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775: Susan Cain Uncovers the Surprising and Uplifting Power of Sorrow and Longing

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Susan Cain explains how embracing bittersweetness helps us lead more creative, connected, and fulfilling careers and lives.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two simple shifts to make you more courageous
  2. How a bias for positivity is holding us back
  3. How to keep your brain from wallowing in negativity

About Susan

Susan Cain is the #1 bestselling author of Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which spent eight years on The New York Times best seller list, and has been translated into 40 languages. Susan’s TED talks have been viewed over 40 million times. LinkedIn named her the Top 6th Influencer in the World, just behind Richard Branson and Melinda French Gates. Susan partners with Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant and Dan Pink to curate the Next Big Idea Book Club. They donate all their proceeds to children’s literacy programs. Visit Susan at susancain.net.

Resources Mentioned

Susan Cain Interview Transcript

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

Susan Cain
Thank you so much, Pete. It is awesome to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom and some insights from your latest book Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. And congratulations on hitting number one on New York Times’ Best Seller list, that’s pretty fantastic. Good job.

Susan Cain
Thank you so much.

Pete Mockaitis
But maybe, first, I’m dying to know, and I think many of the listeners are as well, so you’re also quite famous for your book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. And you do public speaking all the time, and I understand that wasn’t your favorite thing to do. Could you maybe tell us how you found some growth and development there? And did you learn to enjoy it all the more?

Susan Cain
Oh, God, yeah. I mean, so you have to know where I was starting from because it wasn’t just that I didn’t enjoy speaking. It was that, like, I can sometimes literally vomit before a speech, and I would always lose five pounds in the week before a speech because I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. Like, it was very intense. And I used to be a lawyer before I became a writer, so during all that time I was a lawyer, I just gritted my teeth through that suffering.

But then when I became a writer, and like I really cared about getting my message out. I didn’t want my phobia to stand in the way, so I kind of tackled this issue that I had. And here’s the secret, and what I’m about to say applies to any fear that your listeners might have, any fear. The way to overcome any fear is you have to expose yourself to the thing you fear, you can’t hide from it, but you have to do it in very, very small, very manageable doses.

So, you can’t start by giving a TED Talk if your fear is public speaking. You have to start by going to the nicest Toastmasters meeting you’ve ever seen. Or, in my case, I went to this seminar for people with public speaking anxiety, where everybody was really nice and all you had to do was, like you’d start by this really small exercises. Like, the first day, you’d get up and say your name and sit back down, “Congratulations. You’re done.” 

And you’d ratch it up little by little by little by little by little from there, and, in this way, you’re basically training your brain that the thing that it reacted to, as if it were a saber-toothed tiger, you’re basically training your brain, “Oh, it’s not a dangerous tiger. It’s a daffodil, and it’s okay.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Susan Cain
Yeah. And so, it’s just sort of a long process but anyone can do it. That’s the great news.

Pete Mockaitis
As I put my brain in that situation, I think one of the funnest parts for me would be just creatively ideating and trying to determine what might be that next super tiny step. And it’s so funny, it’s just like, I’m thinking about virtual reality, like you can’t do it for real. You can even do it there. So, that’s nifty.

Susan Cain
It’s interesting to me though that you described that as fun. So, let me ask you this. Were you ever a nervous public speaker, or no? And the reason I asked this is because I never would’ve described the process as fun while I was in it. It was more like something I needed to do.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t think the doing it is as much fun so much as the thinking, “Oh, there is a super tiny step. That’s something I could feel like I can get a victory on that is not terrifyingly overwhelming.”

Susan Cain
Right. Right. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But, yeah, the doing would be difficult. I’d say I never had the vomits pre-public speaking but I…

Susan Cain
I never heard it called the vomits.

Pete Mockaitis
But I did…I certainly felt nerves. And I guess I somehow managed to convince myself that I was excited and then I believed it, and it’s a rush. I remember a speaking mentor said, “When it comes to public speaking, it’s like, man, sometimes there’s this electricity and sometimes you get electrocuted,” in terms of how it seems to go, and that’s been my experience. I’ve had some talks that didn’t go as well.

And, in a way, those have been super helpful in terms of taking a real good look, like, “What went wrong there?” And all of it was sort of like assumptions I had made about the audience in advance, like, “Oh, they’re not already jazzed about this topic,” and it’s more of a general audience, and so it’s oopsies, lessons learned. But one fun thing about talking about on How to be Awesome at Your Job is all the listeners already care about being awesome at their jobs, so we got that covered.

Susan Cain
Right. Yeah, so you already know what they’re excited about, hearing about. Well, I’ll give one other public speaking hack that I think is really huge for people who are afraid of public speaking, which is that if you are afraid of it, it is because you are attuning excessively to being judged. You’re like your relationship with the audience emotionally is that they’re the judge or perhaps the executioner, and you’re like the penitent before them. That is not a helpful relationship obviously.

What I would try to turn that into is to think in advance, like, “What…” from your heart, like really think at a heart level, “What is it that I want to convey? What can I say that’s going to be truly helpful today? Even if it’s just helpful to one person in the audience, what could I do that could truly elevate someone’s life?” And then you’re going out there in the spirit of like, “What can I give?” as opposed to “How will I be judged?” And it’s a completely different energy. Completely. It’s very transformative.

I don’t find that that works if you’re in a state of extreme, extreme anxiety, but once you get to the point where it’s stamped down and you’re in the realm of manageable butterflies, shifting your energy that way is really transformative.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Well, Susan, you’re already providing fantastic insights, and we’re not even on the main topic yet, so this is going great. Well, all right, tell us, Bittersweet, could you maybe kick us off by sharing a particularly surprising discovery you made while researching and putting this together that has been really striking for folks?

Susan Cain
I think our culture, I know our culture, is so confused, so kind of bedazzled by the idea of being positive at all times that it doesn’t have the ability to distinguish between this incredibly productive and creative state of bittersweet melancholy versus clinical depression. We don’t have a language for distinguishing between the two. We don’t have a way of thinking about it.

Even if you look in the field of psychology, you’ll find psychologists talking about this around the edges but in the center of the field. And yet, like the state of bittersweet melancholy that I’m talking about in my book is one of the greatest power sources that we have of creativity and of human connection, and of a sense of self-transcendence and spirituality, so lots of the goodies that lots of people want, both for their work lives, their creative lives, their emotional lives, and yet we’re living in a culture that’s telling you that the only way to get there is through a kind of relentless upbeat optimism. And that’s just not true.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That sounds like a thesis statement. I love it. Well, then could you paint a clear picture for us and draw as bright a distinction as we can between depression and bittersweet?

Susan Cain
Yeah. So, with depression, you’re in a state where it’s a kind of emotional black hole. You’re in a state of despair. You’re in a state of hopelessness. You’re not in a state of like being in touch with things. You’re in a state of like, “I’m worthless. Life is hopeless. I’m cut off. There’s nothing to be done.” When you’re in a state of bittersweetness, you’re acutely aware of both the sorrow and the joy in this world, and the fact that they’re forever paired but with that comes an acute awareness of beauty and an ability to transform pain into beauty.

So, it’s actually a very hopeful state. It’s a state of meaning. It’s the reason that after 9/11, for example, we suddenly had a lot of people signing up for jobs as firefighters. And after the pandemic, we’ve suddenly had a lot of people enrolling in medical school and nursing school. And neither of those responses make sense on their face. That’s kind of like here are people reacting to a dispiriting and dangerous situation by signing up for more danger, like signing up to be at the heart of the danger.

But what they’re really doing is they’re turning in the direction of meaning, which is what people have the capacity to do. We have the capacity to respond to life’s difficulties by turning in that direction of meaning in our careers and in our life orientation.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And I love it if we could continue of painting a picture of what you call bittersweet. I guess as I’m thinking about 9/11, for instance, and where I was and what’s going on, like I felt confusion, sadness, shock, anger. It wasn’t like bittersweet as like, “Oh, my baby is growing up,” and so that’s what I first think about when it’s like, “Oh, she doesn’t want to be held as much,” or kind whatever. And so, that’s kind of what leaps to mind when I have the word bittersweet to me. Can you unpack a bit more of the vibe, the texture, the look, the sound, the feel of bittersweet as you describe it?

Susan Cain
Yeah. And actually, the example of your baby growing up is, I think it’s a fantastic example because bittersweetness really is…it’s about, as I say, the pairing of joy and sorrow, and the fact that that’s what this life is, but it’s also about the recognition that everyone and everything we love most will not stay the same, will not live forever, all of that. And then what comes with that is this beauty.

I have a bittersweet quiz that it’s at the beginning of my book and it’s also on my website for people who just want to take it quickly, which is SusanCain.net but I can give you a few questions from it to give you a sense. So, one question is, “Do you react intensely to music, art, or nature?” Another question is, “Do you draw comfort or inspiration from rainy days?” That’s sort of like cozy, poetic, rainy day vibe. And another one is, “Do you like sad music?”

We actually know that people listen to the happy songs on their playlist about 175 times, but they listen to these sad songs 800 times. And we know that it’s the sad music that gives us the goosebumps and the chills as opposed to the happy music. And I love the happy music and the dance music is great. It’s just that there’s something in that vein of art created with a tinge of melancholy that gets people in the real heart. It’s just something for creatives to know, in general. It’s like sort of the secret to the creative sauce.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. When you talked about happy and sad songs, I think that really does nail it because I’m imagining like your wedding playlist, like, “Too high,” “Hot damn.” So, there’s that, and so that’s fun. But then as I’m thinking, like sad songs, the first thing that came to mind was “Champagne High” by Sister Hazel, which, if you look at the lyrics, it’s really heart-wrenching.

It’s about a person who is at someone else’s – geez, I’m getting choked up – he’s at someone else’s wedding that he was in love with, and he had hoped to reconnect but it just didn’t quite work out, like, “Dude,” like, “Whoa.” Like, if you put yourself there, it is deeper and it’s hitting the heart. And, at the same time, it’s not all just gut-wrenching tragedy. It’s like, “Ah, we had something beautiful, didn’t we?” And so, there it is.

Susan Cain
Yeah, because what you’re really talking about is longing, which is the real key to human DNA. That’s really what drives us at the end of the day. Look at every single religion, they’re all about the longing for the more perfect and beautiful world. It’s like you’re longing for the Garden of Eden, you’re longing for Mecca, you’re longing for Zion.

The Sufis long for the beloved of the soul, that’s what they call the divine. And then we do that creatively, too. We have Dorothy is longing for somewhere over the rainbow. That’s really what glamor is, if there’s anybody listening, where you’re in a kind of glamor field, and that’s what you need to understand what glamor really is.

Glamor is like a pictorial representation of that perfect state, of perfect love, and perfect beauty in an otherworldly sense that we long for. That’s why there’s the kind of iconic image of the shiny convertible driving around the bend to nowhere. And inside the convertible, sits the beautiful couple, and it’s like a representation of this perfect love, and they’re driving around the bend to the perfect unseen. That’s what drives people.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting, as I think about such a scene, one’s emotional response would be, “Ahh, I want that.”

Susan Cain
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, “Oh, I’ll never have that.” And then maybe that’s the distinction right there. The latter, I don’t know if it has a bit of hopelessness going on. And so, it’s interesting, like what we’re talking about is so deep and human, it almost feels inappropriate to, I don’t know, weaponize or utilize this, but that’s what you’re saying. It’s, like, it is a force. And so, if we think about the context of people wanting to be awesome at their job, how do we tap into this in a way that we find brings about more wholeness and awesomeness?

Susan Cain
Well, first of all, if you want to understand your co-workers, you have to understand, which is one of the, obviously, the great ways of being awesome at your job is to work well and really care about the people you’re working with. You have to understand this is at the heart of their nature and it’s at the heart of your nature, too. And it creates spaces for people to show up that way, if you’re a team leader, for example.

But, also, it’s like, let’s say even before you get to your job and you’re thinking about what the right job is for you, and maybe you’re not sure, and maybe you don’t know if you’re in the right job or if you’re even in the right career, I would ask yourself, like, “What do you long for? What are you longing for?” And pay attention to the symbols in your life.

If it’s okay, I’ll tell you a quick story from my life to sort of illustrate what I’m talking about. So, I used to be a corporate lawyer before I became a writer, and I was totally in the wrong field for me but I got really caught up in it, the way one does. You know how it is. You’re like in a field and then everyone you know is in that field, and you’re doing it 24/7, so you’re living in this hermetically sealed bubble. You can’t see outside of it.

So, I was caught up in it, I was trying really hard to make partner, I was working all the time for years. And then this day came when a partner in the firm…I wrote all about this. He came and he told me I wasn’t going to be making partner. And, at the time, like I received this news as a catastrophe but I went home the next day, or a little bit after that, I left the firm. I took a leave of absence and a few weeks after that I ended a relationship, a seven-year relationship that had always felt wrong.

And so, now I’m like floating around, like no career, no love, I’m in my early 30s, and I’ve fallen into this relationship with another guy. He’s a musician, he’s a lyricist, a very lit up type of person, and it becomes a kind of obsession, and I can’t shake it, and I can’t stop thinking about him. There’s nothing I can do to extricate myself from this obsession.

And then a friend of mine says to me, she’s like, “If you’re this obsessed with this person, it’s not only because the person himself. It’s because he represents something you’re longing for. So, what are you longing for?” And it was like the minute she said that, I knew the answer. He was a musician. He was, like, he represented this life of art and writing that I’d wanted to be part of. Since I was four years old, I’d wanted to be a writer, and I had put all that on hold for decades.

And as soon as I understood that, the obsession fell away, I started writing for real, and that was it. That’s a kind of dramatic version of it but I think we can all be asking ourselves those questions all the time. Like, you’re working really hard so that you can get a house. Like, what does the house mean to you? What does it symbolize to you? What are you longing for? And make sure you’re orienting your life around, really, what your heart’s longing is telling you because career years have a way of adding up really quickly, and you want to make sure you’re putting them in the right direction.

Pete Mockaitis
And we can often take such wildly circuitous routes to what we’re longing for. Like, did the musician relationship end up working out?

Susan Cain
No, no, and that was fine.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I thought…I didn’t want to, ”Yes, he’s my husband.”

Susan Cain
No, no, no, it was actually not so long after that that I met my husband. It’s all good, happily ever after.

Pete Mockaitis
If we’re doing something in order to meet another longing, which you may be aware of or not aware of, we could probably be better served just by going directly after that which we’re longing for.

Susan Cain
If you knew what it was.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that’s where I’m going next. What are your pro tips on surfacing that?

Susan Cain
Well, most of all, really, to pay attention to what it is. Like, what is the key question that you keep asking yourself? What’s the thing that you’re staking everything for? What does it mean to you? What does it mean to you underneath it all? What’s the life you truly want? What does home look like to you? I would ask yourself that question. Getting to this fundamental, like, existential longing that we all have. We’re all longing for home in some kind of way. That’s how humans are designed. So, what does home look like to you?

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share with us a few articulations of that from folks that you’ve spoken with, heard about, talked to?

Susan Cain
Gosh, let me think of some good ones for you.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess what I’m saying is I imagine you’d say, “What I’m longing for is a Ferrari.” It’s like, “Hmm, that’s probably quite not the core of it.”

Susan Cain
Well, it’s funny that you say…that you give that example of the Ferrari because I actually wrote in the book about this seminar that I attended about longing for love. It was given by this great writer, Alain de Botton, and he actually gives the example of a Ferrari owner. It’s like very often the person who’s buying the Ferrari, they’re not necessarily after the Ferrari. Like, they’re after love and admiration. That’s often what’s motivating them.

So, it’s like always looking two or three steps underneath. Very often, when you feel like absolutely driven by something, there’s often something going on underneath it, to ask yourself what the true motivation is, what the true source is.

Susan Cain
So, here’s another example of somebody who I interviewed. So, she had been working at an international consumer goods company, doing sort of consumer research for some years. And, in this work, she…part of what you do with consumer research is you’re listening to the stories of your consumers, you’re asking them a lot of questions, which is something she found that she loved doing. She loved listening. She loved drawing them out. She loved hearing their stories. And the more she did this and the more she listened to the women’s stories and the women’s dissatisfactions, the more with their lives that they were talking to her about, the more it tapped some kind of like a primal longing in her to go back home – she was from the Middle East originally. She had come from a family where there’d been a lot of suffering and abuse of the women in the family, and she realized what she wanted to do was like a kind of healing work of the kinds of women who had been in her family, who these women in the consumer research job had reminded her of, that they kind of set this longing, a light in her.

And so, she goes back to the Middle East and she starts…and I’m being vague about where she’s from because she doesn’t want me to use her name, but she starts a not-for-profit where she’s helping refugees and helping former women prisoners, and she’s doing this work for them but what she’s really doing is trying to correct some of the wrongs that had been done to the women of her family. And it was like that was when she started to feel whole is when she did that kind of work.

Whereas, the whole time she’d been at the consumer research firm, she was like fascinated by the stories but felt a kind of a kind of…she called it like a numbness and a deadness inside, and she started to come alive when she did that kind of work. But what ignited in her was the moments of listening to these women’s stories and realizing that was like touching off the longing in her.

Pete Mockaitis
So, is that kind of the pathway that often goes when you zero in on the longing and then you go pursue that well, wholeness and aliveness is on the other side?

Susan Cain
It often is on the other side, yeah, because it’s telling you like where your sense of the love that you’re seeking, the full love that you’re seeking, where it is for you. The moments that you have longing are often a clue to what those are. Just the way, like by analogy, if you pay attention to the people who you envy.

Like, envy is not such a nice emotion but it’s an incredibly instructive emotion because, like with career envy, you’re not going to have career envy over somebody who has a job that you don’t want. You’re just going to feel happy for that person. If you’re feeling envy, you might feel ashamed of yourself for feeling that way but it is a great clue that they’re doing something that you wished that you were doing, so it’s a great sign. And longing is the same way, the same type of sign.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, there are many flavors of longing but is love at the root of them all? Or, is that kind of one of several kind of key flavors or archetypes?

Susan Cain
I would say there’s different manifestations of the same thing. For some people, it looks more like love, and for some people it’s more like beauty, and for some people it’s more like truth. But it’s this sense of like what perfection looks like to you, like a kind of otherworldly perfection.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, this wholeness, how do you know when you got it?

Susan Cain
You just know.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought you’d say that.

Susan Cain
You just know, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“Like, I feel pretty whole.”

Susan Cain
It doesn’t mean that you’re like, “Okay, now, I‘m going to sit on the couch forever because I’m whole.” It doesn’t mean that. W
hat it means is that you’re on the right journey instead of on the wrong journey, so you’re still journeying but you’re like on the right path.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then can we talk about some perhaps practical do’s and don’ts when it comes to inside our own heads and emotions if we experience some sadness, some disappointments, there are some distinctions there between that and bittersweet? And so, how do we think about running our brains and our emotions optimally in that, I guess, it could continually be possible to “wallow” or be – torn apart sounds dramatic but…? I’m thinking of my kids and Daniel Tiger and the big feelings right now.

It’s like as you’re exploring yourself, and you’re finding these breadcrumbs, how do you recommend that we explore, engage in a way that’s likely to lead to insight and constructive goodness versus, for lack of a better word, wallowing?

Susan Cain
Oh, I’m actually glad you’re using that word wallowing because I think that that is the fear that many people have if they tune into this aspect of their emotional lives. I think they’re afraid they’ll start wallowing and never come out, so they’d rather not go there at all. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just the remember the art is to balance it all out.

But one really great technique, just to keep it super practical, is the art of expressive writing, which basically means, especially when you’re feeling something that’s amiss, something that’s wrong, something that’s upsetting you, whatever it is, to just quickly write it down and don’t try to write it well. You might rip it up as soon as you’re done writing. But the very act of articulating what you are feeling, what you’re experiencing, is incredibly transformative.

And we know this from the work of the psychologist, James Pennebaker, at UT Austin, who’s done all these incredible studies, finding that when people do this, it improves their health, it improves their career success, it improves their sense of wellbeing. He did this one study where he looked at a group of 50-something-year-old engineers who had been laid off, so they were quite depressed about it. And he asked half of them to do what I just described, to write down what they were truly thinking every morning, and then the other half would just write what they had eaten for breakfast that day.

And the first group who had written down truly the expressive writing, they were, I think it was three times more likely to have found work several months later. They had lower blood pressure. They had a greater sense of wellbeing, like just these astonishing findings that you can’t even believe are true except he repeated these studies again and again in all different circumstances.

So, this is something that we could be doing privately. This is something we could be bringing to our teams. We could be distributing blank notebooks and having time for people to kind of, in an alone together way, write down what we’re thinking. We can invite people to share if they want to but they don’t have to do it. But it’s just creating spaces for people to show up to themselves if not to each other in a fully whole way.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, with the expressive writing of what we’re feeling, that’s just sort of the extent of the prompt, “Hey, what are you feeling?”

Susan Cain
That is the extent of the prompt, yeah, “What is it?” And if there’s something that’s upsetting to you right now, write it down. Just get it out. Don’t worry about the grammar, the spelling, or anything. Just get it out. Get it out. What ends up happening, you don’t really need the prompt. What ends up happening is that people just instinctively start writing in a way that is trying to make sense of their experiences. At a certain point, they start doing that for themselves. Like, they start using words, like, “Oh, what I’ve learned is,” or, “What I’m thinking actually have been was…” and that may be where some of the magic lies.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting because I’m thinking right now, I’m kind of sick, I don’t like it.

 Susan Cain
Oh, sorry to hear that. 

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Susan Cain
You don’t look or sound sick. What’s up?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. We’re getting better. We’re getting…oh, maybe I have some COVID to sinus infections going through the whole family.

Susan Cain
Oh, my gosh. You’re very matter of fact about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’ve had COVID before and so, and the worst is behind us but, yeah. And so, that’s unpleasant.

Susan Cain
Yeah, I’m sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I guess, as I think about it, you can arrive at, on the surface level, it might not seem like there’s much to it, “Yup, being sick sucks. That’s true.” But as I think about it more in terms of the, “Well, why? Well, what’s so troubling about that for me? Like, how do I feel diminished? And why does that matter to me?” then we start to get into some interesting themes that can be insightful and actionable.

Susan Cain
Yeah, yeah, that’s right. And I’ll give you a way to do that but also to then kind of do the same thing but sort of turn it outwards. And first let me set this up for you. There is this video that went viral a couple of years ago. It was put together by the Cleveland Clinic hospital to train their caregivers in empathy. And the way this video worked, it basically 
took you through the corridors of the hospital to show you random passersby, people you’d normally walk past and not really think about it.

But in this case, there were little captions underneath each person telling you what they’re going through at that moment. And sometimes it was something nice, like just found out he’s going to be a father for the first time. But because it’s a hospital, often the captions are more things like, under a little girl, she’s going to say goodbye to her father for the last time. Like, these incredibly heartrending captions, and you can’t watch this video without completely tearing up. It’s impossible.

But the thing I started doing after having seen that video, like the thing that really struck me about it is how anonymous all those people in the corridors normally would be, and all it took was like one little half a sentence caption to completely transform them into full-hearted protagonists of their stories, and that I was part of those stories.

So, I started just reminding myself all the time to wonder what people’s captions are. When I go to the grocery store, like the person is checking me out, checking out the groceries, “What are her captions?” And maybe you know them and maybe you don’t. But it’s a very transformative way to interact with people to be thinking in those terms. And with our colleagues at work, we can do that, take that a step farther because there actually are all kinds of clues, if not outright knowledge about what’s going on for them.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s powerful about that for me is just sort of the, I almost want to say, sort of like sacredness or sanctity of the human person in front of you. And being aware of that you…of course, these things…we’ve all got things going on, but calling them to mind can just be so transformative in how you interact with everyone always.

It’s like, “Okay, you are not just a person taking my credit card. Like, you are any number of these things could be going on for you. And as a person, you are worthy of respect and acknowledgement and sort of my attention as opposed to my phone, like clicking around my phone while you’re ringing things up.”

Susan Cain
Yeah. I’ll give you another one for people to do. This one could work for people to do either with their own selves or with teams or co-workers or whatever. And that is to begin your day by proactively engaging with beauty in one way or another. And this is actually a great exercise to do with a team because you could do it in a kind of show-and-tell type of way of everybody bringing something in that they find especially beautiful, whether it’s music or a snapshot or whatever it is.

But when you’re interacting with beauty, we actually know this from studies, it’s basically like tapping into the same brain centers that you experience when you’re falling in love. So, it’s like really tapping into your reward centers, and it’s tapping into a state that kind of predisposes you creatively. So, I did this the whole time I was writing my book. I was following all these art accounts on Twitter. And every morning, I would start my writing day by picking a favorite piece of art and sharing it on my social channels.

And not only did that get my brain in the right headspace to be creative, but also it was connecting me every morning, the first thing it was doing, I was like plugging into this community of people who cared about art and beauty the way I did, and that was incredibly sustaining, and it also grew our community together. So, that’s also the kind of technique that people don’t think about. It doesn’t have to do with bittersweetness per se but there is something about engaging with beauty that gets people interacting with each other in a kind of truer way, in a more whole way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I guess beauty can have many forms and flavors in terms of…is this research on visually? I guess it’s visually and then there’s music or auditorily. I suppose maybe there could be other modalities associated with beauty.

Susan Cain
Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I’m trying to think if the studies that I’m talking about were only looking at visual art or other forms. I’m not sure, but I don’t see why it would be any different, really.

Pete Mockaitis
Sometimes I feel beauty with an excellent handwashing session. Like, if you have just fantastic soap and water that’s warm and just right. I don’t know, people talk about singing Happy Birthday, it’s like, “Oh, no, no, just treasure this moment. It’s so glorious.”

Susan Cain
Yeah. Well, it’s wherever you find it. I guess that’s why they make all those beautiful soaps.

Pete Mockaitis
Didn’t think we’d end up here, Susan. All right. Well, before we hear about some of your favorite things, any key things you really want to make sure folks, who are seeking to be awesome at their jobs, know about Bittersweet?

Susan Cain
I think we’ve covered a lot. I guess I would say for those who are on the creative side of the work life to just know that one great thing you can do creatively, like whatever pain you can’t get rid of, take that and make it your creative offering. That’s really what the great creatives have always done. There’s always been this kind of transformation, it’s a kind of like alchemy, so to tune in that way.

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

Susan Cain
I’ll give you the quote that I used as the epigraph for Bittersweet, which is kind of like my whole philosophy in this book. It comes from Leonard Cohen, and the quote is, “There is a crack in everything that’s where the light gets in.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Susan Cain
You’re welcome.

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

Susan Cain
I’ll give you one from one that I also talk about in Bittersweet, and it comes from Dacher Keltner, who’s this great psychologist at Berkeley, and he has studied what he calls the compassionate instinct. And he basically studies the way in which the expression of sorrow is a kind of bonding agent for humans, and that this is because we’re evolved to be able to take care of babies who are utterly vulnerable and dependent on us. But from that beginning comes our greater ability to respond to vulnerabilities of all kind.

So, what he figured out is that we all have a vagus nerve, which is this big bundle of nerves in our bodies. It’s extremely large, it’s extremely fundamental, it regulates our breathing, it regulates our digestion, and also, if you see another person or being in distress, your vagus nerve will become activated, so that on a preconscious level, you’re not going to feel good for as long as you see someone else in distress. You’re going to want to do something about it. So, I would say that’s my favorite research, this compassionate instinct that Dacher has found.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so true. I saw someone fell off their bike today outside my office window, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, are you okay? Do I need to go down there?” Wait eight seconds. “Oh, they’re cool. They’re cool. They’re laughing it off. They’re getting on the bike. Okay. Okay.”

Susan Cain
Well, he used this term that he calls vagal superstars for people whose vagal nerves are really, really reactive, so maybe you’re one of those.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Susan Cain
One that’s coming to mind right now is the book Flow by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He’s the psychologist who basically discovered the idea that humans are really at their best, I’d say most happiest, but just like at our most switched on when we’re absorbed in an activity that’s completely engaging to us, and we’re kind of surfing this channel in between boredom and anxiety.

So, it’s difficult enough that we’re not bored but it’s not so difficult that it’s making us anxious. We’re just like completely happily switched on and engaged. And I will tell you that has been a life-transforming idea because ever since…as soon as I read it, I was like, “Oh, my God, yeah, I love that state.” But as soon as I thought of that as something to aspire to, I started sort of trying to structure my days so that I’m in a state of flow as much of the time as possible.

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

Susan Cain
Well, this is very boring, I guess, but it’s my laptop. But I will say my laptop is nothing without my cup of coffee next to it. So, my cup of coffee here and my candle here, so I think what I’m really saying is that I have these Pavlovian cues that I have used over the years to make myself love sitting down at work. Like, I love my candle, I love my coffee, I love my chocolate, and so I never work without these props on hand. And so, I associate the whole thing with pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to really connect with your readers, listeners; a Susan Cain original that is quoted often?

Susan Cain
I don’t know. I will say that I think that the work that I do, like with Quiet and with Bittersweet, the thing that keeps them…the thing that holds them in common is they’re both about the idea of finding a kind of hidden superpowers that tend to be undervalued in our culture that celebrates the loud and the shiny and the glib and the cheery. It’s saying there’s something underneath all of that where there are really deep riches to be had.

And if you think that…we all have different superpowers. And if your superpower happens to be in that mode, go forth and use it. Far from feeling ashamed of it, realize the power that you possess and go and use it.

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

Susan Cain
So, my website is SusanCain.net, and there is a newsletter that you can sign up for there, and lots of information, and also courses. I have these audio courses that you can take where I send you kind of little audio and written texts every morning. So, that’s at my website, SusanCain.net. And I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram so you can find me there, too.

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

Susan Cain
I’m going to say what I said before, like use your superpower, whatever it is. Figure out which one is yours and use it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Susan, this has been such a treat. Thank you for sharing and keep doing the great work you’re doing.

Susan Cain
Thank you so much, Pete. And I really hope you all feel better.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

773: How to Amplify Your Message Through Powerful Framing and Storytelling with Rene Rodriguez

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Rene Rodriguez reveals a powerful three-step formula for amplifying your influence and getting your message heard.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising reason why your audience isn’t listening
  2. The most powerful communication skill in your arsenal
  3. How to craft a narrative and message that sticks 

About Rene

For over two decades, René has been researching and applying behavioral neuroscience as a dynamic keynote speaker, leadership advisor, world-class sales expert, and renowned speaker coach. He has also trained more than 100,000 people in applying behavioral psychology and neurology methodologies to solve some of the toughest challenges in leadership, sales, and change. 

Resources Mentioned

Rene Rodriguez Interview Transcript

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

Rene Rodriguez
Thanks for having me, Pete. I appreciate it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And I’d love to kick us off right at the beginning with hearing one of the most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made about humans and influence over the course of your career, researching and teaching about this stuff.

Rene Rodriguez
One of the most surprising and fascinating discoveries, I love that question. I would say that one thing that everybody here has in common is that we all are trying to create change. Influence, leadership, selling, parenting, being a police officer, it’s all about trying to somehow create change. If you’re selling something, you want people to change what they’re purchasing, to buy you. If you’re parenting, don’t change, change this behavior to better behave, brush your teeth if you weren’t brushing your teeth. And leadership is about, most often, and management, is about changing behavior.

And a lot of times behavior change will most often is resisted. And a lot of times, if you’re getting people to want to change, the one thing that is probably the biggest is to help people save face in the process. That is probably the oddest discovery.

Pete Mockaitis
Save face. So, like they don’t need to be humiliated and beaten down, say, “I am so wrong.” It’s like, “Oh, okay, I guess this makes sense and it’s kind of like something else I’ve done before. All right. Cool.”

Rene Rodriguez
Well, if they don’t have to admit they’re wrong, you are much more likely to get massive change, and it’s kind of a deeper topic on how to get there but it’s really…I mean, think of what it requires though to get a leader to be okay with that, that they don’t have to get the people to admit they’re wrong. It’s a big requirement. It shows a lot of self-assurance and it shows a bigger view of a bigger picture that doesn’t matter who is right or who’s wrong. It’s a search for truth. And as long as we’re on that path, it’s okay.

And people, if you create a safe space for people to do that, most people will opt into it but very few will say, “Hey, I was wrong.” And what’s ironic is if you create a safe space for people to save face, later on they’ll say, “You know, before I used to look at it this way.” They’ll come to you. So, that’s my answer to the random question. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you give us an example of how someone can make a change and not admit that they’re wrong, just like in practice? Like, what’s the example of how that unfolds?

Rene Rodriguez
I think it applies to kids, I think it applies in relationships, I think it applies in management leadership. So, I’d say an example would be a lot of times if, let’s say somebody just had a poor attitude, and they came to work. Trying to get somebody to admit, “Hey, you really have a poor attitude,” is a big sell. It’s a big sell. But if you both, let’s say, watched a movie, or a TED Talk, we had a couple of concepts that we share. One of them called the courage scale. But let’s just say to accomplish the same thing, a movie that really pinpointed in a third-party view that the effects of a negative attitude, and everybody watched it equally together.

And watching that creates sort of a self-diagnosis or self-assessment, and it’s much easier to get somebody to opt in the new behavior if they don’t have to admit they’re wrong. Like, most people will say, “Wow, that’s kind of how I’ve been. And nobody told me that but I watched a third-party kind of talk about it,” and they can safely do it. And it comes down to psychological safety. It’s really what it comes down to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then they can just sort of watch that and say, “Oh, okay, that’s cool. These people are sort of smiling and asking about each other’s day, or whatever those particular behaviors are associated with better attitude.” It’s like, “No, that seems to be working well for them, and my colleagues want to do that, and it seems worthwhile, I guess I’ll go ahead and do that too. Cool.”

Rene Rodriguez
Well, it’s moreover, if you watched the negative impact, like, “Wow, what a jerk that guy was, and look at the impact it had on the team,” and if it was presented in a way that goes, “Well, who am I?” If it caused self-reflection in a safe way, so usually the positive, unfortunately, I wish it was more persuasive, but if we looked at the negative impact of it from…so, we have this thing called the courage scale and it’s a really simple way of defining where you are from an attitude influence sort of energy perspective. Below the line would be, the bottom would be zero, that you got zero’s death, then you got guilt, shame, fear, apathy, anger, and then courage.

And so, all those things are sort of below this line that we call the taking side of life. And so, if you were to say if you met somebody below the line that usually lives their life in fear, anger, guilt, apathy, all those things, do they give you energy or do they take it away? And what most people would say, “Well, they take it away.” Well, how long does it take them to take it away? It’s seconds. You can be having a great day, and that person, you see their name on a caller ID, and instantly you’re like, “Oh, God.” Like, we all know that person.

And so, it becomes humorous, like we all know that person, we could see it in someone else. And then we see above the line, things like openness, willingness, reason, logic, joy, peace, enlightenment, which we all want to get to. But just those other things, can you think of somebody who lives the majority of their life above that line? And they go, “Yeah.” And so, when that person calls, how are you feeling? Immediately great. You can be having a horrible day, but that person calls and it puts a smile on your face.

And so, we talk about the difference between above the line and below the line as a simple example. In fact, my first TED Talk was on that. And then you watch that, and you watch people who typically are below the line, they self-reflect, they go, “Wow, I’ve really been below the line,” and they see the impact, and they just slowly start acting differently. But if you were to say, “Well, who’s been below the line? So, you were below the line, you were below the line, and now you’re going to change.” Well, now, the whole psychology has changed.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Okay, that’s good stuff. And then I also want to hear a story perhaps of someone that you’ve seen, maybe a client, or audience member or reader, who’s really had quite a transformation. They didn’t have the influence they wanted, they made some changes, and then they got it and saw some cool results.

Rene Rodriguez
Yes. So, the journey of influence is really, I think, really cool. And people ask, “Why influence?” And so, I always look at the opposite of it. So, look at a life without influence. You tell a joke, no one laughs. You sell a product, no one buys. You set a vision, and no one follows. The feeling that follows that is usually ones of insignificance. Some people might even fall into depression, high anxiety, questioning themselves, “Why am I here?” No purpose.

And the reason is because everything you’re doing seems to have no impact on the world. And so, then I go, “Okay. So, what’s the opposite of that? What does influence feel like?” You tell a joke, people laugh. You sell a product, people are buying. You cast a vision, and people follow. And now you realize that when you put something out into the world, it has an impact of some sort.

Now, we can use that impact in selling, you can use that impact in being a teacher, you can use that in leadership. Influence is that ability to influence an outcome of some sort. And so, when you look at the transformation of those that never knew the skill and never knew the sequence involved, or the science of it, there are a lot of people that sort of naturally picked it up over the years. They realize that you could act a certain way, speak in a certain sequence, and you’d get better results.

There are whole tons of reasons why that’s the case. My mission has always been, “How do you get those skills into the hands of people that are good but maybe have never been taught how to communicate?” Because in business, a lot of times, it’s the louder person that processes, maybe even half-baked ideas, but authoritatively they get listened to.

And then you have sort of the smarter introverted folks that maybe process silently what’s going on and fully bake an idea, but if they never speak up or communicate it in a way that people want to listen to, those ideas go by the wayside. And the benefit of the business isn’t achieved or felt, and the person doesn’t feel any sort of movement in their career, and so everybody loses.

So, I could tell you, we’ve got hundreds of stories. One of my favorites is Julia. So, one of my good friends and clients is a company by the name of PURIS. So, we’ve just named the number one most innovative food company in the world. So, Tesla was the innovative car company; they were food. So, they revolutionized pea protein. And what it’s doing is they make it taste good. The company is amazing. The research behind it was amazing. It’s incredible.

So, the CEO came to me, and said, “One of our content managers has got a TED Talk, and she’s 25 and has never given a talk.” I said, “Okay, so she’s going from never to her first talk, giving a TED Talk.” I said, “That’s great.” “Can you get her ready?” “Yes.” So, she came to our first session with 85 pages of research that she wanted to cover, and she was an amazing incredible nerd, and I loved it.

And I said, “Okay, Julia, you realize you have 13 to 17 minutes and you got 85 pages.” “I know. I don’t know how to get it all in.” I’m like, “Well, you’re not going to get it all in.” And we fought, arm-wrestled, back and forth on how to tell the story, what research to share, what not to share. And I finally found out that she was a basketball player and she got into a really bad accident and had traumatic brain injury. And that story began a whole journey of what it felt like to sort of make the comeback, but it was such an incredible story that it was what immediately captured attention, but she didn’t want to tell the story because it wasn’t about pea protein.

And I said, “Well, you have to understand if you want your audience to listen, because a lot of influence is about ‘What do I say?’ with very few, very little work is done as to ‘How do I prepare the audience to listen?’” And so, I gave the analogy, “Would you ever plant a seed on cement?” And, of course, we’d never do that. You’d till the soil first, get rid of the cement, find good soil. I said, “Well, there’s a sequence there. But most people plant their seeds of ideas in cement, in audiences that aren’t ready to listen.

And so, how do you get them ready? Well, a story like that than you can tell in just a couple minutes, people watching you go through this traumatic brain injury,” and she’s getting ready to play basketball, listening to her favorite song, and then, smack, she pauses, “And I was blinded by a car, traumatic big brain injury,” and she tells her whole story, but instantly you’re captivated by the story and sort of her journey through on her love for not being able to play basketball, but going back in to school and the comeback that the little pea made.

And this made this amazing story. In fact, I have the whole sort of video transformation on my website. And watching her tell that story, she came back, I said, “Okay, you tell the pea story with all the research, or you tell the basketball story to ten people, come back to me, and you tell me which one people liked.” And she came back, and she said, “Nobody wants to hear about peas. They want to hear about my car accident and basketball.”

I said, “Okay, so we’re going to use that as an opening to capture people’s attention, and then we can transition into the story.” And then that transitioned into some amazing stories that she told. And if you watched the two different people, it’s something that’s very, very inspiring to see once people learn how to tell the story.

Pete Mockaitis
And I want to talk to you about storytelling in particular. And so, right now I’m wondering, that does seem like a captivating powerful story, “Whoa, how did you feel? What happened?” So, then how does one then make the connection to pea protein?

Rene Rodriguez
So, with her, it was literally using the journey of saying, “What that got me now back into what were my passions at school.” And those passions at school led her to her passion for health, and what gave her brain health, or what were the things that really led to a search internally for, which transitioned into the benefits of peas.

So, without going through the whole piece, they’re everything that we do comes from the past events that we’ve been through. All of our past events shaped what we’re attracted to and what we’re repelled by. And so, in one of the exercises, if people want to learn how to tell their story, is we’ll ask a very simple question of what makes you unique.

And so, well, we can do it together. So, like, what makes you unique?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. Well, we here are on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, it’s like I’m a total dork with the stuff. I was reading books about success, goal-setting, leadership, communication, psychology, influence, whatever, as a teenager, and this was my thing. And I remember other folks had like basketball player posters on their walls, and I was like, “They don’t really make Tony Robbins or Stephen Covey posters, so I don’t know what to put on my wall. I guess I’ll just have more books on the shelf.”

Rene Rodriguez
I love it. So, you were a fan or personal development, leadership, all that stuff. So, what would you round that off as a uniqueness? Is it about learning? Would you say that that’s the value behind it? Where would you put that?

Pete Mockaitis
I do like learning and I’m really into it. And I guess it was happening. I got good grades, and I remember that someone asked me, “Oh, Pete, do you study a lot?” I was like, “Hmm, studying.” And it was funny, it sounds like a straightforward question but I thought, “Well, I guess I don’t even think about it as studying. I guess I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know, and then I feel like an attention, a curiosity, an uneasiness about that, and so I need to go ahead and close that gap.”

And I guess what one does when closing that gap is what you call studying, but it doesn’t really feel like, “Oh, got to crack the books and study.” It was like, “Okay, well, this transcription business is clear but the translation is not. What’s that about? Okay, what’s the page on the translation? Okay, okay.” And so, for biology or whatever. So, yeah, I guess it’s about curiosity and learning and stuff.

Rene Rodriguez
So, curiosity and learning, okay. So, let’s just pretend that those two are the ones we’ll focus on. And so, would you say that those are two personal values, that learning and being curious in life are very important words to you?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Rene Rodriguez
So, then the research says, the neuroscience says that those are personal values, or at least reflect your personal values, they were formed between the ages of nine and 13. And so, then the next logical question is, “So, who’s around during that time period?” And that you’re looking for one of two kinds of stories, either we call a lighthouse story or a foghorn story.

And a lighthouse story is somebody that was there that really was the guiding light. They were always wanting to learn. They were the perfect example, the guiding light of this value. Or, the foghorn story. Maybe it was somebody that you needed and didn’t show up, somebody that didn’t value school, and you watched what happened to them. They weren’t curious. They thought they were a know-it-all. And you watch where that led their life.

And so, instead of saying, “Well, the world didn’t give it to me,” you say, “Then I’m going to be that for the world.” So, you became it. And so, it’s one of those two stories. So, what it would be for you? Who was around and what happened, age nine or 13, that really led to learning and curiosity?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think it’s more of a lighthouse story. That’s my dad, and I remember I could always escape the house by asking to go to the library. He would comply just about always with that request. And we were curious about all kinds of things from photography to chess or whatever, and would read books and do stuff together.

Rene Rodriguez
And so, you enjoyed those conversations with dad?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Rene Rodriguez
So, how did it make you feel when you did that? So, what we’re looking for is what we call pathos. What was the feeling associated with that?

Pete Mockaitis
It felt really powerful. I remember it just like, “Holy crap, books make you better. Like, you can become better at anything by learning the stuff.” And there’s vast arrays of books and resources and people that can help you. So, it just felt like, in a way, anything is possible.

Rene Rodriguez
Love it. So, now, give me a little creative freedom. So, if I were to hear that story and I were to craft the message is saying, “So, what is this podcast about?” And so, you’re saying, “Well, here’s what it is. Here’s the ethos. Here’s the research. Here’s all these things,” which are what we call logos, very intellectually driven. You might start with, “Well, as a kid growing up, I was always really curious. My father was one of the most influential people in my life, and he really nurtured that curiosity. If I ever needed to go out of the house, my escape was a library.”

“And if I ever wanted to go to the library, he was always behind it, whether it was me learning about photograph, or learning about astronomy, or whatever it was, I always knew that he could do that. And every time he did that, I was overwhelmed with this feeling of power. I felt powerful. Like, knowledge really did equate to power because I could see the world differently. And now that, as I was growing up, my friends had basketball posters of Michael Jordan and Lebron James, I was looking for posters of Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins, and all of the people that were really sharing more of that knowledge.”

“And so, when I decided to do a podcast, I decided to do it around the theme of giving people the same gift that my father gave me, was finding those same knowledge sources to empower people to be better. And so, now that’s why we created the podcast.” So, now you see how the sequence sort of formed based on understanding those two words, tracing that back to a story, which we would call your origin story, and we did it very quickly, but it hits the brain in a very different way when it’s heard in that sequence.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s well put, hits the brain differently. It’s like I’m trying to articulate how it’s hit my brain because it’s like, I mean, it’s my story, I know it, it’s true. And yet I don’t think I’ve quite articulated it that way. There have been bits and pieces, but it’s got a…the hitting of the brain, it’s like a feeling of openness, or it’s kind of like a, “Oh, okay. So, that’s what this is.” It has a little bit more of emotional resonance, as opposed to…

Rene Rodriguez
Resistance.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Rene Rodriguez
Or cliché, right? Well, I like to help people learn, so we start with a message and it hits the brain differently, hits the part of the brain we call Broca’s area. And Broca’s area is a very tiny little speck in the brain that deciphers language. And we go, “So, yeah, I like to help people learn through my podcast,” and we go, “Okay, cool. So, every podcast does the same thing? Cool. Really unique, bro.”

But then when you start with a story, what it does is it triggers your entire sensory cortex. It triggers your limbic system, which triggers emotions. All those past things light your brain up. If you like a functional MRI scanner or a SPECT span, it lights your brain up like a Christmas tree. But what it also does is it lights up the brain of the listener because storytelling is involved.

And so, because our brains light up in the same way, it begins a process of neuro-coupling. And when neuro-coupling happens, there’s a coherence that happens between the two brains and safety is created, what we call psychological safety, “So, I know I’m not going to be judged. There seems to be an alignment of values. If I agree with the story or I like it, I’m attracted to the story and the values it represents at a deeper level,” and it bypasses the parts of the brain that resists, that don’t feel safe.

And so, that sequence is what we call the beginnings of the amplify formula to be able to begin to till the soil of the audience, meaning prep them to hear the message, which is, “Now I want to hear all about what your podcast is about because I have the backstory to what the frame is.” And so, that’s creating a frame or frame of reference. And that frame of reference, frames act as constructs of reality so I can understand reality in front of me.

Like, you have a podcast. Well, I understand the podcast based on what are the frame of reference I choose. But if you don’t provide a frame of reference, I’ll choose one. In fact, if I have a negative…let’s say I have a negative experience of podcasts, and I go, “Oh, gosh, another podcast.” Maybe that’s my frame of reference.

So, I hear your podcast through that filter. But if you provide the frame first, because that’s how the brain works, it needs a frame, and you provide it, the story with dad and what it did for you and your passions for learning and curiosity, and giving a gift back, I don’t pull from my negative frame. I pull from your origin story as the frame, and I hear the message completely different, totally different narrative.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. So, you said there’s amplify sequence, and it starts with some story and framing. Can you sort of give us the overview of the whole process sequence?

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah. So, the science behind it is pretty in depth in terms of understanding what I just said, which is part of influence, and it sounds crazy, it’s about understanding how we construct reality. And so, either I construct a reality that your product is valuable or not, or maybe I construct a value that my product and my time is more valuable than yours, so then why would I meet?

And so, how does it do that? It does that by choosing a frame of reference or the narrative around it. The narrative creates meaning, and then I understand it through that. Now, I’m not talking about a physical reality, like my table here is wood, this mic stand is metal. Those are physical realities, proven to physics and science. But the social reality of how I interpret the meaning behind something is created through narratives and frames.

And so, my brain, to understand it, I’ve got to pull a frame first that is a neurological sequence of understanding how I process information. And so, for example, I’m going to say a profession and you tell me what word comes to mind. Used car salesman.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it might not be fair to great professionals in the field.

Rene Rodriguez
Of course not.

Pete Mockaitis
But, you know, sleazy, dishonest.

Rene Rodriguez
Right. So, every time it’s usually something along that. So, what happened is you accessed your frames of reference which are societal frames of reference. That is pretty predictable that we get that because of the stigma that’s been created, that people say sleazy, dishonest, all those such of things. So, that frame of reference comes in front and acts as a filter to really filter out and create meaning around what’s said.

So, if I were to say, “Don’t worry, you can trust me. I’m a used car salesman,” most people will giggle, they’ll say, “Hahaha,” because it’s an incongruent message. And incongruency translates, typically, into lack of trust, when I’m saying one thing but I mean another, or my body is saying one thing and my words are saying something else. Like, “I’m really excited to be here today.” So, my tone is saying not but my words are saying I am. That’s an incongruency.

Sometimes we want to stand with power and authority and influence, but we stand with insecurity and submission. Those are body language cues that are being incongruent. And so, my grandfather was in Cuba, and he was watching the Cuban Revolution just begin, and so he wanted to get his family out of Cuba. So, he wrote a letter to the President of the United States, and said, “If you can get me and my family out of this country, I will come and fight for yours.”

So, somehow that letter made it to the right person and they pulled my grandfather out, along with my mother, her sister, and my grandmother. And so, he went and served in the American Armed Forces for eight years. After his time, he landed at Patrick Airforce Base in southern Florida, in Homestead, Florida, and realized very quickly that his American dream was really limited to how far he could walk because he didn’t have a car.

And so, there was somebody, though, that believed in my grandfather. He saw what he did for this country and got him into an older vehicle. And that older vehicle allowed him to stretch his reach by 25, 50, even 100 miles finding better employment, better pay, changing the trajectory of his life, my mother’s life, and, ultimately, my life. And that person who believed in my grandfather was a used car salesman.

And so, now, if you noticed, the brain didn’t have any of a chance to pull sleazy or dishonest because I did the work for you. I gave you a frame first, and so now you’re hearing that in the context of that frame.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talked about that reframing of the used car salesperson, I’m thinking now about this goofy movie, Cedar Rapids. It’s got Ed Helms and John C. Reilly and Anne Heche. And the idea is Ed Helms is going to the big city of Cedar Rapids because he’s been in a small-town environment for a long time, and it’s all about insurance.

And my frame for an insurance salesperson is, “Oh, geez, what a boring job. Insurance is a boring thing, and selling, not a lot of fun.” But then he tells a story about how his dad passed away, and it was an insurance person who was… I’m actually tearing up a little bit. An insurance person was like the hero for his family because they didn’t know what they were going to do. But when they had that insurance money come in suddenly, their worries associated with, if they could still go to school or whatever, were put to rest.

And so, life insurance salespeople are heroes to him, and doing this is like a dream. And it was a very powerful and a goofy fun movie. And so, there you have it. We have a story and we have a frame, and it totally…you’re right. It doesn’t give me an opportunity to grasp onto, “Yeah, life insurance sales is boring.”t

Rene Rodriguez
And so, if you think about if it changed the frame, frames dictate perception, and perception equals reality. And so, the superpower here is understanding storytelling. So, look at what just happened. You recalled the story and you got emotional.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, a ten-year-old movie that’s a comedy.

Rene Rodriguez
A ten-year-old movie. And so, what’s the science of storytelling? Well, think about it this way. The research says that upwards of 33%, sometimes even 50% of our waking hours, we spend daydreaming. And daydreaming is really scenario-planning. Like, “If I do this, then that. What color shirt shall I wear on the podcast? Well, should I be ready for that? Headphones or not? How do I get ready for this? Did I leave the stove on? Well, I better call this client.” We’re constantly running scenarios. That’s a prefrontal lobe activity. It’s a future simulator.

And a future simulator, for example, it’s powerful. Like, if I were to tell you I’ve got this new ice cream that’s from Ben & Jerry’s. It’s called Liver and Onions. Do you want some?

Pete Mockaitis
Not yet. I want to hear the magic you work on this, Rene.

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah, exactly. Now you’re expecting that. But, no, typically, you’d probably have a visceral response of saying, “Ugh, gross.” Even though you’ve never tried it, your brain went from a past experience, went out into the future, concocted liver and onions as an ice cream, and you taste it hypothetically as a scenario, and sends a signal back, saying, “Nah, we don’t like it.” And it happens in a split second.

And so, we’re constantly running these future simulations, and there’s only two situations that we stop doing that throughout the day. One is life and death situations. Somebody is in trouble, I’m in trouble, somebody’s got a gun on my head. I’ll stop and be very present. The other is through story. When somebody tells a story, the reason we stop daydreaming is because a storyteller is daydreaming for us, and we use daydreams, we use stories to create narratives, which create a simplified model of reality so we can understand what’s going on.

I’m here in my studio, I’m on a podcast. The reason I’m on a podcast is to grow my brand and awareness. And, hopefully, that will translate into access. We run these stories and scenarios. And so, if I’m listening to this as a listener, ask yourself and your business, “What things and stories are you a part of?” And when that story doesn’t match, how difficult it feels.

But think about this. If the stories create the narratives, and the narratives construct reality, and somebody tells me a good story, I’m allowing them into my brain to take a real estate and set whatever narrative they want. And the crazy thing is that we…the brain doesn’t know the difference between my story and reality.

Literally, you just cried recalling a movie that was done based on fake actors. A story bypasses all of that, and we take on the role of the protagonist, our empathy is triggered, sensory cortex is triggered, emotions are triggered, and we experience it as real. And we get into this process where we, over time, we take on even the belief systems and the decision-making process if we hear someone’s story or the thought process over and over and over and over again. We start acting as like, “Okay. Well, what would this person do?” And we forget that that’s their thinking and we take it on as our own.

And so, we can install narratives of love, narratives of hate, of racism, of giving back, of strong value proposition, of buying into a vision, the thoughts of new possibilities, new relationships, dating someone. You name it. It’s all done through story.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Rene, these implications are vast not just for getting someone to follow you or to buy. I’m thinking about just like in terms of just your emotional states and the stories you tell yourself associated with what’s going on around you. It’s like, “Am I a victim to this thing? Am I trapped here forever? Or, am I a hero or whatever.” We can construct it to story and feel completely different about the circumstances we’re presented with.

Rene Rodriguez
You nailed it. And the stories that we tell ourselves are the most powerful. The narratives that we choose, and so many people choose the narrative of victim. And there’s a term that I love to use called amor fati. And so, when we go through our program, we help people identify their story and then tie it to their business value proposition, which becomes a really powerful combination.

But some people go through…you want to help them sell more, or you want to help them be a better leader but they have these inner narratives that are either of a victim, they got a chip on their shoulder. Who knows what it is? It isn’t serving them in a way. Some people, me being Rodriguez, I grew up with a narrative that being Hispanic was people were against me. If it’s maybe a female growing up, that women are trying to be held back by men, or bald men don’t have it as easy as others. Whatever it is, whatever the narrative you’re running.

And what I always tell people, saying, “So, how do we set ourselves up in the best strategic position possible?” Part of that is we have to achieve amor fati. And amor fati is, literal transition is lover of fate. It’s a lover of your story. And I’ll give you one example of this. We had one woman come through our class, and she had a lazy eye. And you could tell right away, at first, she’s not looking at me, she’s bored. Ah, she’s got a lazy eye. So, no big deal. It’s really not that big of a deal, very common.

And halfway through day two, or actually at the beginning of day two, she said, I was in front of the room, talking, she goes, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but I do have a lazy eye. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed.” I’m like, “Yeah, noticed it right away.” And she like looked at me with a smile, like surprised that I would just say it, I’m like, “Of course, yeah, big deal.” I said, “So, tell me about your lazy eye.” And she’s like, “Well, it’s been an insecurity. I’ve tried to hide it. I don’t like looking at people in the eye because it just makes it obvious.”

And then she said, “But it helps me read 800 words a minute.” I’m like, “What?” She goes, “Yeah. This eye right here reads 800 words a minute.” I’m like, “Somebody Google the average…” somebody Googled it. It was 250 words a minute is the average, and a really good reader is 400. Well, this one reads 800. And so, I looked at her, and I said, “So, you’re saying you have a bionic eye?” And she looks at me and she goes, “What?” I’m like, “I want an eye that reads 800 words a minute.”

We looked at the audience, and they’re like, “I want that eye, too.” And she kind of smiles, I’m like, “You have a bionic eye, don’t you?” And she goes, “I never thought about it that way. I wish my other eye sees this and so I can look at people and read, and it’s kind of cool, and sometimes they don’t cooperate.” We all started laughing. And I said, “So, here’s your new narrative. Now for those of you who had real eyes…”

And she starts all her talks this way, “I was given the gift of a bionic eye. I got an eye over here, this baby right here,” she points to it, “reads 800 word a minute. Average reader reads 250, a really good, 400. I’m twice that. In fact, I read a 500-page book on the plane right over here. It’s fantastic. I’m going to read another one tomorrow, and the next day probably. With my left eye, it’s for distance so I can see all of you. Well, the challenge of the bionic eye is it has a mind of its own. Sometimes it doesn’t cooperate, kind of like my personality and probably a lot of you in this room here.”

“And so, if you’re wondering which eye to look at, just keep your eye on this one. That’s the one that’s looking at you.” And everybody just dies laughing. She’s standing there with this pride, a new narrative, something that used to be a story she told herself of insecurity. Now, she came up to me at this event, literally last week, ran up and hugged me, she goes, “That narrative, that story has changed my career and my life. I tell it at every event, I tell it at every meeting, and I stand differently. I’m just happy.” But to your point, the narratives we tell ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Rene, this is so powerful. I feel like we could, and could and maybe should, dig into this for hours. You’re invited back, Rene, already.

Rene Rodriguez
I’d love to.

Pete Mockaitis
So, all right, stories are powerful, they establish frame, which impact how we interpret stuff and how others we’re trying to influence interpret stuff. So, then what are the best practices associated with forming these stories? And maybe what are some watchouts? So, you walked through a bit of the process with me moments ago. Is that the primary pathway you recommend? Or, are there a few flavors on the menu to choose from?

Rene Rodriguez
So, there’s a real simple exercise, I can give it to you. I’ll try to do it auditorily. Is that a word?

Pete Mockaitis
I think so.

Rene Rodriguez
That’s a word. We just made it up, if not. And it’s a way to what we’re trying to uncover is what we call a signature story. And a signature story is a story as unique to you as your own signature. And so, what I do is I create a matrix. It’s basically a four by four, so four, one, two, three, four, by four lines. And at the top, on the far-left column, there’s going to be four phrases that we go down.

The first phrase is, “I believe.” The next phrase is, “I remember.” The next phrase is, “I was taught.” And the last one is, “I’m passionate about…” And so, those four phrases are what I call entry ramps into stories. And what I’ve come to learn over, gosh, we’ve trained tens of thousands of people on this, is that people know how to tell stories but sometimes they need the entry ramp.

And the entry ramp is what helps trigger the memory. And so, the first thing we start with is three beliefs, “I believe…” and we’ll just use three. For example, you chose “I believe in curiosity and learning.” And if you had a third, what would it be?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh.

Rene Rodriguez
First one that comes to mind.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, spirituality. God stuff.

Rene Rodriguez
Spirituality. Faith, spirituality, right? So, across the top says, “I believe in…” the first column, second column says “learning,” third column says, “curiosity,” and the last is “faith.” And so, now we go down the matrix to the next question, which says, “I was taught…” and we go to the first belief. And then we want a story, something you were taught as a kid about learning. And in that little box, we read a little story. And you have to remember what you were taught as a kid about learning.

And then you go down one. What do you remember about…? Remember something you remember about learning, a story, and then something you were taught about learning. And the last one, something you’re passionate about when it comes to learning. And then we go back to the question of curiosity, “Something I remember as a kid about learning,” or curiosity, “Something I was taught about curiosity and something I’m passionate about when it comes to curiosity.”

Then the last column would be something “I remember about faith or spirituality, something I was taught about faith or spirituality, and something I’m passionate about.” And now you have nine signature stories to be able to draw from. But here’s the thing. What do you do with them, those stories? They’re nothing without a message to follow, and the third part of what we call the amplify formula, which is a tie-down.

And a tie-down answers the question of what this means to you is. Like, I can give you a story about all three worked together if you’d like.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Rene Rodriguez
So, my second TED Talk actually has this story in it but it’s a story of Janice. Now, Janice was an executive of a very large organization. They wanted me to help her get ready for an interview to take on the CEO position of a billion-dollar organization within the larger conglomerate. And the interview is very intense, seven, eight, nine, ten hours sometimes with ten people in the room, all focused on her, drilling her with questions.

So, we started with a mock interview of three people in front of her, and asked her a question. First second, I sit off to the side, I look at facial expressions, sequencing, timing, storytelling, framing. I look at all the things that I look at. And the first question was, “Tell us something you’re proud of.” And she looks at us and answers very presidential – short, concise, and to the point.

“I got straight A’s my last year in school, one of my proudest moments,” was her answer. So, now, one thing we know about frames is that when we talk, if we don’t provide one, the listener will create one for us. They have to, that’s how they construct reality. So, they look at me, and said, “Rene…”

Pete Mockaitis
You’re right. Right there is like, “Okay, you worked really hard,” or, I mean, “You worked really hard or your parents were smart, or you had a good tutor.” It’s weird, I’m just making stuff up.

Rene Rodriguez
And immediately, right? And the brain can’t handle it. It’s like one of the things that…

Pete Mockaitis
Excuse me. Something fell off the shelf but we’re fine.

Rene Rodriguez
So, now you saw my reaction there, right? And so, I’m looking off, I paused, and so the listeners might say, “Hold on a second. Did we lose something?” I’ll sometimes get up and walk off the camera in the middle of a podcast, and the interviewer is looking at me like, “What happened?” and I’ll do this little training.

Pete Mockaitis
“Is he mad at me?”

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah, is he mad at me? I did it on stage in front of 600 CEOs. I stopped in the middle, I’m like, I looked at them, I turned around and walked off stage. And then from behind stage, I said, “Now, I want you all to pay attention on how you feel and what’s going through your minds.” And I came back out, and I said, “What do you think happened?”

And I got five or six, ten responses, and all of them were different, “I thought you’re having a heart attack,” “I thought you might’ve forgotten your lines,” “It looked like you’re crying.” And they were all assumptions. And I do that to illustrate the point that your brain does not deal in narrative gaps. It has to fill it even if it’s false. And our world is full of narrative gaps right now.

And so, when she says, “I got straight A’s my last year in school,” there’s a huge narrative gap there. And I’m going to fill it based on my own past experience. So, they looked at me, “What do you think?” I said, “Oh, so straight A’s your last year in school? So, you’re a procrastinator? Are you going to procrastinate for us as well?” She looks at me like I’m crazy, and I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Did mommy and daddy pay for school so you didn’t have to work that hard?”

Or, even yours, “So, your mom and dad must’ve been really smart, rich, probably had good tutors. Lucky you.” So, who knows what these unfair narratives are? But the brain doesn’t have a choice. It has to fill it. And so, now pay attention to this. I said to her, and she’s got a tear in her eye when I said that to her, I said, “Look, I didn’t mean those things but you didn’t fill it for us. You didn’t tell us the frame or the narrative but I know it’s important to you, wasn’t it?”

She just nodded her head. And I said, “Why?” And then when she told them the story behind it, it changed everything. She looks at me and she said, “When you’ve been told you’re stupid your entire life by adults, you tend to believe them. And something happened my last year in school, where I looked myself in the mirror, and I said either I’m going to believe them forever or I’m going to do something about it. And I did something about it.”

So, now that frame completely shifts the message. And the message, now understood differently, changes the reality of the relationship between how I perceive her. And so, now I’m emotionally moved, I’m probably more connected with her. I mean, if you’re listening to this, you probably felt some sort of shift internally, maybe protective of her. Who knows what it is? But this pathos is an emotional connection there.

And so, then the next question is, “So, what do I do with that?” because that’s powerful. There’s a lot of emotion in the air but for what purpose? Most speakers, most leaders that learn how storytelling will stop at that but it doesn’t create influence. It creates emotional connection but influence is about affecting a behavior.
And so, the last part, the tie-down would be adding the step next, which is having a clear influence. Objective, to get the job. A tie-down answers a question of what this means to you is. So, I might share that story instead of saying, “Hey, tell us something you’re proud of,” and starting with, “Oh, I got straight A’s last year in school,” frames and narratives gone wild. Who knows what they’re going to believe?

Or, if I just go with a little contextualization, “Well, I was told I was dumb but then I decided to turn it around, and now I got straight A’s.” Everyone was like, “Wow, that’s great. Who’s next?” No action taken. But if you do all three, it sounds like this. “Tell us something you’re proud of.”

“Well, unfortunately,” start with the frame, “I was surrounded by a lot of adults who told me I wasn’t really smart. And when adults speak to you that way, you tend to act that way, and I didn’t do well in school. But something happened my last year in school, where I looked myself in the mirror, and I said either I’m going to believe them forever, or I’m going to do something about it. So, I went on and get the help that I needed, put my nose to the grindstone, and I’m proud to tell you that I got straight A’s my last year in school.”

Tie-down. “Now, I’m assuming if I do get a chance to work with you and your team, that there’s going to be times where we’re going to be facing some pretty big challenges, and maybe some insurmountable obstacles, or seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But I promise you this, if I get to be on your team, I’ll be out there next to you, if not in front, overcoming those challenges in the same way I overcame them in my own personal life, but this time for you and for your team.” Frame, message, tie-down. That’s the sequencing that creates influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, that’s powerful. There’s so much gravitas, conviction, oomph, power there. It’s hard not to believe such a person as opposed to…and interviews are stomping grounds for BS, and you’re like, “Okay, all right. You believe that and I believe you. Let’s see if you can check the other boxes. Determination, conviction, totally covered. Let’s see. How about financial skill?” I don’t know, whatever is next on the checklist.

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah, all those things sort of come second nature. Once you believe the person, who they are, you start saying, “Okay. Well, let’s just make sure they check all the boxes so we can move forward.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, Rene, tell me, anything important you want to make sure to put out there before I ask about a couple of your favorite things?

Rene Rodriguez
We wrote a book, it just landed number two Wall Street Journal bestseller.

Pete Mockaitis
Amplify Your Influence.

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah, and I think with MeetRene.com, follow me on social media, Instagram @seerenespeak right there.

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

Rene Rodriguez
Probably one of my favorites is from Stanley Kubrick, and he said that, “Our ability to eloquently talk about a subject matter can create the consoling illusion that we’ve mastered it.” To me, that keeps me humble because I can talk about all these things eloquently, and yet I can still struggle with every single one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Rene Rodriguez
One of my favorite books is Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play. It’s from Mahan Khalsa. He’s a Harvard guy that talks about how to really sell difficult complex technology solutions but his mentality behind the concept of let’s get real, let’s have real conversations, let’s deal in the reality here, let’s not just play. And, to me, it was one of my favorite books I’ve ever read.

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

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah, I would say this, that the challenge that we face in growing up, most of us here, was that the things that now are most important, we were told weren’t. They were called soft skills, the things that, like, “Oh,” the interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, all of those things, and we valued all the “hard skills” that school taught us.

Well, we know with the research right now that those hard skills aren’t the determining factor for success. They’re needed. Trust me, they are needed but they aren’t the differentiator. Your ability to deal with people, connect with people, build trust, and that is mostly done through vulnerability, through your story. When you can share your story, where you’ve been through, and where you come from, that creates the ground for trust, empathy, and most importantly, somewhere to move forward together.

Pete Mockaitis
Rene, thank you. This has been powerful and beautiful. I wish you much luck and that your book Amplify Your Influence is a huge success.

Rene Rodriguez
Thank you. Appreciate being on here. Thank you so much.

772: How to Build Resilience to Thrive in Uncertainty with Gemma Leigh Roberts

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Gemma Leigh Roberts shares recent science behind resilience and how to bounce back from whatever the world throws at you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you shouldn’t confuse grit with resilience 
  2. The challenges worth seeking out to build your resilience
  3. How to build resilience into daily routines 

About Gemma

Gemma Roberts is a chartered psychologist who has spent most of her working life teaching, writing, and speaking about what it takes to navigate challenges successfully, build resilience in the face of adversity, and create environments where each individual can thrive and perform at their peak, in their unique way. 

Her book, Mindset Matters: Developing Mental Agility and Resilience to Thrive in Uncertainty, which will be released in May 2022, came from her Mindset Matters newsletter on LinkedIn, which now has 500,000 subscribers. 

She is also a LinkedIn Learning instructor, with her courses garnering over 3 million learners. She also hosts the We Got This: Work+Life audio series on LinkedIn.

Resources Mentioned

Gemma Roberts Interview Transcript

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

Gemma Roberts
Hello. Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear your wisdom. And I’d like to start in March 2020 and hear your story right at the beginning of pandemic times, you start your Mindset Matters LinkedIn newsletter and things really take off. Can I hear the story?

Gemma Roberts
Yes. Well, I guess a lot changed in life around then. So, we had literally just gone into lockdown in the UK, the first lockdown that we went into following the outbreak of COVID-19, so it was a really scary time for lots of us, really challenging, I think, for most of us, it ended up being. And my research area is resilience, so that’s the area that I’ve worked in for the last decade but it was the area where I’ve been doing doctorate research.

So, I thought at that time that, actually, there’s so much that I could be sharing to help people navigate uncertainty, and I had access, kind of early access to LinkedIn newsletters because I’m a LinkedIn Learning instructor. It’s kind of the perfect time to share some of that advice, some of the edited space stuff that we know works, because what I was seeing is, actually, there was a lot being published or lots of people talking about resilience but it wasn’t necessarily accurate and it wasn’t necessarily that helpful because if we think about psychology, if we’re not careful, sometimes we can do more harm than good.

So, I actually thought of it as an obligation to put some helpful evidence-based useful information out there that, hopefully, would help people navigate uncertainty. I mean, at that point, we had no idea what we’re about to go through in the world, either the following two years. So, I had no idea how that was going to pan out. So, the newsletter grew quite quickly on LinkedIn Learning and I think, within 11 months, there were 250,000 subscribers.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Gemma Roberts
Yeah. And today, kind of two years on, it’s like 550,000 subscribers maybe. So, it really gained momentum quite quickly. And I honestly think that’s because of the topic because I talk…the newsletter is called Mindset Matters. And I think, at that point in time, myself included, we were all looking for advice about what to do in this new working world, what do we need to think about what’s going to help us thrive, or even just sometimes survive some of these challenges and changes that were going on.

So, the newsletter took off, which was amazing, and it actually turned into a book, which had literally just been released, which is very exciting. So, the book is also called Mindset Matters and I wrote that thinking about those people that were reading the newsletter. So, thinking about people who want advice on these key areas of psychology, or think about how we think about things, how we process information, how we can use that to our advantage in the working world, and kind of built out the five key topics that I talk about.

I guess I got it in the book, I got to go into a bit more detail, really, around what those topics are. I explore a bit more in terms of research and case studies but, ultimately, it’s a coaching manual. So, for each topic I talk about, there are coaching exercises in that, and I want it to feel, like for people who read it, I want it to feel like as close it can to having a coaching conversation with someone, and sitting down and testing out some strategies, seeing what works, tweaking things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for the story, and that sets things up nicely. I’m curious, when you said information going around is not accurate, well, can you bust a couple myths for us right off the bat here?

Gemma Roberts
Yeah. So, a lot of how we traditionally think about resilience is kind of pushing through. So, perseverance or grit or mental toughness, whereby we face a challenge and we need to kind of push through, get to the other side, make it through, get past it, but actually that’s not really what resilience is at all. It can be sometimes but that’s not entirely what resilience is.

So, resilience is positive adaptation following adversity. That’s the kind of broad definition, and sometimes we do need to push through, sometimes we do need to kind of figure out how we can take those next steps and just keep going. But, also, sometimes we need to stop, sometimes we need to accept what’s going on and we can’t change it, sometimes we need to rest, we need to build our resilience reserves up again, and sometimes we need to kind of break down to be able to build ourselves back up again as well. But that’s not really the bit of resilience that we hear about.

The other thing about resilience is we have been told, I guess, that it’s up to us, as individuals, to work on ourselves to become more resilient, and some of us have it and some of us don’t. Again, that’s not accurate. There is so much, in terms of context, that goes into resilience. There are things like support systems around you, or organizational context where you work, the business culture, line managers support, policies, processes, big changes going on in the world, like COVID, for example, changing a lot of our lives.

So, again, yes, I focus a lot on helping people to become more resilient themselves to things that they can do, but it’s also very important to take into account kind of what’s going on around you as well, and try and think about kind of the broader picture, which is not something that we were hearing a lot about at the start of the pandemic. And I think partly that’s because that’s where research is going. We’re still kind of getting there with resilience research. So, it’s not grit, resilience is not grit. It’s not pushing through. Sometimes it could be, but other times it could be something completely differently you need.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for that clarification, that distinction there. So, positive adaptation following diversity. Yeah, lay it on us, how do we get more of that going?

Gemma Roberts
Well, there’s another little myth with resilience. So, not a myth necessarily but it’s kind of something that’s a bit unfortunate but it comes to building resilience. So, when I work with people, strictly to coaching context, quite often people want to build their resilience but they don’t want to face challenges because, ultimately, who does? Who wants to wake up in the morning and think, “Oh, I can’t wait for this great big challenge that’s going to come my way, and I’m not going to know what to do with it”?

Most of us, we might appreciate some more challenges but big ones can sometimes feel overwhelming. But the truth of it is that we need that adversity, we need challenges if we’re going to build our resilience muscles, if we’re going to learn the skills that we need to get through challenges. In a way, that’s very healthy for us. So, if we’re going to learn from the situation, so learn what we’re capable of, learn how it works for us when we react in different ways, and would we do that again, what different tools or strategies can we use in the future.

So, if you want to become more resilient, and I do recommend that for all of us because, I’m going to be honest, challenge, change, complexity, none of that’s going away in our lives. We will have to deal with that at one point or another. So, if we want to be resilient, which means we can deal with those situations more effectively and in a way that’s healthy for us, then we need to face challenges, we need adversity.

The key thing is if we had a choice, which we don’t, but if we had a choice, it’s we want challenges that stretch us, they stretch our abilities, they can be really uncomfortable, take us outside of our comfort zone, but aren’t necessarily overwhelming. Because once we get to that overwhelming phase, it’s quite difficult to focus on building those kinds of personal tools that we need to be resilient and, actually, we get thrown a bit more into survival mode.

But the key is looking out for those, I guess, stretching challenges in our lives that are going to help us to develop, help us to grow, help us to learn something about ourselves and the environment around us as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’re on the lookout for the stretching challenges and, ideally, that’s the nature of the challenges we get. This reminds of that Stephen Covey chart, in terms of the comfort zone, growth zone, panic zone. So, got that in my mind’s eye. And so, I’m curious, like sometimes in my own experience, sometimes even the same challenge in, I guess, a different context, I don’t know, in terms of there’s more stuff going on, I’m kind of sick – I’m a little sick right now – it can be like overwhelming, exhausting, it doesn’t feel like a positive adaptation has happened afterwards.

Just like, “Aargh, I barely made it through that thing, and I just want to sleep for days now,” versus, “Okay, victory. I’m stronger now.” So, can you zero in on what are some of the, I don’t know, levers or adjustments we can make so that we more often find ourselves in the, “Yes, that was a positive adaptation following the adversity zone,” as opposed to, “Aargh, that almost killed me, and I just need to sleep forever now”?

Gemma Roberts
That, Pete, is a really key point because this all comes back to that context part and resilience changing over time. And resilience is a process. It’s not a thing we have or don’t have necessarily. We can have skills that help us but the resilience process is dealing with that challenge or dealing with that adversity, and it doesn’t always happen quickly. Sometimes we look back years down the line, I think, actually, “Yeah, I guess I kind of learned something from that.” We don’t necessarily do learning, if at all, but if we’re consciously trying to learn from the situation, we don’t always necessarily do it straight away.

So, there’s kind of two things that you mentioned. So, one of them is, “Why is it that some days we feel like we can deal with challenges, and, on other days, the exact same challenge will feel like the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and it’s the thing that sends us over the edge?” And the answer to that is that, again, it’s contextual.

So, some of it has to do with us as individuals, so what’s going on with us. How many other challenges are you dealing with at once? Are they big challenges? Are they reoccurring? Have you got lots and lots of little things going on that you’re struggling to kind of switch your attention between? Or is there one huge thing going on in your life which is taking over everything else?

Because when we’ve got lots of things going in our lives, and we’ve got one big challenge going on in our life, it can make other smaller things, sometimes, feel a lot bigger, or we’ve might’ve used all of our resilience reserves, all of our energy that we’ve got dealing with those things, and we just haven’t got any left when other things strike. So, that’s why we respond to challenges, the exact same challenge, in a different way on a different day. So, that’s something to keep in mind.

But also, the situations around us are changing all the time as well, so, yes, there could be stuff going on with us, our energy, our mood, our health, things like our physical health, like you might be finding at the moment. So, sometimes when our physical health is impacted, or things like we haven’t had enough sleep, or our nutrition is not so great at the moment, we might find that kind of psychologically responding to things, we just haven’t got that resource. You kind of feel like you’ve got an empty tank, you’re running on empty so that can happen. But this is why it’s so important.

So, when I talk about resilience, it is a complex topic because it’s a process. It’s how we do the thing, it’s how we overcome adversity, and turn that into a positive adaptation, either now or the future. It’s not a thing you have inside you where you can tick off the list, and say, “Yes, I’m resilient 100% of the time.”

And I often say to people that thinking about resilience, that the goal really shouldn’t be wanting to be more resilient or wanting to be resilient because, firstly, how do you measure that? I don’t know because I’ve not faced every challenge I’m going to face in my life. I don’t know if something, it comes my way. Think about the pandemic, for example. I don’t know how I’m necessarily going to react to that.

But, also, it’s never done. You’re never…it’s not like, I don’t know, having…I’ve got brown eyes, for example. Yup, frankly, I’ve got brown eyes, that’s done. That’s probably not going to change my life now unless I wear contact lenses. The goal really should be learning about yourself, so learning about how resilience works for you because, again, it works differently for all of us.

So, what I need today to be resilient, even if I had exactly the same situation as you, will be different to what you need today to do that. So, it’s first about we learn what we need but it’s, secondly, about learning tools, strategies, techniques that we can use at different points in time when we need them. So, the goal really should be learning about your own resilience and learning tools and strategies and keeping them in your back pocket for when you need them to cope with different challenges.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s cover those tools, strategies, and techniques both in the moment as well as preparatory, like you mentioned sleep and nutrition. Like, if I wanted to be maximally equipped to take on a big old challenge, what are some of the things I should do in advance? Like, I’m thinking of a training montage or key practices and habits. So, it’s like, when that thing comes up, “Oh, what do you know? I have built a deep reserve and capability to not be just sort of wiped out by that.” What are some of those key levers there?

Gemma Roberts
Of course, there are things like sleep and nutrition, for example, which I know I’ve already mentioned. But I’ve got two young children, so telling me that I need more sleep to be resilient, I know that. I cognitively am aware of that. Equally, I may not be able to prescribe that for myself every day because it’s not always in my control.

So, it’s having a bank of things to think about. So, sleep, nutrition, exercise, they’re good for any kind of health we’re talking about, whether it’s physical, whether it’s psychological, for sure. When it comes to building resilience and the actual act of dealing with challenges or overcoming challenges, it’s really important that you have taken some time to think about the challenges that you have faced in the past, so this is a little bit of building self-awareness and also some reflection as well.

So, either at the time where that challenge is happening, or you can even think back to where challenges have happened before, think about how you dealt with it, what was helpful for you, what wasn’t helpful for you. Ask yourself questions, like, “Would I do the same thing again? Would I change anything? Like, if I was in exactly the same situation again, what would I do differently?” And that’s not about regret. It’s not about regretting, necessarily, how you handled that situation. It’s about saying, “What did I learn from that? And what would I take with me? And what would I leave behind when it comes to facing challenges again?”

So, this reflection is really important. And, again, like I said earlier about resilience, that reflection is never done. We have to keep doing this. But when it comes to our minds and how they work and mindset, we have to keep doing the work. But there’s also some really handy tools that you could use, some coaching techniques. Things like gratitude, for example, has been shown to help to boost resilience.

Because if you imagine that whether facing a huge challenge or lots of little challenges, sometimes that becomes overwhelming, and sometimes it takes our thinking and we can’t rethink outside of that. But even doing something really simple, like reflecting, either talking about, writing down something or three things that you’re grateful for that day can help you to shift that mindset. So, it shifts you just for a moment away from looking at what’s not going so well, towards actually something that could be going well in your life.

And these could be super simple things. It could be a phone conversation with someone you care about, or great coffee on the way to work, or a walk out in nature, or watching some TV program that you want to watch. They don’t have to be huge. Or, bedtime story with your children. So, there’s techniques like that that can help. And, also, another thing that I always recommend people focus on if you want to think about, “How do I equip myself to face future challenges?” there is a really underrated part of resilience which we rarely hear about that comes out of research and it’s part of my research as well and it’s in other published research, and that’s support, so people around you.

And I think, today more than ever, after going through a period of time where lots of us haven’t been out be around people we care about, necessarily, kind of face to face, and there has been some distance at times, I think we’re craving that even more so than ever. And, actually, in my book, some of the coaching strategies that I go through, I talk about support.

So, a really simple one, for example, is thinking about creating your own board of supporters. So, this means, imagine you’re running a company and you’ve got a board of directors that advise you on different parts of that business, they’ve got different areas of expertise. In the resilience world, we want a board of supporters, so you want to imagine your own table and you’ve got so many seats, whether that’s five seats, 10 seats, you can choose. I tend to work with ten. And you want people on that table that you trust and they support you in different ways.

So, for example, you might have someone who has expertise in something that you’re doing in life, whether that be starting a business or the industry you’re in, and they can advise on that. You might want people on there who are great at listening. So, they don’t necessarily offer advice but they listen to what you’re saying and they make you feel heard and validated. You might have people on there who are really good fun and they’re the people you go to when you kind of what to forget the challenge a little bit sometimes, and just go and concentrate on something else. And you’ve got people on there that care about you, that will offer some kind of support, and it’s very different for all of us.

But ultimately, when it comes to building our resilience, and getting us in a position where we feel like we could deal with challenges that come our way, to give yourself a better chance of being able to do that, having this group of people, whether it’s explicit and they know who they are, when you have that special, or whether it’s not, and you just know who they are…

Pete Mockaitis
You get to have quarterly meetings.

Gemma Roberts
Yeah, you could have quarterly meetings if you want to. I’m sure if you offered up a nice…some beverages and snacks, I’m sure people will come along, but it’s kind of just knowing as well yourself that you’ve got that support, and also identify in us. Because how often do we sit down and think, “I’m so grateful for that person, the advice they give or the support they give”? And on the flipside, think about who you are a support for as well because that also helps to build resilience when we are supporting someone else through their challenges.

Pete Mockaitis
And it gets me thinking about, you know, dig the well before you’re thirsty, like the basis sort of networking relationship principles. Like, you would be more capable of tackling big things if your board of supporters, if those relationships were in a good spot, as opposed to, “Oh, the last time I talked with this guy was three years ago when I was struggling with another business issue, and I’ve been doing a lot of taking and not a lot of giving.”

And so, that’s just sort of what’s leaping to my mind here, is to just go ahead and proactively, just as we would do some sleep…ideally, sleeping well, eating well, exercising well to build up a physical wealth to be ready to handle stuff, so, too, we would like to build up a relational wealth to be able to deal with stuff so that you do feel fully comfortable reaching out, as opposed to, “Oh, maybe I should…maybe that’s not appropriate, maybe I’ve been all take, take, take with this person over the last couple of years, and I don’t feel as good about reaching out now.”

Plus, I think there’s some research about loneliness stuff. It’s like when you most need to reach out to somebody, often it’s when you least feel like it, so you got those things to contend with. So, anyway, it’s what’s leaping to mind for me here, Gemma.

Gemma Roberts
And I think it’s quite like maybe we do need an audit. Maybe sometimes we do need to sit down and think, “Actually, have I checked in with that person lately, sent a message, or had a quick chat?” I think we’re all guilty of that sometimes, of some those things slip a little bit, or it’s very difficult to keep on to of it, but it is important. It’s important to check in and to make sure that we’re keeping that board of supporters there that’s going to help us, those are genuinely, because, again, I talk about this in the book as well, because connection is really important for us.

It’s really, really important that when we hit a challenge or when we go through a period of adversity in our life that we are connected to someone or people or a community that we feel like they’re going to help us. It’s very important for us to be connected to help other people as well because, again, there’s research that shows that if we’re supporting others, we generally feel better about it in our lives and we often feel better about the challenges that we’re facing as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, when it comes to gratitude, there is a number of different approaches to a gratitude practice, and I’m thinking of Shawn Achor and Dr. Andrew Huberman here in terms of different flavors and approaches. Could you maybe list a few of them or identify your favorite in terms of, “Ooh, this has a great research base or a tremendous ROI in terms of a resilience per minute required of us”?

Gemma Roberts
The truth of it is we don’t entirely know exactly like the best full map for gratitude. So, Andrew Huberman, for example, in his podcast, has talked about gratitude from a neuroscience perspective, the most effective way to practice gratitude is actually not to think about the things you’re grateful for but think about stories where someone has thanked you for something, or think about stories where they thanked someone else. From a neuroscience perspective, that has shown the most promising results.

From a psychology perspective, there is research that shows that, actually, just everyday gratitude, so you actually being thankful to other people, can also provide great results for you as well. So, my advice for this is find what works for you and do it in a way that works for you. What we know across various studies, whether that be the new science world or in the psychology world, is that consistency is key. Like, that’s quite important, the consistency part. So, it could be that you do this every day or every evening at dinner, or every night before bed, or every morning, for a period of time.

I’m not saying you have to do this the rest of your life necessarily, although it’s quite a nice habit to get into, but it’s doing it for a good chunk of time. So, give yourself a month, for example, to do this. What’s really important is that you are very focused on the process of practicing gratitude when you’re doing it. So, you’re not thinking about something else at the same time and it has to be genuine as well.

Like, our brains know if we’re not being genuine. We can’t trick ourselves. You can’t just think, “Oh, I’m going to make a note of it. I’m just going to have a nice cup of coffee today, I’m not going to be bothered but, yeah, I’ll just jot that down.” It’s not going to work. You’ve got to be in the process and you’ve got to be really thinking about that interaction with someone or the thing that was really important to you.

So, the way that I tend to do it is I’ll pick a time of day, so whether it’s first thing in the morning, kind of set myself up for the day, or just before I go to bed, I’ll think about it. I’m actually starting to try and do this a bit with my children as well even though they’re quite small but they don’t really know what gratitude is yet, so they’re two and four. So, we’re just focusing on one fun thing that happened today, or one thing that was good today, that you mean somebody, ours is a very random, especially from the two-year-old.

But the point is we’re starting to focus on…because they do a lot of talking about some of the things that haven’t gone so well, like scrapes and cups and bangs and sisters fighting, and who did what. Actually, I’m trying to shift that focus a little bit to focus on, “Okay, yes, we have to…” And the other thing with gratitude is it’s not saying the challenges aren’t happening and it’s not ignoring them or not acknowledging them. It’s saying, “Yes, those things are happening but this stuff is also happening as well.” So, it’s kind of providing a bit more of a balanced view, even just for a moment. That’s often all it takes.

So, the truth is there is no one way of doing this. My advice is, and my advice, actually, most of the coaching strategies that I talk about in the book, is that test it, see what works for you, see how it works for you. Does it work jotting this down? Does it work doing this on a Friday as you’re wrapping up for the week? Does it work doing it on a Monday morning? Does it work doing every morning for you? Does it work at certain points in time? So, when you might start to feel that stress in your chest or you know sometimes that anxious feeling that you might get. Is that the time where it works for you?

It’s testing this stuff and, again, reflecting on “Has that been helpful? Has it changed my thinking process? Has it changed how I interact with the world or others in a more positive way?” and tweaking it where you need to, and kind of keep reflecting on that, making that reflection part of your kind of at least weekly life, I’d say.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s fun. And I guess, as I’ve been doing so, that reflection, one little nuance I’ve discovered is that when I re-read the list of gratitude bits, it’s a lot more powerful on the reflection if those pieces are somewhat unique. Like, in the same day, for example, I might feel gratitude that my wife made a sandwich, like, “Oh, good. I was hungry and here’s a sandwich. That’s great. Thank you.” So, I do have gratitude there.

But if I write that down, and then later I read it, I don’t as much feel a resurrection of the gratitude vibes, like, “Oh, yes,” because it’s not that novel. It’s like, “Yes, I was hungry and then I ate. It happened. It’s happened thousands of times over my lifetime,” versus, on the same day, maybe I did a puzzle with my kids. They’re three and four, so also young. And then Mary immediately says, “Dance party.” She just wants to celebrate having finished the last piece of the puzzle, and just immediately says, “Dance party,” and start doing her thing.

So, I’m very grateful that that occurred, that I had that moment and that memory. And I guess that’s sort of my distinction, I guess, in terms of I’m grateful for this thing and it’s like it “qualifies” as a memory. And in subsequent reflection, I go, “Oh, yeah, that thing was really lovely. And, oh, yeah, that thing was really lovely.” And it gives me more of a jolt than if it’s just a very ordinary, like, “Had a great coffee. Had another great coffee.” So, that’s my experience. I don’t know if there’s research on it or maybe that’s your whole point, reflect on what works for you.

Gemma Roberts
Hundred percent, that’s the point, I reflect. And the novelty part, so I talk a little bit in the book about novelty as well. That’s how our brains remember things, and, also, we really seek novelty. That’s interesting for us, that keeps life ingesting. It keeps us learning. We learn these things through novelty. So, we’re kind of hardwired for curiosity and novelty, so we want to embrace that as much as possible. So, I think most people will find that if there’s something to be grateful for that is kind of out of the ordinary, that’s the stuff we’re going to remember, that’s the stuff that’s going to make a big impact.

However, we’re not going to have that every day potentially. And it’s also really important sometimes, again, talking about mindset perspective, because perspective is a huge part of resilience, sometimes we kind of need to remind ourselves about those little things as well. And even though making a sandwich, for example, or my husband making me a nice cup…he’s like the chief coffee-maker in our house. And sometimes I have to really think, because sometimes I’m like, “Oh, thanks. That’s really lovely.” And I do appreciate it. Sometimes I have to really sit down and think, “Actually, that’s really kind that he does that all the time, like way more than I do. And, actually, maybe I should be a bit kinder in one way or another.”

But sometimes we can miss those kind of everyday normal things to be thankful for. So, I definitely think there’s a place or room in our lives to reflect on some of those things as well. But I know that’s hard because it feels so normal, it feels so every day, that sometimes we don’t appreciate some of those things until they’re not there anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. And that’s where I was going to go, is when you reflect upon the absence, or, “Hey, there was a time in my life when this did not exist. Remember that? See how this is so much better? Huh? Yeah, that is cool having a chief coffee-maker right there.” Well, your book is called Mindset Matters: Developing Mental Agility and Resilience to Thrive in Uncertainty. We talked about resilience. What’s mental agility and how do we get more of it?

Gemma Roberts
So, mental agility has a lot do with kind of being flexible in how we look at the world and how we process information. And, I guess at the heart of it, it’s not being wedded to one way of doing things or one way of thinking. So, there’s a lot in there about, I talk a little bit about curiosity. So, being curious, nurturing curiosity, remaining curious even when things are really challenging, and there are some things you can do around that. Like, pretty simple things.

For example, let’s say that you commute every day and you get to board a train into the city and you walk the same way every day to work, pick up your coffee from the nice coffee shop you always go to, or pick up breakfast from the place that you love. That’s amazing but sometimes you can force yourself to go a different route and stumble across a completely different street or another little coffee shop that you haven’t seen before. Especially, I used to do a lot of work in London, for example, less so kind of commuting since the pandemic. But, especially in the city, there are little tiny windy streets, you could get to the same place in a completely different way at different times.

Or, it could be things like going to an art gallery. Like, I’m not really into art galleries, if I’m honest. I’m not really into museums, particularly, unless it’s about a topic that I love. But sometimes it’s about kind of forcing ourselves to go and experience these things just because you might learn something, you might pick up something over here, an idea that later on down the line connects to something completely different to what you’re doing. So, that’s part of mental agility, this idea of being curious, but also being able to challenge your perspective and also broaden your perspective.

So, I guess, when I first started out as a psychologist, when I was doing my undergraduate degree, I thought I was going to university to learn how people think and be able to help people think in the best way for them. And I thought I was going to go and do my undergraduate degree and find out the best way to think about challenges, or the best way to think to create success, and I had a complete shock when I found out that doesn’t exist.

And, actually, I remember the feeling. I remember coming away from a lecture one day, and thinking, “I feel like my world is like crashing down here,” because everything I thought, there was a right way. I thought there was a right way of thinking, I thought there was a right way of doing things, and I’ve just been told that, actually, there are a whole bunch of completely opposing theories, ideas, ways of doing things that can all work for certain people at certain points in time, potentially, and there’s no answer.

And I remember my perspective of the world being a little bit shattered. It sounds very dramatic but it did take me a while to kind of get my head around what being a psychologist was going to mean. But that’s the key point, is that I come to a situation with a perspective, I’ve got one perspective; there are hundreds of other ways to see that situation. So, mental agility, part of that, is training ourselves, firstly, to acknowledge that you got one perspective and there are loads of other perspectives out there. And, secondly, to seek out those other perspectives. Like, you, ideally, want to.

And it’s not that diagnosing other people, or how they look at the world, or being able to put them in a box and you’re in a different box. It’s not that. But it’s about thinking how else could you look at this situation, how else could you look at this problem or this challenge, how do other people look. Ask them. Find out those questions. It’s things like consuming your news from different sources, not just one source. Or, if you’re a fiction reader, generally, read a nonfiction book, or vice versa.

And also, particularly in those heated situations with someone where you’re coming in strong with a perspective. Where you can is taking that time to take a step back and remember that you’re not necessarily right. You might be. Or there could be lots of rights. There could be ten different right ways to look at this. So, that’s part of mental agility is, first, being able to kind of move between ideas quickly, so you’re broadening that perspective, so you’re keeping that curious mindset, but also being able to see other perspectives as well, and training yourself to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, that sounds handy, both in terms of problem-solving in the context of, “Hey, here’s a big tricky thing. Oh, because I have multiple perspectives, I have a greater chance of being able to crack it,” as well as, I’m imagining just like emotionally realizing that when you’re in a moment of, “This sucks. I hate this. I’m suffering. I want to stop immediately,” if you’ve got some great mental agility, you can say, “Well, actually, this might sort of be helpful in some ways, like, A, B, C. I’d still rather not deal with it but it’s not totally worthless.”

Gemma Roberts
Yup, hundred percent. It changes the way you look at challenges and the situations. And, honestly, let’s be honest, some of the big challenges we have to deal with in life, we would never want to face those, we would never wish them upon people, and we’ve got to be a little bit careful in the resilience world in that, I don’t want to be like, “Oh, it’s amazing. The more challenges, the better for all of us,” because obviously, challenges can bring pain, and they can bring discomfort, and they can bring upset, and you can feel unsettled or overwhelmed or anxious.

And that exists. We can’t deny that. But we can’t change that, so the only thing that we can do is find ways to look after ourselves and to deal with those situations in the best way that we can. And, by the way, it is completely acceptable to fall apart when things are not going well. It is completely acceptable to feel overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, depressed, all the things. That is okay. It’s not necessarily about denying that or changing that straight away. It’s about moving things in the direction that works for you over time. You don’t have to do that straight away.

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

Gemma Roberts
I understand the concept of resilience is complicated. I do understand. Like, there’s a reason I’m doing doctoral research in the area because there’s still a lot of stuff that we’re still learning as well as psychologists. But my biggest hit, if you’re thinking about yourself and how you cope with challenges and uncertainty is, firstly, get to know yourself, get to know what’s happening to you, reflect on that, build your self-awareness.

Again, it’s never done. I still have to do that always. I still sometimes have to sit back and think, “Why did I react like that? That was completely like not appropriate response considering the challenge.” Like, in my head, it does not really matter but that’s how I feel about it. So, get to know yourself. And, also, just keep testing. Just keep testing what works for you. All we can do is try. And my intention is always to get better at this stuff, to grow, to develop, to learn. And I think that’s all we can have in these situations.

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

Gemma Roberts
So, one of my favorite quotes is “You can’t stop the waves from crashing but you can learn to surf.” And lots of people have used this, and so it can’t be attributed to one person but, basically, that’s what resilience is. We can’t stop the waves. We don’t know how big they’re going to be, but we can learn to use it in one way or another. You may not want to be surfing. You might rather be out in the water. I don’t really want to be surfing. I’m not a natural but, equally, I know that I can learn to do that if I need to.

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

Gemma Roberts
Well, this might be a bit of a strange answer, I guess, but probably my research. Essentially, my piece of research is looking at the factors that impact resilience for leaders. So, how much of it is down to the individual? How much of it is down to the environment? How much of it is down to the teams they work with?

it’s been a real kind of privilege to delve deep into that, to understand a bit more about how resilience changes for each of us at each moment in time, and why, and what we can do about that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Gemma Roberts
A favorite book, well, my most gifted book, it must be one of my favorites is The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters. So, the whole point of the book is that it focuses on how our minds work, how we talk to ourselves in our minds. And it uses kind of quite a comical tone in some places. It talks about some complex psychology. So, it’s easy-ish, I’d say it’s quite easy to understand. It’s quite accessible but also quite amusing as well.

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

Gemma Roberts
I’m not sure I am awesome at my job. Certainly not every day, that’s for sure. My favorite tool is probably getting help where I need it, and that’s taken quite a long time to get in place. So, I have various people that support different parts of my business and different parts of my work because I’m not an expert in everything.

And I think, over time, I’ve got to know the bits that I’m good at – so explaining complicated things, turning into tools that are very accessible, like research, making it practical. But I’m not so great at marketing, or, I don’t know, I’m trying to think of something else I’m not great at, managing my diary, it’s like that, so I’ve got people around me. Over time, I’ve built that out. I guess it’s a little bit like my board of supporters but it’s in a work context, but it’s getting the support where I need it.

And, also, sometimes I find that quite overwhelming because I think to myself, “I’ve got to do this new thing,” or, “I need to outsource something,” and I just don’t know where to start. And I’ve slowly started to get into the process of thinking actually, I always find that support when the time is right and when it’s the right person. Sometimes you’ve just got to wait for the right person to kind of show up to help with that. So, that’s got a little bit easy. I also find it very hard to let go of some of this stuff as well.

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?

Gemma Roberts
the point that resilience changes over time and it’s different on different days, that’s the stuff that I hear time and time again, whether working with individuals or when working with groups of people. I think it’s quite comforting that there is no…the end goal is not to be resilient. I think that’s probably one of the key things that I talk about. It is giving yourself the tools to be able to deal with challenges that can help you to be resilient but it doesn’t make you resilient.

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

Gemma Roberts
Probably my website, so GemmaLeighRoberts.com because everything I kind of do is on this. Like, courses and books and all of that jazz is on the website.

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

Gemma Roberts
Yes, I do. So, challenge yourself, at least this week, and try and build this into every week if you can. Take 20 minutes at the end of each week to just do a little bit of reflection. I know I keep talking about it, but this honestly helps you to get better and better. So, think about that continuous improvement over time. If you can get 1%, even half a percent better at what you do each week over time, you’re going to see big results.

So, there’s three things that I would focus on. First of all, you review how that week has gone for you. So, you literally, “What’s gone well? What hasn’t gone well?” That’s it. And then you think about refine, “Okay, so how can I refine some of that stuff that didn’t go so well? What could I do a little tiny bit better, just a tiny bit better?” And the third step is repeat. You just keep doing this over time. It comes back to that reflection so you’re very conscious of what’s going on, you’re very aware. Tiny, tiny, tiny tweaks to make things slightly better, and just keep repeating. That’s the consistency.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Gemma, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and mental agility and resilience.

Gemma Roberts
Thanks very much.

766: Marshall Goldsmith on Simple Shifts for a More Fulfilling Career and Life

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Marshall Goldsmith unpacks the pervasive myths about happiness and provides an alternative path for finding fulfillment every day.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three ingredients of a fulfilling life 
  2. Six powerful questions for increasing your happiness every day
  3. The powerful mindset that stops people-pleasing 

About Marshall

Marshall Goldsmith has been recognized for years as the world’s leading executive coach and the New York Times bestselling author of many books, including What Got You Here Won’t Get You ThereMojo, and Triggers. He received his Ph.D. from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In his coaching practice, Goldsmith has advised more than 200 major CEOs and their management teams. He and his wife live in Nashville, Tennessee.

Resources Mentioned

Marshall Goldsmith Interview Transcript

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

Marshall Goldsmith
Thank you so much for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. And, boy, you have a unique vantage point having coached so many people. I’d love to get your take on what is perhaps the most consistent observation you have that differentiates those who feel fulfilled versus those who feel regret?

Marshall Goldsmith
I think if I look at the fulfilled versus regret continuum, you really need to look at life from three perspectives. One is the perspective of we need higher aspirations because if you don’t have higher aspirations, you don’t have an answer to the question “Why?” “Why did I put in all that time and effort?”

Then number two, you need to have ambitions that are aligned to your aspirations. Our ambitions are our achievement of goals. And then number three, you need to enjoy the process of life. You need to enjoy what you’re doing. So, the two biggest regrets are, one, at the aspirational level, “Why didn’t I go for something big?” and, two, at the day-to-day level, “Why didn’t I enjoy the process of life itself?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I feel if we could spend hours talking about that alone. And so, I’m intrigued then, when you distinguished an aspiration from an ambition, how precisely?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, to me, and again, I always use operational definitions. The reason is I never argue about semantics because people can define different words in different ways so I make no claim that these are better or worse definitions. They’re just definitions I use.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Marshall Goldsmith
As I use the term aspiration, I’m talking to a higher purpose that does not have a finish line, and aspiration is, again, an answer to the question of “Why?” Our aspiration as a person we’re trying to become but it’s not like you ever get there. An ambition is differentiated from that, and my definition is ambition is our achievement of goals that do actually have a finish line.

And then the third element is our actions. Our actions are day to day. So, our aspirations have no timeline, our ambitions are time-bound, and our actions are immediate.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. Thank you. Well, so you unpack some of these ideas in your latest book The Earned Life. What would you say is the core message or thesis in this work?

Marshall Goldsmith
One of the core messages of the book is that every time you take a breath, every time we take a breath, it’s a new me. So, as we go through life, we have to constantly look at the process of re-earning. Many great Western myths, one book always ended with the same ending, “And they lived happily ever after.” Well, that type of book is referred to as a fairytale. That’s not the real world.

In the real world, you never get there. In the real world, you’re always re-earning your life constantly, and people who try to live in the past, or think they’ve got there, almost invariably fall apart. Examples. National Football League, 80% divorces, 70% bankrupt in five years, depression. Football league, worse. Basketball league, the X star, the X pretty much anything, if you’re not careful, you fall apart.

So, in society we tend to, in our Western society, place our value as human beings on the results we achieve, and the book is kind of counterintuitive. The book says, “Never become ego-attached to the results of what you achieve. Never make the results of what you achieve your identity. And never think achieving the results is going to make you happy,” because if you do, it’s a fool’s game for a couple of reasons.

One is the results are not in your total control. You can’t control what’s going to happen in everything. COVID, I don’t think I caused COVID or you caused COVID. You can’t always control the results. And then, two, even more important, what happens after you’ve achieved the results? All right. Well, maybe you’re happy for a week or a day, but then what happens? You’d have to have another result.

So, the Buddhist term for this is a hungry ghost, always eating but never full. So, the point I make in the book is don’t confuse achievement with other things, like, for example, happiness. Now, one of the guys that was in this group that I worked with over COVID, his name is Safi Bahcall. Safi has got an IQ probably equal to mine and yours combined, and he has a PhD in Physics from Stanford, he’s a brilliant guy, he started businesses, made tens of millions of dollars, wrote a book called Loonshots, and consulted by presidents and on and on and on.

Safi said he finally learned something after all of our conversations. What it was is, he said, and he speaks like a scientist, “I used to think that happiness was a dependent variable based upon achievement. What I finally realized is that happiness and achievement are independent variables. You can be incredibly happy and achieve a lot. You can be happy and achieve nothing. You can be miserable and achieve a lot. You can be miserable and achieve nothing.”

He said he finally learned the importance of being happy is to be happy. The importance of achievement is the achievement. And in the West, we’ve been bombarded with the one message over and over, “You will be happy when…” when you buy the product, when you graduate, when you do something, there’s this place you’re going to be, and it kind of is going to last forever. The reality is that doesn’t work.

And then, finally, of course, we have the great Western artform, which you may have seen before, by the way. The great Western artform involves a drama, and there is a person, the person is sad, “Oh, they spend money, they buy a product and they become happy.” This is called a commercial. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those before, but it’s reasonably pervasive in our culture.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, when you say commercial and the story, it’s so funny. You talk about unhappiness. I remember, I had a friend who had a toddler, and they were accustomed to watching very little TV, or if some, like Netflix for kids, so not commercials, were not a part of this youngster’s life. And then she went to someone else’s house and the TV was on, and the commercial came on, and she said, in terror, to her mother, “Mommy, what is this? I don’t want to see this.” It was very jarring, “It’s just a commercial.” Like, I’ve been exposed to maybe millions of them over a lifetime.

And so, yeah, it’s jarring, perhaps, at an innate level. And so then, I’m curious, so then if one does not get happiness by achievements…

Marshall Goldsmith
Results.

Pete Mockaitis
Results.

Marshall Goldsmith
Don’t fixate on results, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Then what does bring about happiness?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, the great Western myth is happiness comes from the outside. Happiness doesn’t come from the outside. There’s not enough stuff out there to make you happy. I’m a philosophical, not religious, but a philosophical Buddhist. I’ve read probably 400 books on Buddhism. Buddha was brought up very rich. He’s brought up very rich, and he was protected, and he was always given the message, “You will be happy when you get more.”

So, he kept getting more and more and more, and he lived in a bubble. He was able to sneak outside his bubble three times. The first time he learned people get old. Second time, you get sick. Third time, you die. He goes, “Old, sick, and die. This is not so good. All that more, more, more stuff isn’t working.” Then he tried to be happy with less. He starved himself, lived in the woods, lived like a hermit. Guess what? That didn’t work either.

He finally learned something, which is the essence of Buddhism, “You can never be happy with more. You can never be happy with less. There’s only one thing you can ever be happy with – what you have. There’s only one time you can ever be happy – now. There’s only one place you can ever be happy – here.” Where’s Nirvana, for you listeners? Nirvana is listening to this podcast. Here it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Can we quote you on that one, Marshall, put it on the website?

Marshall Goldsmith
Nirvana is listening to this podcast right now. Here it is. If you’re listening to this podcast, welcome to heaven, welcome to hell, welcome to everything. It’s all right here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man. Oh, there’s so much to dig into. All right. So, then, let’s say, if we would like to upgrade our current level of happiness, chasing more results isn’t an optimal pathway, according to this school of thought.

Marshall Goldsmith
It’s neither positive nor negative. Results don’t make you less happy nor do they make you more happy. Results are good for achieving results. The problem is don’t expect the results to make you happy, though.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. And so, what do you recommend as a path toward increased happiness?

Marshall Goldsmith
Make peace with what is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Marshall Goldsmith
I’m going to give all the listeners a little technique you can use to increase happiness. Very simple. On a one-to-ten scale, every day, evaluate yourself on one question, “Did I do my best to be happy today?” A simple question. “Did I do my best today to be happy?” Now, it doesn’t say you even were happy. Did you just try to make the best of it and be happy today?

Now, in my book Triggers, I interviewed three of the smartest people I ever met. One of them is Dr. Jim Kim. Dr. Jim Kim has a simultaneous MD and PhD with honors in anthropology from Harvard in five years. Put this in context, a normal human being gets a PhD in anthropology from Harvard in eight years. Well, he got one in five years and got an MD at the same time. Then he went on to be the head of partners in health, and then he worked as president of the World Bank eventually.

Dr. Rajiv Shah was the head of the United States Agency for International Development at age 37, reported to Hillary Clinton. Now, he’s head of the Rockefeller Foundation. And Dr. John Noseworthy was head of the Mayo Clinic, one of the best hospitals in the world. So, I’m the coach of all these guys. So, I interviewed them individually and separately, and asked a question, “On the average day, how would you score and answer to this question, ‘Did I do my best to be happy today?’” All three had the same answer, “It never dawned on me to try to be happy. I was too busy achieving things and I never thought about it.”

Now, they’re all medical doctors, so I said, “I have a question. Did it dawn on you, you’re going to die? Did they cover that in medical school about death? Did they bring that one up?” They said, “Yes, they cover that in medical school. Death, they’re aware of that one.” I said, “Do you think this is a silly question?” They said, “No. It’s an important question I never asked. I was just too busy.” Well, one way you can be happy is, every day – guess what – try to be happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I guess when one tries to be happy that, individualistically, of course, different things make different people happy, and then I guess there are some universal phenomena in terms of like human beings and their needs. I guess there’s sort of a hedonistic…

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, let me stop. Some people would say, “That means I need to go on more vacations or do something else,” right? Again, that keeps implying that somehow something out there is going to make me happy – the vacation, the break, whatever. Try to be happy doing what you’re doing now. Try to be happy at every second at work. Try to be happy on vacation. Wherever you are, just say, “Look, I’m going to make the best of this and be happy and make peace with what is.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe let’s zoom way in on trying to be happy and what that can look, sound, feel like in practice. Let’s say you are back from vacation, you got a huge email inbox with a thousand messages, you’re like, “Ugh, what a pain.”

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, now we’ve started to hit the problem, “Ugh” is the problem. You know what you say, “I’ve got a thousand inboxes. I’m going to make the best of it.” I didn’t say, the question is not “Were you happy?” The question is, “Did you try to be happy? Did you make the best of the thousand?” Now, you may not be ecstatic with a thousand but you have an option. You could be a victim, a martyr, “Poor me. Isn’t life awful? I have to do emails,” wah, wah, wah. Or, you could say, “Okay, got these emails anyway. Let’s make the best of it.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then could you share some examples for what making the best of it might look, sound, feel like in that moment?

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah. Making the best of it is the first thing you tell yourself, “I’m not going to be miserable.” The second thing you tell yourself is, “What can I do to make the experience more pleasant?” which might involve music or whatever you can do. And then what you try to do is just optimize the experience in the best way you can.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, thank you. So, all right, we’ve covered a lot of good stuff here. There are a few specific areas I want to zero in on with you. And so, when it comes to folks who do have a high level of achievement, you have a unique vantage point having coached many folks who are there. What are some of the challenges that you’ve seen come up again and again for them?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, I wrote a book called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, which kind of addresses the classic challenges of mega-successful people. And one of the classic challenges is this…I’m going to give you two or three. One of the overall challenges is this, “I behave this way. I am successful. Therefore, I must be successful because I behave this way.”

Any human or any animal will replicate behavior that’s followed by positive reinforcement. The more successful we become, the more positive reinforcement we get, and the more we fall into what’s called the superstition trap. We confuse in spite of and because of. Everyone I coach is successful because they do many things right, or they wouldn’t be there.

They’re also successful in spite of doing some things that are stupid. And I’ve never met anyone so wonderful, they had nothing on the in-spite-of list. We all got a little something on the in-spite-of list here. Well, don’t confuse yourself.

The other thing is classic problems, my book, I talk about classic problems of successful people. I was interviewed in a Harvard Business Review, and asked a question, “What is the number one problem of all of the successful people you’ve coached over the years? What is their number one problem?” My answer was, “Winning too much.”

What does that mean? It’s important, we want to win; meaningful, we want to win; critical, we want to win; trivial, we want to win; and not worth it, we want to win anyway. Winners love winning. It’s about for winners not to constantly win.

Now, I’m going to give you a case study that almost all my clients fail, and, I will make a prediction, almost anyone listening to me will fail this case study. Are you ready?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Let’s do it.

Marshall Goldsmith
You want to go to dinner at restaurant X. Your wife, husband, friend, or partner wants to go to dinner at restaurant Y. You have a heated argument. You go to restaurant Y. It was not your choice. The food tastes awful and the service is terrible. Option A, you could critique the food, point out our partner was wrong, “You know this mistake could’ve been avoided if only you listened to me, me, me, me, me, me, me.”

Option B, shut up. Eat the stupid food. Try to enjoy it and have a nice night. What would I do? What should I do? Almost all of my clients, “What would I do?” critiqued the food. “What should I do?” Shut up. Even worse, you have a hard day at work. You come home. Your husband, wife, friend, or partner is there and the other person says, “I had such a hard day today. I had such a tough day.” And we reply, “You had a hard day? You had a hard day? Do you have any idea what I had to put up with today? Do you think you had a hard day?” We’re so competitive, we had to prove we are more miserable than the people we live with.

I gave this example to my class at the Dartmouth Tuck School, a young man raised his hand, he said, “I did that last week.” I asked him, “What happened?” He said, “My wife looked at me and she said, ‘Honey, you just think you had a hard day. It is not over.’”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, if we are kind of in that winning addiction sort of a mode, any pro tips on breaking out of it?

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah, start breathing before you try to win these battles, and ask one question, “Is it worth it?” Just stop, breathe, “Is it worth it?” A second issue which is related to this is called adding too much value, “I’m young, smart, enthusiastic. You’re my boss. I come to you with an idea, you think it’s a great idea.” Rather than saying it’s a great idea, we have to say, “Oh, that’s a nice idea. Why don’t you add this to it?”

“Well, the problem is the quality may go up 5%, my commitment just went down 50%. It’s no longer my idea, boss. Now it’s your idea.” Incredibly difficult for smart people not to add value. One of my coaching clients was a man named JP Garnier, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline. I asked JP, “What did you learn about leadership as a CEO of GlaxoSmithKline?” He said, “I learned a hard lesson. My suggestions become orders.” Now, he said, “If they’re smart, they’re orders, and if they’re stupid, they’re orders. And if I want them to be orders, they’re orders. And if I don’t want them to be orders, they’re orders anyway. My suggestions become orders.”

For nine years, I trained admirals in the Navy. What’s the first thing I teach to new admirals? “You get that first star, your suggestions become orders.” Admiral gives a suggestion, what’s a response? “Aye, aye,” that suggestion is an order. I asked JP, “What did you learn from me when I was your coach?” He said, “You taught me one lesson to help me be a better CEO and have a happier life.” I said, “What was it?” He said, “Before I speak, breathe. Breathe. Breathe, and ask myself one question, ‘Is it worth it? Is it worth it?’”

And he said, “As a CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, 50% of the time, if I had the discipline to stop and to breathe, and to say, ‘Is it worth it?’ what did I decide? Am I right? Maybe. Is it worth it? No.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, again, there’s just more shutting up, I suppose, like, “Hmm, that’s an idea. Okay. Run with it. Run with that idea you had and I will just hold back my 5% improvement and let you own it all the more.”

Marshall Goldsmith
Do it. Go out and delegate. Delegate. You know why? Effectiveness of execution is a function of, A, what’s the quality of the idea times, B, what’s my commitment to make it work. And sometimes we get wrapped up in improving the quality 5%, we damage the commitment 50%. It’s not worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that I’ve heard this in the realm of fitness, and I think it makes something like an imperfect plan executed with perfect intensity will get far better results than a perfect plan executed with imperfect intensity. And so, if you’ve got a thing that you’re doing that’s working for you, and then someone says, “Oh, no, actually, you’re doing it all wrong. You should really be doing, I don’t know, intervals or more weight or whatever.” It’s like, “Oh,” that just sort of “Ew,” like that’s the energy flow is out, like, “Ew,” and then you have less commitment to do the thing and less great results flowing from it.

Marshall Goldsmith
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, you also have some great perspectives on empathy in your book. Can you share some of these with us?

Marshall Goldsmith
Now, I really didn’t start learning this section until I was probably…I’m 73 now, until I was probably 71 years old. I always thought empathy sounded like a nice thing, it sounds warm and fuzzy and kind and good, so I thought kind of always empathy is good. But then I began to study empathy and I realized, no, empathy is sometimes useful, is often dysfunctional.

So, I’ve studied it and there are four types of empathy I talk about in the book, and I’m going to talk briefly about each. One is called the empathy of understanding. Now, empathy just means being able to put yourself in the other person’s position. Well, the first one is empathy of understanding. That’s understanding where they are coming from. Now, that can be very positive. This is the one I’m best at as a coach.

It’s very helpful as a coach. I can use it to help people. It can also be used, though, to manipulate people. Advertisers have a great ability to understand where you’re coming from, often better than you do. Let’s take Budweiser. They do this ad for the donkey and the horse. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s with the Clydesdales, and then like the owner, and they reunite at the…?

Marshall Goldsmith
Oh, yeah. You remember it. You can remember that ad. Now, they’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on variations of the little donkey and the horse. Why? Because it sells beer. If you think anybody that goes in to buy beer, any man, some macho man going in to buy beer is saying, “You know, I want to buy this beer because I love the little donkey and the horse.”

No, that is exactly why they buy the beer. That’s why Budweiser spends hundreds of millions of dollars on the donkey and the horse. They’re not idiots, right? That’s called the empathy of understanding. They understand the consumer better than the consumer understands themselves. So, empathy of understanding, propaganda people have great empathy of understanding, can be positive, can be used to help you, can be used to manipulate you.

The second one is called the empathy of feeling, “I feel your pain. I feel your joy.” It could be good. If you go to a football game, the feelings experienced in the brain by the fan is almost exactly the same feeling of the person getting the touchdown, “I feel your joy,” but also it could be, “I feel your pain.” One of my coaching clients is the CEO of St. Jude Children’s Hospital. He gets to watch people die every day. Well, you know what? He can’t experience that feeling day after day after day and stay alive. He has to learn to block that out.

The next one is called the empathy of caring. Sounds good, “I care about what’s happening to you.” Obviously, that can be very positive, make you a better helping person. On the other hand, it could cause problems. Now, I love the example in my book. It’s a hedge fund manager. The last thing you ever think of caring is a hedge fund manager, of all people. I’m watching one of the world’s top hedge fund managers get interviewed by another great hedge fund manager. So, the one guy says to the other, “Why don’t you have a fund anymore? You could make a fortune.” The older guy says, “I’m not as good as I was.” The younger guy says, “Why not?” The older guy says, “I started caring.”

Now, he’s worth, at the time, $3 billion. He said, “Obviously, I’ve made a lot of money, I’ve made tens of millions of dollars for others, billions for myself, but I’ve also lost tens of billions of dollars. I probably won 52 and lost 48. That’s pretty good but it never bothered me. When I grew older, I thought, ‘This is retirement money. This is people’s healthcare. This is important,’ and I started worrying.” And you know what he said? “I became much less effective. Now,” he said, “I only invest my own money because if I win, I win; I lose, I lose. It doesn’t matter anyway. I just invest my own money.”

Very interesting. That’s why you don’t let parents operate on their children. They care too much. Burnout in hospitals, too much caring. They can’t let it go. They bring it home. Cared too much. And the final empathy is the empathy of doing, “On the positive side, I’m not just caring about you. I’m doing something to help you.” But on the negative side, that can lead to treating people like children, creating dependency, “Mommy and daddy do it for you all the time.”

So, what I’ve said is the most important empathy is what I call singular empathy. What that means is I am being who I need to be for the person I’m with now. I am being who I need to be for the person I’m with now. I’m not being who I need to be because I just feel like being that way. And so, it really doesn’t deify a lot of things that are deified in society, like caring is good. Caring is not always good. During COVID, caring has caused all kinds of problems.

Feeling other people’s pain is certainly not always good. There’s only so much of that you can do. You need to be able to block that stuff off and think about the person you’re with. So, when my friend who runs, say, San Diego Children’s Hospital comes home, he can’t bring that with him. That’s not fair to his wife. It’s not fair to his kids. He’s got to block that out, compartmentalize, and say, “I’m going to be the father I need to be right now, not the person who’s in the hospital two hours ago.”

Pete Mockaitis
Now, that sounds ideal. In practice, we are creatures with emotions. How do you recommend we dial up or down the empathy in a given moment when we find ourselves appearing in a different way?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, one of the people in my 100 Coaches group is named Telly Leung. So, if you’ve ever seen the play Aladdin before, he played the role of Aladdin on Broadway three years. Literally 1,000 times he played this role. So, I asked Telly about empathy, “How did you do it?” He said, “I have to get on this stage every night and demonstrate empathy.” He’s gay, and he said, “Ever night, I have to fall in love with the princess. And you’re right, it’s certainly not easy. That’s why he’s a Broadway star, most people are not, yet he does it.

And he said, “When I was a little boy, eight years old, I went to a play and had music and singing and dancing, and it was so wonderful. I had such a nice experience.” He said, “Every night I think of that little boy in the audience. And you know what? I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for that kid. This may be the thousands of times I’ve done this play. These kids have never seen the play before. It’s not for me. It’s for them.” Well, back to, “How do you do it?” You quit thinking about, “It’s for me.” You start thinking about, “It’s for them.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Oh, Marshall, there’s so much good stuff. Can we hear about the new breath paradigm?

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah. Now, again, this is another good Buddha stuff. One thing I love about…I teach a lot of stuff that’s Buddha’s, and I called Buddha up, and I said, “Buddha, I’m using your stuff all the time. Do I need to send you any commission checks?” You know what he said? “Just knock yourself out. It’s okay.” He doesn’t charge me money to use his stuff.

Well, The Every Breath Paradigm is a Buddhist paradigm that says, “Every time I take a breath, it’s a new me.” It’s a new me. Whatever happened in the past was done by a whole different set of people called the previous versions of me. That’s not me. The me is the person who’s here right now. That’s me. And those were the previous me’s.

Now, this is very helpful for a variety of things. One is called forgiveness. One, forgiving ourselves. Basically, I ask people, “Take a deep breath and think of all the previous versions of you. Think of all the gifts those people have given you that’s here. Think about all the nice things they’ve done. Think about the people they’ve helped. If anybody did that many nice things, what would you say to those people? Thank you. Just say thank you. Did they make some mistakes? Let it go. Let it go. Don’t waste your life worrying about stuff that’s over. Let it go.”

Well, I do LinkedIn posts. I have like 1.3 something million followers on LinkedIn. The most popular one I ever did said, “Forgive other people for being who they are and forgive yourself for believing that they were someone else.” Well, part of that is just letting go of the past. And the other thing is I’m a really big believer in living your life. Don’t live vicariously.

Now, what is vicarious living? Well, the average kid that’s flunking out of school in the United States spends 55 hours a week on non-academic media – video games, TV, texting, just non-academic stuff – and they’re not living their own life. They’re living somebody else’s life. They’re living through others. In a way, this Every Breath Paradigm, you don’t live in the past. You live in the present. Living in the past is like living someone else’s life.

You won the Super Bowl several years ago. That’s nice. That’s not you. That’s not you. You’re living through that kid that won the Super Bowl. Well, the people that try to live in the past, generally, are not so happy with the present. Why? They’re still living in that other person’s life. They’re still imagining they won the Super Bowl. Well, somebody won the Super Bowl. You didn’t. Some kid did. The kid did a great job. Fine. Thank you, kid. You didn’t. And live your own life in the present.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, that really connects to this earning, The Earned Life then. And when we say the word earning, maybe just to clarify, what precisely do we mean by earning and why the word earn?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, I use the word earn in a way that says you’re living an earned life when, at any moment in time, and one of the keys is at any moment in time, that your risks, your actions, your commitments are aligned with a higher sense of purpose regardless of the results. So, what you are is you’re doing your best to live the life you want to live.

An earned life is something that is constantly re-done. Like I said, the fairytale is, “They lived happily ever after.” The great Western disease, “I will be happy when I get the money, status, BMW, condominium, achievement, degree, blah, blah, blah.” “I’ll be happy when…” If that stuff would make you happy, everyone I coach would be dancing off the ceiling every day. They’re all 99.99 on achievement.

Do you really believe going from 99.99 to 99.90 is going to make any difference? No. If you’re not happy at 99.99, that extra little bit is not going to matter. It’s not going to matter. Half the people I coach are billionaires. One guy I coach is worth $4 billion. And what am I supposed to do, help you get up to 4.1? Boy, what does it matter? Well, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. So, an important thing is just being happy.

Now, I didn’t mention the marshmallow study yet, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, was this Walter Mischel?

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah. Now, you know the marshmallow research. The marshmallow research is fascinating. You take a bunch of kids and you give them a marshmallow. Kid eats one, you say he gets one but if the kid waits, ooh, two. Now, allegedly, they had this longitudinal research that shows the kids that eat one become drug addicts, and the kids that eat two all get PhDs from Harvard. It’s a little exaggerated but the message is clear. Delayed gratification is good. If you delay gratification, you will achieve more. Delayed gratification is good. Almost every self-help book is about delayed gratification and how wonderful it is.

Here’s what they did not do in the research. What they didn’t do in the research is take a kid with two marshmallows and said, “Hey, kid, wait a little bit longer, three. Wait some more, four. Five, ten, a hundred, a thousand.” Where do you end up? An old man in a room waiting to die surrounded by thousands of uneaten marshmallows. If all you do is delay gratification, guess what you get in life? Delay. Guess what you don’t get? Gratification.

Jack Welch was the former CEO of GE, a very famous guy. Jack Welch almost died. He has a triple bypass. My friend knows Jack Welch, so he said, “What was your reflection on life upon almost dying?” You know what Jack Welch said? “Why am I drinking the cheap wine every night?” Jack Welch has this incredible wine collection of amazing wine. He’s not drinking it. You know why? He wants it to appreciate in value.

This is Jack Welch. He’s rich. What does it matter how much it appreciates in value? It doesn’t. He’s drinking cheap wine so the good stuff can appreciate in value. You know what he said? “I’ve been insane. I’ve been insane. What am I doing? No more cheap wine for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. There you have it. And so then, well, how do you recommend we navigate that? Sometimes these things are intentioned, let’s have the great wine versus let’s let it appreciate, let’s have a marshmallow now versus invest or wait for more later. It seems like you can go to either extreme to your detriment. How do you kind of make the call?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, let me give you how you hit the jackpot of life. It’s not that complicated. What matters? One, you need to be healthy. Well, I can’t control that. Two, you need at least a middle-class income. Well, I’m not an expert on finance or helping you make money. Most of your listeners probably do have at least have a middle-class income. And, by the way, if they don’t, they may not be as happy. If they do, being a multibillionaire won’t make any difference, statistically, or not much. And then, number three, you have to have great relationships with people you love.

Assuming you have great relationships with people you love, one; two, you’re healthy; and then, three, you’re making a middle-class income, what matters in life? One is I have a higher aspiration. I have a reason for doing this, and it doesn’t have to be religious. It could be any higher aspiration, great family, whatever it is. Two, I’m achieving things that are meaningful to me that are connected to this aspiration. And, three, I’m enjoying the process of life. That’s about it.

If the answer is, “I’m enjoying this. I’m having a good time. I’m doing something that’s meaningful for me, and it’s connected to a higher aspiration,” you just won. That’s about it. If there’s more, by the way, I’m unfamiliar with what it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Okay. And I, finally, want to get some perspectives from you about credibility. How do we earn that, have that?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, credibility, there’s a lot of irony about the concept of proving ourselves. As we go through life, we constantly have to prove ourselves. You’ve taken thousands of tests, you’ve had to prove you’re smart, we’ve had to fit in. If you look at our ancestors, if you didn’t fit in, you died. Well, we’ve always had to prove ourselves. It’s very hard to stop. Yet, if you look up “need for approval” and do a Google search, almost every URL says it’s a psychological dysfunction.

Yeah, need for approval is a psychological dysfunction. That’s a little insane. We all need approval. We couldn’t survive if we didn’t get some form of approval. Children learn this before they learn how to speak. They learn how to gain approval. Well, here’s the issue, when is need for approval useful and when is it dysfunctional?

In my book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, most of the book is about people who spend too much time proving themselves. They win too much. They prove they’re right. They add too much value. They oversell. Classic problems of very high-level, aggressive, smart people. I wrote a book with Sally Helgesen, though she’s the lead author, called How Women Rise. And Sally said many women she works with have the opposite problem. They don’t promote themselves enough. They hide their light under the bushel.

And she had a good technique for working with women like that. She asks them a few questions. Question number one, “If you became more influential and powerful, will the world be worse off or better off?” Well, they usually say, “Well, I believe it would be better off.” Question two, “Does trying to become more influential and powerful make you uncomfortable?” “Yes, it does.” Question three, “What’s more important to you, being comfortable or making a positive difference in the world?”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Marshall Goldsmith
You don’t get it both ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Nice little combo there.

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah, you don’t get it both ways. So, if you’re uncomfortable with trying to be influential, don’t whine because you’re not making any difference in the world. Peter Drucker taught me. I was on the advisory board of Peter Drucker Foundation for 10 years. He taught me many wonderful lessons. I’m very lucky. One lesson was this, he said, “Our mission in life is to make a positive difference, not to prove we’re smart, not to prove we’re right.”

Message two, “Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make the decision. Make peace with that.” Not the smartest person, or the best person, or a fair person, a good person. Decisions are often made by insane people. Make peace with that. If I need to influence you, and you have the power to make the decision, there’s one word to describe you. It’s called customer. One word to describe me is called salesperson. Sell what you can sell. Change what you can change. And if you cannot sell it, and you cannot change it, just take a deep breath and let it go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Marshall, thank you. Anything else you want to make sure to put out there before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Marshall Goldsmith
We can shift gears. Save a few minutes at the end for a final bit of advice.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Shall do. Can you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Marshall Goldsmith
I’ll give you a great quote from my favorite movie. Now, this is a Buddhist movie. A lot of people don’t understand that. My favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz. And the great quote is, “There’s no place like home.” Now, what Dorothy means by that is if you can’t find it here, you can’t find it. It’s not out there. It’s here. There’s no place like home.

So, yeah, the movie is a very profound movie. The book was written by a Buddhist. A lot of people don’t know this, and it’s really a great Buddhist parable of life. She has always had the ability to go home but doesn’t know it. The Tin Man already has emotions but doesn’t know it. The Scarecrow is always coming up with good ideas. The Lion does good things. They’re looking for what they already have.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, I like the marshmallow study for the reasons I said, not because the results are good. It’s because the results kind of illustrate the point I just made. I did a study. By the way, anybody who wants to get it, you can send me an email marshall@marshallgoldsmith.com called Leadership is a Contact Sport with 86,000 people. And in this research, it just impacts if you want to get better as a leader, you get input, you talk to people, you apologize for your mistakes, you follow up, and you get better. And if you don’t get work, you don’t do work, you just go to a class or listen to something, you might as well be watching sitcoms.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah, my favorite book is called Old Path, White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh. He just recently died. A great Buddhist monk. T-H-I-C-H N-H-A-T H-A-N-H. Thich Nhat Hanh, Old Path, White Clouds. I love that book.

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

Marshall Goldsmith
Yes, are you ready?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Marshall Goldsmith
I’m going to share this with everyone. This is called the daily question process. Now, this takes three minutes a day. it will help you get better at almost anything, and costs nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Marshall Goldsmith
Are you ready?

Pete Mockaitis
I am ready.

Marshall Goldsmith
Sounds too good to be true. Half the people start doing this quit within two weeks, and they do not quit because it does not work. They quit because it does work. What I’m going to teach your listeners next is very easy to understand. It is incredibly difficult to do. Anyone who says it’s easy to do has never done it before. It’s hard to do.

Now, how does it work? You get out a spreadsheet, on one column, write down a series of questions that represent what’s most important in your life: health, work, behavior, friends, family, whatever it is for you. Every question has to be answered with a yes or a no or a number. Seven boxes across, one for every day of the week. Every day you fill it out. At the end of the week, you get a report card.

I will warn your listeners, the report card at the end of the week might not be quite as beautiful as the corporate values plaque you see stacked up on a wall. I’ve been doing these for 25 years. You know what I learned? Life is incredibly easy to talk and life is incredibly difficult to live.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then with those areas, with a yes, no, or number, I imagine if I say, “Health,” I don’t know if I can give that a yes, no, or a number. Do I get a little bit more specific?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, a health, that’s an easy one. How much do you weigh? How many steps did you take?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. So, I’m turning that into an actionable something.

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah, it’s just a scorecard. Let me give you the six questions I recommend for everyone. Here are the six, and they all begin with a phrase, “Did I do my best to…?” Now, what I love about that is it doesn’t even say you’ve succeeded. It says, “Did you try?” You see, for example, if I say, “Did you achieve happiness?” You might say, “No, because they had too many inbox things.” That’s not the question. “Did you do your best to be happy?”

So, let me give you the six. Number one, “Did you do your best every day to set clear goals?” Number two, “Did you do your best to make progress toward achieving the goals you set?” Number three, “Did you do your best every day to find meaning in life, not wait for life to be meaningful, but to create meaning where you are?”

Number four, “Did you do your best to be happy every day?” Number five, “Did you do your best to build positive relationships?” And number six, “Did you do your best to be fully engaged, present, engaged? Did you do your best to even try to be engaged or present?” Very humbling exercise I’ve been doing for years.

I had someone call me on the phone every day to make sure I do this for about 25 years, almost every day. Someone asked me, “Well, why do you have someone call you on the phone? Don’t you know the theory about how to change behavior?” I wrote the theory about how to change behavior that’s why I have someone call me on the phone.

My name is Marshall Goldsmith. I got ranked number one coach and leadership thinker in the whole world. I have someone call me on the phone every day just to make sure I do all the simple stuff I teach. Why? I am too cowardly to do any of this stuff by myself, I’m too undisciplined to do any of this stuff by myself, and I need help, and it’s okay. We all need help. Who are we kidding here? Everybody needs help.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, Marshall, I’m curious who that person is, if you’re…and if it goes both ways.

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Over the years, it’s been different people. Now, my friend Mark Thompson calls me every day, so it goes both ways. Sometimes I’ve actually paid someone to call me. That works fine, too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. And is there a key nugget, a Marshall Goldsmith original gem, that gets retweeted, Kindle book highlighted, shared often?

Marshall Goldsmith
I gave that one about forgiveness. I’d say that would probably be the biggest one. Forgive other people for being who they are, and forgive yourself for believing they were someone else. We spend so much time in life carrying around that stuff – anger, resentment – for what? And they’re not losing sleep over you. Who’s being punished? You’re just punishing yourself.

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

Marshall Goldsmith
Go to marshall@marshallgoldsmith.com, that’s my email address. And my website is www.MarshallGoldsmith.com. You can go to YouTube and just put my name in, and you’ll find hundreds of videos. You can go to LinkedIn, I’ve got hundreds of things, and I give everything away. So, all my material, you may copy, share, download, duplicate, use in church, charity, nonprofit. Modify it. Modify it. I don’t care. Put your name on it. It’s just okay. I give everything away anyway. We’re all going to be equally dead here so what am I saving it up for?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a challenge or a final word for listeners?

Marshall Goldsmith
Final word is this. Are you ready? Take a deep breath. Imagine you’re 95 years old. You’re just getting ready to die. Here comes your last breath. Right before you take that breath, you’re given a beautiful gift – the ability to go back in time and talk to the person listening to me right now. The ability to help that person be a better professional. Much more important, the ability to help that person have a better life. What advice would the wise 95-year-old you, who knows what mattered in life, and what didn’t, and what was important, what wasn’t, what advice would that wise old person have for the you that is listening to me right now?

Don’t just say anything or do anything. Just answer that question in your mind. What advice would that old person looking at death have for you? Whatever you’re thinking now, do that. In terms of a performance appraisal, that’s the only one that’s going to matter. If that old person says, “You did the right thing,” you did. If that old person says, “You made a mistake,” you did. You don’t have to impress anybody else.

Some friends of mine interviewed old folks who were dying and got to ask this question. On the personal side, three themes. Theme number one I talk a lot about in the book. Be happy now. Not next week. Not next month. Not next year. Not the “I’ll be happy when…” Don’t spend your life chasing what you don’t have and ignore what you do have. Common comment from old people, “I got so busy chasing what I didn’t have, I never saw what I did have, and I had everything.”

Learning point number two – friends and family. Never become so interested in climbing the ladder of success, you forget the people who love you. When you’re 95 years old, and you look around your deathbed, none of your coworkers are waving goodbye. You realize these people aren’t important. And then number three, if you have a dream, go for it. If you don’t go for it when you’re 35, you may not when you’re 45 or 85. And it doesn’t have to be a big dream. Go to New Zealand, speak Spanish, play a guitar. Other people think your dream is goofy. Who cares? Who cares? It’s not their dream, it’s your dream. It’s not their life, it’s your life.

Business-wise ain’t much different. Number one, life is short. Have fun. Number two, do whatever you can do to help people. The main reason to help people has nothing to do with money or status or getting ahead. The main reason to help people is much deeper. The 95-year-old you would be proud of you because you did, and disappointed if you don’t. And if you do not believe this is true, interview any CEO who’s retiring and ask them a question, “What are you proud of?” I’ve interviewed very many, none told me how big their office was. All they talk about is people they helped.

And then the final advice is go for it. Worlds are changing, the industries are changing. Do what you think is right. You may not win. At least you tried. Old people, we almost never regret the risks we take and fail. We always regret the risks we failed to take. And, finally, thank you for asking me to work with you today. Thank you. And my goal in this podcast is simple. As I’ve grown older, my level of aspiration is actually going down and down and down, my level of impact up and up and up. Well, I’ve quit worrying about what I’m not going to change.

Let me give you my goal. If a few people listening to this have a little better life, this is a good use of my time, and, hopefully, a good use of your time.

Pete Mockaitis
Amen. Marshall, this has been a blessing, a treat. Thank you for all you do. And, please, keep it up.

Marshall Goldsmith
Thank you so much.

758: How to Thrive and Succeed Through Authentic Grit with Caroline Miller

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Caroline Miller talks about why gritty people achieve more success–and how you can be one too.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why grit is essential to success 
  2. How humility cultivates grit
  3. Why everyone needs a mastermind group 

About Caroline

For three decades, Caroline has been a pioneer with her groundbreaking work in the areas of goal setting, grit, happiness and success. She is recognized as one of the world’s leading positive psychology experts on this research and how it can be applied to one’s life for maximum transformation, flourishing and growth. 

Caroline helps people identify, come up with a plan for, and persist in pursuing their toughest goals — leading to their success, happiness and flourishing, while inspiring those around them. Achieving hard, meaningful goals is one of the most rewarding things we can do in both our personal and professional lives. 

A Harvard graduate with a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, she has authored seven books including Creating Your Best Life and Getting Grit. 

Resources Mentioned

Caroline Miller Interview Transcript

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

Caroline Miller
Thanks for having me. I’m so excited.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited, too. I want to hear all about your wisdom when it comes to grit. And, first, I want to hear about how you apply it in your own world. You are an expert in goal accomplishment, a top-rank master swimmer, have a blackbelt in Hapkido. It seems like you’re walking your talk. Is there a key insight or learning that has been super transformational and useful for you across these different domains?

Caroline Miller
Well, the one you didn’t mention is the one that actually taught me grit, and that was I overcame bulimia at a time when it was thought to be impossible and we were considered unhelp-ables and it was a death sentence. And I learned how to overcome bulimia one day at a time and I wrote the first book by anybody who overcame bulimia and lived to tell the story. That book, My Name is Caroline, is still in print, but, really, that’s what taught me grit, and it also taught me that joy comes from helping other people to have grit. So, that’s the most important thing I learned from getting better and staying better, actually, all these years.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you said that joy comes from grit and teaching others to have grit.

Caroline Miller
Yeah, I was told something very important early in my recovery, which was you can’t keep what you don’t give away, “It’s great, Caroline, that you’re getting better, it’s great that you’re overcoming this eating disorder, and you found time and you’ve got joy and you’ve got your life back, and you’re not lying and stealing and whatever, but who are you helping?”

And I really do believe grit is only useful when it’s actually uplifting other people as well, when they witness acts of grit that they ask themselves, “What if I live like that? What if I took those kinds of risks? What if I left it all on the floor?” So, I think grit is only good when it’s not just a self-focused behavior, when the behavior itself actually makes other people want to be better as well. And I think that was the most important thing I learned ever in life, and it guides everything I do.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s awesome for the other people and it’s also awesome for you. Can you share, is it just because of the purpose and the joy and the motivation that that unleashes? Or is it because of sort of an accountability effect, like, “Oh, Caroline is the role model. I don’t want to slip up”? Or, how does that work internally?

Caroline Miller
Well, so this is where my fifth book, Creating Your Best Life, comes in. So, I went back to UPenn and got a master’s degree in Positive Psychology in 2005, just really lucky. One of the first 32 people in the world to get it. It was there that I discovered that happiness precedes all success, and that all goal-setting has to be preceded by emotional flourishing. And that’s where I learned that real joy came from helping other people to accomplish their goals as well.

And so, what’s important to me is that when I am gritty, when I am pursuing really hard goals, it really helps that other people know about my goals, the right people, and that it gives me a sense of pride and fulfillment that is just not available when all you focus on is yourself, “And what am I doing? And where am I going? And what school am I in? What job do I have? What do I make?”

And so, I think the biggest shift in the 20th century, kind of the law of attraction approach to goal-setting, and grit, etc., has been to the 21st century of it’s not about self-help. It’s about helping other people as well. And so, I think that it wasn’t possible for me to keep any of these things until I turned and gave them away to other people.

And so, that’s really what I’ve learned in life, but also, through the research, I learned at UPenn and afterwards.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Cool. Well, that’s a powerful lesson right there. And let’s hear, how would you articulate sort of the key thesis in your book Getting Grit: The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose? What’s kind of the big idea here?

Caroline Miller
The big idea is that you can cultivate grit, and everyone should cultivate grit. I think this is a quality that is not a nice-to-have. It’s a need-to-have. And as a mother, I have served my three children, growing up in the DC area, having all competition stripped out of their lives. It was, “Everybody has won and everyone must have prizes.” They got rid of valedictorians, they got rid of fun runs, but I just couldn’t get over the trophies my children accumulated by the age of 17, that when we threw them out, no one even noticed.

And so, what I think is most important is that you need to cultivate grit because every night, we scan our days for what we did that day that was hard, and we do it without even knowing we’re doing it because those are the things that give us pride. Those are the things that give us a sense of self-accomplishment, self-efficacy, and in order to do hard things, you have to cultivate grit because the hardest goals and the most satisfying goals are outside of your comfort zone. And we have an entire generation that grew up having those lessons forcibly taken out of their schools, their activities, and elsewhere.

And so, the thesis is grit really matters, but you can learn how to have it. It’s not something that’s specially born to Olympians. It’s out there for the taking but you have to cultivate the qualities that build it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. So, that’s an interesting notion that you say, before we go to bed, our brains scan through the day and think about, “What hard thing did we do?” and then we feel pride associated with it. I think that’s interesting in that, as I think about my own days, I really do want to have some victories. And it’s interesting in my own brain, like, what counts in terms of a win or doing a hard thing. Like, Caroline, I just love chatting with you and guests, and learning stuff, like it’s almost too easy in that it doesn’t require much, I don’t know, hustle, kind of sacrifice, “Oh, let’s get through this.” It’s like, “No, this is going to be a blast.”

So, in a way, this is, I hope, a very meaningful contribution to tens of thousands of listeners, who think, “Oh, this is really useful insights. Thanks, Caroline and Pete. This will give my life a little upgrade.” That’s kind of what we’re going for. So, in a way, that certainly “counts” as an achievement but it doesn’t feel like it counts, to me, as a hard thing that I did. It’s sort of like, “I just did that thing I love doing.” So, what do you think about this?

Caroline Miller
Okay. So, there’s something called goal-setting theory, it’s Locke and Latham, and so that was kind of stuck in academia till they brought it out and put it in Creating Your Best Life. And that ends up being the first evidence-based goal-setting book, which is still amazing to me. But what’s really important is that goals, or learning goals, and performance goals, and you have to know the difference and you have to pursue your goals in different ways, depending on whether you’re doing it for the first time and learning how to do it, or it’s something you’ve done before.

And this is something you’ve obviously done before over and over and over again. You are in the midst of executing a performance goal. It’s a checklist approach, like a pilot taking off in a plane. This is not hard for you anymore is my guess, so I’m not going to think that, at the end of the day, you’ve scanned your day, and said, “What did I do today that was really hard outside of my comfort zone?” I think this is a huge contribution. It’s an intrinsic goal, obviously, but is it outside your comfort zone? Only you know that, but my guess would be no.

Pete Mockaitis
No, I mean, Caroline, you might pull some tricks that make me a little uncomfortable. We’ll see where this goes. But, generally, no. It’s sort of like, “Hey, we’re going to have a fun conversation, learn some stuff, and this is what I like doing, and done it 700 times so it’s all good.”

Caroline Miller
What is the hardest thing that you did yesterday?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s see. In the gym, I did some things that were a little bit harder and different than what I’m accustomed to in terms of going longer, so that was something. My toddlers made a big old mess across the whole house.

Caroline Miller
Parenting is hard.

Pete Mockaitis
It took me a while…my wife and I, a good while to reset that back to proper when I was tired and just sort of wanted to go to bed. So, it’s funny, those things come to mind. Whereas, work wasn’t too tricky. I was at the bank for a while, chatting with bank people. They’re very friendly.

Caroline Miller
Work is pleasure, right? When you find the thing you’re passionate about, you can be in flow, and it’s not as much of a challenge as maybe it was in the beginning when you’re learning what kind of microphone to get, how do you prepare your guests for an interview, how do you make sure it goes smoothly, etc.

But the two things you just mentioned, parenting and parenting well, and being in the gym, going out of your comfort zone, using the quality of self-regulation or willpower, that is really an important ingredient in cultivating what I call authentic grit. You have to have the ability to delay gratification so, at the end of the day, when we’ve often delayed gratification, had the humility to be learners, not the arrogance that we know it all. And we’ve gone out and maybe used a trainer. That takes a certain amount of humility.

Those are the things that, at the end of the day, they build emotional muscle but they also build physical muscle, and those are some of the most important ingredients of really good grit. And humility was my big surprise. There’s so much research on humility but I don’t think most people understand that humility is a quality that you see in the kind of grit that makes people push through all kinds of discomfort, all kinds of people questioning their goal, making fun of them, many dark nights of the soul.

People don’t always understand, grit is not resilience. Resilience is short-term discomfort, getting through something. Grit, the idea of grit is it’s baked into it, that this is a long-term goal. This is something you’re going to have a lot of setbacks, a lot of challenges, a lot of the dark nights of the soul. And the humility of just one day at a time, learning from others, learning from failure, having patience and persistence and purposes, “This is my goal. This isn’t my mother’s goal. This isn’t my husband’s goal, my parents’ goal, my teachers’ goal. None of that. This is my goal.”

And that purpose, that intrinsic purpose is what allows people to continue to cultivate grit. When I overcame my eating disorder, it was really one of the first things I had ever taken on as a huge goal where there’s a good chance I was going to fail. I tried to get better but I wasn’t ever able to get better nor did I know anyone else who had either. So, for me, that was the hardest, biggest goal but I did it because I wanted to live and I didn’t want to die.

I was a newlywed who had hit her last bottom at the age of 22, a Harvard graduate whose biggest secret was my bulimia. It had killed my swimming career. It took so much from my life. But because it was my goal, I was able to cultivate grit by just, one day at a time, doing what I had to do to delay gratification, surround myself with good people, the right people, and just move patiently to the finish line, which I did.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you expand upon how humility is helpful in grit and goal achievement?

Caroline Miller
So, there are two kinds of humility. There is social humility, the ability to step back in a conversation or any kind of environment, and let somebody else get all the air time, be the star. You don’t have to be the star of every conversation or every setting, so there is social humility, and it’s called one of the most important lubricants of being in a relationship.

And then there’s intellectual humility. You know that you don’t know everything. You’re very comfortable being surrounded by people who can teach you things. And so, that kind of humility is what gives people access to learning from really good people, from knowing that you can build bridges and not have to be the hog all the time and other people can shine. They want to be part of your team when you’re going for something hard because they know that you’ll be there for them as well.

What’s very interesting, also, and this is something I’ve been focused on the last couple of years, is humility cuts in different ways for men and women. Women who exhibit humility in the workplace often get run over by colleagues. And I’ve coached a number of CEOs, who are women, who have humility in their top five. I talk about the VIA Character Strength test. That’s my go-to test. It’s free. I love it. It’s just fabulous.

But when you have humility somewhere in your top five, it doesn’t always work well for women, but it is a great quality for grit. In the workplace, you can be seen as a pushover, but in terms of your own personal goals, humility is a really good rocket fuel for being able to stay the course with your own important goals.

Pete Mockaitis
And is that sort of because it’s like, “Hmm, all right, it looks like I need some help here,” or, “Hmm, looks like I need to change my approach. Like, what I’ve been doing hasn’t worked,” as opposed to, “No, I conquer all and I shall defeat this, too”?

Caroline Miller
Yeah. And so, when you interview great athletes, my great uncles were Olympic gold, silver, and bronze medalists, and this was true of them as it is true of all kinds of athletes that we all know or have seen on television or read about. They don’t want to win against bad players, bad teams. They want to win against the best. They want to know that when they went out and they conquered the world or set a world record or did the best they could, that it was not against people who were weaker than them, not as effective as them; it was the best.

And so, that is one of the signs of truly elite athletes is they have the humility to know that they want to play against the better people because they’ll learn if they lose, but they also know if they won, they truly won in the best possible way in the best possible arena that tested them.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to, “Oh, what’s most important is the win itself.” I think there are some who just like the winning more than the learning, and so it’s like if they can have easier…I’ve talked to some gamers. I don’t know, this is a weird example. But this always surprised me from video gamers. They’re like, “Oh, I hate this new skill-based matching where they put me with other good people,” or, “I want to beat all the Christmas noobs who get the game on Christmas for the first time.”

And I found that surprising, like, “Don’t you want to play other people who are excellent, who challenge you to do your very best?” And they’re like, “No, I take delight in just slaughtering the less skilled and experienced.” And I find that kind of curious.

Caroline Miller
Well, so that’s what Carol Dweck at Stanford calls a “fixed mindset.” And, unfortunately, that has become such a defining criteria for the generation that grew up where we were all told to make our kids happy, “Just tell them they’re great. Give them what they want. Make them happy. And if they’re happy, they’re going to have confidence and high self-esteem.”

And the truth of the matter is, and the results are in on this movement where everyone got trophies, and everyone was told they were the next Picasso, is that we created more narcissists and sociopaths than we did people who had confidence who would go out with a work ethic and they were willing to start at the bottom.

This is where you are afraid to burst your bubble of believing that you are all that, so you stay inside this little fixed arena, and you only do things where you know you can’t lose, you can’t be shown up, you can’t be seen as stupid. A growth mindset is everything is something you can learn from, “I will grow my intelligence. I will grow my skills.” And that kind of mindset is the kind of mindset that leads to a flourishing life.

So, you don’t want to play small, but that’s one of the things that we’ve seen coming out of the self-esteem parenting movement, and that’s really the millennials, not all millennials, but, generally, psychologists and sociologists found that this is a generation that didn’t really climb trees, they didn’t break their legs, they didn’t go and start businesses. Entrepreneurship went down 9% in this phase. Traveling with comfort animals, pigs, turkeys. The things that I chronicled in Getting Grit were hysterical.

I was interviewing flight attendants who told me about all these comfort animals that would show up in the plane, and they knew. They knew from looking at the person who brought the animal on, they knew if it was a real support animal or not by how they made contact with the pet. But we became a generation that, basically, said you can never ever feel uncomfortable. Trigger warnings everywhere. It really went too far. As a result, we paid the price.

The average male marathoner got slower by 42 minutes because there was no real metric by which to measure yourself if everyone got a trophy. It’s fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I was hoping that maybe more newbie runners picked up the sport. And call me a growth mindset practitioner.

Caroline Miller
That did happen.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Maybe we just had more newbs who were getting started, and we can celebrate that,” or maybe, I don’t know where I got that thought. I don’t know.

Caroline Miller
But that was celebrated. Both happened. It’s not either/or, it’s both and. So, the color runs did bring more people in where there were no times. You just had paint thrown at you. That was fun. It did make a lot of people more fun. However, there was a cost at the other end, which was without any real celebrating of elite athletes. I mean, remember I had said this a little earlier, but it still surprises me.

A lot of schools, including my kids’ high school, got rid of valedictorians and any kind of class rankings because it made people feel bad. So, I think that there was a cost on either end. And I’ll say there’s a bad kind of grit that takes shortcuts to get all the glory, that people with really true grit earn because they do the hard work, they slogged through difficulties. I call it faux grit, people who take shortcuts or who lie about their achievements so that they will get other people to admire them.

The most egregious thing I found in my chapter that I wrote about faux grit is the opening to that chapter. And I write about there’s this committee in the US government that exists only to find people who pretend they’re medal of honor winners, only to pretend they’re medal of honor winners. Now this is the highest award given out in the US military, and you only get it for extraordinary valor. It’s so rare. But people buy it on eBay, they buy it at flea markets, and they just want people to think they’re all that, that they have grit.

If you take a shortcut, if you have a fixed mindset, but you want people to think you’re really made of tough stuff, go out of your comfort zone and prove it. You’ll feel better at the end of the day and you’ll have something to build upon that will take you to even better places after that.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’m all hung up on this medal of honor story. So, there is a governmental committee who, like, hunts down the fakers. And what do they do? Do they prosecute them? What goes down?

Caroline Miller
I don’t think they prosecute them but they strip it off their resumes.

Pete Mockaitis
They just say, “Cut it out, buddy.”

Caroline Miller
I think they fine them. I think you get a stiff fine. And so, I live in Washington, DC, just outside Washington, DC, and there was just a Flight of Valor that came to Washington this week, and it was four medal of honor winners. And, yeah, they were met at the airport with a parade. And when they were on the plane, there was a water cannon salute. This is how people feel about people who throw their bodies on grenades and IEDs.

There was this one helicopter pilot who was honored. In Vietnam, he rescued 73 fellow soldiers under fire. That’s a medal of honor performance. So, I am deeply offended, and I didn’t serve in the military but I am deeply offended that people would try to proclaim that is something they had earned but this is, again, something we’d seen as a result of this, “All have won and all must have prizes.” We’re seeing people faking their PhD research. We’re seeing companies like Enron, for God’s sake.

When people came to look at Enron, and see “Is this a company I want to invest in?” They had an entire floor at Enron devoted to fake phones, fake traders all just on the phone pretending to take orders. It was all fake. Wherever you see that kind of made-up environment, you see what I call faux grit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so we’ve got a nice litany of stuff that’s not working so well when it comes to developing grit. And when it comes to the best practices that do develop grit, we talked about doing the hard thing daily. And I don’t know if you have any particulars or suggestions or prescriptions or protocol there. But, yeah, maybe more about that or some additional things that make a boatload of difference in terms of us developing grit.

Caroline Miller
Well, there was an exercise that came about during the Oprah years, three blessings, three things I’m grateful for. I did a twist on that and I created a worksheet just called three hard things. I think we all need to train ourselves to do hard things. So, I just think everybody, at the end of every day, should say, “What did I do today that was hard?” I think that’s very important to build that muscle.

The second is to take a look at the relationships, the people around you, because grit is contagious. And we know this because Angela Duckworth has studied the cadets at West Point, and they found that grit became the determining factor of whether or not someone dropped out of Beast Barracks, that first summer where the cadets are just pushed past all their physical and emotional limits. It wasn’t about their GPA or anything else. It was grit that ended up being that determinant.

And she studied the cadets, and she found that if you had a low-grit score, they would room you with a higher-grit score cadet. Why? Because when we’re around people who have the right kind of grit, they awe and inspire us. So, take a look at the people around you. What are they pursuing? What is their metric for success?

Nicholas Christakis’ research on social contagion also found that quitting smoking is contagious as is gaining weight. Behaviors become contagious. If you want to accomplish something difficult, you really need to take a look at who are the people around you who help you to catch and perform the behaviors that either have patience, humility, do hard things, have a certain amount of passion for something, not just a bunch of interests that are all over the place. So, that’s another thing.

And I also think people should get used to just finishing things. If you start a recipe, follow all the directions. If you’re on the treadmill and you put in 45 minutes, don’t get off at 40. Start to build the expectation that you are a finisher. And there is a word in Chinese chi ku, I’m sure I’m pronouncing it incorrectly, but chi ku, basically, means eating bitter.

And so, in China, the expectation by the parents is “We presume our children are strong,” and they’re so perplexed that, in the United States, we presume children are fragile, that we must protect them from things they don’t want to hear, things they don’t want to do. It’s really interesting and I think we have to presume strength in ourselves and the people who depend upon us to be their role model, their parents, and we really have gotten away from that.

But the flourishing life is not the easy life. It’s the life where you go out and you do hard things for the right reasons. And in the process, awe and inspire other people to ask themselves, “Well, what if I live like that, too? What if I took those kinds of risks? What if I had that kind of dignity and self-respect that made other people want to be like me?”

There’s a story I had in Getting Grit that I love to tell, and that is of an Iraq war veteran, Kevin Downs, who came back from the Iraq war, basically, almost a paraplegic. He was in a Humvee that ran over an IED, and the other five people in the Humvee died, and he lived, but he lived with a lot of mangled limbs. And he went back home to Harpeth, Tennessee where he was a three-sport athlete in high school, and he didn’t know what he was waking up for anymore. His purpose had been duty to our country. He felt committed to the military and he felt like he was doing something good.

He got discharged and he’s back in bed, disabled, and he gets the idea “I know what I can wake up for. I will offer to cut the grass at the high school because I was a football player, and this is the time of year when they need the grass cut.” He called the high school, he said, “Do you mind if I come cut the grass? I just want to feel useful again.”

And here’s the important point of the story. This disabled veteran, without giving a speech, without getting a trophy, I don’t even think he got paid, riding a lawnmower, impacted all of the youth who watched him. And so, I saw the football coach from that high school interviewed on ESPN, and he made this observation, “Every single teenage boy on my football team who had been whining about two-a-days, about heat, about bugs, about not wanting to be there, about how hard it was, stopped whining in the presence of this veteran cutting the grass.”

And I really sat back when I heard that story, and I thought, “This really does show that the right kind of good grit is contagious and it makes other people want to be better.” That’s the point of grit, to make other people want to be better as well. It’s not enough for us to do hard things, our own intrinsic goals. What about you can’t keep what you don’t give away? Role model the behavior that will make the next generation and the people around you better as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, that is meta. It’s inspiring about inspiration. And it really is interesting how you think about…I’m trying to think about how to integrate that into my own goals, like, in such a way that they can be inspiring for others but also not, like, you’re tooting your own horn, like, “Isn’t this awesome, the thing that I did?” I don’t know if we’re at the gym, it’s like, “Behold my perfected body.” That’s not probably ideal for a tone or inspiration.

Caroline Miller
That’s selfie-grit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

Caroline Miller
That’s when you are telling everybody about how tough you are. If you don’t mind me just saying, I think the longevity of your show and the excellence that was asked of me, sending me a free microphone so that your show would be as excellent as possible, the reminders I got told me that you have a standard of excellence for your show and your guests that I don’t think I’ve ever had in many, many, many years of lots and lots of interviews.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, shucks.

Caroline Miller
I think, without you actually saying that, you are demonstrating grit. This is what an excellent show with high standards can accomplish. We can impact a lot of people and give them the tools to have a better, more awesome life. So, I think you are demonstrating grit. It’s just that people take for granted when they do it because, quite often, they don’t realize that what they’re doing in their own humble way is having an impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think that’s a beautiful point right there, and I guess there have been studies associated with the more that we can connect with the beneficiaries of the work we do, the more that connects us to purpose and energy and stuff. And sometimes I do trout out favorite bits of feedback from listeners. One of my favorites was, “I wake up early so I can listen to it twice.” One of my favorites. Thank you, Ashley.

Caroline Miller
No, I think you probably do more than you think you do. But I think everybody should ask themselves, “Am I doing something hard and doing it in a way that would make other people want to be better as well?” When I’d looked at history, I found, at every turning point in history, there was one figure who stood apart, who caused history to take a left turn, and those were people who had, what I call, this authentic grit.

And it was because of how they did these hard things, the Martin Luther Kings, the Greta Thunbergs, the Malala Yousafzai, it’s how they did them with dignity, with self-respect, with passion, it made them have followers. And that’s where history changed. Good grit changes the world. Bad grit repels people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we talked about doing the hard things, we’ve talked about finding the inspiration, how that impacts other people. Any other top do’s and don’ts when it comes to getting gritty?

Caroline Miller
Well, I do think it’s important to really take a very hard look at the people around you. And I just got a special callout to the women because there’s research by Shelly Gable at the University of California Santa Barbara that’s probably my most referred to research. It’s where you see the shade snap in people’s eyes and the lights go on, and they realize that they’ve been tolerating disrespect possibly, which is keeping them from being gritty or accomplishing their goals.

Her research says this, “There is only one right way to respond to another person’s goals or dreams or saying that they’ve succeeded at something, and that is with curiosity and enthusiasm.” And that is a Rorschach test for whether or not a person who’s around you should remain in your life, in close contact with you. And women admit to being surrounded, 84% of women say they’re surrounded by frenemies, friends who are enemies.

And why do women do this? Why do women have passive-aggressive or passive-destructive comments and behavior? Because they think if they actually clear the space for themselves, they’ll be seen as not nice. And even worst than that, one of the only changes that hasn’t taken place in the workplace for women is how we perceive women who are goal-directed and agentic.

So, boys grow up hearing stories of being agentic. They see football teams, baseball teams, they see men pursuing goals. We don’t really see that as much for girls. And so, what we know is that women are told stories of a sisterhood and best friend and helping others, and so women really need to take a look at when you share that good news with your friend, your sister, your mother, your cousin, your co-worker, and you are proud of it, was their curiosity and enthusiasm, did they hit like on LinkedIn? Or, did they just go quiet?

And Shelly Gable found that the most common thing women do is they go quiet, which is actually the cruelest thing that you can do to another woman’s success. Why? Because, sure, men do it, but it doesn’t impact men the way it impacts women because we’re wired for the tend-and-befriend response. Oxytocin is released when women are connected and they do good things for each other.

And so, what happens when women go silent, which is where the whole mean girl thing, mean moms comes from, is women feel like they’re in existential hell. It’s almost as if they’ve died. And I’m on a mission now to make sure that women get into mastermind groups. If you want to do hard things, build a mastermind group with people who are active-constructive responders and share your hardest goals in the company of those people where they won’t interrupt you, they won’t mansplain you, they’ll let you be an expert, and they’ll cheer you on.

And the research shows that when you’re in a group like that, you take more risks. But so many women play small because they don’t know who has their back. In fact, Madeleine Albright just died as we’re doing this interview. I grew up seeing Madeleine Albright. She was a mother I was in close proximity to. And I’ll never forget how mean the other mothers were to her. She has given interviews most of her life about the mothers I grew up with. I know who she’s talking about. She said they were horrible. They were cruel. They would ask her about her fruitcake recipe and not about the doctorate she had just received.

And so, I think we have to be really, really thoughtful about, “Are we truly, truly supporting women as they succeed and as they pursue hard goals?” So, when you said, “Is there something else?” Yes, look at the quality of the people around you. Are they active-constructive responders when you share your good news? And for women, it’s even more important because the research shows that most women do surround themselves with frenemies, and the first response you get when you share a piece of good news, the first person you share it with, his or her response may cause you to give up that goal in the next week.

Imagine. Imagine that. The impact other people have on us. And so, anyway, that’s another point that I really just wanted to drive home when you asked.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, that is powerful. And now that you’ve got my antenna up, curiosity and enthusiasm, and “Am I seeing that?” Boy, huge things are coming to mind here. Well, one, accountability groups have been huge for me in terms of just general life goals, like folks help support each other as I’ve done that in different roommates or men’s group settings.

And then, specifically in podcasting, I’ve got a mastermind group. Every one of them have been a guest on the show, and vice versa. And it’s been exactly what you say with regard to taking those risks because we’re like we feel it’s like, “Is this priced too high? I don’t know if I could ask for that much.” “Like, yes, you absolutely can.” It’s like, “Ooh, should I follow up again on this opportunity? I don’t want to be a pest?” It’s like, “Yes, you absolutely…”

Like, a lot of the conversations are associated with, “Ooh, I feel kind of uncomfortable and nervous about this thing,” and they’re like, “Yup, that’s normal, and that’s what needs to happen and you can do it. Go for it. You’re overthinking this, you’re, whatever.” And so, that’s just been huge and I’m a big advocate for mastermind groups.

Caroline Miller
And most women are not in one, and they don’t know how to form one. And that’s why Kristin Neff’s research on self-compassion is so interesting because she just had that book come out in the last year, radical self-compassion for women. And she said that being in a group like this, doing anything for yourself is considered a radical act of self-compassion because women, again, are cultured to take care of other people not themselves.

And I think this is where some of these passive-aggressive, passive-destructive behavior comes from. That’s why I wrote a short e-book, it’s available for purchase and download on my website. I think it’s the most important thing I may have ever written. It’s only 43 pages but I laid out the case for why every woman needs to be in a very strategically formed mastermind group. But, also, why do we do this to each other? We do do it to each other.

I’m not letting men off the hook for centuries and lots of really misbehavior, but we’re shooting at each other inside the tent. And, to me, that is partly why women have not made the strides we thought we would’ve made by now, and we haven’t. When Adam Grant sent me that research, showing that in companies, some of the mentoring that some of the women say they’re doing could not be matched with who are the mentees, I came up with a word that I thought would take care of this mentorship sponsorship dilemma that isn’t really producing the results we’re looking for in great numbers – and that is ampliship.

And that’s something Madeleine Albright was great at. Amplify the good news, the goals, and the success of other women with witnesses, because if it didn’t have a witness, it didn’t happen. That’s what I think, and that’s why some of this research was stopped in these companies because they couldn’t find the mentees.

So, anyway, women need to be in mastermind groups, but not any old mastermind groups, but a very carefully formed mastermind group with certain guidelines. So, that’s my clarion call. All women, please, value yourself and your goals highly enough to get the support from other women who have your back, you know who they are, giving you the guideline, active-constructive responding, learn about goal-setting theory, which is so important.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, Caroline, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Caroline Miller
I want to thank you for this opportunity to share this because, as you can tell, I’m very passionate about it and you don’t reach out and ask anybody. I appreciate the fact that you thought I did good enough work to ask me, so thank you very much. My work speaks for itself. And I can be found on my website.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. All right. Well, now let’s hear about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring.

Caroline Miller
My favorite quote is “Ignorance shouts. Wisdom whispers.” I think that says a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe you’ve already mentioned it, but a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Caroline Miller
I think Shelly Gable’s work on active-constructive responding, and the name of her research is “What happens between friends when things go right?” Talk about a great topic, right?

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Caroline Miller
I think my favorite book right now is the George Washington biography by Ron Chernow. What an extraordinary leader. I kept hearing people talking about it, I thought, “I’m going to go read that.” I’m just aghast at what an extraordinary human being this man was. We’re so lucky.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I remember listening to 1776, and I was like, “Whoa! That dude, there is some grit, there is some self-sacrifice.” Some impressive components.

Caroline Miller
He was amazing. I had no idea. Wonderful biography.

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

Caroline Miller
I find that Evernote, Web Clipper in Evernote is the thing I cannot live without. I can’t write a book without it. I will be a subscriber of Evernote for the rest of my life.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Caroline Miller
I get up early and I make a pot of coffee, and I drink it all. And then I go get in the swimming pool. I’m in the swimming pool in my log after that.

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

Caroline Miller
“You can’t keep what you don’t give away.”

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

Caroline Miller
To my website, CarolineMiller.com. And, as you know, people often think it’s Caroline. It’s Caroline. Just think Princess Caroline, L-I-N-E. Put CarolineMiller.com.

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

Caroline Miller
I really do believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. Instead of thinking about “How can I succeed?” ask somebody else what their dream is, and then when they accomplish something, make sure you share it with witnesses. I think we need to get away from “How much can we accomplish?” and begin to think of it as kind of a group event because that’s what we’ve gotten away from and we have to get back to that. So, help other people. It will come back and bless you in many other ways.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Caroline, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success with your mastermind groups and research and all your adventures.

Caroline Miller
Thank you so much. Again, I appreciate the audience.