount of force, and then brush my teeth that way.” So, if you want to move an object, if you position your feet slightly apart, one in front of the other, and you bend your knees, you’ve got a lot of power.

So, balance and alignment conserve energy and create leverage. So, we can translate this into our work. How are we actually doing our work, both in our body and in our mind? Are we gripping that toothbrush really hard? Like, are we sitting at the keyboard with our shoulders hunched up and our jaw tight? Or, are we able to kind of relax, settle back, feel a sense of balance inside, an alignment, a clarity of purpose, and do things one at a time?

So, we take this kind of physical analogy and translate it into our work, into the relational space, instead of raising your voice and shouting and making a big scene, we can be more powerful if we speak at an even volume and a steady pace, and say what we need to say. So, there’s a sense of the more we become aware of how we’re using energy, we can start to channel it in more effective ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Oren, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to share before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Oren Jay Sofer
I think one of the principles, Pete, that runs throughout the book that I want to make sure we cover here because it shows up really in any area that we’re trying to learn or grow is this principle we find in a lot of different fields, from performance to trauma healing, which is called strategic discomfort.

So, it’s knowing how much challenge is the right amount. And I’m sure you’ve covered this with other guests in other ways, right? It’s like if we don’t challenge ourselves at all, we just stay comfortable and we don’t learn and grow. But if we take on too much, we end up feeling overwhelmed and either collapsing or burning out.

So, whatever the skill is, whatever the resource or capacity is we’re trying to develop, whether it’s resolve, patience, energy, or this kind of foundational skill of choosing where we place our attention, we need to use some wisdom and ask ourselves, “What’s needed here? What’s the right amount of friction and tension and challenge for me to grow beyond my edge?” And that’s a skill, that’s a tool that we can use in all different areas of our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how do I assess that and get the right answer?

Oren Jay Sofer
Ask yourself this question, “What’s needed right now?” Not too much, not too little. We need to listen. We need to actually take a step back and check. And if we do that and we listen, and we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll know. So, whether it’s wanting to exercise more so that we have more energy in our lives, circling back to energy.

Of course, we didn’t talk about the fundamentals, like eating healthy, getting enough exercise, drinking enough water, trying to have healthy sleep, hygiene. Like, these are the foundations of energy. So, there’s an assumption that we’re attending to those things. But, say, you’re wanting to exercise more, it’s like, “What’s a reasonable goal?” and setting your aim on that, not overshooting because then we end up not doing it and giving up, and not undershooting because then we’re not actually challenging ourselves.

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

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, I thought about this. There are so many great books out there but one that came to mind that I read a few years ago that I think really puts us in touch with the preciousness of our time here is the book When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. He was a doctor who wrote about the end of his life as he died from cancer. A really beautiful short moving book.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite quote?

Oren Jay Sofer
This is from James R. Doty, a book called Into the Magic Shop, “It can hurt to go through your life with your heart open but not as much as it does to go through your life with your heart closed.”

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share in your courses, your books, your body of work that people really love, resonate with, and quote back to you often?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, I really think it’s the sense of we’re always practicing something. How we live every day is how we will live every day. And as you said, you’ve kind of alluded to earlier in the show is practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. So, be careful and clear about what we’re practicing every day. We have this immense capacity for goodness, resilience, and empowerment in our lives if we know how to develop it every day. So, we can use our time to develop these amazing resources and be a real source of change, and goodness, and joy to the people around us.

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

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, my website is probably the best place, OrenJaySofer.com. Also, active on social media @orenjaysofer.

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

Oren Jay Sofer
I love that question. I would say step outside of your habits and the negativity bias, and focus on the ways that you do contribute in your work and in your life. When we really notice and pay attention to the ways we contribute, we feel more energy, we experience more joy, we have more fulfillment, and it makes us more effective. It will also guide us to make better decisions about how we spend our time, what we do and don’t do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Oren, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much courage, love, and integrity.

Oren Jay Sofer
Thanks, Pete. You, too. It’s great to see you again.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Cool.

891: Finding Calm, Balance, and a Cure for Workaholism with Dr. Bryan Robinson

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Dr. Bryan Robinson shares the dangers of work addiction–and how you can recover from it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What workaholism is–and how you can tell if you have it
  2. The 10 C’s to help you find your calm
  3. How to befriend your negative emotions

About Bryan

Bryan E. Robinson is Founder and Chief Architect Officer of Comfort Zones Digital, Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and a psychotherapist in private practice. He writes for Forbes.com and Thrive Global and is the author of over forty books, including three editions of Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them and #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn on Your Life.

Resources Mentioned

Bryan Robinson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Bryan, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Thank you, Pete. It’s great to be here again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat about your book, Chained to the Desk in a Hybrid World: A Guide to Work-Life Balance. But I think one thing we didn’t touch on last time you were here is your fun tagline that you heal by day and kill by night.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
That you’re a psychotherapist and a murder mystery writer. Tell us about this.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
That’s right. That’s balanced, isn’t it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I got to wonder if I’m one of your clients, am I inspiring content to your novels?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
I would do this to my clients but just don’t cross me because people that cross me end up as one of the victims in my books, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
I’m teasing, of course. My focus really is on healing, but the murder mysteries are just fun, the play part.

Pete Mockaitis
And how many have you written?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Two so far. And, in fact, one of them, the first one is being made into a television series. I can’t talk too much about it yet because it’s still under negotiation but we’ve already done the pilot, and it’s going to be happening sometime, probably next year.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s exciting. Congratulations.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Yeah, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any principles by which you write by that make for a great murder mystery?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Principles? Yeah, well, some life experiences that you take and exaggerate. Like, I was at the supermarket here about a year ago and the woman behind me didn’t put the stick between my groceries and hers, so they charged me, like, $300 or $400, and I thought, “What?” And it took us 20 or 30 minutes to undo all that mess. But what I thought, “Wow, this is a great way for two people to meet before they die.” So, I used it in a novel.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That is good. And then maybe there’d be some lingering information on the receipt.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Yeah, all right. Yeah, all kinds of things.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Can you tell us more about the book Chained to the Desk in a Hybrid World? What’s new and interesting? You’ve got a lot of experience in the universe of workaholism and exploring that. What’s new in the hybrid stuff?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Well, the book is really about work-life balance. That’s the subtitle, “A Guide to Work-Life Balance.” And things have been changing, as probably everybody listening knows, all over the world, in the workplace specifically. People are not working as much in the office. They’re working more either in hybrid ways or at home, which has brought up another whole problem. And that is, “Where do you set the boundaries?”

And one of the things that research has shown since we’ve started working more from home is we’re living and working under the same roof, and that means there are no boundaries. So, it’s caused a huge problem in overworking and burnout. For example, let’s say I have a project and I work till 5:00 or 6:00, and then I think, “Hmm, I can just keep working and burn the midnight oil and get this done.” And there’s more of that happening, and, therefore, more people are having mental health problems as a result of it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating. Could you give us some statistics associated with the frequency, the prevalence of this overworking at home and the mental health challenges?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Yeah, the last statistic I saw was 40% of the people who were working remotely were saying, because they didn’t think about boundaries, and so they would just go in and out of their office, or they’d go throw on some laundry, and so it’s 40%. And that’s pretty high for an increase in burnout. So, obviously, what needs to happen is if we’re living and working in the same environment, we need to have some kind of mental understanding of where that line is.

For example, right now, I’m in my home office, and I work from here a good bit. I also have an office downtown but I imagine that my office at home, after 5:00 or 6:00, is five miles across town. I have a rule, I don’t go into that place, unless it’s an emergency, after a certain amount of time. I also have an understanding with my family, “You can’t just come barging in any time you want to.” Like, if your spouse works in a doctor’s office, you’re not going to bounding into that office with the doctors with a client, or if it’s an attorney with someone.

So, we have to also honor the boundaries of the people we live with. And what a lot of people have done is to spread out their work on the kitchen table or in front of the TV, which, really, you have other family members who want to watch TV or have dinner. It’s not respectful for them. So, it’s really raising or a heightened awareness of boundaries so that you can function in these two different worlds that have collided, have come together.

Another thing is some days, when I’m working in my office at home, I realize there’s laundry that needs doing, the dog needs to be walked, there’s chocolate cake in the fridge, but I also know, when I think that, that, yes, that’s true but I’m in my office right now, so those things are not available to me. So, that’s just like a mental way of reminding myself to stay on track.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that, that mental habit there, “Yes, but I’m in my office and so those things are not available to me.” There you have it. And then to review that statistic, you said those who are working from home have a 40% increased probability of experiencing burnout? That’s the stat?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
That’s right, yeah. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That is big.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Burnout is cumulative stress. It’s not something that just happens. There’s a difference in stress and burnout. Stress, we can recall from. Burnout is more difficult. It’s when you get to the point that you’re exhausted, you lose your sense of meaning and purpose, and you’re not as motivated as you were, you’re exhausted. And it takes a while to get over. You can’t just say, “Okay, I’ll take a week off.” It takes some good time to get through that.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. So, then could you perhaps share with us a cool story of someone who figured this out, they made some good adjustments to boundaries, and saw some nice results?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Well, I can name a lot of people that I know, that I’ve worked with. One is Arianna Huffington, who started The Huffington Post, and in the throes of trying to get that off the ground, she’s written about this in her book so I’m not sharing anything that’s personal or private. She collapsed and hit her head against the desk, her face against the desk, broke her cheekbone and woke up in a pool of blood.

Alanis Morissette, who’s a friend of mine, also suffered what she calls nervous breakdowns because of overworking. It was a real problem that she’s had over the years. Overworking, by the way, or work addiction and hard work are not the same things. We often get those confused because people will often say to me, “What’s wrong with hard work?” That’s not what we’re talking about. Work addiction is when you can’t turn it off.

And to a lot of people, they don’t get it because they think, “Who wants to work all the time?” But, believe me, many people do, and there was a time in my life when I did. It wasn’t just the work. I was running away from something within me. I didn’t realize it. When I was a professor at the university, I had a weekend ahead of me with nothing planned, and it was terrifying.

So, really, it’s about knowing what’s going to happen, and it’s about control. So, what did I do? Well, if I were an alcoholic, I would go and I would get drunk, maybe. But I was not or am not an alcoholic but, as a workaholic, or someone who’s really addicted, it became my sense of medication. And so, I found the campus newsletter and saw that there was a call for grant. And when I wrapped that computer printout under my arm, now in retrospect, it was like an alcoholic putting a bottle under his arm and feeling calm because it gave me a sense of certainty, a sense of control.

Now, where does that come from? I’ve been studying cases, and I’ve done empirical research, and I’ve worked clinically with workaholics, and every workaholic I know of has a history that relates to of living in an environment where things are out of control, often alcoholism or drug abuse or just an unstable family. And one of the things they intuitively learned to do as a child is to take control by caring for a younger sibling, for doing homework and excelling, or just doing things.

As a kid, I remember writing the church Christmas play one Christmas. Now, not only did I write it. I directed it, I acted in it, I built the sets, everybody thought I was great but I didn’t know what I was doing except, now I know that it was my way to control an unwieldy home life that was out of control, that I couldn’t control.

So, these were the kinds of things that form or the foundation for a true workaholic. People tease about it but it’s a serious addiction. And in the research that I’ve done, it accounts for 40% of divorce. If you compare a workaholic marriage to a non-workaholic marriage, there’s a 40% higher divorce rate. And we know that children who grow up in a workaholic home not only have a serious depression and anxiety issues, but they also, compared to children of alcoholics, have a harder time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s heavy stuff. Thank you for sharing. And I’m curious, when you say you are a workaholic, if you can’t turn it off, and you are uncomfortable with the idea of, “I don’t know what I’m going to be doing. Ah, work, what a release,” I’m also curious, there are times I think when I am thinking about it a lot, it’s almost like that there’s an unsolved problem or case that I’m in the middle of, and it just keeps representing itself.

And I don’t know, it’s almost like, is there a distinction here? Is that sort of the same thing or a different thing? It sort of happens intermittently when there’s, like, a puzzle that is quite not solved, and the incompleteness of it keeps grabbing my attention over and over again.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
It depends on where you’re coming from. If you’re coming from a place of having to or striving or requiring yourself to fix it, that’s one of the forms of workaholism, that if you have this compulsive need to get it finished versus being curious. Curiosity, if I’m curious about something, that’s not work addiction.

But if I have this thought in my head, “You have to do this. You’ve got to get this done,” when, in fact, there are a few things that I have ever had to do, that’s more the pressure. That triggers what we call the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight. But if curiosity is coming more from what I call is what is known as the parasympathetic nervous system, or the rest and digest response, so it’s coming from a different place inside of us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Bryan, I’m just going to take a little curiosity break right now and ask how do you know all these famous people? What’s that? What went on there?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Well, they contacted me because they had read some of my work. So, Alanis Morrisette tells everybody that she worked with me. As a therapist, I don’t go out and broadcast who I work with, but she’s written about it and she talks about it, and people call me and say they want to work with me because they hear that I worked with her.

And Arianna and I worked together. I write for Thrive Global, which is her big thing now since she left Huffington Post. And I’ve written about a lot of different people. I write for Forbes, and so I’ve interviewed them, and so I’ve just heard. One of the things that I’ve learned as a therapist and having the privilege of being able to hear the internal system of people, and also interviewing people for Forbes, is we’re all struggling with something.

Everybody on this planet is struggling with something inside of us, some more serious than others. We don’t often talk about that because people are afraid that if they let other people know, they’ll be judged or they’ll be humiliated, but what’s happening more, especially well-known people, like Prince Harry or Alanis, Jewel, I’ve interviewed Jewel, talk about the hardships and how they got over them.

Then the more people realize they’re human, and what they’re going through is the human experience, and they don’t have to judge themselves because judgment throws you into a cycle of feeling worse. It’s like if you’re already suffering from something, and you judge yourself for it, that’s like fighting the fire department when your house is on fire, which adds insult to injuries.

So, one of my goals is to let people know some of my struggles, which I’m not ashamed of, but I’ve been able to get through them and land in a place that I really feel good about, which I’ll call my central command center, or the C mode. And there are 10 C words that will tell you you’re there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lay it on us.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Okay. Curiosity instead of judgment. This goes back to what I was saying. Most of us, if we fail or make a mistake, we have that little voice in our head that judges us, and that’s the worst thing that can happen. As you become more aware of that, and you go into curiosity, and say, “Why did I yell at her?” or, “Why did I throw that soup across the room at my husband?” or, “Why did I snap at my child?” then you can get to some understanding of who you are and why that happened instead of judging, so it doesn’t add insult to injury.

Calm versus anxiety. Well, we all want to be calmer, but yet we find that difficult because many of us are living such busy lives. But we know that cumulative anxiety creates health problems and early death, that’s a fact, a scientific fact. But if I can be calmer, I can be happier, I can be more productive, and I can live longer and have fewer health issues.

Clarity instead of confusion. If I have a mind that’s cluttered, it’s going to be more difficult for me to perform and to succeed. But if I have clarity and I understand what’s happening inside of me and why I do what I do, and if I have some understanding of why someone else maybe does what they do, then I can live more from a central command center, from that C mode.

Connection instead of isolation. We know that loneliness and isolation is a huge public health problem in this country. And the surgeon general, under both Obama and Biden, has pointed that out and written a book about it. So, connection is really healing for all of us. And people who are able to connect, especially in their older years, have fewer health problems, and, again, they live longer. These are all tied to longevity and happiness.

Compassion instead of cold-heartedness. Now, when I say compassion, I’m talking about caring about other people. And as I said before, all of us are struggling with something but we don’t really recognize that, we don’t see it, so we don’t know it, but it’s something we have to just…an awareness we need to carry with us so we can be kinder to people because we don’t know what they’re going through. But it’s also important that we’re kinder to ourselves.

One of the recent studies that has just come out that I find fascinating but I’m not surprised is that people who practice self-compassion have better cardiovascular systems. In other words, people who don’t practice self-compassion have higher cardiovascular risks. And they’ve actually studied the linings of the arteries to show this. This is not just somebody’s opinion. It’s a very rigid, highly scientific article. I’ve read the actual research itself. And I could talk about each one of these probably for an hour.

Then there’s, of course, confidence versus intimidation. You see so many books about confidence, but if I can really feel confident, that’s strength and that allows me to overcome just about anything. But if I’m intimidated, which is just another form of fear, or if I shrink in a situation, I’m going to be less successful and, of course, less happy.

And then there’s courage. Courage is really versus fear. Stick your neck out a little bit. If you stick your neck out, that’s how you grow, but a lot of us are afraid to stick their neck out, and it feels like we want to stay in a secure place, which is understandable. That’s the way the brain works. But if you stay in too comfortable a place, you don’t grow and you don’t succeed. And people do that and they never understand, “Why am I not happy? And why have I not been more successful?” Well, it’s because their minds have kept them stuck so they can be safe.

Then there’s creativity versus stagnation. Creativity comes from the central command center, which is the opposite of the inner critic. The critic, if anybody who’s creative knows about the inner critic, it tells you, “You can’t,” “You must,” “You should,” “You don’t know what you’re doing,” “You’re going to fail.” And so, then we recoil and we stay in our safe place. But if we stick our neck out, that’s where creativity comes from. We’ve learned we can do something different and reap the benefits.

And then there’s comedy versus drama. This whole thing of lightheartedness and laughter, we know the science. It makes us feel better and it lightens our load no matter what we’re dealing with. It makes us feel better. And then there’s celebration versus exhaustion. Celebration is when we’re grateful for what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t have.

So, celebrating our birthday, and rituals, and being with other people, that builds our life and makes us happier, and makes life worth living. So, those are the 10 Cs, if we want to live from a place of chill or a place of calm.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, those 10 Cs are associated with the chill and calm. And I do see how these things tend to hang together in terms of, “Okay, when I’m in the confident group, I’ve also more courage, I’m more brave, have more courage, and I’m more creative.”

Dr. Bryan Robinson
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
“And I’m more likely to laugh at stuff,” comedy. So, they hang together.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
They do.

Pete Mockaitis
So, if we are on the opposite side of those 10 Cs, we are un-chill, we are uncalm. Because I’m wondering it sounds like maybe I have 10 gateways I might enter through to try to get over to the chill side of things. Or, what do you recommend?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
You’re absolutely right. They’re all connected, it’s like a big puzzle. Now, those C words, some people call it a higher state of mind, a higher form of living, but the ones you’re pointing out – cold heartedness, isolation, confusion – we call those parts in psychology. And they’re often protectors. They’re parts of us that take over and eclipse the C mode, and they’re trying to protect us from…they’re based on survival.

Fear, anxiety, worry, confusion, those are all actions that they want to keep us, I don’t want to say trapped, that’s not their goal. They’re survival parts that automatically come out that keep us safe. They respond to threats. So, we’re hardwired for those more negative parts. It takes a little bit of…you could call that a lower state of mind.

But it takes a little bit of awareness and understanding to live from those C words. So, it’s a higher state of living, and it takes practice and awareness. It’s not something that’s just going to happen. We have to pay attention and want to live from that place. Can I give you an example of what…?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
This is what got me out of the work addiction. This is what led me from the pit into more of an awareness. And I haven’t arrived anywhere. Believe me, I have my issues that I have to deal with like everybody else. I was a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and the creative arts center invited Tibetan monks to come and perform on our campus.

So, what they do is they have these instruments and these beautiful costumes. It’s incredible entertainment. Well, we found that outside, right before the performance, there were a group of religious fundamentalists who were circling and with signs that said that Buddhists worship the devil and they’re evil and demonistic. And, of course, I was furious with these people because it was such a horrible way to welcome strangers to our campus.

But when the monks found out, they all went outside, and, at that point, the group was singing “Jesus loves me” with their hands in a circle. They joined hands and sang “Jesus loves me” with a smile on their face, a compassionate smile. And I remember thinking, “I want that. That’s what I would like to have,” because I was fuming and seeing that, and thinking, “How can they do that? I don’t get it.”

And it’s something I’ve aspired to, and I haven’t arrived anywhere but that set me out on a journey to live more from a better state of mind, and a healthier state of mind, and a longer state of mind, and it changed my life.

And I can tell you what I have discovered. I’ve kind of boiled it all down and have harnessed the three As that I practice every day.

So, if I have fear, or if I have anxiety, or if I have worry, or if there’s drama, or if I’m confused, first of all, I have to be aware because most of us don’t even realize we’re in one of those states because they’re so quick and we’re so used to swimming in the water we’re swimming in. So, awareness is the first A. And when I’m aware that I have worry, then I acknowledge it on the inside. And this is so different from what most of us do. Acknowledgement is the second A.

And the way I do that, and this is based on research, I focus on that, let’s say, the worry, and I talk to it like it’s a person, and I use third-party language. Now, this is all based on research. It used to be we’d say people who talk to themselves are crazy. Now, it’s one of the best therapeutic tools we have. And so, I’ll say, “Worry, oh, so you’re here. Okay, pull up a chair, let’s have a cup of tea or…” I prefer coffee.

Now, what I’m doing is I’m talking to it just like it’s a person who just walked in the door, “And so, tell me what’s going on.” And I’ll get a message, I’ll get an image, I’ll get words, or I may just get a sense of what that is, “Oh, I see. So, you’re worried about the MRI. Yeah, right. Well, that makes perfect sense to me.” Now, notice I’m not fighting it, I’m not debating it, I’m not steamrolling over it, I’m not ignoring it. That’s the worst thing you can do. I’m befriending it. I’m inviting it in.

As I do that, I start to feel calm. I’m curious. I’m compassionate with it. Now, that’s the own ramp. And the third A is allowing it to be there, allowing it because it’s protecting me. It’s saying, “Bryan, you need…something is going to happen, and you better get worried, you better get ready for this. This could be bad news,” so it’s not my enemy. Why would I want to fight it or ignore it? I want to appreciate it and welcome it in, and say, “Thank you for letting me know this but I got this.”

So, you feel a separation from it and you’re able to move forward with more of those C words. So, that’s the triple A that is the own ramp to some of these C words.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we’re aware, we acknowledge, and the third A is?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Allow. Allow it to be there. Don’t fight it. And there are actually two more that I don’t often tell people because it can be overwhelming. You can’t just get this overnight. You got to practice it. Like, if you go to the gym, your muscles are not going to build up unless you lift the weights. You got to do the work. If you practice this, you develop the muscle memory though.

So, the two more As is appreciation. If you practice this, after a while you’ll start to appreciate, “Wow, thank you for being there for me because I used to hate you or I used to fight you or resist you. But now I see how you’re trying to protect me, just like my ribcage protects my vital organs, and my cranium protects my brain.”

And then the final A is acceptance. And acceptance is when it goes really deeper into, yes, and it can be worry, it can be fear, it can be whatever, and you’re able to go then out once you worked inside. It’s an inside job, as we say. You’re able to go forward into an uncertain situation, a scary situation, public speaking or results of an MRI, or fear of a divorce, or somebody’s going to leave you that you love. It can be a myriad of different experiences, but it’s these Cs strengthen you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. And so, when you say that’s the pathway, when you’re un-chill, work through the three or five As and return to chill.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Exactly. That’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
That’s my ticket.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s your ticket. That’s the one. All right. It’s funny, I was going to say, I was thinking at first when I heard the 10 Cs, so I could do any of them, it’s like I’ll just watch something funny and then I’ll return to chill. Is that also accurate?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Yeah. I was talking to someone today and we’re going to be doing a podcast, actually, and so she and I are going to do it together, and she said, “Oh, I got this great guy, and he wrote this great book, and, oh, it’s fabulous. You’ve got to read it and we got to have him on.” And then you could go on the dark side, but then she said, “But then I found out that he was dead.”

And we laughed but not because he was dead but just because of the absurdity of it. So, you can bring comedy to a situation, or you can go on down the dark path. We have a choice of what we want to focus on. And that’s true of any of these C words. You have a choice on, “Do you want to focus on cold heartedness or compassion?” Cold-heartedness is a protector. If I’m coldhearted, that’s a part of me, it’s not even me. It’s like my skeletal system. I have a cranium and I have a sternum. Well, cold-heartedness is protecting me from being hurt because I’ve been hurt before.

So, if you look at each one of these that’s on the opposite side, they’re all protecting us. We just don’t stop to think about it that way. But in protecting us, they keep us stuck. They trap us and we don’t realize it but we can get ourselves unstuck if we look at those Cs, and each person listening just says, “Which one of those would I like to build up?” And you can make that a goal for this coming week.

One of the things I did, only because I wanted to practice some of these, at the beginning of 2023, well, my only resolution was I’m going to do one kind deed a day, especially for somebody I don’t know, a stranger. And, boy, has that helped me. It’s helped me, first of all, become more compassionate with people I don’t know instead of making snap judgments.

And some of the things I’ve done is bought groceries for people. I do that a lot. When I can tell they don’t have much money or they forgot their credit card one day, and I said, “Forget it, I’ll pay for that.” And it makes me feel good. Or, I’ll hold a door for somebody. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It doesn’t have to be money.

But if you want to be more compassionate, think of little things you can do for somebody, or just compliment somebody. Our mind tends to go into the negative because we are born with what’s called a negativity bias for survival but we can offset that by starting to look at, “Wow, gosh, you look beautiful today.” I found myself saying things I would never have said to people 10 years ago, and it feels good to me, and it feels light, and you get smiles and people look at you, and you feel connected to the world.

So, you’re right, you do one and then you feel these other Cs coming in along with that one C that you started with. We often say curiosity is the gateway because it’s easier to get to. If I can just be curious about, let’s say somebody snaps at me. My automatic reaction is going to be to snap back or to maybe call them a name.

But if I pay attention to that space, there’s always a little space in there before I react, I might say, “Now, how do I really want to be?” And I might think, “Well, she’s having a hard day,” or, “She’s misunderstood what I meant.” So, if I can just take a second before I react to that, I feel like I’ve just hit a homerun. It’s a great feeling to be able to stay in your central command center and respond from that place instead of from that protector.

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

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Well, I will say that, I’d said earlier, I didn’t know how to get to where the monks were, and I still am not where they are. I can’t promise that I’m always going to be in the C spot, or the C mode, I call it. And I always tell people, “If you see me pounding the steering wheel and I’m stuck in traffic, I’m human. I’m just like everybody else, but I don’t judge myself if I get angry. I don’t judge myself if I’m scared. I don’t judge myself if I feel stagnated.” I’ll allow that to be and acknowledge it, which paradoxically shifts me over into the C mode.

So, the thing to watch out for is judgement is such a quick thing that our parts do to protect us that it can be there before you realize it. So, just know that curiosity is the gateway, and practice that for a little bit, and be curious before you react, and watch what happens. It’s amazing. It will change your life.

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

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Well, my favorite quote is by Viktor Frankl, that everything we’ve been saying relates to. Viktor Frankl wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. He was in Dachau and Auschwitz, and his wife and he were separated. She was sent to the chamber, she was burned. He didn’t know that but with people dropping dead around him, and him starving and literally no clothes, knowing he could die any minute, he made a vow to himself, “One thing they can never take from me is my will.”

And so, the quote that I think about all the time, and that I love to share with people, because none of us are in the Holocaust, hopefully. We’re trapped in other ways inside because of the way we think or because of what’s happened to us. The quote is, “Between the stimulus and the response,” the stimulus meaning the event that happens, and how I react to it, “there’s a space.” Most of us run real shadow with that space. But if we start to be aware that there’s a space, and we take that pause, then we have a choice. We realize we have a choice.

And in that space, when I make the choice, I’m free. I can never be trapped by anybody or anything. So, the quote is, “Between the stimulus and the response, there is a space. And in that space, we have a choice. And when we choose, we are free.”

Pete Mockaitis
And can you share a favorite study or bit of research?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Well, there are two. One is about Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan, who did the study on self-regulation that shows people who speak to themselves in the third person versus people who speak using “I” pronoun, perform better.

And it’s incredibly scientific experiment that he did showing how when I say, “Bryan,” or “You,” instead of “I,” I separate out from the me, and I have more, like, a bird’s eye view of what I’m doing. It’s almost like somebody else is talking to me. And I have less anxiety and I have more confidence. That’s one. And the other is the study I mentioned earlier about self-compassion and how that leads to better self-care and lower cardiovascular disease.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
I guess my favorite book, there’s so many, but Huckleberry Finn, I read it as a kid. I could read it tomorrow and just love it. I love Mark Twain.

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

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Well, I’m going to go back to self-talk. It’s something that has really helped me separate out from those negatives that I mentioned earlier. Because when I talk to myself, it gives me an objective, I zoom out and I’m able to see the whole picture instead of just the myopic view that I had.

So, self-talk, in a way, it’s a certain way of self-talk though. It’s like I use my name, “Bryan, you know you can do this,” or, I say, “You know what, have you thought about this?” It’s almost like there’s someone else talking to me, and it widens my perspective, and it helps me see potential instead of just the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Yeah, it’s something I borrowed from John F. Kennedy. Some people listening may not remember this, but he had a famous quote that said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” And so, I borrowed that and changed it a little bit, and it’s, “Ask not how life is treating you. Ask how are you treating life.”

And what that means is we all have curve balls coming at us. That’s what life is. It’s joyful, there are wonderful things but we’re all going to have things happen to us that we don’t want. But what do we do that? Instead of focusing on, “Ain’t it awful? And ain’t it terrible? And, oh, my God, you won’t believe what happened to me,” which is what we tend to do, and that’s okay.

But if you can add to that, or flip it, and say, “So, what am I going to do with this? How can I turn this into something that will make my life better or benefit me? And how can I live from a higher state of mind as a result of this?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And can you tell us, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Well, my website is BryanRobinsonBooks.com. And so, they can, from that, find out how to get in touch with me. And they can also read more about some of the work I’ve done, the articles I’ve written for Forbes, and some of the books I’ve written, and even there are some films on there, and even see the pilot, the novel that’s called Limestone Gumption is on there, so.

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

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Well, what I’d ask everybody to do is, based on that last quote, because right now, people listening to this are struggling with certain things – fear, grief, anger – and that’s okay. That’s our humanity. But how can you flip that? For example, I can focus on my shortcomings but what are my tall comings? Pete, I don’t know if I ask you to list your tall comings, you might immediately think, “Well, I can do my shortcomings in a flash,” but you have to think a little bit about those tall comings sometimes.

Tall comings are just the opposite. It’s like what are you creative at? What are you good at? What are you talented at? What are your qualities that people are drawn to you for? That’s one. And have more green time with your screen time. So, I call it flipping, have a to-be list with your to-do list. If you’d focus on the negative and flip it, there’s always a positive side. You can’t have an up without a down. You can’t have a right without a left.

So, if we just teach ourselves to look more on the positive, and that’s not ignoring the negative, it’s adding to it. It’s seeing the whole picture. It can make a huge difference in our lives, in our health, and our longevity. We know that for a fact.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bryan, this has been a treat. Thank you for this. I wish you much luck with all your chilling.

Dr. Bryan Robinson
Thank you. Appreciate it. It’s been great being with you, Pete.

842: How to Thrive in High-Stakes Situations with Carol Kauffman

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Carol Kauffman says: "If anybody is going to get in your way, please don’t let it be you."

Carol Kauffman reveals her secrets for finding your calm in the biggest moments.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The super question to ask yourself dozens of times a day.
  2. How to avoid being hijacked by stress.
  3. How to find the best approach in any situation.

About Carol

Carol Kauffman is known internationally as a leader in the field of coaching. Carol works extensively with global CEOs and their teams, also serving as an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, visiting professor at Henley Business School (University of Reading, UK), and a senior leadership adviser at Egon Zehnder. Marshall Goldsmith named her the #1 leadership coach, and Thinkers50 ranked her among the world’s top eight coaches.

Resources Mentioned

Carol Kauffman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Carol, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Carol Kauffman
Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m super excited to talk about your latest, Real-Time Leadership: Find Your Winning Moves When the Stakes Are High. But, first, I need to hear about your first job with a violent horse. What is the scoop here?

Carol Kauffman
Oh, okay. That’s my very first job was a pooper scooper, yeah, because we had an illegal kennel in our home when I was growing up, so imagine having 30 dogs, and I’m not understanding why 101 dalmatians is unusual. So, yes, my job was to, one, do pooper scooper, but also was to let the dogs out in the correct order.

So, we’d have two whites, two browns, an apricot, and chocolate, and then you do it again and again and again, and everyone just thought it was the same jobs, the same dogs. So, that was the beginning of my life of crime. The violent horse thing happened by accident, where there was just this beautiful white horse of every girl’s dreams, and I walked in because I was taking horseback riding lessons, and there was a lesson going on.

And I knew I wasn’t supposed to be in there, so I just sort of walked in, and there was a window and a bucket in front of us so I had to turn my back to the horse to look outside to make sure my lesson wasn’t happening. And what I didn’t know was that according to Monty Roberts, who was the original horse whisperer, when you have a naughty horse or a violent one, you turn your back on it by 45 degrees, which is exactly what I had done.

And when I did that, the horse came over and started befriending me. And then that was the beginning of learning about, first of all, nonverbal behavior, and how to relate to animals that everyone is scared of. But if you treat them right, they befriend you rather than attack you, which is what he did to everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful to pick up from an early age. Good stuff.

Carol Kauffman
That was wonderful, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, talking about your book here, Real-Time Leadership, is there a particularly surprising or counterintuitive discovery you made along the way here that really struck you?

Carol Kauffman
Well, that’s interesting. Probably the one thing, I’m not so sure it was counterintuitive, but what’s really striking is how a split-second intervention can make a big difference. And that’s almost cliché but it’s really powerful when you see it. So, I can talk about that a little bit. Marshall Goldsmith has kind of gone crazy with one of my questions, but it is really amazing. If you stop and make a space, even very quickly, it can be really powerful what happens as a result of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I just have to know Marshall went crazy with one of your questions. What was the question? And in what way did he go crazy?

Carol Kauffman
I’m not going to tell you, sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Carol Kauffman
So, the question was, it was New Year’s one year, and you know how we all have the “What I’m going to do…” like my New Year’s resolution is always, “What am I going to do?” and this year, I’m like, “Really, I’m just going to do the same resolution, and it’s going to last six weeks and then be gone again.” So, the question came to me, instead of what I want to do, it was, “Who do I want to be right now?”

So, I’d love for you and people listening to try it and ask yourself that question 20 to 80 times, like today or tomorrow, like, the waiter is slow, and you’re really hungry. Okay, who do you want to be? Maybe someone has given you a project that they’re working on, and it’s really subpar, and you really knew they could’ve done better. Oh, at that, who do you want to be?

Or, you’re giving someone a report you’ve written, okay, who do you want to be? So, that is this very split-second kind of course-correction question. And why Marshall loved it is he felt, I’m not entirely sure why, but he felt…what he says is, “I’ve read 500 books on Buddhism and this is the best description of mindfulness I’ve ever heard.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. There you go. Grab that quote.

Carol Kauffman
Yeah. So, that is really powerful. That’s probably one of the most powerful things that I think comes from the book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s good. That’s good. Well, I visited Marshall’s home, and it’s cool to see all the Buddhism stuff, so, yeah, maybe that’ll be inscribed somewhere in there over time. All right. Well, let’s hear about the book Real-Time Leadership. What’s sort of the big idea or main thesis here?

Carol Kauffman
Okay. Building off of that, the book, I love the quote by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning, which is, “Between every stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space lies our freedom.” Okay, so that’s good, making a space. But then, like, what do you do with that space?

So, the entire book is if you can stop and create a space, instead of having your default reaction or your automatic reaction, and you make a world of choice there, what we then do for the whole book, which is, as Marshall says, “It’s dense in a good way,” we literally go through, “What are four sets of things you can do when you’ve made space that are going to help you towards optimal performance but also towards being a better human being?”

So, it’s make that space for choice, and then have an idea of, like, what to do in that space.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, could you share with us an inspiring story of someone who did just that, maybe in a particular high-stakes, high-risk situation, or habitually, and saw really cool results from that?

Carol Kauffman
Okay. I think the first example that comes to my mind, now this was someone who wanted to be a CEO but it applies in any difficult interview that you’ve had. So, he was in front doing the first two days, the first day of the interview. He was really convinced that what it was he really needed to do was wow them. So, he didn’t make a space to consider if that was true or not. So, he was giving them lots and lots and lots and lots of information, and I think we all can do that when we’re applying for a job.

And we think that they just want to know how much we know, so we spit it all out. But he saw that he was sort of losing the attention of people, and then they were getting restless. And so, he just did more of it, and, finally, it’s crashing, and he just sort of tries to maintain good posture and dignity, and walks out. And, like, what is he going to do the next day.

What did he get wrong? That’s when we talk about. We have this acronym M-O-V-E, and the M stands for being mindfully alert. And mindfully alert to, “What are the external demands you need to meet?” In this case, he wanted the job, etc. “What are the internal challenges you have so that you’re able to meet that demand? And then, how do you need to relate to people?”

What happened was he left, then he called David and me, but also the head of the non gov committee, the nominating governance committee, called and said, “We think he’s out. We had somebody else.” So, then we talked to him, and really said, “Well, what is it that you’re really trying to do?” And that’s a question we don’t ask ourselves enough, like, “What are we actually trying to do? What’s your reflex? And can you make space and think about it? Like, hold on, what do you really need to accomplish?”

And in his case, it was to be making a connection with the board so they would feel safe putting him into this position, and to also take their perspective. So, his perspective was, “Let me throw a bunch of things at you.” Their perspective is, “How many things can I absorb?” So, one of the things about it is,  “How can you know what you need to do? How can you know who you need to be?”

And in this case, he had a lot of emotion regulation and was able to change course the next day, and he was able to also transcend his ego, so he could see, “Oh, I did that, and that’s on me, not on them.” And then he could interact with them differently. So, that’s one of the kind of core concepts of the book, and of Real-Time Leadership, and it also works at home, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear that story as well.

Carol Kauffman
Okay. I love this story. My son, Michael, who’s now a mechanical engineer, when he was 11, I walked into the dining room and there’s this, like, unholy mess on the dining room table. I walked in, and he says, “Okay, I’m done with my homework. Can I watch TV now?” Okay, so now remember the three dimensions of leadership: what do we need to do, who do I need to be, how do I need to relate. And we are leaders at home. We are leaders with our peers. We’re leaders in lots of ways.

So, the first question is, “What do we need to do?” And the reflex is, “Get the homework done.” So, you go over and, like, for instance, this unholy mess and there’s scribble marks everywhere. And I was working on the book, I thought, “Wait a minute. What is my actual goal here? Is my goal to just get this homework done? Or is my goal to help him learn how to be disciplined? Or is my goal to have him love learning? Or is my goal having him watch his parent be chill and talk with him under stress so that he can be more like that? Like, what is your goal?”

And we just assume it’s like, “Get the homework done,” the reflex. So, we’re saying, “Stop. Make a space.” Okay, so there’s that. Then, well, who do I want to be in that moment? It’s at the end of the day, have I done enough investing in my own emotion regulation so that I’m able to stop as opposed to, “I’m tired. I’m cranky. I don’t want this”? So, that’s my internal development.

And then, “Okay, what’s the best way to relate to Michael at this moment? Is it to get really involved and help him get the homework done? Is it to give him space? Is it to be nurturant? Or is it just pause and not do anything?” And that’s actually the second part of the model about your options. But, actually, the hardest one is to do nothing, particularly when you’re triggered and annoyed.

So, I, like, stop and did nothing for a moment. And when you do that, it’s sort of like it mimics in the shower or when you go running, and an idea hits, but if you can just pause, see what comes to you. And what popped into my head was a question. So, I just said, “So, Michael, I want you to ask yourself a question, and then, depending on the answer, you can go watch TV. I want you to just look at this and just ask yourself, ‘Am I proud of my work?’ And if you’re proud of your work, you can go watch TV.” And I left the room.

And he maybe spent two or three extra minutes taking a look at it and decided that he was proud enough and he maybe did something, but it had an impact on him in terms of me in that role, giving him space, trusting him, and then giving him an opportunity to be self-motivated.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what happened in the end?

Carol Kauffman
Well, he stayed there about two or three minutes, and did a little bit. Then he went in to watch TV, but I have to say it did something very good for our relationship. And even today, now that he’s a grownup, he’ll often call me for coaching. And very often, he’ll ask me something, and I’ll say, “Okay, as your mother, the patent is yours, throw somebody else under the bus? As a coach, let’s think through what’s your real goal here now that you have got this patent and who you should share it with?”

So, I think that’s probably the big takeaway is it really helped our relationship, and he is a very much self-motivated learner.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s hear these four steps, the MOVE framework, M-O-V-E. Can you walk us through each of them?

Carol Kauffman
Yes, I can. Okay, so M, I’ll name them and then go through, and then you can sort of decide which one that our listeners would be most interested in. So, M is to be mindfully alert, O is to be an options generator, and there’s an article on that in Harvard Business Review this month.

Then V is to validate your vantage point. And E is you engage and effect change. So, we did a little on M already. So, M is being mindfully alert, mindful in terms of not prejudging things, alert like an athlete. Very agile, aware of what’s going on, and being able to respond. And a big part of that being the three dimensions of leadership that I talked about, “What do I need to do? Who do I need to be? How do I need to relate?”

Now, the options generator is when I work with people, and, again, this can be top of the house, this could be me, this could be you’re writing a report, you could be a novelist, you could be an engineer, anything. For any challenge, I want you to have four options available to you. And the options really stem from evolutionary theory and our four reflexes, which are fight, flight, freeze, and befriend.

And we all kind of have a natural one. Lots of us are naturally we sort of lean in and engage. Others of us kind of like look back and take the overview. Others go to nurturing, and others go to sort of reflecting. And we talk about these as the four stances. So, what is a stance you can take? And we translate that into, in a situation, “Do you lean in and really engage?”

You can engage with enthusiasm. You can engage with an edge. You can engage like a Rugby player or a ballerina. But do you lean in? Or, are you able to also make the choice to lean back, kind of look at the overview, get on the balcony, think about the data, rational-think it through, and then proceed with that?

Then the third one is leaning with, and that is sort of caring. And the idea of someone has done something to help you, you want to help them. Or, on a bigger scale, it’s your culture. But that third way is being nurturant. And the fourth way is to not lean at all. And that is when something is thrown at you, “Do you have the capacity to tolerate the silence? Do you have the capacity to not be triggered and just sort of stay in your space?” So, that’s the options generator.

The validate your vantage point, 75% of business failures are due to overconfidence, so you’re not validating your vantage point. And we have a number of ways to figure out, “Is my vantage point accurate? If I was going to see something incorrectly, what is it that I’m most likely to do? How does my personality impact what I see?” bunches of stuff, and then unconscious bias as well.

So, mindfully alert, options generator, validate your vantage point, and then how can you engage and effect change. And for engage, it’s really like, first of all, how do you just really connect to the people that you are leading? And it doesn’t mean you’re their leader, you can be their colleague but you’re trying to get something done. How do you send the right signals, hear back what people are reflecting to you, and then adjust?

And each one of those are all ways to make space. Like, you’ve got that space, what do you do with it? And you can take yourself through the M-O-V-E to get a sense of what’s the best way to proceed right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really cool. And I’d love it if you could share with us a few examples that illustrate that very clearly, “Oh, here we are being mindfully alert, and then generating options, and validating the vantage point, and engaging and effecting change.”

Carol Kauffman
Sure. I’m going to hop into one of my examples of the lean in and lean back. And when I came up with the idea, I was coaching this guy that I call Max. And Max, his very dear friend had become his boss, and this relationship had just gone to hell in a handbasket. She was micromanaging him. He had a whole fund that was going to be used for one thing, and she actually took it away. And it was so bad that at the end of the day, he would say, “You know, I would only make appointments for her at the end of the day, sort of immediately go home and have a martini.”

Okay, so lean in. So, he had, like, “I need to manage this,” blah, blah, blah, and I’m, like, right there with him. And he then says, “After she micromanages, and this and that, and then she starts confiding in me and telling me secrets, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, like, she’s a sociopath. Like, this is so manipulative.’”

And just as I’m about to go with that energy, I’m like, “Stop. Make a space.” So, this, really, you can use this just for yourself as a coach as well as in a leadership position. So, I stopped and thought, “Okay, let’s lean back.” So, I then said, “So, Max, let’s pause for a minute. What might be going on in the overview? Like, what’s the bigger picture here?”

And then he could see how the leadership team over her was really, really coming down on her, huge pressure, and that, in fact, she was kind of passing that along because she was under such intensity, but it helped him to kind of be able to chill a little bit. Then I thought of the next one, which was, in this case, don’t lean.

I was actually afraid to ask him this because I thought he would get mad at me, which was, I said, “So, listen, Max, you get your way in the end, and you even got all your funds back. Why is her behavior even bothering you?” And that was sort of a curve ball question for him, and a good one for us to ask when we’re activated to really go, “Wait, why is this bothering me? Does this really need to bother me? Do I need to be triggered right now?”

That takes me back to, “Who do I want to be right now? What am I really trying to accomplish?” So, all of this, you can see they’re intertwined. But then, okay, so he’s like, “Well, that’s interesting.” And, again, it helped him make a little more space. Then the last one with him was to think about leaning with. And so then, I said, “So, listen, she used to be, like, one of your good friends, and you’re describing all this pressure that she’s under. What if your goal…” okay, remember the external goal, “What if your goal in the next time you met with her was just for her to feel better at the end of the meeting?”

And that was just a real shocker for him, and he remembered, “Oh, right, we used to be friends, and she’s under so much pressure.” So, what you could see was, if we linked this together now, so those were the four stanzas, but you can see how it’s connected to “What do I need to do? Who do I need to be? And how do I need to relate?”

But also, we were also secretly doing vantage point because it’s like, “Wait a minute, you have this perspective, your point of view is that she’s doing this on purpose, and that she’s something that rhymes with witch, and that this is, again, volition on her part, and it’s about power.” And his anger and his triggering had really clouded his thinking.

And we all fill in the dots with our hopes and our fears, and he was then able to see more clearly. And then, in terms of being able to engage and effect change, in this case, it was just, “Okay, I just want to engage with her as a human being,” and it got much better for a while.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. Well, now I’d love it if you could maybe share a top do and don’t for each of the four steps in the framework? Like, “Hey, when it comes to being mindfully alert, you probably want to do this, you probably don’t want to do that.”

Carol Kauffman
Okay, so here it is. Let’s say I’m going to have a difficult conversation. What do I want to do? What do I not want to do? So, if I think about being mindfully alert, and I’m about to have a difficult conversation with someone, first question is, “What do I really want to accomplish? And then what do I not want to accomplish?”

So, in this particular situation, someone had cost me a massive amount of stress and finances, and I was aware that when I was thinking about the conversation, part of me just wanted to, pardon the expression, just wanted to put her nose in the pee-pee, I mean, “Look what you did to me.” And it’s like, “No. Like, what really needs to be done now and what really is the ultimate goal, not what is it that’s going to make me feel better in this moment?”

So, do make a space to think about what you really want to do. In that case, for a difficult conversation, go back to the homework example, so there. And then, “Who do I want to be?” Well, what you want to be able to do is remember your strengths. You don’t necessarily want to, like, dive into all the ways you’re inadequate. It’s like, “Yeah, okay, I’ve got a lot of flaws but here’s the things that I do need to do right.”

Then, in terms of, “How do I need to relate?” what you want to do is what I call the platinum rule, and you do not want to do the golden rule. So, the golden rule, it’s a fairly low bar in some ways, which is, “Okay, so, Pete, we’re in a situation, and it’s, like, I should treat you the way that I want to be treated.” But what if it what works for you is not at all what works for me?

Let’s say I’m a super extrovert and you’re an introvert, and you’re having a hard time with something. Well, as an extrovert, I might think, “Oh, Pete, you need a pep talk, and this, and that, and this, and that,” and inside you’re going, “Oh, dear Lord, just leave me alone. I need to think.” So, you don’t do the golden rule, give to others, treat others as you would want to be treated. You do the platinum rule, which is treat others as they would want to be treated. So, that, if we just go through the M, those are some do’s and some don’ts.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then with the O-V-E?

Carol Kauffman
Okay. So, with the O, what you want to do is remember you’re being mindfully alert. What you want to do is choose. So, when it comes to leaning in, even that tough conversation or you’re leading a merger and acquisition, like, “Do I lean in and get tough? Do I lean back and get the data?” So, the point is be aware of your default, that’s the do. The don’t is automatically go with your default because it’s the easiest thing to do.

So, be aware of what the four stances are, and then challenge yourself. So, you may be someone, for example, that when you do something, you like to go big, and you like to go fast, and you want to get it done. Well, like lean in, it’s like, “Well, wait a minute. What would it look like if I went slower and I was more careful?”

So, the point for me isn’t that you do the one that say, “I might think is better.” It’s that you could really visualize, “Here’s four different ways. I could go in strong, do something big. I could go in more gentle and do a series of smaller things. I could think about people first and not the outcome. And I could able to be more reflective.” So, I want someone to know what the four paths would be like and able to make space to choose.

So, the do is know the range of how you could be, and the don’t is go with your gut automatically. Although, sometimes going with your gut is the right thing to do, but it should be choice and not automatic.

Pete Mockaitis
And then when it comes to validating, are there any favorite approaches that could give you a boatload of clear validation or invalidation of your hypothesis for what’s up here?

Carol Kauffman
Yeah, so the don’t is don’t assume you’re right. Also, don’t assume you’re wrong. Don’t assume. Start out with, “This is what I think,” and then allow yourself a moment and space, and say, “Do I actually agree with myself? Am I seeing clearly? Do I have rose-colored glasses on, charcoal glasses on? Am I near sighted or far sighted?”

So, for example, near sighted, if you’re in a sort of subject-matter-expert role, you can see things up near really, really well but you may not have the hundred-mile view that a CEO does. But then, let’s say you’re CEO and you’re far sighted, but there’s stuff going on right under your face that you don’t know, you can’t see up close very well. So, it’s knowing what your strength is and how to balance it.

And then a big one for validate your vantage point is, again, know, “Do I tend to doubt myself too much? Or, do I tend to be overconfident? And then, what are my biases? And how can I begin to know what I don’t know that I don’t know?” The answer is ask people a lot and get over yourself. So, I would say that was the V. And the big thing is we do connect the dots with our hopes and fears.

So, one of the guys who helped with the book, my co-author, David Noble, was friends with him, was a retired four-star general. And I didn’t even know there weren’t a lot of four-star generals, he’s like, “Carol, there’s only been one five-star general,” which I didn’t know, like Einsenhower. There’s like two four-star generals. Really nice guy, really like small and very, very pleasant. But he’s like, he would be in charge of the Iraq theater, and he’s like, “You want to fight the war you have, not the war you want.”

And so, bringing that down to us, is we want to be reality-based with what’s really going on, not with our wishful thinking, and not hijacked by our fears. So, that’s sort of the V.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then with engaging?

Carol Kauffman
With that, what you want to be able to do is send clear signals. And a big mistake we make, personally, one of my favorite mistakes because I make a lot, is I believe I have been achingly clear in what it is I’m asking, and others aren’t. So, I think I’m being very clear on my intent, and I now know that my automatic belief when I engage is I’ve got to be very clear on communicating my intent.

So, one example that we see a lot with leaders is they tend to think people can read their minds. Like, I’m having a meeting, so you and I and a couple people were having a meeting, and we’re brainstorming. And then I’m just stunned when I find out that you went out and did all those things because, hey, we were just brainstorming, but I wasn’t clear about that signal.

I didn’t say, “Hey, we’re just brainstorming now. For Pete’s sake,” pun intended, “For Pete’s sake, don’t go out and do anything. This is a brainstorm.” And how to kind of sign-post so people aren’t running around. But it’s amazing how unclear you can be when you think you’re being clear.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s a lot of good stuff, Carol. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Carol Kauffman
At the end of the day, what I’m really hoping for is that this material doesn’t just help you at work but it helps you at home and it helps you step into all that you can be, that it really can help you become an extraordinary person, and for you not to put blocks in front of yourself. As I say, if anybody is going to get in your way, please don’t let it be you.

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

Carol Kauffman
Well, of course, there’s the stimulus and response one that I really love.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Carol Kauffman
Ahh, so much. The one researcher that I love is a man named Richard Boyatzis, a neuropsychologist at Case Western Reserve. And you should get him on your show some time. What he’s done is really looked at what part of our brain is activated when we’re in an interaction. And, basically, it’s every interaction is neurological, that you’re activating the threat or the reward system of the other person.

And that’s the sympathetic is the threat, and the parasympathetic is the reward system. So, in any interaction, that’s going on. And if you want to have a positive influence on someone, you will activate the parasympathetic nervous system. So, even if they’ve messed up, you’ll say, “So, listen, we really wanted to do this, and this, and this, and we kind of missed it, but let’s figure this out together. What still went right even though…?”

So, how do you really create this very active psychologically safe and caring environment? And then when you do that, you can then challenge people with them still staying safe. So, it’s a combination of Richard Boyatzis’ and Amy Edmondson at Harvard Business School. And she’s the one who’s done all the psychological safety work. And those two sets of research, I think, really guide me, they guide me a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Carol Kauffman
Favorite book, I’ve got a gazillion favorite books. For some reason, the one that I really loved recently was I read the book Circe. I can’t remember who wrote it now. It’s just a fabulous, fabulous rendering of the gods in a way that you’d never be able to think on your own. I’m also reading, of course, there’s Thinking, Fast and Slow with Danny Kahneman, and that’s one is great. And then the ones by Marty Seligman. Those are probably the ones that got me on this path to begin with. And I love historical novels. I’m reading historical novels all the time.

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

Carol Kauffman
I have a bunch of mantras. This one that really helps me a lot is, “I’m not in control of my destiny but I am in control of my probabilities.” So, “What is it that I can do to increase the likelihood that I’m going to be able to achieve what I want?” Not, “Am I going to achieve what I want?” because that’s linear and true success is much more kind of uncertain and nonlinear. So, that’s something that I keep in mind a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Carol Kauffman
A favorite habit. Probably the favorite habit is what I was talking about earlier of asking myself, “Who do I want to be right now?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, are there any other super questions that you go to a lot?

Carol Kauffman
I’ll tell you one that I really, really like, which is this. Say you’re thinking of doing something, if you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you want to do?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Carol Kauffman
Yup. And one of the things we ask in the book a lot is something we call the ten of ten question, which is, “If I’m going to do something, if I was a ten out of ten, what would it look like?” And then I’d ask myself, “Okay, on that scale, what am I now?” Let’s say I’m a seven, and then the important question is to ask, “What am I doing right that I’m not a six or a 6.5?” And then, “What could I do over the next eight weeks to get from a seven to a 7.5?”

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a favorite quote of yours, something you share that really resonates with folks, they quote frequently?

Carol Kauffman
Well, I like some of my own quotes. I have a bunch of things called Carolisms. So, one of them is, “If anyone is going to get in your way, please don’t let it be you.” The, “I’m not in charge of my destiny, but I am in charge of my probabilities.” And what is the other? I guess it’s just people often ask me to give talks on confidence, and I say that’s fine except I don’t believe in it.

So, the other one is “Confidence is irrelevant. What matters is your purpose and what you’re trying to do because confidence is simply a pleasant subjective emotional experience, and it is not a requirement to do anything at all.”

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

Carol Kauffman
If you remember my name, Carol Kauffman, two Fs, one N, you can just Google me, Carol Kauffman, CarolKauffman.com. And if you’d like to buy the book, Amazon hardback, just Google “Real-Time Leadership,” and it’ll get you to Amazon.

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

Carol Kauffman
Make sure that whatever you’re doing, you really want to be doing it from the inside out, not from the outside in.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Carol, this has been a treat. I wish you many great winning moves.

Carol Kauffman
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, that’s the recording. Thank you.

817: How to Navigate Complexity and Win with Jennifer Garvey Berger

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Jennifer Garvey Berger shares how we can all tap into our natural capabilities to overcome the challenges of complexity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How uncertainty affects your nervous system
  2. The secret to boosting your nervous system
  3. How laughter helps you be more awesome 

About Jennifer

Jennifer Garvey Berger is Chief Cultivating Officer and Founder of Cultivating Leadership, a consultancy that serves executives and executive teams in the private, non-profit, and government sectors. Her clients include Google, Microsoft, Novartis, Wikipedia, and Oxfam International. She is the author of Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World. 

Resources Mentioned

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Jennifer Garvey Berger Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jennifer, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s great to have you and I appreciate you being up and with us in France. It’s a bit of a different time zone situation. And I understand you’ve lived in New Zealand, England, and France. I’m curious if you’ve picked up any wisdom having lived in different places around the world that us, Yankees, who have not lived outside the US might appreciate.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
You know, we moved to New Zealand in 2006, and one of the first things I noticed is that when you move from a country like the US, where I was born and grew up, to a tiny country in the corner of the world, if you can imagine a world having a corner, New Zealand would be in it, it was just amazing how much New Zealanders were engaged with the whole world because New Zealand itself was a little bit too small to be just engaged with New Zealand. And I found that curiosity about the whole world is very interesting in such a small country so far from everybody else. It taught me to be a little bit more curious, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. And I’ve been surprised at how, when I talk to people from other countries, they have a knowledge and interest in some of the happenings in sort of in the United States politics, it’s like, “Boy, I don’t think I can name your president or king or prime minister. I don’t think I even know,” shamefully, “what head of state title that you use over there. Excuse me.” And so, yeah, I do feel a little bit sheepish or embarrassed at how there does seem to be an awareness and engagement in a broader circle than just a narrow view of that country itself.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
It was amazing. I used to get into taxicabs and say where I wanted to go, and they would pick my accent, and then they would start asking me detailed questions about American politics. And I’d be like, “Wow, I don’t know the answer to that question. I haven’t even had that question myself. That’s amazing.” That’s amazing. So, yes, the kind of open curiosity about how the rest of the world works is, I think, it’s easier to attain when you’re not the big guy.

Pete Mockaitis
That makes sense. Well, let’s talk about attaining some complexity genius-ness. Your book is called Unleash Your Complexity Genius: Growing Your Inner Capacity to Lead. That sounds like a handy thing to have. But before we get into the depths, could you first share, precisely what do you mean by complexity?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Yeah, so complexity is, for many of us, it’s what makes our lives so tiring right now. Complexity is that which has so many intersecting parts, so many interactions from so many places that you can’t figure out what’s going to happen next, no one person can control anything, and the outcomes that come out of it are, they call them, emergent. They can’t be predicted and they are a feature of all of those intersecting lines and relationships and conversations, and all those sorts of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, I think a lot of larger organizations seem to have that going for them, or against them, as the case may be in terms of intersecting departments, and responsibilities, and stakeholders, and decision matrices, or processes, and things to be followed. It certainly can be overwhelming, so becoming a genius in this domain sounds very handy.

Could you kick us off by sharing a particularly surprising, or counterintuitive, or extra fascinating discovery you’ve made about this stuff while researching the topic and working with folks in this zone?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
The first idea that I found amazing was that we do have the genius for it. The book I wrote before this one is called Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps, and that book, I researched all the ways we stink at complexity, to be honest, the way our bodies and our brains work against our ability to handle complexity well.

And you talk about the complexity of an office. There’s also the complexity of COVID, there’s the complexity of relationships, there’s the complexity of living in a city right now. Life is really uncertain, unpredictable, and it has lots of these intersecting pieces. And my last book was to try and figure out how are we not good at that. Like, what are the patterns of our not-goodness?

And so, the first question I took on when we were researching this book is “Are there ways we’re really good at this? Are there ways we actually do have a genius for it?” So, the first aha I had was, “Wow, we have so much in us that’s great at handling complexity.” We have so many natural human attributes that when we rely on them, when we lean into them, we can handle complexity with grace and style and creativity and awesomeness.

And the kicker is, it turns out, when we are in a complex situation, our body understands that as a threat and all the awesomeness goes away. So, we’re great at handling complexity until it gets complex, and then we’re not good at it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the body, is that sort of like a stress response-type situation going on there, cortisol, etc.?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
The classic stress response.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And just to triple check that we’re on the same page, we and us in this context just means humanity, human beings?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
That’s what I mean.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
All of us. As far as we can tell from the research, this is like a natural thing. My guess is it’s different across populations, but in the research that I came to, uncertainty is actually metabolized by the body as threat. And your body doesn’t know whether you’re feeling uncertain about what the stock market is going to do, or whether you feel uncertain about whether something is going to jump out and eat you. And so, what your body does is it prepares you to be narrowed, to be self-protective, and to run like crazy. None of these things are that useful in complexity.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so could you give us an example of how, there’s some complexity that shows up, and then we have a stress response that is suboptimal that professionals could relate to?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
I think we kind of know this when we walk into a meeting and we think we know exactly what the agenda is and what our role is in it, and, suddenly, there are different people in the room or on the teams or Zoom, or whatever, than we expected, and it looks like our job is going to be different than we thought it was going to be in that meeting, and we don’t know what it is.

I’m guessing everybody has some experience of sweaty palms, and shallow breath, and wide eyes trying to figure out, “What am I supposed to do here? How am I supposed to show up here?” And that kind of narrow-minded focus that might actually take us out of the meeting, it might be like people are talking and we hear, “Waah, waah, waah” in the background. We don’t even know what’s going on particularly because we are so…what our body is saying is run. That’s our body’s main message.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. Well, Jennifer, I’m encouraged by what you say there with regard to the stress response is natural for all of us when there’s a switcheroo going on, because I’m thinking about the CliftonStrengths assessment, puts adaptability for me, personally, as one of my very bottommost strengths. They don’t use the word weaknesses but I know, like bottommost strengths is adaptability.

And so, when I encounter a switcheroo, I do feel something like, “Huh? What? What’s going on? I thought we were doing this. Well, this is the time that we establish for that, but, apparently, we’re not doing that.” And so, I can get there, I can calm down. I just merely need a moment to process, reassess, like, “Okay, before we were going to do this. However, the contexts have shifted in this way, and now we’re doing that. Okay, kind reorienting, reprogramming, repositioning. All right. So, now, let’s talk about this new thing.”

And sometimes it feels like other people are just like rolling with it, and I’m a little late to the party. But it sounds reassuring that everybody has some kind of a feeling of this when there’s a shift-up going on.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Oh, I think so. I think so. And whatever the size shift is that changes our reactions, there’s research that shows that people are generally more satisfied with their life conditions if they’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness than if they’re diagnosed with something that may or may not be terminal. This is like mindblowing for me.

So, that if you know that your illness is terminal, it calms you down, “I know what’s going to happen next. I can predict this thing. I know where we’re going.” But if you don’t know, your nervous system is activated, “I don’t know where this is going. Is it going to be diagnosed as terminal? What’s going to happen to me?” Living in that uncertainty is harder than even living in the ultimate certainty of your own demise.

For me, this is like an example of the ways uncertainty is really not that friendly to our bodies. We just do not like this thing unless we go to a movie, in which case, then we like it. We like it in the movies. We don’t like it in our real lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s just really striking and I’m chewing on that right now. And I guess I’m thinking, if that’s true, then it seems the natural implication to me is maybe our best strategy is to assume that it is a terminal illness, and then you have that certainty for now, and then maybe you’ll, I don’t know, have a second…well, sometimes, when people discover this tragic news, they really do live life to the full, sometimes, and that could be inspiring.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
That’s absolutely true.

Pete Mockaitis
And then you may have a pleasant surprise, “Actually, you’re going to live longer.” It’s like, “Oh, cool.” So, anyway, I might be way oversimplifying things here, Jennifer, but that’s what sort of what I’m thinking. It’s like, if that’s how we work, maybe we’re better off just assuming the worst and being delightfully surprised if our assumptions are incorrect. Is that one useful strategy?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
I’m guessing, in some situations that is a useful strategy, but we’ve all been thrown by COVID, and we all know that our travel plans for a business trip or a holiday might be upended at the last minute. We can’t plan for the worst all the time, and not make plans or else we wouldn’t go anywhere. And so, we do sometimes have to throw ourselves into the game, and, in the game, we know that there are things we’re going to be able to predict, and then there’s just a ton we’re not going to be able to predict.

And getting our bodies able to handle that and you did it just a minute ago when you were talking about the great switch-up, and you became frazzled for a moment, and then you realized, I mean, you were fake-frazzled, but you realized you were fake-frazzled, and you breathed and you noticed and you calmed yourself down.

And this is the first thing for us to do is to notice, “Oh, I feel frazzled now. How do I return to my body? How do I return to my breath?” because it turns out, we can, in fact, switch on the part of the nervous system that is helpful for us in complexity and that it brings online all the things we want. We can actually switch it on on purpose.

It switches off when we face into complexity, but there are all these moves we can make, short-term and longer-term moves that mean we get to be the boss of our nervous system, to a certain extent. And that is amazing. To be able to hack into this thing that humans have just been able to just run in the background, now we need to hack into it, and there are ways to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing, and I’m just imagining the nervous system saying, “You’re not the boss of me.” You’re saying, “Yes, I am.” So, lay it on us, how do we become the boss of our nervous system?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
So, the first thing is we need to notice it. I think everything starts with noticing, which is why having this conversation is great because before I did the research for this book, I’m not sure how much I noticed my nervous system, to be honest. I think it just ran, right? And, now, after having done the research that we did and really thinking about it, there are all kinds of ways we can notice.

We can notice our breathing, we can notice our heart rate, we can notice the way we’re sitting or standing or moving, how fast we’re talking. We can notice all these things, and you’ll have some constellation of things that can alert you all. My sympathetic nervous system, my stress bone, my fight or flight often people call it, nervous system is running the show right now. It’s not a help in this situation. I don’t need to fight or flee from anybody right now. It’s a meeting. I need to be here.

And once we notice that we’re in this place, the next thing we can do is change our breathing, just as you did in your example. Just like your mama told you, to take three deep breaths before going any further. Actually, your mama was right, because deep breaths that push out the diaphragm, and that have a slower exhale, those actually activate this complexity-friendly nervous system. They switch our nervous systems. We have the switch at hand all the time.

And I think we could use that switch all the time. We could use it 80 times a day. And most of the folks I work with need to be reminded that they have this thing right with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And when it comes to deep breathing, any pro tips, do’s or don’ts to make that work for you? This has come up before, but I’ve got the Breathwork app in my phone. I think it’s fun and there are so many varieties in terms of, “And for these many times, for that, through the nose, through the mouth, through alternating nostrils.” Like, “Oh, okay, that’s fancy.” So, any pro tips on is there a deep-breathing approach that maximally helps us here?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
As far as I can tell, the deep breathing approach that helps you the most is the one you can learn to use in your meeting, where alternating nostril breathing is harder when the accounting team is looking at you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, the people is like, “What are you doing over there?”

Jennifer Garvey Berger
So, something that you can remember. I’ve talked to many people about this. Sometimes people find that counting your breath is super helpful, and other people find, “When I count my breath, it makes me stress out.” You do you and figure out what’s the good thing. The thing that we know helps the nervous system.

Slower exhales than inhales and your diaphragm moving. Both of those things are important. If you can tick those two boxes, all the others, yes, they’re incredibly varied states that you can get into with your breath. I’m just trying to get us prepared to handle complexity, and those two boxes will do.

Pete Mockaitis
So, slower exhales than inhales means it might be like inhaling for a count of four-ish, and exhaling for a count of eight-ish, for example.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Exactly. That’s exactly right. It turns out that when you inhale, an inhale activates your fight or flight nervous system, and an exhale activates your complexity-friendly nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system. And so, if you can activate one more than the other, that’s a win.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then how much how long would we need to do this breathing? Can I see results in 10 seconds? Or, is three minutes a super sweet spot? Or, what do you recommend?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
I think you can start to see results in three breaths.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
I think it’s best.

Pete Mockaitis
So, three breaths will do something. And would 30 breaths do more?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Again, if you have time and space to drop into some meditative state, maybe. The thing I like about breath work is it’s so fast. And so, dropping into a meditative state is always good. If you can do it, that’s excellent. Again, hard to do in a meeting without people thinking you’re odd or not present or whatever. Unless you all do it together, then that’s fun. But if you’re just trying to manage your own nervous system, watching your breath is helpful.

By the way, if you have a team of people and everybody in the meeting is agitated, having your breath be a little bit audible, slowing down your breath, and having it be audible just for one or two breaths will actually make others in the meeting also slow their breathing, and you’ll hear other people also kind of sigh. And then you are not just deactivating your stress response. You’re beginning to deactivate the stress responses of the people around you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I’m curious if you have any nifty research or numbers which suggests, “Hey, this is just how much smarter you’re going to be simply by taking three-ish breaths.”

Jennifer Garvey Berger
I don’t have any research about breath. There’s really good research about sleep, which is another genius that’s really good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s talk about sleep.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Let’s talk about sleep. I happen to know you recently had a bay.

Pete Mockaitis
I sure did.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
And so, my guess is you know a lot more about sleep deprivation than most humans right now from the experiment you’re running in your own life. But sleep is I always have to figure out how to phrase this because it’s the least helpful thing in the world for people who aren’t getting enough sleep to find out how stress-inducing it is for them to need to get more sleep.

So, I want to say we could all do just a little bit better. By and large, the modern life we live interrupts our sleep in a way that’s not very helpful. And if we begin to work on it a little bit more and a little bit more, then we can actually take sleep as a piece of our job. How to be awesome at your job? You prioritize sleep. It turns out that the sleep you get early in the night helps you code the things that you did yesterday into your long-term memory and transfers them to long-term memory. That’s helpful.

The sleep you get later in the night, like the early morning sleep, that helps you code people’s faces as less threatening. So, if you cut off the sleep in the early part of the night and the early part of the morning, you go to bed late and you wake up early, then you’re going to go to bed not remembering quite what happened yesterday, and also thinking everybody’s out to get you, which these are not helpful. These are not helpful ways of connecting with your world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, sleep, one key thing is to just get in bed, turn off the lights, at a reasonable hour. Do the math associated with when you got to wake up and then when you got to go to bed. Any other pro tips on sleeping that is novel for folks?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
I think, for me, the most novel thing is, and it sounds boring, I know it sounds boring, is that we have to think about our sleep during the day. We have to actually plan our night sleep the way we would plan our workout, or our dinner, or whatever else we do that’s good for us. And I believe that sleep is a part of our job.

And I used to treat it as like sleep was the inconvenient thing that happened when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. And I did it until I could stand to wake up. Like, this was how I treated sleep. And now I understand that treating sleep that way, as if it’s kind of an annoyance, really reduced my commitment to creating the conditions in my life to get good sleep.

And now, I prioritize, I really prioritize, “What does it mean for what hours I’ll take phone calls? What does it mean for what hours I’ll have caffeine? What does it mean for what hours I’ll have alcohol?” I really prioritize sleep because I understand that it creates the conditions for my nervous system to be smooth and happy, as well as there’s awful lot of other stuff it does, but that’s what I lean into.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you said you have some hot numbers associated with just how much dumber sleep deprivation is making us.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Numbers are not exactly my thing. I can point you in the direction of numbers. I’m good with metaphors. If you’re looking at my StrengthsFinder, you would find me with in the strengths in the metaphors, and the numbers would be my lower strengths, or weaknesses we might even say.

The thing that they attached it to that really makes sense to me is alcohol. Every hour you don’t sleep is the equivalent of a drink or two, depending on your stature, a drink or two, and that means that if you lose three hours of sleep at a night, you’re walking around drunk, basically. You have as much of a chance as getting into a car accident as somebody who’s been drinking. You have as much of a chance as doing or saying something you’ll regret later as somebody who’s been drinking. That’s the cognitive equivalent of alcohol.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there’s…

Jennifer Garvey Berger
But less fun.

Pete Mockaitis
But less fun. Okay. And then how about the moving?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
The moving really matters. We know that our bodies were meant to move, and we spend most of our time moving our mouths and maybe our fingers on the keyboard. But actually, when we get this burst of stress hormones in our bodies, really helps to move them off. They exist in order to be run off. And unless we do something, we don’t have to work out 30 minutes a day to get our nervous system in line.

There are these ideas about, like, micro bursts of, literally, ten seconds of exercise. They’re studying amounts of exercise as small as ten seconds, and getting breathless for ten seconds running up the stairs instead of walking up the stairs, for example, changes your nervous system.

Pete Mockaitis
In a good way.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
In a great way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I’m thinking, if I’m doing a sprint, if we’re talking about stress, that seems like that would make my body stress systems more stressed, like, “Whoa, this is intense,” but that’s a positive?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
It turns out you’re exactly right. During the sprint, your body experiences stress. After the sprint, your body experiences release from stress. So, if you’re having a heavy day, it’s a bad meeting, and then you have to get to the next bad meeting, and you can run up your stairs in between them, yeah, you’ll be stressed for those ten seconds that you’re running up the stairs. But, actually, the rebound, they call it the parasympathetic rebound, the rebound after that is super beneficial and it lasts a while.

So, this is another thing to do even if you’re just clicking at home from one Zoom line into a team’s meeting, if you run down the stairs and get yourself a cup of tea, and run back to your office, you’ll be in better shape for your next meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
Hopefully, if the tea is hot, you have a lid for your mug or beverage holster of choice.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Good plan. Maybe just run in one direction.

Pete Mockaitis
Just really visualizing that scene.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
This is probably a good idea. Yeah, that’s a pro tip.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, when do I get that rebound? Is it immediately or as soon as I catch my breath again? Like, when can I start reaping what I have sown?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
I think it’s right away, yeah. As soon as you start to breathe normally, your body is like, “Oh, I feel refreshed. I feel clean.” And sometimes, I just have people stand up at their desk and kind of move their bodies. There’s some research that moving your hand across the midline of your body changes your brain functioning. So, if you can kind of stand up and swing your arms around, it actually…this possibility exists that makes your brain more flexible. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
It seems like this is something a clown does in performing for children.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
And just imagine how stressful that job is.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the takeaway, Jennifer. How clowns get through their workday, you’ll learn that at Awesome at Your Job. Okay. Well, we’re doing some laughing, that’s also in your list. Tell us about that.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Laughing is great for our bodies, and it’s also great for our communities. The thing that surprised me in my research about laughing, I thought, maybe you think, we laugh at something that’s funny. We think that it’s the funny thing out there that causes laughter in here. But actually, it turns out that laughter isn’t that much about what’s funny out there. Laughter is a social cuing more than it is about our response to laughter.

We all actually know this because we’ve all watched something that we thought was hilarious, and then we showed that hilarious thing to somebody who’s like, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever see in our lives.” And when we showed it to them, it wasn’t funny anymore, you’re like, “Oh, this is embarrassing that I’m showing you this right now.”

So, everybody who’s had that experience understands that laughter is more about the relationships than it is about the actual funny thing. And so, it turns out that our willingness to laugh together, it’s really important to things like team cohesion, the ability of teams to be creative together, the ability of people to feel psychologically safe together. All these things that we want, laughter opens up a door to that.

And as I read across the research, the kind of pro tip here is not that you have to be funnier, but it’s that you have to just be more frequent a laugher, more gracious with your giving of laughter. And if you think of your laughter as a gift that makes social situations easier, suddenly, it becomes easier to laugh. People laugh more around you. They feel more comfortable around you.

My co-author, Carolyn Coughlin, who’s my friend and colleague, as well as the co-author of this book, she laughs so easily, more easily than just about anybody I’ve ever known. And when people describe her, they say, “Carolyn is hilarious.” I’ve been friend with Carolyn for 20 years, she’s not hilarious.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, on the record, disagree.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
She just laughs a lot. On the record. She doesn’t very often say things that are funny, but she participates in laughing so much that everybody gets funnier when Carolyn is around. She makes you feel funnier, and she makes you feel connected to her. It’s not being funny; it’s being generous with your laughter.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot, and it’s true. When I’m saying things that are even mildly amusing, and the person I’m talking to is laughing, I feel good, I like them more.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
That’s it. That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
And all sorts of good things are flowing there. So, I’ve actually tried to get myself to laugh on command, and pulled up some random YouTube videos to help facilitate that. I didn’t have the best of luck pulling that off, Jennifer. So, how can I just get better at laughing if I’m not just getting exposed to more hilarious stimuli?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Yeah, laughing, because it’s a social phenomenon, there is this whole thing, which I’ve not found research on but I’m curious about, like, the things we only laugh at when we’re alone, like, whatever stupid cat videos, or whatever it might be. But, by and large, laughter is much easier to find in social situations, which is why early sitcoms have laugh tracks because they cue us, “Oh, it’s time for me to laugh now. That must be funny.”

And it’s actually, like many complex phenomena, it’s actually hearing other people laugh that signals to you that you find it funny, which is why we have so much more laughter in groups than we do by ourselves, and it’s why, in our hybrid world when we’re alone in a room and on mute and everybody else is on mute, we just laugh a whole lot less because we hear other people’s laughter less.

So, the thing that shaped it, for me, is to be able to notice myself, again, it starts with noticing, to be able to notice myself and to begin to turn, like the idea, I think sometimes I would have had kind of like the Mona Lisa smile, like, “Oh, you said something amusing,” I will kind of smile in your direction. And now that I understand what laughter actually is for my nervous system, for your nervous system, and for our relationship, now that I know, it’s like, “Oh, I can actually laugh.”

I think there’s a way I was actually holding myself back from laughing. And the thing I’m doing now is doing that less. And by doing that less, I laugh more. And when I laugh more, the other person laughs more, and it becomes just hilarious. It becomes much, much funnier a world. And we need that. Our nervous systems need that, our relationships need that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And you’ve got also the recommendation that we should do some more wondering.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Yeah, I love the word wonder because it let me get two geniuses in one, because wonder has both the idea of like awe. And there’s a lot of research on awe, on the sense of majesty, the sense of being connected to and part of something so much bigger than us. And we tend to find this sense of awe at the Grand Canyon, or when a choir is singing very beautifully at church, or wherever that might be for you.

And it turns out that we can go looking for that. I’ve sent hundreds of leaders out into their neighborhoods, their city neighborhoods, and said, “Go find something that fills you with awe,” and they’re like, “I’m not going to find something that fills me with awe.” And they come back, and they’re like, “Oh, my God, there’s so much there that fills me with awe.”

The intention of finding awe actually activates our capacity to find it. So, another thing you can do on your lunchbreak, if you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed, you can wander around and see whether you can find something that strikes you as awesome. Grass is awesome. Trees are unbelievably awesome. The way that we’ve been able to build buildings, make neighborhoods, there’s a lot in the world that is filled with wonder.

And then the second thing wonder leads us to is curiosity. When we are wondering, then this question about, “How can we be curious about things?” Certainty is unhelpful in complexity because it’s a narrowing emotion. What we want is curiosity. And so, again, the question is, “How do we inject more curiosity into our lives? How do we shift some of the certainty, which just arises for all kinds of reasons? How do we shift that into some kind of wondering, some kind of musing, some kind of ‘I wonder if I could connect to some new idea, new possibility’?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, now, tell us, Jennifer, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
The last thing I’ll say is the thing this book has convinced me is that we can create the conditions in our lives for complexity to be more manageable, more fun, and for us to stay connected to ourselves and to other people as we face into it. And I’ve found that knowing that I can create the conditions in my life for that has made every day better.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
So, I’m hoping that your listeners get to connect to that idea.

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

Jennifer Garvey Berger
I think the quote that has moved me the most is attributed to a whole bunch of different people, but I tend to attribute it to the Talbot, and it says, “We do not see the world as it is. We see it as we are.” And I find that idea magical.

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

Jennifer Garvey Berger
My favorite research is research on willpower and how we use willpower. And they took, scientists, diabolical scientists, gave people a really difficult task and then they had them walk down a hall to another room and past somebody who had a plate of hot chocolate chip cookies. And people were offered the hot chocolate chip cookies.

And those people who declined the chocolate chip cookies did less well on the cognitive test after declining the chocolate chip cookies. It turns out that the act of willpower actually uses up some of our cognitive possibility, and it’s depleting. And so, if you’re relying on willpower to make a change, it actually makes you stupider.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. Okay, good to know. And a favorite book?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
My favorite book in this field is called Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky. I think it is laugh-out-loud funny. You’ll learn everything, everything about stress and the body, and have fun doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
What helps me be awesome at my job. I am very grateful for the microphone you sent me because that shows that you are awesome at your job, and you are going to help me be more awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And a favorite habit?

Jennifer Garvey Berger
I have all these sleep habits that are super important to me right now. Really, this idea of “Can I plan my day so that I can get more sleep? And can I shift to…?” So, here’s what I do. I shift to my favorite herbal tea at noon, so I shift away from coffee and, too, with caffeine. And I love this habit. It’s delicious.

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

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Asking the question, “How can I be wrong?” People love this question. When you are feeling certain about something, and you are feeling closed, and you are just trying to hammer your way through, asking the question of yourself, “How can I be wrong here?” actually opens you up to new possibilities.

And even though this is the simplest question in the world, I swear, and I obviously didn’t come up with it, like I didn’t make it up, if you look me up, you’ll find this quote. People quote me about this all the time, “How can I be wrong about this?” When you’re feeling too certain and dug in, it’s like punching a skylight and letting new possibilities stream through the roof.

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

Jennifer Garvey Berger
I have a great website CultivatingLeadership.com. And there’s just a ton of we believe in sharing everything we know with anybody who cares, so papers, articles, videos, podcasts like this one. My colleagues and I are constantly trying to figure out how to make the world better, and how to help us all be awesome at our jobs and at our lives. And you’ll see lots of good stuff there.

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

Jennifer Garvey Berger
I think the question is, “Can you bring the fullness of you to work? Can you find a way to cultivate the you that you feel the most proud of?” We are often at work trying to be the thing that we think other people want us to be. And the work I do is to help people find what’s the greatness that’s theirs, and then how do they create the conditions, like unleashing their complexity genius and other things that help them bring that greatness to the world.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jennifer, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in the midst of complexity.

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Thank you so much. That’ll be great. I hope the complexity of you and your new growing family, I hope you get some sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

783: How to Restore Energy and Clarity by Tuning in to Silence with Leigh Marz and Justin Zorn

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Leigh Marz and Justin Zorn share compelling research on the surprising benefits of silence—and how to find it amidst the noise and busyness of today’s world.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The small but powerful ways we can get more rest every day 
  2. How taking a hike can shorten your to-do list 
  3. How to resist the pull of your smartphone

About Leigh & Justin

Justin Talbot Zorn is an author and policymaker, who has served as both a strategist and a meditation teacher in the US Congress. A Harvard-and-Oxford-trained specialist in the economics and psychology of human thriving, Justin’s writing on mindfulness and politics has been published in 12 languages and his work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, Foreign Policy, and other publications.  

Leigh Marz is a leadership coach and collaboration consultant specializing in work with scientists, engineers, and creatives. She spent years working with the climate team at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and over a decade facilitating and advising a cross-sector team of chemists, advocates, government regulators, manufacturers, and retailers aiming to reduce toxic chemicals in our homes and environment. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

Leigh Marz & Justin Zorn Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Leigh and Justin, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Leigh Marz
Hey, thanks, Pete.

Justin Zorn
Thanks for having us, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig in. And, first, I’d love to hear, as you were putting together Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise, were there any particularly surprising and fascinating discoveries that grabbed you?

Leigh Marz
Well, I guess what we found is that when we started unpacking silence, that there was really a lot to it, much further than auditory decibel-level silence, that when we’re looking at silence today, we’re looking at freedom from distraction from our screens, or on the mass proliferation of information available, and also, we’re looking at silence internally in our minds. Just what does it mean to be quiet inside? So, for us, the exploration of silence became much bigger than just that auditory starting point. And that’s where things got rich.

Justin Zorn
We really did start thinking about the importance of auditory silence in the literal sense. We wrote this article for Harvard Business Review on this topic, and it resonated with people. So, we went out and started just following the cookie crumbs and interviewing people, neuroscientists, poets, activists, politicians, businesspeople, we ran the gamut.

And as we asked people this question, “What’s the deepest silence you’ve ever known?” as a starting point, they gave us answers that often weren’t auditorily quiet. So, we started exploring this silence in the informational sense and even in the internal sense, like Leigh mentioned.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so funny because the first thing I thought of is, “Oh, I stepped inside of an anechoic chamber,” which they say can drive you insane, which I find intriguing. I plan to visit one in the future. But that’s intriguing, people’s most silent moment didn’t have much to do with the decibel levels, eh, at times?

Leigh Marz
That was the big surprise. Yeah, that was the big surprise.

Justin Zorn
And the funny thing is, even an anechoic chamber isn’t really totally silent. We write in the book about a 20th century famous modernist composer named John Cage, who had a real love affair with silence. He wrote a piece of music that was famously just four minutes and 33 seconds of silence.

And John Cage, actually, went into an anechoic chamber on the Harvard campus through World War II, and when he got there, he noticed there were two sounds, and he told the engineer running the anechoic chamber, this supposedly soundless booth, “Hey, this thing isn’t silent as it’s advertised.” He said, “I hear two sounds. One high pitch, and one low pitch.” And the engineer said, “Oh, no, it’s working.” He said, “The high-pitch sound is your nervous system in operation, and the low-pitch sound is your blood in circulation.”

So, for us, we’re actually through this, like, “Hey, maybe there isn’t such a thing as total perfect silence in the universe.” But then, as we explore the meaning of silence with all these diverse kinds of people, outstanding professionals in various fields, as well as the scientists, we find that silence does exist. It’s just that it’s a subjective experience in human consciousness. It’s what we think of as the space where no one is making claims on your attention. It’s pristine attention.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, just as you describe that, it feels so refreshing.

Leigh Marz
Oh, good.

Pete Mockaitis
Wouldn’t that be nice?

Leigh Marz
Wouldn’t it though?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s very interesting in terms of, “Hmm,” as an exploration of a concept and how it affects humans. Can you speak to the benefits of silence, like some of the science behind it and, particularly, as applicable to folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Leigh Marz
Well, first, we need to maybe take you to a tour through the damage of noise a little bit, maybe some definitions because that toll of noise is real and true, so first, it’s about, of course, mitigating noise. So, we looked at the auditory effects on our bodies, on our ears, of course there’s hearing loss, but there’s far more than that. Hearing loss being a serious issue, leading to some isolation and all kinds of problems, doing all kinds of jobs, of course.

But, also, we looked at the impact, the toll on our ability to focus, how it impacts our nervous system, even how it’s connected to all kinds of diseases, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, how it impacts our lack sleep, our ability to sleep. And that lack of sleep, as you know, has a lot of downstream consequences to it.

So, there are vast physical psychological mood and impacts to all this noise. And then we turned to silence and we looked at, actually, this fascinating study out of Duke University that puts little mice in that anechoic chamber that we were just talking about, and pipes in pop sounds of little mice, Mozart Sonata in D, I believe it is, ambient noises and silence.

And what they found was that silence had an incredibly beneficial impact on the mice. It led to growth in their neurons in their brain that were sustained growth, they didn’t die off. Those neurons didn’t die off right away. So, the hypothesis was that this was a positive type of stress called eustress that the mice were under, something unusual that led them to grow into the direction of that silence, to listen into the silence and actually build some capacity in their brain that they didn’t have before.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing.

Leigh Marz
Yeah, yeah. Those areas of the brain are also associated with…in the hippocampus are also associated with memory and things like that. So, we became very interested in those effects.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, if we don’t have access to an anechoic chamber handy, how do you recommend we go about pursuing and acquiring some of the silence?

Justin Zorn
You know, for us, we didn’t want to write about the kind of silence that’s all about running away to an anechoic chamber or a sensory deprivation chamber or a monastery, for that matter. We’re interested in the kinds of silence, Pete, that we could find in this noisy, buzzing, singing, dancing world, and we think it’s a good thing to be immersed in the noise of the modern world.

And so, we explore in this book how silence is always available. It’s in the breath, it’s in the moments in between words and conversations with friends, and it’s in that three minutes of stepping outside of the cubicle and feeling the rays of the sun.

And we can even tune into silence just internally even when the noise of our lives seems out of control. So, this is a book abut how we tune into silence in our own ways. Some really simple ways to do that are, for example, to just step outside and just listen to nothing in particular. Leigh mentioned this Duke University Medical School study about how the act of trying to hear in silence is actually physically edifying to the brain. It grows new neurons.

So, if we could take a moment, even in a busy day, you don’t need to have a meditation practice or some kind of fancy knowledge of some kind of contemplative work, to just step outside and just listen to the breeze, just listen to the branches, listen to the rain, even just listening to the birds. It doesn’t need to be necessarily literal audio, auditory silence. This act of simply tuning into our hearing is healing and it’s edifying and it’s clarifying.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say listen to the silence, now I guess I’m thinking about the noise. I do hear some birds. I’m hearing some air-conditioning and that’s not nature. Is that still beneficial?

Justin Zorn
The way we think of it is as long as it’s not making claims on your attention. We’re living in a world where we’re constantly needing to have these mental reflexes go when we’re protecting our reputation or promoting a point of view. And in this book, we talk about taking a temporary break from one of life’s most basic responsibilities, which is having to think of what to say.

So, these kinds of listening, it’s better, of course, to listen to nature, we found through the science research, and we can get into that more. But this act of listening in a way that isn’t thinking of what to say, isn’t thinking about, “How do I compute this information?” giving your mind a break to simply rest in the silence.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And when it comes to these breaks, is there a dosage that is optimal? Is it more is better? Or, is there like, “Ooh, three minutes every 60 minutes,” that you can prescribe to be excellent?

Leigh Marz
Yeah, that’s a great question and you did ask, “Is it beneficial?” So, I think what we’re doing is really pointing the reader back towards their experience because silence and noise, both are subjective actually. Those are subjective experiences. It was within the interview, an interview with biobehavioral professor, biobehavioral health and medicine at Penn State, Joshua Smyth. And were haranguing him for a good definition for internal silence. When, in absolute exasperation, he said to us, “Quiet is what people think quiet is.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Leigh Marz
Yeah, and we would add quiet is what people feel and experience quiet to be. It could be quite surprising. So, listening into the air-conditioning, like you were saying, or listening to sounds of nature, simply turning away from your screen for a little bit, or stepping outside in the rays of the sun, the trick here is, as each of us, to tune in to what is actually bringing us a sense of quiet, a sense of clarity, a sense of relaxation perhaps in the nervous system.

Whatever those signals are that we are relaxing, as well as really learning about the signals that we are agitated, we have had too much noise, we are saturated, we’re unable to focus, to get clear on what those signals are in each of us. So, there is no great perfect prescription for all people. There’s no one size fits all here, which is one of the reasons why we think of this as a non-meditator’s guide to getting beyond the noise because meditation often is proposed to something that will work for all.

But as many of your listeners have probably experienced, even if we’ve had a short stint of being great with meditation, and Justin and I have had some good stints with meditation, even teaching it in the US Congress, in Justin’s case, but that’s not always the best way to quiet. So, the real key here is what is your way to quiet? And what is the type of noise that’s polluting your soundscape? What is the quiet that gets you out of that, and really getting tuned into that?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in the book, you outlined 33 different ways to find silence. You shared a few. Can you share a couple more that really seem to be powerful for folks?

Justin Zorn
Sure. And one way we describe the beginning of these 33 ways to silence, which span individual practices as well as families, workplaces, communities, and broader society, one way we start to frame them, which will be, I think, particularly relevant to listeners thinking about how to be awesome at your job, is as the healthy successor to the smoke break. Leigh makes a confession that she used to smoke in the book.

And the confession isn’t so much that she used to smoke, it’s that she loved it. She loved the experience of having nothing to do for this period of time in a day. she would step outside of the office, particularly when she was doing really difficult work, crisis work around domestic violence and other difficult issues. She would step outside and have this time of total respite when she didn’t have to think of anything, didn’t have to do anything.

And, of course, it’s a wonderful thing that she quit and wasn’t going to have it any other way. It’s a wonderful thing that anyone quits smoking tobacco. But the question is, “What’s going to replace those little pockets of silence in our days?” So, we examined that question because there’s some researchers in Scotland found that often workers, particularly in high-stress industries, often have to at least pretend they smoke because that’s the only way they could get a break.

So, how can we shift our cultural norms in workplaces so that it’s possible to take these breaks in silence that we’re describing? So, some of the ways we describe this is, as I mentioned, this practice of simply stopping and listening, which is an ancient practice from India called nada yoga, the yoga of sound. And as we mentioned, there’s this research that indicates it’s edifying for the brain.

But one way to do this is to simply listen to the ringing in your own ears. We’ve interviewed folks in the book who talk about the science of how this works. Simply tuning in and listening can actually diminish that ringing in your ears, if you’re actually paying attention to it.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I don’t know if I’ve ever…

Pete Mockaitis
It’s quite rare that I’ve ever noticed the ringing in my own ears. I don’t know what that says about me.

Leigh Marz
Maybe you don’t have any.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess there’s a follow up. It’s like do we all have that and how much?

Leigh Marz
Yeah, it’s pretty common, especially in that total silence or that near total silence. As we said, there may not be such a thing as total silence, which is why some people don’t find auditory quiet that relaxing if they’re not able to…or if that’s too aggravating. So, again, we’re finding what brings us quiet. For example, finding quiet might be I’ve been strapped to my desk for several hours on Zoom meetings and whatever.

I’m going to put on a song and I’m going to dance like a mad woman for three minutes, which is not quiet but will empty my brain of all those unhelpful thoughts, all the chatter, all the worry, just the lack of focus that I’m about to get into, if I haven’t already gotten into that, because we know about attention. We don’t have unlimited attention, rather. We can’t go on and drive and work and work without some cost to the quality of our attention.

Justin Zorn
So, one big idea is really how we find beyond just these little successors, healthy successors to the smoke breaks, which we’ll get into some more of those, but one big idea is how we come into moments of truly pristine attention, what we call these moments of rapturous silence, where the kind of silence that can actually change the way we perceive the world.

So, we looked for an example in the book and a practice called take your to-do list for a hike, which was inspired by a legendary acoustic ecologist named Gordon Hempton, who, every once in a while, will take a look at his to-do list and, say, when it gets too long, he’ll drive out somewhere remote off into the rainforest, the whole rainforest in Olympic National Park near Seattle, and he’ll hike for a day once he gets there.

And once he finds that he’s really tuned into the silence of nature, he’s gotten beyond all that noise and distraction that’s present for him at his desk, he takes his to-do list, which he’s printed out, out of his pocket, and he crosses out everything that’s not really necessary. And once he gets to that vantage point, that’s a day’s travel away from the hustle and bustle, he notices how the things that he thought were important, weren’t really so important. And he says the answers are in the silence.

Leigh Marz
He adds that when he does do something like that, take a day or half a day off of work to take his to-do list for a hike, that he often comes back to his office again with about five months less work on his plate because there’s a whole lot that feels important when he’s sitting there strapped to the desk. But out in nature with more expansive views and more expansive mind, he has a different perspective on that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I’m thinking about the healthy successor to the smoke break and how many of us, when we have such an opportunity in which there’s nothing external claiming our attention, we just short-circuit it in terms of like the phone can be the ubiquitous device. I’ve heard it called a digital pacifier in terms of, “I’m a little bit bored or uncomfortable,” and it’s almost like reflex or so habituated. It’s just out it goes and there I am on social media or news or whatever.

And it could even feel, for some, uncomfortable that it’s like, “Aargh, I need to do something, and here it is, and this will be entertaining or, in some way, pacifying.” So, how do we deal with our own selves in the midst of this?

Leigh Marz
Yeah. We spend a lot of time looking at what is within our sphere of control, and that’s one that we argue is within our sphere of control. We can certainly get into feedback loops where it feels like maybe we’re hustling and bustling, we’re mistaking busyness for productivity, we’re mistaking stress for aliveness. We can kind of get into these feedback loops of activity. But if we can actually take those moments as little gifts of silence.

So, let’s just say you’re stuck in traffic or you’re stuck in a long line, and rather than grab for your phone immediately to feel any of those things, a podcast, or checking the news, checking on your email, etc., that you actually take that, even if it was unplanned, or especially if it was unplanned, as a moment to tune in to silence.

Justin Zorn
We talked with a neuroscientist named Judson Brewer, who’s been a pioneer in the use of fMRI studies of meditators and studying the brains of meditators. And he looks at how people’s experience of noise in the consciousness often corresponds to a feeling of contractedness: contractedness in the body, contractedness in the mind. It’s a subjective state. It’s a feeling. But it often corresponds to a kind of feeling of being hunched over your phone, reading the news, feeling the stress of that.

And Dr. Brewer tells us that there’s an experience in the consciousness people described that corresponds to what he calls silence in the mind, this internal experience of silence in his studies with fMRIs and other imaging machinery. And he tells us that that experience of silence corresponds to the state that he calls expansion. That’s the kind of common denominator to what people are feeling.

And this is often also the kind of common denominator to where good creative ideas emerge. When we’re out of that state of contractedness, that hunched over the phone, doom-scrolling, or whatever you might be doing, versus being outside, being receptive, kind of like how many of the good ideas we often have happen in the shower, again when there’s nothing making claims on our consciousness, nothing making claims on our attention.

So, Leigh mentioned this challenge that in our society these days, we often mistake stress for aliveness. In our workplaces, we often mistake this feeling of constant doing, constant exertion for the feeling of being productive and effective, but it’s often not in those spaces of contraction but in these spaces of expansion where the best ideas, the profoundly generative ideas emerge.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool and that totally resonates. And that I hear that Aaron Sorkin put a shower in his office in order to take more showers and have more good ideas, which is funny. And I guess that’s one approach in terms of forcing it, like, “Oh, can’t do much else. You’re naked with water on you.”

Leigh Marz
Yup, that’s a healthy successor to a smoke break if there ever was one.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Certainly. So, let’s just zoom right in. Okay, I like what you’re saying, Leigh and Justin. That’s really cool. And so, I go ahead and I retreat, whatever that means, you take a step outside or whatever, and then I feel the urge, the tug to pull out the phone. What is the optimal, if we’re seeking silence, response to ourselves? Because I imagine you could give in, you could harshly say, “No!” How do you think about those moments and sort of re-asserting what you’re going for?

Because in some ways, expansiveness, like as I think about that sensation, that vibe, is kind of like the opposite of constricted-ness. And in some ways, it feels constricting to engage in self-denial, like, “I want to do this.” “No!” And then, in so doing, there’s a bit of a constricting feeling. So, I’m all tied up in knots here. What do we do?

Justin Zorn
That’s a really good question. We have a chapter in the book called “Why Silence is Scary,” and at one level, we’re looking in the big picture what it’s like for people to go on extremely long silent retreats or someone to go on just away from the civilization for a while. And what that brings up in the consciousness, because that’s extremely scary, it’s almost like taking it to its…the farthest extent of that persistent nag of picking up the phone that you’re talking about, so we explore that dynamic.

But we found a study from the University of Virginia from 2014, where a social psychologist left mostly undergraduate students in a sparse room with no cellphones or no entertainment for 15 minutes, and Wilson is this professor, gave the participants a choice. They could either sit in silence without their phones alone or they could push a button that would administer a painful electric shock. And, initially, the participants had all said that they would pay money to avoid this painful electric shock. But in the end, 67% of the men and 25% of the women actually chose to shock themselves rather than sit alone without their phones in silence. And that was 15 minutes.

So, to answer your question about what do we actually do when confronting this, one big theme we explore in the book is the perennial wisdom of know thyself. Understand that we, in this day and age, are hardwired to seek stimulation, to seek sound and stimulus, and it is a skill to cultivate to get comfortable with silence.

Leigh Marz
We also talk about a convenience addiction that we have. And Cal Newport brings this to our attention in some of his work Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, where we tend to think about the gains of whatever it is, let’s say, a group email where infinite numbers of people are listed and included but we don’t think of the cost, so we’re consistently minimizing the cost of this constant grabbing for more input, more attention, more outreach, constant connectivity without looking at those costs there to our work, to the quality of our work, to the quality of our consciousness.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then one is there’s a little bit of just sort of patience and gentleness with yourself, like, “Yup, this is normal. You’re not messed up. This is a natural response to those who are not yet practiced and skilled with doing this.” And so, if the thought emerges, “I want to see what’s on Instagram right now,” how do you recommend responding to that thought?

Leigh Marz
Even just to pause a beat before jumping right in and to do a little bit of a cost-benefit analysis. in that moment, a little bit of an assessment in terms of where that’s coming from. If it’s coming from that grabby, needy, constricted place, or if it’s because you really want to check in with your network, there can be…we allot ourselves that time all the time to really figure out, “Where is it coming from? Where is that urge coming from?”

And then we can do that as teams as partners, as work partners, like Justin and I do all the time as well, too, to really just look at, “What’s our default here?” to examine the default that’s happening on our teams and in our organizations. Should we always be meeting? Should we meet back-to-back all the time? Should we assume constant connectivity? Those kinds of things. Like, what are the costs of that? And how can we support each other to create a culture that honors silence?

Justin Zorn
One thing that comes up for me with that question, too, Pete, and what Leigh is saying about questioning our defaults and building these cultures, this is where appreciation, through the stories in this book, we explore why silence is something worth valuing in a world of constant sound and stimulation and entertainment.

And if we can appreciate this basis of silence in our lives, we start to not just question our defaults, and say, “Well, I need to put my phone away more and I need to just deal with that kind of impulse.” It’s something more than that. It’s flipping the script so we’re able to see opportunities for rest and healing and renewal within the silence, which is what the science shows and what we also explore in the book through stories.

One big theme in the book that we explore is a traditional Japanese aesthetic concept, an idea called Ma. And the idea of Ma, this word Ma means the space in between. Some people call it the open space, the negative space but we think of Ma as pure potentiality. So, Ma is the space in between the words we’re saying to each other right now. It’s the space between notes in music. It’s the space, the empty space in artwork or, in Japanese traditional, ikebana, flower arranging. This word Ma actually means sunlight pouring forth through the gate of a temple.

So, it’s this pure potentiality that exist in the in-between spaces, in what’s not spoken. So, we look in the book, “What would it mean to appreciate Ma in our lives?” We have a section of one chapter called “Ma On the Job,” which is we explore how we could bring more silence, for example, into organizational brainstorming, or how we can bring more Ma into our workday, for example, in between meetings, or in between any kind of task or activity. Stopping and taking some breaths. Stopping to savor a glass of water. Or, within a group, having some moment of quiet time to integrate what it is that you’ve been talking about.

At the end of the book, we even explore Ma goes to Washington, what it would look like to bring all these reverence for the open space, to society as a whole, but the basic idea is something that we can bring into our work lives to find more rest and renewal and more inspiration in the moment-to-moment conduct.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what’s fascinating, Justin, is just as you’re speaking, you’re talking about Ma and I was pointing my attention toward the gaps or pauses between your words and sentences, and just in doing so, my brain felt less fatigued, and yet, I still heard and understood and internalized what you said. What’s that about?

Leigh Marz
That’s a great question. I think when we’re not sitting with…it’s about better listening. For starters, I think it’s just a better quality of listening instead of being poised perhaps with the internal on-the-ready of how we’re going to respond, and then, therefore, not really listening. So, I feel like the quality you’re talking about in part, the quality of listening as well as just your attention relaxing. I think that’s about just finding that silence and what it does to your consciousness. In that case, it’s a thing that supported you and relaxing, which is what it’s all about.

It’s about experimenting. This whole book is about experimenting and finding our way to quiet. So, I don’t know the exact answer why you, Pete, doing that practice, what was happening in your brain. We could put you up to all kinds of circuitry, but what matters is that it did, and what matters is that you might be onto a new way to listening that brings you some quiet. And that’s what this book is all about.

Justin Zorn
Florence Nightingale, about 150 years ago, intuited that noise in the consciousness, too much sound and stimulus, just at the auditory level drives the fight-or-flight response. It is a driver of stress. And this is why she said that unnecessary noise is the most cruel absence of care that could be inflicted on a person sick or well.

And a lot of the recent research in neuroscience and various different disciplines of physical sciences of physiology are discovering that Florence Nightingale was right about this that she perceived 150 years ago or so. So, even if the auditory decibels are the same level, there’s something to be said of where we put our attention. If we can put our attention on the empty spaces, as you’re talking about, Pete, and we’re tuning into the silence, then there’s this opportunity we find, through our interviews with people in this book, to help reset the nervous system, to get beyond that fight or flight.

And one thing we explore in the book is it’s not just about the auditory decibels or it’s not even just about the amount of information and sound and stimulus you have in your life. It’s about how deeply you can go into the silence, when it appears, even if it’s just for two seconds, even if it’s for less than a second, like those moments of silence between words. How deeply can you go into the silence in this noisy world?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. Well, Leigh, you mentioned hooking me up to circuitry, which I’m game for if anyone happens to have the equipment.

Leigh Marz
That’s fascinating, yeah, to do that. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m looking over at my Muse brain-sensing headband in the corner there, and I’m curious, are there any particular tools or things that can be handy here? We’ve talked about it’s not just about the decibel levels, so earplugs and noise-canceling headphones have something to offer but it’s certainly not the whole story that we’re unpacking here. Anything else that is useful for folks to pick up as we’re pursuing this journey?

Leigh Marz
Well, actually, I’ll say this, there’s actually another aspect of surprise, perhaps, is we expected to reach out to neuroscientists and for them to have all sorts of concrete, like, “Here’s what’s happening in the brain. And we know this, and we’ll see this.” But, actually, neuroscientists, like Adam Gazzaley at the University of San Francisco, where, really, every neuroscientist we spoke with were very humble about what they were able to claim, that they were actually…they said, “We use all this equipment, fMRIs, just an example of one, but there are times when someone’s sitting there and they’ll say, ‘Well, what just happened? Did something major register on the machinery?’”

And they’ll say, “Well, nothing. Nothing happened at all.” Or, the participant will have some great brilliant insight and it won’t register on the machinery. So, there’s still a lot we don’t know but there’s a lot we’re learning about some commonalities between mental states. And we haven’t mentioned things like states of flow, which can, of course, happen when we’re really getting involved and enjoying work states, maybe we’re really getting into a project.

So, really observing your own way with what is bringing you into that place of focus, where you’re challenged at an appropriate point but not so much that it’s stressful, and it’s also challenging enough that you’re not bored, so that sweet spot where you lose a sense of reflective self-consciousness, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi puts it. So, there’s something in there about really getting attuned to when are you losing that sense of self, of not so helpful part, a sense of self, where you’re talking to yourself about yourself, whether you’re feeling distracted or there’s a lot of unhelpful chatter, notice you had anything crossed on before.

He has a great work, great research on those unhelpful and truths of thought and ruminating. So, part of what we’re looking at is really it’s kind of back to us. We wanted to avoid pointing towards gadgetry and pointing towards apps and things, but those can be helpful. Again, it’s up to us to really find out what is really working, what’s helping us find our flow, keep our focus, or clear the slate, or invite in novel thinking and creative thinking, versus what is just cluttering our brains.

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

Justin Zorn
You mentioned gadgetry, like noise-canceling headphones, Pete, and we have explored that a little bit. But one thing that’s come up for us in this book is that we’ve avoided wanting to add more technology, more complicated kinds of solutions, especially expensive kinds of solutions. We want to make this as accessible as possible, as simple as possible.

So, we look at the simplicity of these practices that we’ve talked about, that healthy successor to the smoke break, accepting these little gifts of silence when they arise in our lives. Maybe, if it’s possible, taking a little bit of time not talking. Gandhi, every week, spent his Monday not speaking. He would sometimes attend meetings, he would sometimes see visitors, but he wouldn’t speak a word. And it was about resting his mental reflex of constantly needing to think of what to say, constantly needing to add to the conversation. And he found that this was an important way to discern the truth.

So, these ways to finding silence are often, even in this world of so much noise, they’re really simple. Oftentimes, we find they’re about simple conversations with other people. We wrote, recently, a new piece for Harvard Business Review on this, and we talk about how, during the drafting of the US Constitution, the delegates there in Philadelphia had a giant mound of dirt erected outside Constitution Hall, and that was because they wanted to have pristine silent attention to be able to do their work, even if they were debating and even yelling at each other sometimes. They wanted a container where there wasn’t outside noise and distraction coming in.

So, we explore how that was the result of, obviously, not a fancy technology, but just a simple conversation that could lead to a shared norm around the value of quiet attention. And this book is really about “How do we make these shifts in our own lives, like Gandhi, or as a group in a workplace, like those delegates writing the US Constitution all those years ago?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, can we hear some favorite quotes?

Leigh Marz
Well, we turn to Viktor Frankl. He has, at least, this is a quote often attributed to him, psychologist and Holocaust survivor, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Justin Zorn
And for us, this quote really gets to the essence of what we mean by silence, not just the auditory silence; the informational and the internal. When we find this space that Frankl is talking about, this is the deep pristine attention that we’re talking about. It’s this golden silence. And there’s choice here. It’s where we find our agency.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Leigh Marz
So many but just maybe in relation to this conversation, Chatter: The Voices in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross because that really put…what happened actually, that book came out while we were working on this, and he really took the conversation of that internal soundscape to a new level into the mainstream, and we’re so appreciative of that, and that one little piece that he pulled out with the fact that we have 320-some state of union addresses going through our minds every day, that’s compressed speech, really, really helped us with understanding how this internal chatter is noise in many cases.

Justin Zorn
Relevant to this conversation, one book that was coming up for us that we didn’t mention in our book but mentioned in a recent article, is a work of Hal Gregersen, a long-time MIT scholar. His book Questions Are the Answer is really about the notion that in group decision-making, the answers come through cultivating open space, not by trying to perform or not always by even presenting the best data but by cultivating the space where we could be together in a question, contemplating inside the inquiry. And this book is very much about how we curate and cultivate these kinds of spaces.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Leigh Marz
Well, we’ll highlight the take your to-do list for a hike. I also like to take clients on the early side of brainstorming for a hike so that that’s the space that we’re thinking about this project from, not strapped to a desk.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Justin Zorn
I would say this that I mentioned earlier about an invitation to take a temporary break from one of life’s most basic responsibilities, which is having to think of what to say.

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

Leigh Marz
So, as you might imagine, we’re not really big on social media with a platform like silence being our thing. But you can find us at our website AstreaStrategies.com, and that’s A-S-T-E-Astrategies.com. You can contact us through the website.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Leigh, when you said that, that reminds me of my favorite tweet of all time, which is, I read it and it just tickled me so much, it said, the tweet read, “Holding my child and just so present in this moment.”

Leigh Marz
That is the best. We’ll put that as our new favorite quote.

Justin Zorn
That is a really high-level way of throwing some shade on Twitter.

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

Leigh Marz
Yeah. I would say…well, I’ll say the first half is really to notice noise. Notice the auditory informational and internal noise that is getting in the way of you being awesome at your job, to really take note of it, and notice how to mitigate those things. And the second part, I’ll let Justin take on.

Justin Zorn
The second part, the flipside of that is tuning into silence. As we mentioned, noticing even these small pockets of silence exist in our life. Maybe it’s like we talked about in between the words, maybe it’s just taking that moment to step outside of the office and connect to the silence that surround us, and to feel the abundance that’s available in the silence, to feel the abundance of calm and peace that we could tune into, even when the world seems crazy, even when our lives seem crazy. Tuning into the silence, finding more energy, clarity, and focus within it.

Leigh Marz
Especially when we go off as teams to retreat, to refuel, or to generate some ideas and strategies in the future, to just try not to stuff all that time with content or data or activities, to really build in some silence and some quiet to enjoy together, as well as some recreation and fun.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Leigh, Justin, this has been a treat. I wish you much great silence.

Leigh Marz
Thank you. You, too, Pete.

Justin Zorn
Thank you, Pete.