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814: How to Take Control of Your Mood and Feel More Powerful at Work with Steven Gaffney

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Steven Gaffney shares the simple shifts that help you feel more powerful at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to easily redirect negativity into productivity
  2. Three reframes that make problems more manageable
  3. Two quick hacks to snap you out of a funk

About Steven

Steven Gaffney is a leading expert on creating Consistently High Achieving Organizations (CHAO)™ including high achieving teams, honest communication, and change leadership. Steven has worked in more than 25 different industry and market segments for over 25 years. He uses cross-discipline solutions and best practices from other industry sectors to bring fresh, innovative and consistently successful approaches to his clients. He works directly with top leaders from Fortune 500 companies, associations, as well as the U.S. government and military; and is also an author, speaker, and trusted advisor.

  • Book: Unconditional Power: A System for Thriving in Any Situation, No Matter How Frustrating, Complex, or Unpredictable
  • Website: JustBeHonest.com

Resources Mentioned

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Steven Gaffney Interview Transcript

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

Steven Gaffney
Thank you for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your book Unconditional Power. But first, I want to dig a little bit into… one of your areas of expertise is honesty. I’m curious if, in all your work and research, if there’s an area in your life where oh, you had to do a bit of an honesty upgrade.

Steven Gaffney
You mean honesty upgrade as in like being honest to myself or that something? Is that what you mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. An area where it’s like, “Oh… Given this, I’m seeing a little in myself, perhaps there’s an area I need to be more honest about.”

Steven Gaffney
What actually happened, how I got involved in the work is I started to do some seminars for creative people like photographers and film and radio commercial directors because I used to have a business in that area. So I’m teaching them how to do communication, real basic stuff, and on the side, I would just always give people advice about honesty because I’ve always been a really honest, upfront person. 

And one day, a friend of mine said, “You should be teaching this stuff.” So, I guess the honesty moment was around being honest and actually teaching honesty out there. But what I mean by honesty, just so we get this out, it’s not the truth or lies that’s the big hang-up. The biggest problem is not what people say. It’s actually what they don’t say. It’s what they leave out.

So, that was what I realized and starting to teach. And then I developed a nine-step formula on how to share difficult things and have it go well, and we can get into that as well, but that’s how I started and that’s really about the honesty moment, you could say.

Pete Mockaitis
What we don’t say in terms of we just choose to omit this because it’ll be uncomfortable, we think we might not like it.

Steven Gaffney
Yeah, think about it this way. How often have you thought, “My gosh, if they just told me that, I could’ve figured out the answer.” A lot of people in their jobs experience this because, “My gosh, if my boss had just told me this, or a coworker just told me this,” or if you’re leading an organization, and you lose a great employee, and you find out the real reason why they walked out the door, and thought, “My gosh, if I had known that was what was bothering them, what prompted them to look, we could’ve done something about it.”

Really, when you look at life, and I challenge people, the number one problem isn’t what people tell us. It’s actually what they don’t tell us. It’s what they leave out. So, the trick of the whole thing is to try to get the unsaid said. And I don’t mean that people try to hold back from an evil standpoint. People are often afraid to share really what’s going on with them and with others.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. So, speaking of some of this emotional stuff, your latest book Unconditional Power is about some of that, how we can do some thriving in situations that are frustrating or complex or unpredictable. Tell us, what’s the big idea here?

Steven Gaffney
Well, the big idea is that most people suffer from conditional-ism. Now, that’s not going to make a lot of sense till I explain it, so let me explain it really easily. The three different types of moods or mindsets we all get into. One mindset is powerless. That’s where we say, “What difference can I make? I’m only one person here.”

Conditional mood is kind of this next-thing mindset, and that’s where we say, “We recognize we have some power over this situation but it’s conditional on other things.” And so, we say, “I can do that as long as they give me more money, or as long as there’s more resources, or as long as I have the right time.” There’s always a condition to the power.

But the most powerful state is when we are powerful, and that’s where we recognize there’s conditions but we’re in charge and we ask ourselves, “What am I going to do about this situation?” So, the big aha was doing work with so many organizations, what I discovered was many people think they’re powerful but they’re really conditionally powerful. And they’ll say, “I can do that as long as…” But the objective is how to be unconditionally powerful.

Hence, the whole idea of the book and how to get that done. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so is that even possible? Aren’t all of our powers subject to conditions?

Steven Gaffney
Well, here’s the thing. I’ve worked with a lot of successful people, and I’m sure yourself as well. Whenever you’ve overcome a challenge, you haven’t been conditionally powerful. You said, probably in a powerful state, “I recognize the situation,” but you focus 100% of your energies on what you’re going to do about the situation.

For example, a client of mine lost a big contract. Now, they could’ve rationalized to the whole organization, “It’s our biggest contract. We’re really doomed and we’ll do as best as we can, given that we lost a big contract.” But what the CEO said, and what all the top leaders said is, “No, we’re not going to use that as an excuse. It is what it is. We clearly lost this. But what are we going to learn from it and what are we going to do about it?” And they’re having one of their best years ever as a result because they didn’t waste time being conditionally powerful, which is really kind of the state of excuses. They, instead, have been powerful.

Let me give you example in my own life. So, in 2009, I got diagnosed with cancer, and I’m completely fine now, so fast-forward to that. But, also, 2009, was in the middle of the great recession. And so, one of the first things to go, obviously, were things what I do for a living: consulting, speaking, that type of thing. But what I said to myself was, “I can’t control that I have cancer, and I can’t control that there’s a recession, but I can control what I’m going to do about it.”

So, I didn’t allow myself to have excuses and I spent 100% of my time focusing on what I was going to do about it. And from that point on, we’ve had our best years ever. And some of the strategies in the book is really what I learned from others about how to be unconditionally powerful. So, yes, it is often the state we’re on in the conditional side, but we’re really being conditionally powerful and it is around being powerfully unconditionally powerful, and that’s the state of when we make things happen.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say state as in sort of like our emotional, internal way of being?

Steven Gaffney
Yeah, absolutely, because I make the argument in the beginning of the book. Have you ever noticed that when you’re in a good mood you’re smarter? Think about that. Like, when we’re in a good mood, and somebody throws us a problem, we’re like, “All right, this is a problem, but I’m going to figure out a way.” But when we’re in a bad mood, maybe a lack of sleep, or whatever the case may be, somebody throws us a problem, and you’re like, “Ah, here we go again. Not another problem,” right?

Or, we might say things like, “No good deed goes unpunished. We’re always having some challenges,” or, “What am I going to do about this situation?” And so, it’s easy to affect our mood, and our mood impacts our actions. So, I make the argument in the book that, as leaders, and as friends, the most important thing is to have a great state of mind, but, really, what we’re looking at is mood.

So, mood matters. Mood really does matter. And the objective is to have mood discipline because we can be in good moods and bad moods but what if we can be in a great mood on demand rather than by accident, and that’s a big part of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds very appealing. I’d like that very much. Tell us, Steven, how does one get into a good mood on demand?

Steven Gaffney
Well, there’s ten strategies in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’ll need them all.

Steven Gaffney
So, we can go through as many as we can. Well, and the thing about it is it’s not like hold tight till we get to number five. No, let me give you some real ones that they can move on immediately. So, one of them is intentional disruption. So, have you ever been in this situation where you can see things going downhill, or somebody gets in an argument and something is going downhill? And what we end up being is a victim to a meeting, a victim to a dinner party, a victim to something, and we’re like, “What am I going to do about this?”

Intentional disruption is the idea that human beings are creatures of patterns and associations, which is there’s nothing wrong with it as long as it’s working, but when it’s not, we have to intentionally disrupt it. So, let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. First on the personal side on how I use this. I had a dinner party a while back. And do you ever have one of those couples over and they’re great but they could start to get into an argument and they can bring everybody else down? Well, that’s what started to happen.

And so, I just used intentional disruption, and I said in the middle of them having an argument, I said, “Can I ask you a question?” And one of my friends, she goes, “Yes.” And I said, “Well, what do you love about him?” And she kind of jolted her head back, and she said, “Well, he does always have my back.” And then he started to say some favorable remarks, and it shifted. I disrupted the pattern.

In a meeting. So, let’s say you’re in the leadership, you’re in a meeting, and you’re dealing with an issue, and you can feel everybody kind of being in a down mood. Intentionally disrupt it. So, one way to do that is begin a really tense meeting that you have to talk about a problem, do a go-around and say, “What’s the biggest win that’s happened to us over the past month as a company? What’s the best thing that’s happened to you?”

And by the mind going there, it actually puts it in a good mood, good spirit when they’re answering that question. And then when you go back into the problem, they’re looking at it from a good mood, a good perspective. Those are examples of intentional disruption. And the good news is we don’t have to be the leader to use these types of strategies.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. When it comes to questions, boy, I see it in my brain and I think it’s the human condition. When posed a question, we just want to go after an answer, and it’s like we’re just running after that thing. And so, it is an effective redirection pretty quickly is asking a great question. So, can you share with us a couple other favorite questions that do a good work in terms of getting us into a positive mood with that disruption?

Steven Gaffney
Yeah, and I’m not talking about just being big motivational talk, because people say, “Oh, motivational talk, how long does it last?” It really is about being sensitive to the mood of us and others. So, another example is you could say to somebody who’s really challenged with a problem, is I love using the magic wand question, which is, “Well, if I gave you unlimited time, money, how would you approach this?”

Or, when somebody doesn’t know what to do in their career, I’ll say to them, “Okay, if you had unlimited talent, but you had to choose a job so you’re not going to work for free, what would, ideally, you would love to do?” And, see, people often look at their life from the past into the future, but when you ask the magic wand question, it creates an energy and excitement about the future, and you’re releasing all those other conditions to look at things.

And it doesn’t mean that we can make that happen overnight, but what it does is it jolts the mind out of why we can’t do something, or, “I don’t know what to do.” Because you just say, “If I gave you a magic wand, what would you ideally like to happen in this relationship, in this conversation?” And what you’ll find when you ask people that question, it will jolt them, and they’ll often say, “Well, I don’t know.” And then a really good comeback to that is say, “Well, if you did know, what would your hunch be?”

It’s interesting, when you just say that, people say, “Well, is it that simple?” Yeah. If somebody says, “I’m confused,” you say, “Well, if you weren’t confused, what do you think would happen?” Because what you’re trying to do is have them engage in the future and where you want to go. So, the magic wand question is the case.

Another good on the innovation front is, “What if the opposite was true?” So, somebody says, “We need more resources.” “What if the answer to the problem was we needed less resources?” “But we need more resources.” “But what if?” So, you use the what-if principle, and that gets them thinking differently. But my point in bringing this up is we need to be in control of the questions rather than suffering from answers we don’t like. We just can redirect it.

So, for example, somebody is really critical of us. You say, “Well, thank you for the feedback. Can I ask you one question?” They’ll say yes, and most likely. Say, “Well, what do you like that I have done? I understand that’s a feedback that I haven’t done these things correct. But tell me something that I’ve done right,” and see it jolts their mind in a different direction. You’re not discounting the feedback but that’s how you can get balanced feedback as well.

The point being is don’t suffer in silence. Don’t suffer from the things that aren’t going well. Intentionally disrupt it. That’s just one of the strategies in the book, and I can go through more as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Please do. So, that’s intentional disruption, a great question redirects things to help you get into a good mood on demand. What’s another strategy?

Steven Gaffney
Reframe to refocus. So, the idea of this is back to the powerless conditional and powerful state. When we’re in a state of mind or mood or whatever that is not serving us, and we all can get in these moods, “What difference can I make? I’m only one person,” we feel powerless or somewhat powerful but it’s conditional. So, that’s how we’re looking at a problem. But if we reframe the problem, put a different context to it, it can make us more powerful.

 

So, let me give you an example. There’s three types of reframes, and I’ll go through the first one as an example. We can go through the others. But it’s reducing the frame. Reducing the frame. So, have you ever had a situation which is really seemingly the odds are against you, or it’s a business problem, or something going on in your life where it sounds like there are so many problems, and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, where do I start?”

Well, reducing the frame would say, “While all that could be the case, what are the most important things I need to do now?” So, let’s say you’re on overwhelm. You’ve got business stuff and other things, you say, “Okay, what is the most important thing in my life?” whether it’s family, whether it’s work, or let’s just say work, “What’s the most important thing to do that I need to do now?” But that is reframing. Leaders can use this really well where people are stuck in a problem that seems very complex. The idea is to make it simple.

So, an example would be where you might say, “What are some key performance indicators?” So, we got a lot of things to consider, but what’s the most important thing? Let me give you an example. I worked with a company that was really suffering in revenue, and their backlog to business is really poor, and, Pete, they had all these key performance indicators, and, of course, people are like making this problem really complex.

And I said to them, “Well, how often do you see the customer?” And they said, “Well, that’s a good question. We spend a lot of time internally.” And I said, “Why don’t you have a key performance indicator and just monitor people going to see the customer, customer interactions?” And people could say, “But what about the quality of the interactions? What about your marketing?” I said, “Look, look, just focus on going to see the customer,” because that’s what they weren’t doing, and that was a big needle-mover. So, they focused on just going to see the customer and their whole pipeline turned around.

So, somebody, I think it was Albert Einstein who said, “It takes genius to make a complex problem simple but it doesn’t take genius to make it more complex.” I’m not sure he exactly said that. But when you think about it, have you ever met somebody who can make a complex problem even more complex, and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, what are we going to do?” But what you’re doing is you’re reducing the scope of it. You’re reducing the frame. And then when somebody says, “Well, I can do that. I can get that done.” And so, that’s the idea behind reducing the frame. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Thank you. And how about a third strategy?

Steven Gaffney
Well, so let me cover a couple things on the reframe because there’s a lot to dig deep there that I think between intentional disruption and reframing people could change things. Another type of reframe is enlarging the frame. Enlarging the frame is have you ever had something bad happen to you and you’re feeling down, or maybe other people are feeling down?

Enlarging the frame is putting it in a bigger picture. And what you’re saying is, “While that is bad, we lost a customer,” or, “While this is bad, this conversation didn’t go well or this meeting didn’t go well, let’s put a perspective. We’re doing well here, we’re doing well here, we’re doing here. And this is happening, and this is happening.” And, suddenly, people see it in a bigger picture.

What you’ll notice is, really great leaders like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and all the historical ones, but any great leader you feel kind of you want to follow are really good at enlarging the frame. What they’re doing is they’re creating a bigger vision, and they’re saying, “While these are issues, we need to see the big picture, the future.” And enlarging the frame makes people feel more powerful. That would be an example of that.

And the third type of reframe is you change the frame. That’s where you say, you just change it to a direction you want. I’ll give you an example there. I hired a company to work on an IT project and they were really behind, and I was getting annoyed. And so, I said, “When are you going to get this finished?” And, in essence, I can go the long version of it, but, in essence, what was happening was they said, “Well, it’s going to take us about four months,” which would’ve been in November. This was a couple of years ago.

And I said, “Given that I would like it, ideally, done in a month, what would need to happen?” which is basically just one month instead of four months. “And I’ll credit the company.” The company said and shot me an email filled with action items that if I could agree to it, they could get it done in a month, and it was done in six weeks.

Now, what’s interesting to unpack there? Well, most people would work in the existing frame, “It won’t be done till November.” “Well, how do we get it done shorter? And how do we get it done in October?” whatever. But I just said, and I wasn’t demanding in a jerk-type of way, I just said, “Given that I, ideally, would like it done in a month, playing at this, what would need to happen?”

So, you can use change the frame. You just say the prepositional phrase. So, for example, you’re having a difficult time with somebody. You might say, “Given that, look, we have a lot of arguments, but given I, ideally, want us to get along great, what would need to happen?” You see, that’s creating a different frame rather than “Let’s try to solve the problem.” Solving the problem would be the existing frame, but reframing it, or changing the frame would be, “Given that I want us to get along great, given I want us to work on this and not have any strife, what would need to happen?”

And so, those are examples of changing the frame. How is this landing with you, Pete? I know I’m doing all the talking.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s good. Yes, I like it. Let’s hear a third strategy.

Steven Gaffney
Another great one is, oh, act and you will become. So, when you look at a lot of times, when we’re sometimes down, and so a way to trigger ourselves is to be the person we want to be. So, imagine you’re playing a movie of your powerful self, how would you act? So, in other words, you might feel down but that’s where you might smile, you might change your body, like you’re an actor in a movie.

And what you find by researching great actors is they don’t play the part; they become the part. And becoming the part means really stepping into it. So, if you’re feeling conditional or powerless, it would be acting and you will become. So, you’re tricking your mind to get into that powerful state, and then that helps move it forward.

Now, I will say, I don’t like the terminology fake it till you make it because there’s something insincere. But what I’m saying is access to just becoming that, so you’re not doing the lip service, not just, “I now want to smile.” That’s kind of fake. But it’s like, “No, I’m going to smile, I’m going to carry my body differently, I’m going to change the tone. I’m going to really be that part and see how that feels.” And it’ll often trick your mind into changing things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Steven Gaffney
I’ll give you a very simple, another one that’s so simple we often forget it, and it’s make the unaware aware. Make the unaware aware. So, let’s go back to that distinction. You got powerless, you got conditional, and you got powerful. So, what I’ve experienced is that a lot of people, now I mentioned this earlier but I’ll apply it to the strategy, where they think they’re powerful but they’re really conditionally powerful, “I can get that done as long as, as long as…”

But if you explain this distinction to people, and just from the podcast that we’re doing, what you’ll do is you’ll find out that people will shift to the powerful. In fact, just listening to the podcast and being aware of it. Nobody wants to say, “I love being conditional.” No, people want to be unconditionally powerful but they just don’t think about it. So, making the unaware aware is you explain the distinction. And by explaining it and thinking about it, it’ll automatically, because of awareness, make you become powerful.

An example would be a client of mine, there was an operational problem. And I had taught his folks on the strategies, and so they came into his office, and they said, “We got a problem.” You ever have somebody just dump a problem on you? And he said, “Look, I understand we have a problem here. So, how are we all being about it?” People said, “Well, we’re being conditional.” And he said, “How would we act if we were being powerful about it?” And people said, “Well, I think we should be doing this, and we should do this, and this.”

And they, suddenly, came up with a whole bunch of ideas, and they shifted from the complaint mode, which is kind of the excuse conditionally powerful, and they solved the problem, he said, within about five to ten minutes. It was just a matter of being aware of catching that. That’s another strategy as we’re talking about things.

And in the book and stuff like this, I know we’re going super, super fast, but there’s a lot of examples to trick even more doing this, but we can continue, too. But, anyway, make the unaware aware is another really successful strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Yeah, let’s hear a fifth.

Steven Gaffney
So, another one is input drives output. The input drives output. We are a product of who we’re around, if you think about it. Jim Rooney is a motivational speaker, he subsequently has passed away, but he said, “We are a product of the five people we spend the most time with.” And so, what I have found is, if you think about it, if we have a down mood or our mindset is feeling powerless or conditional, who are we surrounded by? Who are our friends? Where are we watching on television? What are we doing?

Pete, did you find out, you probably experienced this, did you ever meet during the COVID period where they had CNN running 24/7? Nothing wrong with CNN but it was like repeat, repeat, repeat. Well, if you got all that negative input, of course, it’s going to bring you down. So, I’m a big fan of knowing what and being aware of what’s going on, but what’s the input into our minds? So, if we’re feeling down, or we’re feeling like things aren’t going our way, or we’re being powerless or conditional, we really want to ask ourselves who are we surrounded by. Who are we being?

So, this is like, as parents, people are sensitive to who their children are around, but it’s really an example would be you’ve got somebody at work who’s just self-righteous, who’s just really difficult to deal with, and you’re saying, “I can deal with them maybe but what’s the impact to other people?” And so, input drives output is honoring the idea of who are we surrounded by.

So, one of the exercises I love to do with people is I’ll say, “Write down the names of the five people you spend the most time with. The five people.” And then I’ll have them place them on a grid, which we can talk about, but, in essence, it’s around what kind of person are they. And, inevitably, we are a product of who we hang around with. So, if we don’t like who we’ve become, we got to change the environment. We got to look at things differently.

People say, “I can’t pick and choose everybody I work with.” No. That’s true. But you can pick and choose how much time you spend with a person. You can pick and choose whether you stay on the phone or get off the phone, whether you’re on the Zoom call, or then after the Zoom call, you just jump off and you’re doing other things. You can all the person afterwards or not. And, in a physical sense, when we’re around people at work, you might be in a meeting where somebody that’s way, you can use intentional disruption and the strategies we talked about. And then after the meeting, you can just distance yourself. You know what I’m saying?

I often say to people, “Reward people with the time that they deserve.” And so, who charges us up, we should spend more time with them. And whoever doesn’t, we should distance ourselves from them. Have you ever had somebody who’s like really just brought you down, and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I got to get rid of them.” Legally.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’ve decided to make some choices associated with folks I like to spend more or less time with, and certainly.

Steven Gaffney
When we’re talking about this stuff, it may sound kind of obvious at certain points and maybe not at every point, or maybe all. I don’t know. It’s up to people, of course. But I really want to challenge them because simple things make a big difference. Somebody wrote a book years ago called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Steven Gaffney
I actually think it’s the opposite. We should sweat the small stuff because it’s the small stuff that matters. It really is. When people say, for example, “Culture at work. What’s the company culture?” My experience is culture is very local, so you can have the broad company culture but if you work for somebody who’s really difficult to deal with, or if you had people who are really challenging, that’s your sense of culture of the organization.

And so, you got to look at certain things, and ask yourself, “Well, it’s the small things that make a big difference, who we hang out with, how we frame up things, intentional disruption, making the unaware aware.” Things of that nature.

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

Steven Gaffney
Norman Cousins said, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss in life is what dies within us while we live.” And although that may sound like a downer, but it’s really about don’t let things that are important to you stay inside you. Share it. Do something. Take action. Go after your dreams. And go for what you want and what you deserve.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Steven Gaffney
One of my favorite books of all time in change is a book called Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. It’s fantastic. And what’s neat about that book is it’s all about everyday people making major changes in organizations. And there are many, many books I can go through but that’s just one that just comes off the top of my head that I just love.

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

Steven Gaffney
If they go to JustBeHonest.com, so our website is JustBeHonest.com, and if they go there and they say that they’ve listened to your show, and here’s the thing, and they write and email us on something they did, and I want to hear an action they took, if they do that and they just share what they did, we’ll send them the book I wrote years ago about how to share the most difficult things to people and have it go well, it was all about how to have honest conversations and have it go well, we’ll send that to them for free. And all I ask them to do is share that they listened to your podcast and share how they’ve used what we’ve talked about.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Steven, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much fun and unconditional power.

Steven Gaffney
Thank you. And thank you very much for having me.

806: How to Get Unstuck and Achieve Your Goals with Dominique Henderson

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dominique Henderson outlines some stumbling blocks hindering success and how to overcome them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The framework for managing any problem
  2. How to make big changes easier and achievable
  3. Key words you need to erase from your vocabulary 

About Dominique

Dominique Henderson, CFP® | Dominique is a husband, father and thought leader in the financial services industry. His personal mission statement is: R.E.A.L. financial advice has the ability to change family trees, and everyone deserves an opportunity to change their family tree. As a Certified Financial Planner™, coach, speaker, podcaster and author, Dominique works to help people to get “unstuck” in their finances and careers so that they can be the best version of themselves. When not serving his clients you can find him enjoying a glass of wine, traveling with his wife, or spending time with friends. 

 Resources Mentioned

Dominique Henderson Interview Transcript

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

Dominique Henderson
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat about some insights from your book Assess, Address, and Adjust: A Practical Guide to Becoming Unstuck and Achieving Your Goals. Could you kick us off with your favorite, the best-est unstuck story that you got?

Dominique Henderson
Well, I got a lot of those. The best-est one would probably be…so, I really figured that I married up. I’ve been married to my bride for 25 years now. And one of the things that she taught me or told me as an observation, when I first started my business about six years ago, was that, “Hey, so you’re a financial advisor,” and I’m like, “Yeah,” and she’s like, “And you’re hiding behind your podcast, not showing your face, and you’re trying to get people to trust you with their money.” And I was like, “Whoa, that’s a really good insight.”

And so, even that right there helped me get unstuck because I think some of the things that we realize, and I’ve realized in coaching people, is that getting out of our own head and unlearning things that we maybe perhaps we’ve been comfortable with, or other people have told us, but just getting that outside perspective, I think, is really, really one of the foundational truths of what I’m trying to convey in this book. And that’s probably my favorite story about being unstuck. It started with me.

Pete Mockaitis
And did it work out? You got your face out there? Did that bring in the clients?

Dominique Henderson
Somewhat. I got my face out there, maybe a little bit too much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s a good-looking mug, Dom. You got that going for you.

Dominique Henderson
I appreciate that, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell me, as you’re doing your research and putting together Unstuck, was there any particularly surprising or counterintuitive discovery you made along the way?

Dominique Henderson
So, we have to go kind of back a little. So, Unstuck is the product of a couple of things. The first is probably, if I’m just being really honest and transparent, my own selfish ambition to be, like, I want to be a writer. I’ve got a lot of stuff in me. And the pandemic afforded us some, of course, unfortunate things but also, with me particularly, the luxury of time, if you will, and to reflect.

And what I was noticing as a financial advisor, as well as a coach and consultant to financial advisors, and at least aspiring financials professionals, is there kept on resurfacing this theme, Pete, of people feeling like they had not reached their life’s potential, they were not living out their lives’ purpose, they were not fulfilling what they felt like they were on this earth to do.

And as I kept having those conversations, it kind of dawned on me when I was sharing those with my wife and just peers in my mastermind, is that I actually had some pretty good frameworks for working out what I would call where people were, which was this stuck place, to become unstuck. And so, that was the genesis, is really the pandemic. That was a blessing for me because it gave me a lot of time to reflect on those conversations, and actually put some things into action to help people.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so then could you lay it on us then, what’s sort of the big idea or main thesis if there’s an actionable takeaway you got to remember? What is it?

Dominique Henderson
Yes. So, let’s just start with the title and then we can kind of dig a little further. So, assess, address, and adjust to achieve is a framework that I’ve used for quite some time. It is not just because I like iteration and I like the letter A. It was just because when you think about a problem that you have, let’s just look at weight. A lot of people may not be happy with how they look. They look in the mirror, and they go, “Man, Dom, you could do better. You could look better. What about those six-pack abs that you want?”

Well, first, I have to kind of assess my situation. I have to see where I am relative to where I want to be. Now, we may introduce a scale into the situation because it’s a pretty objective measure for where I am and where I want to go. And then I have to address, I have to say, “Okay, based on what I’m looking at, I want to do something about this. I need to address the situation.”

And then I move on into adjust. That means behavior-wise, I can decide to diet, I can decide to work out, I can decide to do both. I can hire a gym buddy or whatever. And that’s the way that I achieve the goal that I want. So, I think when we look at a problem or a set of problems, whatever we’re doing, that’s the rubric that I’ve kind of laid out to kind of dissect what stage you’re at in relation to getting to the end result that everybody wants when it comes to fixing a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s say the problem we’re finding in our careers is that we’re just not feeling it. We’ve lost our mojo, Dom. I used to be fired up and energized, and now I’m just kind of ho-hum. And I’m wondering, do I need to find something else? I don’t know. If we find ourselves in that place, how do you recommend we work through this assess, address, adjust bit?

Dominique Henderson
Yeah, I think I’m always a big fan of Gay Hendricks’ The Big Leap, that zone of genius part. What do you like and what do you love to do? Start there. What was it about the job that originally attracted you to that? And if you were to just kind of assess where you are right now, what about the job is not so exciting?

I think a lot of times it’s easy for us as humans to kind of look outside of ourselves for answers to what we may be feeling as a problem or reason that we’re stuck. But then to kind of say, “Hey, Dominique,” let’s just use my own personal example. So, I’ve been in financial services for 22 years now, and six years ago, approximately, I was in this really successful firm from all the metrics and stuff you do in this industry but I was not, like, really liking the rat race. Like, I was, to your point, like my mojo was gone. I wasn’t motivated to go to work. I was just like, “Ahh, I got to go through this again today.”

And my wife was noticing this behavior in me and we were talking about it, and she was like, “Well, maybe you need to start your own. Like, if you feel so strongly about the way financial services should be rendered, maybe you need to do your own.” So, I think people need to start with those questions about, “Hey, this is where I originally was thinking about this job or how I was thinking about this job, and it’s moved away. Maybe I’ve changed, maybe the job has changed, maybe the career, the industry has changed.” Do an evaluation on that and get back to what you like or what you love to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, when we do that evaluation, one bit is thinking about our zone of genius, what I really love, what’s important to me. Any other key steps in that evaluation?

Dominique Henderson
Oh, yeah, yeah. Plenty. So, I think the first part of this, and we talked about this in the book, are these three pillars that I think all success is kind of placed on. If you kind of think about this as a three-legged stool, you have your perspective, you have your programming, you have your process.

So, your perspective is just kind of your outlook, your north star, your philosophy in life. Like, how do you view things? Are you a glass half full guy or are you a glass half empty? What is it that kind of gives you how you view the world?

I think that first has to be a very, very healthy spot because, sometimes, we can, and I talk about this also, we can sabotage ourselves because we are too pessimistic, we may be a little bit too cynical about the situation, or we’re just the victim all the time. So, your perspective needs to be healthy. And I think, when we’re talking about a career situation, especially with how the pandemic has changed things, we went from being around people possibly, and interacting, and having all this feedback, if you will, to now we’re remote working, or we’re going to the office two times a week or something like that.

So, perspective is really, really good to kind of revisit to make sure that you’re coming at your particular problem and this goal that you’re trying to achieve, or wherever you’re trying to go, looking at it the right way. And, sometimes, Pete, we may have to employ other people. We may have to ask a wife or a spouse or somebody close to us that doesn’t have as much bias that we may have, looking at our own situation. So, I think that’s the beauty about perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And then you actually have a full-blown 30-day blueprint for approaching this stuff. any key actions then that pop up along the 30 days that are really transformational for folks?

Dominique Henderson
Yeah, I think, so as we go back to the three pillars, let’s revisit that. We take about 10 days or so to deal with your perspective. We take about 10 days or so to deal with your program. And we take about 10 days to deal with your process. So, your perspective, obviously, is your outlook, and that’s how we talk about that.

Your program is kind of how you run things. So, when I say run things, think about an operating system to a computer or an engine to a car. Like, you’ve got to have a way that you take your human capital, your purpose, your will, your relation, all that kind of stuff, and translate it into the world as some type of productive thing.

If you’re not doing that, it’s going to be really, really, really hard to achieve goals because the only way that the world really works is in exchange of value, so that’s your program. And then your process is you really need to have an organized system on how you’re going to spend your time. It may be, you like…I can name some things but there’s, like, the Getting Things Done method by David Allen, or Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain. There’s all these different systems that kind of organize your thoughts and how you’re going to spend your time and how you’re going to, basically, be valuable and show up in the world.

So, what the blueprint is doing is concentrating some time on different points along that journey and affirming you as you go through there. So, one big insight, I think, that most people don’t really incorporate in their lives that I’ve seen particularly powerful is accountability. And having someone that knows your situation well enough that can tell you, “Hey, Pete, I know you said you were going to do this.”

“You said you were going to do a hundred podcasts this year, and you’re only at 50, and there’s two weeks left in the year. So, let’s assess right now whether or not that was a realistic goal and if this is something you can achieve. But, as your buddy, I really want you to get to this because you said all these good things, yadda, yadda, yadda, that was going to come from it and now you didn’t achieve it. So, how are we going to fix that?”

So, it’s really, really crucial, I believe, to have that in your life, and sometimes it doesn’t feel good. Like, rarely does it feel good if it’s done the right way because they’re noticing things about you that could be defined as blind spots in your life. So, I think that’s one thing that I like in the 30-day blueprint that, if people do it, I think it will work for them, but often, like I said, it can be difficult because it’s not the most comfortable thing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Yeah, I’m huge on accountability and just the power of when you commit to someone else, suddenly it’s real-er and it’s not make-believe in your head. It’s entered reality and you’re going to have to talk to somebody about it.

Dominique Henderson
Well, here’s a cool story. So, my wife was in education for 10 years, and most recently as an administrator at a public school, and she decided to leave her job as of January this year. And when we were just kind of going back and forth about the different ideas and her talent and her skill stack and all this kind of stuff, I was like, “You should really consult and kind of use some of the classroom management you used in your career for teachers because teachers are just struggling with that, educators are struggling with that.”

And I told her, I was like, “One of the first ways to do that, I mean, the easiest way is just to get on social media and just do this.” And so, I challenged her, I was like, “Do what I do with all my consulting and coaching clients. Get out there on social media and post something every day for 30 days.” Well, she went beyond and did it for 54 days, and she went from zero to, like, 36,000 followers on TikTok, so she really went at it. But the point is I was her accountability, I was like, “Hey, this is what I think you should do. I’m going to hold you to it,” and she’s like, “Yeah, this is a good idea.” And she went with it, and it worked for her.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. Well, so we’ve assessed things, we’ve got some accountability. Any other transformational approaches when we’re looking to make a shift?

Dominique Henderson
Yeah, I think, one, and this is not a subtle thing necessarily in the book. It’s very pronounced. We talk about this also, which is vision. I think vision is so important. When I’m sitting down with a wealth management client or somebody that’s trying to get into the financial services industry, the first thing I talk about is, “What’s your why? Like, why are you doing this?”

In the case of a wealth management client, like, “Why do you want to save a lot of money?” “Because I want to retire.” “Okay, why do you want to retire for?” “Well, because I want to spend more time with the kids.” “Okay. Well, you know, you can actually spend more time with your kids without retiring. We don’t need a pile of money to do that. We can really think about the things that are important to us.”

And one of the questions I always ask is, “Why is money important to you? Like, what is it going to afford?” And so, getting back to our why, one thing I know, Pete, is that as a kid, I used to dream a lot. Like, I used to think I could be anything. I didn’t really have these self-limiting beliefs. I didn’t have boundaries on where I can go in my mind. But then “reality” sets in as an adult and I dream less.

So, I think one of the things that I really implore people to do is to dream more, like have a vision for where you want to go in life, and really define your why. I think it helps so much on the journey. It’s not going to be roses all the time. You’re going to have some difficulties there. But I think the vision, having that north star, if you will, really, really invigorates you to be the best that you can, and show up the best person you can.

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

Dominique Henderson
I think one of the things that I was thinking about when I wrote this is I really wanted people to finish this book with the idea that “I can.” I really wanted them to literally remove from their vocabulary that “I cannot.” Because from “I cannot” comes so many negative things. But, really, to have “I can” and here’s the deal.

“I can” may take some time. More than likely, it will. You may have to develop a new skill. You may have to become a different person than you currently are. But to eradicate from your vocabulary that “I cannot” was really one of the things that I think motivated me to finish this and to get this in people’s hands.

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

Dominique Henderson
So, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re probably right.” That’s one thing that comes to mind. I think that was attributed to Henry Ford, if I’m not mistaken.

The other one is, and I think they get the attribution on this wrong, but I think it’s Mark Twain, the one I know, which is, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you think you know for sure that’s just not so.” And I think sometimes the fact of unlearning something is so much more difficult than learning something new. And challenge yourself. I do this all the time because I challenge myself to unlearn concepts that don’t benefit me anymore.

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

Dominique Henderson
I like Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain. I think this is a really interesting notion for knowledge workers in today’s time because I have always been the type of person that collects information like artifacts. But before I came across his work, I was not really great at being able to retrieve what I knew, and that was because I was trying to use my brain to do it.

Just like I don’t use my brain to remember phone numbers, I use my cellphone, he has a really, really interesting framework, which I mentioned in my book also, about building a repository that allows you to retrieve information really, really quickly. So, it may be Evernote for some, it may be some other type of software that you use, but the framework that he has around it is, I think, excellent and probably would serve most people well.

So, that would be something to kind of look into if you’re one of these people that collects a lot of information, and you’re always, like, “Where did I put so and so?” whether it’s in a digital or a physical form.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Dominique Henderson
I’ve been reading a lot about The Infinite Banking Concept by R. Nelson Nash. So, just recently, I finished Killing Sacred Cows by Garrett Gunderson, but I’ve always got a lot of stuff on my nightstand. Favorites would probably have to go along the Andy Andrews. He’s a very favorite author of mine. I love The Noticer. I’ve read it a couple different times. Do I get another favorite?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Dominique Henderson
Okay. Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. I love that one. I read that a couple times. So, usually, when it gets in my rolodex, like, the second or third time, it means that it’s pretty significant.

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

Dominique Henderson
Oh, man, I couldn’t live without Evernote. Evernote is my go-to of just kind of brain capture. So, if you kind of think about the thousands of ideas that run through your mind every day, how do you keep track of those? Some of them, obviously, don’t need to be written down. But for the majority of those that, or at least for creatives like myself, you’ll have something that you need to come back to later, and Evernote is kind of like my go-to because I can get to it pretty quickly as long as I have my phone, which I do always.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Dominique Henderson
I don’t think it’s a vice. This would be qualified as a vice but I love, probably three to four times a week and maybe more if I’m honest, a nice glass of red wine.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; you hear them quote it back to you frequently?

Dominique Henderson
Choose your version of hard. I think we have a lot of agency and more choice than we give ourselves credit for or sometimes wiling to admit, but we get to choose our version of hard. A lot of things are hard. Most things in life that are worth having are hard. Choosing your version of hard is probably something that I’ve heard more often than not, especially inside of my community.

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

Dominique Henderson
I would point them to DomHendersonSr, as in like senior, dot com. DomHendersonSr.com is the kind of hub for everything. You can get to the wealth management side of the stuff that I do. You can also get to the podcast, blog, and all the other fun stuff 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?

Dominique Henderson
Yeah, I would say don’t be so preoccupied, if I can use that word, with what others are doing. I think one of the problems that I’ve had, just personally speaking and being transparent, with my growth over the last six years as an entrepreneur, at first, I was way too concerned about what others were doing, and particularly comparing myself to others.

And so, I think comparing yourself to others is a recipe for failure. From a notion of replicating, duplicating what is already working somewhere, I totally get that. But I think where I took it, and where most humans take it, is “They do that better than me and I’ll never be able to be as good as they are at that particular thing.” People look at my podcast or my YouTube channel, and they go, “Dom, I can’t do video like that.” I’m like, “Well, you can start. You can start somewhere.”

So, get out of your head about comparing yourself with people. Stay in your own lane and be awesome at what you do, not what Pete does, or what Dom does, or what somebody else does. Be awesome at what you do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Dom, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and minimal time being stuck.

Dominique Henderson
Thank you, my friend. I appreciate it.

793: The Six Mind Shifts for Thriving at Work with Aliza Knox

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Aliza Knox breaks down the six critical shifts that help turn around an unpleasant work situation.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to stay enthusiastic in the face of work hardships 
  2. What to do when you feel stagnant
  3. How to engineer serendipity for your career 

About Aliza

Aliza built and led APAC businesses for Google, Twitter and Cloudflare. She is a BCG advisor, Forbes columnist, and board director. Called a “Kick Ass Woman Slaying the World of Tech”, Aliza wrote Don’t Quit Your Day Job, outlining 6 mindshifts you need to rise & thrive at work as part of  her commitment to empowering the next generation of leaders. She’s in the Top 100 Women in Tech, Singapore and was named IT Woman of the Year Asia, 2020. 

Resources Mentioned

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Aliza Knox Interview Transcript

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

Aliza Knox
Pete, thanks for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate you’re waking up extra early for us in Singapore, and I understand that you celebrated becoming an Australian citizen in an interesting way. What’s the story here?

Aliza Knox
So, I moved to Australia in the late 1980s, loved it, and decided I wanted to become a citizen, I was eligible after a few years, and wanted to celebrate in a big way. As you probably know, converts are always more zealous than people born into things. And so, I went out with three friends to an indigenous Australian restaurant and did what I have called eating the coat of arms.

So, if you don’t know, the coat of arms in Australia has a kangaroo and an emu, so I thought that if I ingested them, I would become even more Australian. So, I started with a salad that had smoked emu on it and followed with a kangaroo steak.

Pete Mockaitis
And are these tasty items?

Aliza Knox
Not bad. Not bad. Not something I eat frequently but kangaroo steaks are generally marinated for a while because it could be a bit tough, but not anything vile to eat.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I’m intrigued. I liked just about every meat I’ve ever had, and I’ve never had those, so I’m intrigued.

Aliza Knox
Well, next time you come down under, you can probably get them.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, I’m excited to chat about some wisdom in your book Don’t Quit Your Day Job: The Six Mind Shifts You Need to Rise and Thrive at Work. Tell me, as you did your research, did you discover anything particularly surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating about people and quitting and their thought processes?

Aliza Knox
The book is written from the viewpoint of somebody who’s worked in corporate for over 40 years and does huge amounts of mentoring, counselling, talking to people who want help, so it’s really anecdotal.

So, there aren’t a lot of statistics but the one thing that I did find in doing a lot of reading is that even during the pandemic and all of this talk of The Great Reset, The Great Resignation, much of the reason for quitting is the same. So, certainly, there have been resignations now because of burnout, or because people have not been allowed to work from home, or it’s become more of a norm, or because, as inflation has come in, people are looking for higher salaries.

But, still, among the top two or three reasons for people leaving their jobs are “My manager isn’t invested in me,” or, “My company doesn’t value me.” And so, those have remained steadfast based on all the research I’d read from a variety of firms, including McKinsey and BCG.

Pete Mockaitis
And your own experience.

Aliza Knox
And my own experience, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds right to me. And so, I’m curious then, if one finds themselves in such a position where one or both of those are true, you’ve got some mind shifts you recommend. How do they go?

Aliza Knox
Okay, let me just back up and tell you the mind shifts are about having a long, healthy, thriving career and not necessarily, despite the title, never quitting a job. It’s some shifts on how to think about your career. I definitely think      that there are times you will want to leave. The title is a bit provocative in a time of   The Great Resignation but, to be clear, it doesn’t mean you should never quit, and I’m sure there are instances when you should.

But what I do think is that sometimes there is a lens through which people can see their career, which they don’t use, and those make up the mind shifts, or that lens is the combination of these mind shifts, and that’s why this book is for everybody, whether they’re in a job now or thinking about getting a job. And Kim Scott, who wrote Radical Candor, actually said on the back of the book, that it proves that mindset, not just passion, drives career success. And so, that’s why I think these mindsets are really important.

So, if you will, what I can do is go through each mindset briefly and give you an example. Will that be helpful?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, please.

Aliza Knox
Okay. It’ll take a little while but we can talk in between. So, the first mind shift is, “Go for both. Your work and your life are on the same team.” And what this means is move past the kind of traditional thinking of, “Oh, it’s my work or my life. I have to make a decision, and if one goes up, the other goes down.” That’s why, in particular, I really hate the term work-life balance because it sounds like a see-saw, like if one’s up, the other has got to be down. And I don’t think that’s the case at all.

I wrote an article in Forbes a couple months ago about a young journalist who graduated from Columbia, in one of the preeminent journalism schools in the US, and did what many people do, went to a small town where she could really cover meaty issues. She went to the South and she was covering things like chemicals in the water, very big deal issues, the kinds of things that get you promoted to larger and larger newspapers, maybe get you a Pulitzer, but that approach takes years of working your way up through smaller-town newspapers.

And she had grown up in New York, was raised by grandparents, and really felt the pull to be back near them, and couldn’t see how that was going to fit with this issue of needing to be in smaller areas and her long-term dream of working for The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times or WaPo. And so, she eventually said, “I can’t make this decision, my career or my life, because my life needs to be in New York.

So, she did what she thought she had to do, gave up on the career part, and said, “Okay, I’m going for my life. I’m moving to New York.” And guess what, after not that long, even though she had taken a job that she thought was really fluffy, writing about the real estate industry, not serious journalism, not award-winning, she actually was able to work her way into a position where she’s now an editor at The Wall Street Journal.

She didn’t have to trade off my life or my work. She actually got both. And by focusing on what was really important to her, she was able to have both things, if you will. So, I think this “Your life and your work are on the same team,” you can do it, you can have it both is really an important lesson.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m curious, in that example, did the being in New York…? I mean, that was good for her life and it ended up being good for her work. I’m curious, is there a connection there in terms of, because of feeling connected and energized or inspired or rejuvenated with her family, that was a career-enabler or did she just kind of get lucky?

Aliza Knox
I don’t think it was either. I think she was observant. We could talk about serendipity later but I think she kept her eyes open for opportunities to move around. I’m sure it helped. I’m sure it helped energize her, that she was with her family, that she was doing something that was very important to her.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. So, what’s the next mind shift?

Aliza Knox
So, just before we move on, I do think it’s important to say in each mind shift in the book, I got four, five power perspectives and then action steps to take from each one. And in this particular one, there is another interesting point, which is that often people obsess about these choices. They ruminate and ruminate and kind of can’t move on, paralysis by analysis, “Which one should I do? How do I do it? What happens if I do each one?”

And I found that, generally, if you take a plunge and move on, that’s helpful, and you are usually not derailed by a single career choice. Whatever she would’ve done, she probably could’ve made it into a good long-term plan. And I have another story about a young woman named Emily Rubin, who, after college, took a job in San Francisco that she wasn’t sure about but it was kind of her only option.

She liked it in the beginning, then was really miserable. I thought she should probably stay a year just because that’s kind of the minimum time to really get to know a company and be able to tell people, “Hey, I did something.” But she was too unhappy, so here’s one where she quit her job. But, in doing so, she found a job she really likes at a mid-size consulting company called Huron, and she would not have been able to get that job without, even though it was limited, the prior experience at the startup.

So, it’s important, she made a decision, she just got on with it. And, while that decision didn’t seem wise in retrospect because you could look at it, and say, “Well, she made a mistake. She didn’t like that job.” But she did need a job, and that job propelled her to Huron. So, I think an action step for this section in this mind shift is if you’re thinking about a choice like this now, think about it as best you can, get some advice – we can talk about personal boards of directors later – get some perspective, and then take a plunge.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool.

Aliza Knox
All right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, tell us about the next mind shift, “Stamina is a muscle. Build yours.”

Aliza Knox
Right. Well, I’m thinking about muscles, in particular. I went away for a few weeks, and, over the last couple of years, I’ve tried to go to a personal trainer in hopes of developing some muscles. And I’m telling you, I’m feeling my muscles right now. So, I think my other muscles, many of them are weaker than my stamina one.

But one of my favorite formulas that I came up with for the book, because I really believe it, is that stamina equals perseverance plus enthusiasm. I think it’s not just gritting it out, it’s not just grinding it out, and it is a superpower because, no matter how much you love your job, how much you love your career, how upbeat you are, how well you perform, I think you’re going to have bad days, tough times, obstacles, and stamina is what gets you through them.

So, an example that I go through, this one, not her real name, is a woman named Barbara who was at a startup, and I met her and she was really disconsolate, she said, “I’ve been head of sales here, and I’m being layered over. They’re bringing somebody in over me, and I’m in my mid-to-late 20s, I’ve done this, I’m going to move on. I have to leave because this is just too demeaning and too demoralizing.”

And I had met her partly because I know the person who was going to be brought in over her. And so, I said to her, “You know, I wonder if you should hang in there. This person who’s coming in is actually a really good guy. He’s well-known for leadership, he’s well-known for investing in people, you might want to give it a shot before you leave because, even though you’ll have a slightly lower title, and you feel like it’s a step down, I think he might actually really help you grow your career faster than you will if you keep jumping to places where you don’t have someone above you to guide you.”

And so, I’m sure not completely due to me, but she must’ve talked to a few people, and she decided to stick it out, she decided to exercise some stamina, hang in there. And, indeed, she was promoted two times working for this gentleman. The second time while on maternity leave, which shouldn’t be something I have to call out but I still think it’s important in this day and age because it doesn’t happen that often.

And, eventually, she left that company and she’s gone on after two jumps to be the CRO at another quite well-known startup, so she’s done really well. And I think by exerting that stamina and getting herself to think about staying, she really had a better outcome than she would’ve if she had quit her job at that time. So, I think this is a great example about using stamina, using patience, and using optimism to hang in there and test out things that you think might have made you want to quit.

Pete Mockaitis
And if we find that our perseverance and enthusiasm muscles are weak, how do we get them stronger?

Aliza Knox
Well, I think one very common step that is talked about a lot, especially if you ever read anything by Arianna Huffington, is to make some time for yourself that includes sleep. Sleep is really important to keeping up your energy and enthusiasm. And, indeed, for those of us who are aging, I keep reading that lack of sleep is one cause, long-term lack of sleep seems to be one cause of dementia. So, I’m sure most of the people listening to your podcast are not worrying about that yet, but it’s starting to be on my list of things to be concerned about. So, I definitely say sleep.

And, for me, personally, I go to the gym or exercise every day. And if you’re a high-energy person but you also need to vege, or remove some of the excess energy, or build up some if you’re a low-energy person, I really do find having one hour for myself every day to workout is important. And I think for people who get energy in other ways, by actually, if you’re more of an introvert, having time for yourself, having an hour every day that you protect and that is something you want to do is really critical to that. And that’s a better tradeoff than doing another hour of work, even in a really driven high-performance culture.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about the third mind shift, “Connection trumps tech savvy even in tech”?

Aliza Knox
Yes, this is really important because I think, again, during the pandemic and working for Silicon Valley firms, we tend to think that tech can solve everything, and I think it solves a lot. I think we have a lot of collaboration tools, we have a lot of devices, things that really help us. I listened to one of your podcasts where there was discussion about equipment to help you even meditate better. And I think there is a lot of technology out there that’s fantastic.

But human relationships are still really critical. And we see this over and over again back to, “How does my manager invest in me thinking about how I relate to people at work?” So, one anecdote about why they’re still important, I tell a story about Suzy Nicoletti, a real person who worked for me at Google and then Twitter, and is now the head of Asia for a startup called Yotpo.

She didn’t get promoted at Google at one stage when she really expected to. She was performing well, she was selling well, her clients liked her, and she sought some advice from a gentleman who she knew from the outside who’s quite a bit more senior, and she said, “I don’t understand this. Here’s all these things about what I’ve been doing. Why would I not get promoted?”

And he said, “Well, you know, I listened to you talk about your job a lot, and I can tell that you’re great about it, and that you really like it, and that your clients like you and you’re enthusiastic but one of the things is you talk about yourself and your clients. You don’t talk about the team. You don’t talk about the support you’re getting.”

“If I were your boss, I might worry even though I know you personally and you’re not like this. I might worry that you’re not really a team player. I might worry about putting you in charge of a bunch of people because you’re not narcissistic but you’re coming across almost as if that might be the case. Why don’t you think a little bit more about in your discussions and in your actions working with a team, like, I know that you’re doing it, but I think that you could emphasize it some more.”

And she went ahead and did that, and she got promoted the next time. And I, actually, since had a chance to talk to her boss at the time, and that was precisely the issue. And so, Suzy was able to get some outside perspective on what was going on. And I think that it’s really important – and we can talk about it later if you like – that you create a personal board of directors, that you have some outside perspective on your career so people can maybe give you insights that you might not be getting directly at work on what’s going on and what you might need to do.

And in that case, what was really important to her, in terms of human relationships, is having a sounding board, an effective sounding board, with people who know you outside of your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And what’s powerful about that story is that that person actually provided some useful actionable wisdom as opposed to, “Oh, that’s bull. I can’t believe they did that to you. You’re so amazing.” That was really cool of him.

Aliza Knox
That’s why, like I think friends are great sounding boards and probably part of your moral support group. And sometimes if your friends are people with lots more experience or really different experience and have great perspective, then they might be on your board of directors. But, you’re absolutely right, I think that, “Yeah, that’s bull,” and “You’re fantastic,” we all need that for moral support, and especially if we’re beginning to get things like impostor syndrome, but they’re not necessarily all that effective in the “Don’t quit your day job,” really understanding how to build your career aspect of life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And can we hear about the next mind shifts?

Aliza Knox
Sure, “You’re in a relationship with your career. Nurture it.” So, what’s interesting to me, most of us probably have been in a relationship with somebody, or want to be in a relationship with somebody, or are thinking about being in a relationship with somebody, and all the reading I’ve ever done about that, I’m certainly no expert, and, again, not a psychologist, but it says, “Don’t put all your expectations on your partner. Don’t expect your spouse, husband, wife, partner, companion, to fulfill all your needs. You’ve got to have outside stuff.”

And I, personally, have been married for almost 30 years, and I have a great husband, but I don’t do everything with him, and I have lots of outside sources of things that keep me interested, and the same for him. But somehow, at least in the time I’ve been working, we’ve come to this point where there’s a lot of expectations that our career will fulfill all our passions. It kind of started out with, “Hey, I’ve got to work to pay the mortgage, or pay the rent, and feed my kids, get some clothes.” Then, careers were supposed to become rewarding and fulfilling, and I think that’s entirely possible.

But then we got to a stage where it’s like career should fulfill all your passions, and I think that’s a really high bar and maybe not possible for everybody. I went out to lunch recently with a professor who’s an avid equestrian, and I guess it’s possible to have a career in horseback riding. I don’t really know. I’ve never investigated it. I think you can be a jockey. I know that there’s a lot of great nonprofits on like riding with the disabled, so maybe there’s a career there, but maybe there aren’t a lot.

And so, what this guy does, he also really likes teaching. He’s got a great career as a professor, he’s picked a career where he has summers off and long winter breaks, and he manages his finances so that he can have a couple horses, and during these long breaks, be places where he’s in a rural area and ride all the time. And then he’s also living somewhere where, early in the morning or late at night, because he’s not required to teach at those hours, he can ride, and he doesn’t have a commute.

So, he’s managed to say, “Okay, there are things I care about,” and, again, back to what you said earlier, Pete, “that give me energy, that also help in the other part of my life,” and so he’s managed his career to do both.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And it is a nice paradigm shift to go away from, “My career needs to be my passion and fill, and tick every one of those boxes to my choice of career can support my passions.” And I think that that’s an important consideration as you’re looking at opportunities, in terms of, “I don’t care to be in the midst of hustle-bustle urgency, and I really don’t think I would flourish in, like, deal environments, either like real estate deals or Wall Street IPO deals.”

Because it seems like whenever you’re connected there, whether you’re doing strategy consulting for the private equity firm who’s doing the deal, or you’re a lawyer who’s supporting it, or you’re the banker who’s got some funds, it’s like nutty. It just seems like there’s no way around it. It’s nutty, late nights, and, “Answer your phone and…” my phone defaults to do not disturb, like always. So, I know I would not flourish in such an environment and so I’ve chosen kind of the opposite of that with regard to we’ve got a media schedule that goes sometime in the distance.

And then the horseback riding is a nice specific example of that, in terms of, “What’s important to you?” “Horseback riding.” “What’s necessary for that?” “We got some money, some time off, some home in a rural area.” And so, I like how that’s nice and concrete. And though if we think about our own emotional, relational needs with friends, hobbies, family, then that can also spark a nice little list of extra considerations that might’ve been totally outside your awareness before having considered this.

Aliza Knox
I think that’s right. There’s another story in the book about a professor named Marla Stone, who didn’t get a job she really wanted. So, she wasn’t doing things around her job, like the equestrian. She had a professorship in Rome, there was a more senior role in that same foundation and she applied for it, didn’t get it, came back to Los Angeles, and thought, “Well, I want to throw myself into something that I care about. I didn’t get that and I’m back to my old job.”

And she started working with the ACLU on the side, and went on their board, eventually became chairman of the Southern California Board of ACLU. The job in Rome came up again, she thought, “Oh, listen, it’s kind of my dream job. I’m going to apply one more time. I really want to do it.” And it turned out that by being on the board of the ACLU, she had more of the skills that they wanted. Originally, she was just a great academic, but they also wanted somebody who understood some aspects of running a business. And because she’d been a Chair, even though it was a nonprofit, she picked up some of the skills along the way.

She didn’t go to the ACLU in order to get this job in Rome. It had nothing to do with it. She did it to just say, “Hey, I want some other stuff out of my career. I didn’t get this one thing I wanted so I’m going to shift gears a little bit and make sure I have something else that’s really interesting to me that fulfills a passion.” And guess what, it came back and actually boosted her into a dream job.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Aliza Knox
Very cool.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Let’s hear about the fifth mind shift.

Aliza Knox
So, back to a word you’ve been using a lot, and one that I like. This one is “Get a move on. Use movement to stay energized and thrive.” And this is about movement keeping you energized, maximizing your value. Movement can be a promotion. It can be moving geographically. It can be moving laterally, which means moving from one role in a company to another to learn something else, like from sales to marketing, or from engineering to sales. It could be job crafting.

And it could, ultimately, be leaving your job, quitting and going to another job. So, I don’t think I’ve used any examples of men so far, so I’ll talk a little bit about a guy who I call Tim Liu in the book. It’s not his real name, but he was working for a company here in Singapore. He really liked the company and he liked his job, and he was doing well at it, but he felt stuck. There were no promotions available. There were no other jobs available. He didn’t want to move, he really wants to be in Singapore, and he really felt stagnated. He felt like he wasn’t learning.

So, he went and talked to other companies, I would call it job dating. He was just trying to see what else is out there, “Is there something else that really gets me going, that I’ll be excited about at another company?” and he didn’t find it. So, he went to his manager, and said, “Listen, I really like my job, I really like the company, but I’m stagnating here. I need to learn more. I need something.”

And, of course, that’s pretty good for a manager to hear, which is, “I can’t find something I prefer. I really want to stay here, but can you help me?” That is a lot better for a manager than to hear a good employee saying, “I feel stuck and I’m going to go,” and trying to save them. So, the manager said, “Yeah, what is it? What do you want to learn?” and they worked together. Tim really wanted to know more about, in his case, government relations and business development.

So, the manager helped him craft, add on some extra tasks, mixed with some different kinds of people in the firm to learn, and it re-energized Tim to hang out for longer. Eventually, there was room for him to get a promotion at that firm, and so he stayed. So, in this case, because he couldn’t get the movement that he wanted, he was able to ask for it, create it himself with the help of his team, and he’s saved, which was great for the firm.

There are lots of other ways to do it. I’ve got a good friend, who also felt like she was stagnating, and she’s moved from one country to another. Another young woman, Ling-Ling, who was in sales but loves social media, and so, even though she was in sales and mostly needed to be on the phone with clients, she spent a lot of time on LinkedIn building her profile, putting up lots of really insightful pithy comments, stories, small videos about what her firm was doing, and, eventually, she was so good at it that she was able to switch into a marketing job at her firm.

So, all those things were creating movement, and all these people are energized and thriving in their new roles. So, some have left, some have not, but, really, interesting ways as they sort of left their roles but none of those have left their firms.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s handy. And the sixth mind shift?

Aliza Knox
Okay, the sixth one, “Distant is the new diverse. Include the international working from home team.” So, this is one of my favorites because when the pandemic started, I bristled a little at the idea that, “Gosh, no one’s ever done this. Nobody’s ever worked from home. Nobody has ever run teams that are dispersed all over the world.” That’s kind of not true.

If you look at people who’ve been building Asia, or Latin America, or Europe, or the US for a headquarters in Korea, France, Brazil, they’ve often been in the situation where they’re trying to deal with a lot of people whom they never get to see in person, except for maybe a couple times a year. So, I call this removing the R from remote to try and make it emote.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Aliza Knox
And one of my favorite statistics from Gallup is that companies with engaged employees are 20% more profitable. If you keep employees close, if you keep them feeling good about the firm and feeling engaged, and it does also go back to having a manager who cares about you but not only, you really have a firm that does better, not just employees who are happy.

So, one of the things I’ve seen over time is that many companies, tech companies, I think, do this a lot, other companies, banks, pharmaceuticals, try to engage their employees by having global townhalls, or monthly or weekly video meetings where everybody can get on, and maybe leadership will talk about examples of great client wins in the firm, or do shoutouts to employees who’ve done great things or gone the extra mile.

And you’ll notice that companies tend to focus on things that happen in headquarters because that’s what the leaders hear first. But if you make the extra effort, as a leader, or even as somebody on the team to make sure this doesn’t happen, if it’s an American company, they might talk about GAP or MasterCard.

But what about if they think about Uniqlo in Japan, or China UnionPay in China where employees are doing something? Or, what about if they don’t just call out that Joe is doing a good job but remember to shout out that Mariabrisa, at Latin America, is doing a great job. So, that really helps bringing in the international or the work-from-home team.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And then, as we think about navigating our own jobs, how do you consider the working remotely versus in the headquarters or at the office in terms of career impact?

Aliza Knox
Yeah, I think that’s really good question. I think there’s a lot of literature that, “Hey, we’ve been really more efficient and effective during the pandemic, and it’s because we don’t have commutes, and we can just keep up all the personal relationships.” So, I’m a little bit skeptical on that. I think we have been efficient, and there probably are better work models. I’m not sure it means we should never meet in person.

I think what happened is that everybody sort of drew down on their social capital during the pandemic, and that the lack of face-to-face time hindered new relationships and, in some cases, weakened existing ones. We’re using these relationships we’ve already built but building new ones remotely is harder. So, I think a really good thing to do now is to focus on building back that social capital, and that could mean a couple things.

It could mean making some effort even if your company is working from home or working remotely to get out there in person if you’re in the same city, or if you travel a little bit, to meet some of the people you work with in person. I think another case, if it’s all remote, I have a good friend, who is in comms at Google, who says, “I don’t take a meeting. I make a friend.” So, just like what you and I did right before the beginning of this podcast, just chat a little bit about things to get to know you. You could do that. One of the things about Zoom, “We all get on it at 6:30, let’s start, let’s not waste any time, business, business, business. It’s 7:00, let’s get off.” Maybe.

But in a real meeting, people come in and not everybody enters at exactly 6:00, and somebody comes in with Doritos and shares them. There’s always that few minutes of kind of idle chitchat or maybe commiserating about the weather that are silly but that kind of start to build relationships. So, maybe you build that into Zoom.

And one strategy for individuals is to maybe build a personal visibility plan that takes into account the challenges of remote or hybrid work, and includes ways to remain visible and connected, like, you might decide to try to do a little more than was asked, or you could plan for some get-togethers with colleagues out of work, even virtual cocktails to help build back up social capital that’s been depleted.

Or, I think something good managers do and can do for their teams is to make sure that they’re talking to other people in the firm about you, and you can repay that favor so that you’ve visible. People know about you even if you’re not seeing them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Okay. Well, so some nice mind shifts that can change the way we think about career decisions and perhaps illuminate optimal paths that were previously just not even in our conscious awareness, so really valuable stuff. Let’s talk about serendipity because these mind shifts feel a bit – what’s the word – not quite the word programmatic. They’re principles to be considered versus serendipity, just kind of seems to happen. So, how do we think about finding and seizing serendipity?

Aliza Knox
So, serendipity, I’ve always thought of it as something originally thought of something that just happens, right? There’s that famous story about Kate Moss, who was an amazing model, being seen in an airport in Florida, someone coming up to her and saying, “Do you want to model? You’re gorgeous,” and then going on to being rich and famous. And I’m still waiting for that, frankly. I’m traveling next week, so if anybody wants to come to Cheney Airport and give me the same opportunity, I’m happy for that.

But I think of serendipity more as opportunity plus action. So, a small personal story, I think I might’ve mentioned to you, Pete, but I am now and what I would consider phase 3.0 of my career. So, if you think of life as software releases or your career, 1.0 for me was consulting and financial services, 2.0 was tech, 3.0 now I sit on boards, I’m writing, speaking, etc. But how did I get from 1.0 to 2.0?

Well, I was working at Visa and I, at that point, was living in the Bay Area and we were working on a deal with Google, which was in some really fairly stages in the early 2000s, and I happened to meet Vint Cerf, who was one of the real founders of the internet. And in this meeting, we discussed a possible joint venture, and I was responsible for what was going on, so I wrote a thank you note and the follow-up steps, and I thought about this, and I thought about it for a couple of weeks.

And I thought, “Wow, I just met this amazing person who knows all about the internet. I’m an internet newbie.” I’m using it for email, but other than that, I don’t know much. I’ve been in financial services for a long time, certainly haven’t mastered it. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully mastered anything, and I like it. But, gosh, there’s a lot going on. We’d already had the first dotcom boom and bust. There’s a lot going on in the world of the internet, and I know nothing about it. And I am curious and I would love to learn. So, would it be appropriate for me to write to this guy I’ve only met once and I met through my job? Is it too audacious?

So, I thought about it for a couple of weeks, and I thought, “Oh, come on, be bold. Take the step.” So, for my personal email, I went back to his work email, which I had, and said, “Hey, Vint, I would love to learn more about what’s going on in the world of the internet. And I know I’m a bit older than the people you’re hiring right now, and I don’t have any particularly relevant experience. Would Google or someone else talk to me?”

And I guess the worst thing that could’ve happened is he could’ve said, “Huh, I’m going to tell Visa that you’re coming after me and it’s so inappropriate,” but I figured he wouldn’t do that. And the second worst that could’ve happened, which would’ve been very disappointing but not life-shattering, would’ve been that he just didn’t write back at all. But you know what, he wrote back, and he said, “Okay, send me your resume. Let’s talk. This might be interesting.”

And that led to my talking to a number of people at Google and eventually going to work there. And it was so serendipitous, and, in fact…so, I wrote him a thank you note at the time, and then, 10 years later when I started at Cloudflare, which is an internet security and performance company and now a number of other things, I was watching some videos to get up to speed on how Cloudflare works, and because it’s built on a back of the structure of the internet, the infrastructure, there were videos with Vint Cerf in them.

And so, I saw him and I wrote him again, and I’m like, “Hey, I don’t know if you remember me, but here I am, 10 years later, still in tech, thanks to you,” and I got another email back. So, I would consider serendipity opportunity plus action. So, how do you seize that? And I’m sure there’s plenty of times, by the way, that I’ve missed it, but there’s been serendipity right in front of me and I haven’t gotten it, but that’s one where I did.

So, I thought, here’s the thing, you’ve got to be open. There is potential around us, make a habit for looking at unexpected opportunities. Listen to the people you meet and the conversations. What do they know that might be of interest to you? Do they know someone where you’ve been thinking about that career? Or, did you just hear that their firm is hiring? And even if it’s audacious, might you ask? Follow up.

If you hear a great talk, or you hear about a career path that you don’t know anything about, be audacious. Like, most of the time it’s not going to hurt you. Usually, the absolute worst thing that’s going to happen is you’re going not get a reply. Most people just aren’t going to go to the effort to write to your boss or tell somebody else…

Pete Mockaitis
“How dare you?”

Aliza Knox
Yeah, you know, “This person had the guts to talk to me.” Make the ask and make it specific. So, it’s not like, “Hey, Vint, do you think I could ever do something in the internet?” I just said, “Do you think I could talk to somebody at Google?” that was brazen but it was something he could do, like he works there, he knows someone there, and it wasn’t a very big deal to him when I think about it. I thought it was a big deal, like, he was working there, he can say to somebody else, “Hey, will you look at this resume and see?”

And then, I think the other really important thing to do is to pay it forward, and I tell people this over and over again. People are going to ask you for the same thing, and they’re going to ask you for inspiration and for advice, and make sure to pay it forward because you can help other people and I think it’s both fulfilling and who knows, I think there is karma in the world and it might come back to help you at some point.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, now let’s hear a bit about your favorite things. Could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Aliza Knox
So, my favorite quote is from Maya Angelou, which is, “My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive, and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

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

Aliza Knox
Yes. So, I talked a little bit about job crafting, and there’s a really cool study by these guys Laker and Patel about how job crafting can make work more satisfying, that they wrote with MIT Sloan. I think they’re professors in England. And then there’s another one that Catalyst did, which is an organization that really promotes women in the workforce, and super relevant to the times we’re in now, and it’s called “The Power of Empathy in Times of Crisis and Beyond.” And, in fact, it was part of what I used when I wrote an article called “Is CEO now Chief Empathy Officer or should it be?”

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite book?

Aliza Knox
So, I know you’re a business podcast but I read fiction all the time, so my favorite book is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, who’s a physician, who’s also an author on the side. I don’t know how you can be that talented. And it’s a book that follows twin brothers born in Addis Ababa, and it’s about the coming of age of one of them and also the coming of age of Ethiopia out of colonialism, and I highly recommend it.

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

Aliza Knox
Yeah, there’s a tool that’s just out in beta that I’d gotten access to called OnLoop, and it’s a mobile-first feedback tool. I’d say it is to team development what Apple Watch is to fitness, so it’s feedback minus the recency bias. It captures in-moment reflections on yourself or feedback for colleagues, and it tags it, and it actually helps you. It compounds over time to reveal people’s superpowers and blind spots. It really helps with writing evaluations, which is something most people hate in performance evaluations, going back, trying to remember what they thought about colleagues or coworkers.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite habit?

Aliza Knox
Going to the gym or playing badminton.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite resonant nugget, something you share that seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Aliza Knox
Yeah, I keep getting quoted back from, “I read your book. I especially love stamina equals perseverance plus enthusiasm.”

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

Aliza Knox
AlizaKnox.com, @AlizaKnox on Twitter, and Aliza Knox on LinkedIn. Fortunately, I have a pretty unusual name, A-L-I-Z-A K-N-O-X.

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

Aliza Knox
Yeah, if you don’t have one, go set up a personal board of directors. There’s a step-by-step on how to do it in my book, and I really think I regret not thinking about it and doing it earlier in my career. It would’ve helped a lot, and I see it helping people whom I mentor.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Aliza, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in this version of things.

Aliza Knox
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been fantastic to be on your show. I’ve not listened to all 700 plus podcasts, but I’m getting through them, and they’re great. I’m honored to be included.

789: How to Beat Stress, Stagnation, and Burnout with Alan Stein Jr.

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Alan Stein Jr. lays out the fundamental shifts that help sustain your game and build resilience in the face of stress, stagnation, and burnout

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to stop stress from overwhelming and controlling you 
  2. How to stay calm and in control in the face of stress
  3. How to identify and remedy stagnation 

About Alan

Alan Stein, Jr. is an experienced keynote speaker and author. At his core, he’s a performance coach with a passion for helping others change behaviors. He spent 15+ years working with the highest performing basketball players on the planet (including NBA superstars Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Kobe Bryant). Through his customized programs, he transfers his unique expertise to maximize both individual and organizational performance. 

Alan is a dynamic storyteller who delivers practical, actionable lessons that can be implemented immediately. He teaches proven principles on how to utilize the same approaches in business that elite athletes use to perform at a world-class level. 

His previous clients include American Express, Pepsi, Sabra, Starbucks, Charles Schwab, and Penn State Football, and many more. 

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Alan Stein Jr. Interview Transcript

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Oh, it’s so great to be with you again. I’ve been looking forward to this.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Well, I’m curious to hear, any particularly interesting new discoveries or lessons learned within the last couple of years or so since we spoke last?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah, I would say a pretty long list of them, to be honest. And most of which, I think, were things that were heightened exponentially over the pandemic. I know, for me, personally, from a book-writing standpoint, I’m always trying to write the book that mirrors what I’m going through in my own life, and I’m always trying to write the book that I need to be reading myself. I find it part liberating and part therapeutic to kind of research and write about the things that I’m struggling with.

So, my most recent book is about stress, stagnation, and burnout because those are three areas that I’ve struggled with for most of my life and career, and I know that a lot of people found those things heightened during the pandemic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about the book Sustain Your Game. What’s the big idea here?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, the big idea, I think the cornerstone of it is that stress, stagnation, and burnout are things that we have massive control and influence over, fighting against, that they’re not things that happen to us. They are things that we can actually help navigate away from if we handle them correctly. And those were some of the kinds of pivotal moments that I’ve had over the last couple of years because I think I’ve gone through most of my life feeling like stress is something that happens to me and is imposed on me. And I now have a much different perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, what’s the fresh perspective?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, so I’m a big fan of Eckhart Tolle, who’s, I guess for lack of a better term, a modern-day philosopher. And his definition of stress is the one that most resonated with me and kind of shifted my whole perspective. And Eckhart’s definition of stress is the desire for things to be different than they are in the present moment. And there was something about that I found very liberating and empowering because, ultimately, what I took away from that was stress is not caused by outside forces, stress is not caused by events, or circumstances, or what people say, or what people do.

Our stress is caused by our resistance to those things, or our perspective of those things, or how we internalize them. So, once that kind of clicked, and his definition, it’s not what’s going on. It’s my desire for what’s going on to be different is what’s actually stressing me out. And once that clicked with me, literally, I just saw the whole world differently now.

And, by all means, I’m not coming from a place of mastery, and I’m not sitting here pretending like I never feel stressed. But, now, when I do, I have the awareness to recognize that on some level, that’s a choice. And that if I would just stop resisting what is, that most of that stress would dissipate.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is thought-provoking and eye-opening. So, nonetheless, some things we don’t want to be the way they are.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Oh, yeah, I’m glad that you highlighted that because, certainly, I don’t want you or your listeners to think I live in la-la land. And the way that I view it now, I still have my preferences, I still have opinions and ways that I’d like to see the world unfold. I just no longer expect that it’s the world’s job to conspire to make me happy, and it’s not the world or the universe’s job to make sure Alan Stein, Jr. gets all of his preferences.

So, now, when something occurs that’s not to my liking, or is not my preference, I just understand that’s part of the human condition. That’s kind of what we all signed up for to be here and I deal with it appropriately. And what I try to do is be more thoughtful in my response to what’s going on than to the event itself.

And, certainly, over the last couple of years, whether we’re talking about the pandemic or the political divide, there had been some incredibly emotionally charged things that have occurred over the last couple years in particular. And I still have my opinions and my preferences of those things but I no longer allow those things to dictate my perspective, and my mindset, and my attitude, and how I show up. And that, to me, is the big difference.

Before, when something happened that I didn’t like, I always felt like it was happening to me, and I was, in essence, an unconscious victim to the world around me. I now no longer allow myself to be the victim. I’ve taken those proverbial handcuffs off and just said, “Yeah, what just happened is not my preference, it’s not to my liking, but I’m going to be very thoughtful in choosing a response to this situation that actually moves me forward and helps me.” So, it shifted me from being a victim to feeling much more empowered.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really intriguing. And I’m thinking right now about airports when it comes to stress because, you mentioned you’re flying to Nashville shortly, and I’m thinking that you can have stressors big or small in terms of small, like, “Oh, my flight is delayed. That’s inconvenient. I guess I might have to cancel a lunch or dinner. I was planning on meeting someone on the other side, which is a bummer.”

And then I’m thinking of a buddy of mine recently told me a tale about how he was straight-up arrested for mistakenly taking a MacBook Air that looked just like his, and it’s like, “Oh, sorry. Oops,” “No, you’re coming with us,” and he spent a night in jail. So, wild story, and in that instance, he preferred that would be different alright on a whole nother level.

I guess that kind of gets my blood boiling in terms of, like in that instance, like he actually is a victim of an injustice before him. And so, I want your hot take here in terms of if the size of the stress is small versus medium versus big, does that change how you play the game in your mind?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I believe that it does, and one of the interesting parts of that, and just to go on record, it would be my preference that I’m not arrested at the airport, and it’d be my preference that my flights aren’t delayed either. Yeah, so I have nothing but empathy and compassion for him to go through such an ordeal. But the mindset portion of it, what you still need to say is, “Okay, this is…” and that’s an extreme case, “This is less than ideal that I’m being charged with this and I’m going to spend the night in jail.”

Pete Mockaitis
Less than ideal, that’s right.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah, less than ideal. And let me certainly go on record saying there’s nothing easy about any of this. I don’t want to pretend for one second that if either of those scenarios happened to me, that I would just automatically be chipper and smile and act like everything is great. There is a distinction to make and there’s two ways to answer your question.

One is, so once this has already transpired, as awful as that scenario is, once he realizes, “All right, I’m already being charged and I’m going to spend the night in jail,” that now has become reality. That has now become fact. And no matter how angry he gets, ornery he gets, pissed off he gets, it’s not going to change the fact. So, the more upset he gets, all that’s doing is punishing himself. It’s not like, “Hey, if I throw a massive fit, they’re going to let me go home tonight.” It doesn’t change your situation.

So, what you need to try to do is say, “Okay, as awful as this is, what’s a response that can at least make this somewhat palatable or at least make this a little bit better?” Again, spending the night in jail in some random city for an honest mistake is pretty tragic, but you’re only punishing yourself if you choose to let it bend you all out of whack. And that’s just something you keep in the back of your mind.

The other part that I certainly want to make a distinction is I believe in feeling all emotions. I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a good or a bad emotion. I think they’re all part of the human experience. Now, there’s emotions that we would probably prefer to have. I’m sure you and I would prefer to be joyous and elated instead of frustrated or disappointed, but they’re part of our emotional palate for a reason. So there’s nothing wrong with feeling emotions.

And, in fact, if I was arrested and had to spend the night in jail for mistakenly taking someone’s iPad, I would feel a wide range of emotions, from anger to frustration, to disappointment, to… I mean, you fill in the blank. But what we have to learn to do is not let how we feel dictate how we behave. I had a really good friend of mine that’s the mental performance coach for the San Francisco Giants in major league baseball, and he said something that affected me just as profoundly as Eckhart Tolle’s quote, and he said, “Our emotions are designed to inform us. They’re not designed to direct us.”

So, our emotions are kind of a litmus test to how we’re perceiving the world and how we’re feeling, but we have to be very careful in not letting them dictate our behavior or our decisions. So, back to this crazy scenario that your friend experienced, there’s nothing wrong with me being upset, angry, frustrated, disappointed that I’ve been arrested but I don’t want that to be how I behave. I certainly don’t want to be belligerent to the police officer. That could get me in even more trouble, spend multiple nights in jail.

And it’s one of those things that I’ve always believed that if you can kind of control your emotions to the point it doesn’t dictate your behavior and the way you show up, that’s one definition of mental toughness. You’re completely resilient when you say that, “No matter what goes on in the outer world, I’m not going to let it rattle me and dictate my inner world.” And that is not an easy place to get to, and I won’t pretend for one second that if I get arrested on my flight to Nashville tomorrow that I’ll handle it with the stoicism that I’m sharing with you right now, but that would be the goal.

And that’s where I’m trying to work to the point where I would be able to handle just about anything thrown at me with that type of stoic approach. Because, again, acting on your emotions and being belligerent and being upset is only going to make the situation worse. You think temporarily it’s going to make you feel better, but, ultimately, it’s only going to make it worse.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right in terms of if you say, “You know what, I gave that cop a piece of my mind. That felt so good.” Probably not. Regardless of the response, the doing it is not going to produce a catharsis. Well, just not to leave people hanging, there was a, I don’t know if you’d call a happy ending, but he did follow some of these principles in terms of he’s like, “Okay. Well, you know what, what do I have control over? In my mugshot, I’m going to look as friendly and kind and not guilty as possible. That’s what I’m going to do.”

And if they didn’t like that, they’re like, “No, you can’t smile. You can’t smile in your mugshot. Do it again. Do it again.” It’s like, “Okay, when I have an opportunity to make a call, I want to be really friendly and polite and professional,” and he managed to make like seven calls, like multiple lawyers and his wife and such.

And that was helpful because they gave him some good tips, and he said, “You know, I am in a jail cell with these people. But you know what? They have some knowledge, like, hey, so there’s a big bunch of bail companies I could call. Like, who’s best?” Like, “Oh, you should call these guys. They’re way faster than the other ones.”

And so, it still sucked a lot and it was costly with lawyers and all of that, but it didn’t wreck his life. It’s just a few thousand bucks and some crazy inconvenience, and he’s back on his feet.

Alan Stein, Jr.
And, at the very least, he’s got an incredible story to tell now.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And if you did let the emotions not just inform but direct and sort of rage and you’re not thinking clearly in terms of, “Oh, what wisdom might my fellow jail mates might have for me right now?” You’re just like, “This is such bull crap. I can’t believe…” if your brain is there, it’s not doing that helpful thinking for you.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Absolutely. And one other thing I’ve noticed, and I’m glad that it was somewhat of a happy story or happy ending, rather. Let’s use the less severe example that you gave, that your flight is delayed or your flight is canceled. Because of how much travel I do, I get to see this happen pretty regularly, and usually what happens, somebody feels so massively inconvenienced as if the entire airline was conspiring to ruin this one person’s day and, “We decided to delay this flight just because we wanted to make you angry.”

What they end up doing, they let their emotions get the best of them, and then they unload those emotions on someone that has nothing to do with it. Usually, the person that you’re unloading your disapproval on has nothing to do with what it is that you’re angry about. The person that’s working kind of behind the desk, they’re not responsible for your delayed flight. They have nothing to do with that.

So, now you’re unloading on somebody else that can’t…I mean, they’re not responsible for it. And then, if you think of just general human nature, how likely is this person going to be to bend over backwards to try to help you find a resolution when you’ve just unloaded all of your anger and frustration and disappointment on them?

I’ve had plenty of delayed and canceled flights, and I have always found that as disappointing and frustrating as that may be internally, whoever I speak with at the airline, I try and kill them with kindness. And the very first thing I say is, “I know you’re going to have a rough couple of hours dealing with all of these headaches. Just know how much empathy and compassion I have for you.”

“I know this isn’t ideal for any of us and I just really appreciate anything you can do to still get me home or to get me to wherever I’m trying to go,” and offer a genuine and authentic and warm smile, and a little compassion, and usually people will go out of their way to try and find a way to help me out, versus the person that’s just going to be belligerent and screaming curse words and act like the whole world is conspiring against them.

So, it goes back to, “Yeah, I’m frustrated that my flight is delayed, but what’s the thoughtful response that I can make in real time that will increase the chance that I’ll get on the next flight, or that they can book me somewhere else, or maybe they’ll offer me a free hotel room, or whatever?” So, yeah, the ultimate part of this is we only punish ourselves when we allow our emotions to overtake our behavior and the way we treat others. It’s not punishing anybody else. You’re just making your own life more miserable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there’s a huge master key right there is just your mindset, your perspective, your philosophy there. Anything else we can do to build up the mental toughness and resilience in advance, if it’s like exercise, or hydration, or nutrition, or supplements, or meditation? Like, what are some things that could be helpful for building up a capacity to respond in an enlightened fashion to stress beyond just having the ideal mindset?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, two things come to mind. One, and this is kind of an offshoot of mindset, and that is learning how to be in the present moment. A lot of our frustrations and disappointments and anger stems from an attachment to something that happened in the past, and we simply make the assumption that, whatever happened in the past that did not turn out in our favor, is going to happen again right now. So, we just make that assumption, which is usually not very helpful or useful.

And then the other thing we do is we have a preconceived notion or a prediction of the future, which, of course, is always hypothetical, and that’s what increases anxiety. So, we can get kind of depressed and upset about something that happened previously, and then we can start being worrying and anxious about something that may happen in the future. And both of those things are just taking us away from being in the present moment.

Again, using the scenarios that you posed, because they’re pretty real-life scenarios, if you just take a deep breath, and go, “Okay, in this moment, my flight has been delayed two hours. I’m probably going to miss the connection and I’m going to miss my dinner with Pete tonight. That’s not ideal. That’s not my preference. It’s a little bit frustrating but it’s the reality, and I accept it.”

“I’m not going to resist it. I’m not going to draw on something from the past where I had this awful experience. And I’m not going to get anxious about the future and worry, ‘Well, maybe Pete and I won’t be friends ever again. He’s going to be so upset that…’” And I start just kind of creating this false narrative.

When if you just take a deep breath and you stay in the present moment, and you say, “You know what, it’s not that bad. Yes, I would’ve preferred to have caught my flight and had not been delayed, but this is what happened. I’ll make the best of it.” So, being in the present moment is certainly an offshoot of that and a way to help remedy it.

And then kind of more on a tactical and esoteric level, in addition to what you mentioned, making sure you’re feeding your body and moving your body, and getting good quality sleep, because I do believe mind and body are connected, but it’s also paying very close attention to the inputs of our life. We all want to have great outputs. We want to be efficient. We want to be effective. We want to produce. We want to earn. And that stuff is directly related to the inputs in our life.

What you read, watch, and listen to, who you insulate yourself with, and who you invest your time with, what you choose to consume on social media is just as important as what you choose to consume nutritionally. These things have a massive impact on the way we see the world. So, anyone looking to level up their output, they need to directly look on the other side of the curtain at their inputs, and say, “Okay, if I want a more quality output, I need to read, watch, and listen to a higher level of content.” And same thing on social, same thing with the people that you insulate yourself with. So, just have high discernment with where you choose to place your attention.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Okay, so that’s the stress side of things. How about we touch upon the stagnating and the burnout?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure. Well, the stagnation part, that’s really where I was kind of leaning towards with this changing of the inputs, because usually the stagnation, which I kind of look at, is just kind of being on that hedonic treadmill. You’re just kind of treading water. You’re expending energy but you’re not really going anywhere in life.

And it’s often just kind of this numb feeling where you’re just towing the line of mediocrity and you’re noticing that your outputs are starting to stagnate. And the best way to jumpstart that and break through that stagnation is changing your inputs. Reaching out to some people that maybe are more accomplished than you are, or have walked the path that you haven’t walked just yet so you can learn from them. And maybe be a mentee to a mentor that’s doing something that you’d like to emulate.

If you find yourself just watching the same old stuff on Netflix and just listening to the same old radio stations or talk radio, see if you can infuse some other things in there, some podcasts or documentaries or books, or just something to kind of jumpstart on the input side, and that’ll help you break through that stagnation.

One of the hardest parts of stagnation is just acknowledging that you’re stagnating. Awareness is always the first step to improvement because you’ll never fix something you’re unaware of, and you’ll never improve something you’re oblivious to. And the reason stagnation can be so tricky is it’s kind of undercover. It’s not proverbial rock bottom. When we hit rock bottom, we usually feel inspired to act and make a change, and that’s the part that’s so slippery and dangerous about stagnation is you’re just kind of towing that line.

So, stress, we really feel in the moment; burnout, we really feel in the long term; stagnation is that tricky mid-term where you can easily fall numb to it and spend months or years in a stagnant place, and not even know it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, just checking in, it’s like, “Hey, am I stagnant? What’s going on?” adjusting the inputs. Any other recommendations there?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, I think it’s important to make sure that you get feedback from the people that know you best, your inner circle, if you will, because often, they’ll be able to spot your stagnation before you spot it. Whether this is like an intimate partner or a spouse, or if you have adult children, or close friends, or colleagues, but, hopefully, you’ve created the type of relationship with them, that you let them know, “Look, I’m always open to your feedback and I always welcome you helping me see my own blind spots.”

I think one of the most important perspectives we can have as human beings is to acknowledge that all of us have blind spots. Now, we can’t see them, hence the reason they’re blind spots, but having the humility to acknowledge, “I know there are things that I don’t know. And when someone cares enough to bring some of those blind spots into a level of awareness and shine a light on them for me, that’s one of the best gifts they can give me.”

So, hopefully, you’ve created the type of relationships, both personally and professionally, where people can say that, “Hey, I just feel like you’ve just been kind of treading water.” And many times, this usually comes from a spouse or somebody that you’re intimate with because they see you, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and see you a lot more than everyone else, but hopefully you’ve got the type of relationship where they can say, “Hey, I just feel like you’re stagnant.” And I try to insulate myself with people in my life that will tell me, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about when it comes to burnout?

Alan Stein, Jr.
So, burnout is an interesting one because I look at stress as a too much issue, stagnation as a too little issue, and those things kind of combine are usually what set you on the path to burnout. While researching the book, I found that burnout is a very specific condition. When the hours that you’re working and the sacrifices that you’re making are no longer in alignment with where you find meaning or purpose or what you find fascinating, or the work you’re putting in is no longer in alignment with your core values or the person that you’re trying to become.

So, it’s that splintering effect of misalignment that causes the issue. It’s not just from working long hours. That can potentially be a problem over time but we probably all know someone that maybe it’s an entrepreneur with a new startup, and they’re working 60-, 70-, 80-hour weeks but they find so much meaning in their work, and they love it so much. They’re most likely not at risk for burnout. So, it’s when you don’t find meaning in your work, or you’re not fascinated by it, or it’s not in alignment.

Another big one, especially for folks at work in organizations, folks get burnout when they don’t feel like their contribution is making a difference. They don’t feel like they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves. They just kind of feel like, “I’m just a number showing up to work. I don’t know that I really matter.” So, when we don’t feel like we matter, or we don’t feel like there’s meaning in our work, that’s when we’re at risk of burnout.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if there we are in the midst of it, what do we do?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Well, again, be thankful if you have the awareness to recognize that, and there’s a few things you can do. One, you have to clarify your north star and get crystal clear. Assuming that you found meaning in that work or in that job at some point, and usually that’s the case, is to kind of reverse-engineer and track backwards and deconstruct, and say, “Okay, I’ve been in this job for 10 years. For the first eight years, I really enjoyed working here. I loved my role. I loved the people I was working with but I don’t feel that anymore.” And try to be reflective and introspective to figure out why.

Maybe you’ve been given some different assignments and your role has changed. Maybe a few colleagues have left and you’re now working with new people that you don’t feel as connected with but try to pinpoint what caused the change. And pinpointing at change, again, bringing it to a level of awareness, can allow you to explore some minor pivots, say, within the organization.

Maybe you ask to take on a new role, or report to someone differently, or work in a different department, or maybe you just come to the end of the road with that organization, and you want to look elsewhere. But then you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to do the same type of work for another company? Or, do I want to change industries completely?”

I’m an example of that. I spent 15 years as a basketball performance coach, and I really loved the time that I did that. But, as I was kind of nearing that 15-year mark, I started to feel burnout. I wasn’t enjoying the work I was doing near as much as I had in years prior, so I decided to make the leap completely out of that industry, and jumped into corporate keynote speaking and writing.

So, for me, I made a fairly drastic change but it was absolutely the right choice because it re-lit my fire and got me excited again. So, I think folks just need to be able to look at, “Is this something that requires a couple of minor tweaks that might get me back on course? Or, do I need to try something more drastic?” But at least pulling open the hood and taking a look at everything underneath to figure that out is, I think, a great step.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, you said the word pivot, which got me thinking. You have three steps you lay out in your book – perform, pivot, prevail. How do these work in sequence?

Alan Stein, Jr.
The way that I kind of looked at it was we’re trying to perform in the moment, and the biggest thing that can undermine that is stress, and that’s something that we feel kind of on the daily. In that mid-term, where we feel like we’re stagnating and things are just kind of towing that line, we need to figure out a way to pivot, to try something different, to shake things up.

And then if we are slowly approaching burnout, where there is this misalignment, then the ultimate goal is to prevail, is to be able to overcome that burnout either within your current job and vocation and company that you’re working with, or you might have to prevail by going somewhere else and doing something completely different.

And they’re not 100% sequential. We can toggle in and out of those at different times, into different amounts, but the way I look at it is more from a timeframe standpoint. You have stress kind of in the short term, you have stagnation more in that mid-term, and then burnout is an accumulation of the previous two, and that’s what happens in the long term.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And when professionals are trying to put your wisdom into action, into practice, are there some hiccups, road bumps, mistakes that come up again and again? And how should we navigate that?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I’m trying to think of some of the most common. I mean, the answer to the question is yes. Actually, that would be my answer to just about anything as far as no matter what it is we’re trying to do when we’re trying to implement and initiate change, there are always going to be roadblocks and hiccups and lessons to learn. But I think the key to that is embracing that and acknowledging everything that I’ve shared with you in this lovely conversation, and everything I’ve put in my books, and everything that I say on stage, all of these things are very basic principles, but none of this stuff is easy. None of it is.

And that’s why, with all of this stuff, I’m not speaking from a place of mastery. This is all stuff that I’m continuing to work on and to refine as I’m trying to evolve. And, to me, the goal has never been perfection. The goal has always been progress, consistent incremental progress. And with any of these things that we’ve talked about, can I be a little bit better today than I was yesterday? Can I be a little bit better in 2022 than I was in 2021, whether it’s my ability to manage stress, or avoid stagnation, or beat burnout, or be in the present moment, or have more thoughtful responses when the world doesn’t align to my preferences?

And I’m very proud of the fact that I can say, yes, I do all of those things consistently better today than I have in the past. If you and I reconnect again on your show in a couple more years, I’m hoping I can say with a huge smile that I’m doing an even better job then than I’m doing right now in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Alan, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear some more of your favorite things?

Alan Stein, Jr.
No, this has been great. I always love your line of questions and the direction in which you navigate things. This has been fun. This is great.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
So, one of my favorite quotes is about as basic and as simple as it gets, and that is, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” And the reason I love that is there’s two types of change that we all experience. There’s the imposed change. A perfect example of that is a two-year global pandemic or potentially an economic recession. Like, there’s things that can happen in the outer world that are imposed on us, and we have to respond to them. And those are obviously uncontrollable.

But the change I’m always referring to is initiated change. It’s the changes that we choose to make. So, it’s being able to have the awareness to say, “I’m not as physically fit as I’d like to be, so I need to make some changes to the way I eat, to my sleep, to my working out, and so forth because I have to acknowledge that, if I don’t change those things, then nothing on my body is going to change.”

And it could be the same thing for mental or emotional fitness, “I need to change the way that I perceive stress when the outside world imposes itself on me, and be much more thoughtful in my response.” So, I‘m a huge fan of leaning into and initiating change to take us closer to becoming the person that we strive to become.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
What I found really interesting, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to botch the numbers on this, but you’ll get the general sentiment. And this speaks directly to what I believe is one of the most dangerous games that any of us can play, and that is the comparison game. I do think, and I’m a huge advocate of social media.

I believe social media can be a great connection tool. It can be a great source of information and learning. It’s a great way to share if you have something of value. But social media, I think, is built to encourage us to play the comparison game, and to see how your life stacks up, usually materialistically, to someone else’s life.

And the problem with playing the comparison game is it usually makes us feel less than. You go on Instagram and you see that somebody has got a nicer house, or a nicer car, or a shinier watch, or a prettier girlfriend, or they go on better vacations, and it starts to make you feel less than. And that’s a dangerous, dangerous slope to tackle.

And there was some research that asked people, and again, this is where I don’t think my numbers are going to be completely exact, but you’ll get the point.
Would I rather make $70,000 a year and everybody else around me makes 50? So, I’m making a little bit more than them, and that makes me feel good but I’m making $70,000 a year. Or, would I rather make $100,000 a year but everyone around me makes $120,000 a year? So, net, I’m making $30,000 more dollars a year in the second scenario but it’s less than what everybody around me makes. And most people always want to feel that they’re winning the comparison game. They would actually rather make less money but make more money than the people in their direct area than the exact opposite of that.

And I just found that study fascinating. That’s kind of a peek behind the curtain into the human condition and the way people view things. And it’s very understandable, and I don’t say that with an ounce of judgment. I just found that study really interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Alan Stein, Jr.
One of my all-time favorites, and I’m sure most of your listeners have already read it because I think he sold over five million copies, is Atomic Habits by my good friend James Clear. Most of what I share when it comes to building habits, I’ve learned from James and his blog and his book and a lot of his work. That’s definitely a go-to.

A secondary one is another book by my friend Phil Jones, who wrote a very short book called Exactly What to Say. It’s more of a guide than a book, and it’s a great reference on kind of how magic words can be, and we have to be very thoughtful and intentional about the words we choose because they change the world around us. And if you’re looking to be more influential and impactful, that you have to be very careful about the words you choose. And I found that book really, really insightful and very, very helpful.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I’m a big fan of the Headspace app for a guided meditation. I know a lot of what we’ve talked about is about being present and being grounded and being mindful. And because I come from a sports background, I’m a huge believer in practice, that you’ve got to practice, especially during the unseen hours.

So, that’s an app and a tool that I use very regularly. It’s a very calm and almost a serene feel of 10-minute guided meditation. And I try and do that at least once a day but I’ll throw that in anytime that I’m feeling a little bit stressed. So, you best believe if my flight to Nashville tomorrow gets delayed, I’ll pop in my earbuds and do a 10-minute meditation to, hopefully, bring me back down.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I’m very fortunate that I have a quote that’s painted in a big 12-foot mural in the Penn State Football Training Center, and it says, “Are the habits you have today on par with the dreams you have for tomorrow?” And that’s a mantra I try and live by. I’m a big believer in habits and the things that we do consistently. And I always want to make sure that the things that I’m doing on a daily basis are in alignment and are in harmony with the person that I’m trying to become.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
They can go to AlanSteinJr.com. I also have a supplemental site StrongerTeam.com, and I’m very easily found on social media @AlanSteinJr. I love interacting with folks, so if you’re on Instagram or LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook, just shoot me a DM. And if you have a question or want to discuss anything that Pete and I talked about, I’m always open for that. And, certainly, if anyone is interested in either book Raise Your Game or Sustain Your Game, they’re easily found on Amazon, Audible, or wherever you like to get your books.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I do. I think at the ground level, the foundation, is showing up at your job emotionally charged and as the best version of yourself. And in order to do that, you have to take a look at your morning and your evening routines, how you’re spending the bookends of your day. So, one of the exercises I always encourage folks to do is a very basic self-audit. You take a piece of paper. You draw a vertical line down the middle.

On the left side, come up with an exhaustive list of all of the things that light you up, that give you energy, that make you smile, that make you feel alive, that add to your confidence. This could be taking a Peloton class or pulling out your yoga mat to do some stretches. It could be a quiet morning reading the paper and drinking some coffee. It could be watching a riveting documentary or taking your dog for a walk. But any of the activities that give you energy and fill you up, then come up with a list of those.

And then on the other side of the paper, on the other side of that right line, write down how you’ve been spending the bookends of your day, your morning and your evening routine. Then you’re going to compare the two sides of the paper. You’re going to compare the two sets of notes. And you’re going to ask yourself one of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself, and that is, “Am I doing the things that I know I need to do to be my best self and to show up as my best self, ready to make a maximum contribution to my job?”

And if you do that with some honesty and some vulnerability, you’ll most likely start to uncover what’s called a performance gap, and that is the gap between what we know we should do to be our best self, and what we actually do on a daily basis. And one of the key tenets of my work is helping folks close that gap and start doing the things they know they need to do.

If you can make the time to heighten your self-care and to sprinkle some of the things from the left side of the paper onto the right side, and even if it’s just 10 to 15 minutes in the morning and evening, doing the things that light you up and fill your bucket, it’ll have a massive impact on how you show up, your energy level, how you feel about yourself, and, absolutely, your ability to make a contribution to your work, to your job, to your organization.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alan, thank you. It’s been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun and sustaining of your game.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Likewise, my friend. This was great. Thank you so much.

782: How to Overcome Distraction through Minimalism with Joshua Becker

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Joshua Becker shares his practical ideas for letting go of distractions so you can focus on what matters most.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one thing that starts day right
  2. How money can prevent us from growing in our jobs
  3. How to tackle technology addiction

About Joshua

Joshua Becker is the Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author of five books: Things That Matter, The Minimalist Home, The More of Less, Clutterfree with Kids and Simplify.

He is the Founder and Editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website dedicated to intentional living visited by over 1 million readers every month with a social media following of over 3 million. His blog was named by SUCCESS Magazine as one of the top ten personal development websites on the Internet and his writing has been featured in publications all around the world.

Resources Mentioned

Joshua Becker Interview Transcript

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

Joshua Becker
Oh, it is good to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, I’m excited to talk about your book, Things That Matter: Overcoming Distraction to Pursue a More Meaningful Life. But, first, I want to hear a little bit about you and your family’s story. You’ve become a minimalist. What does that mean in practice? And what’s the tale behind it?

Joshua Becker
Yeah, okay. Well, yeah, let’s start with the easy stuff, huh? Small background, I grew up pretty typical middle-class America. I’ve been married now for 23 years and have two kids. And like most American families, it seems like whenever we got a pay increase, we just increase the size of our house and increase the amount of stuff in it.

My life changed 14 years ago, my son was five, my daughter was two, and I was introduced to minimalism on a Saturday morning. I was living in Vermont at the time, Phoenix is now home for me. But I was living in Vermont and we had had this long winter. We were into our spring cleaning. I offered to clean out the garage that had gotten all dirty and disheveled over the course of the winter.

My son, Salem, was five at the time, for some reason, had this vision that he was going to enjoy cleaning the garage with his father but he lasted about 30 seconds and went into the backyard, and my garage project just compounded and compounded, and hours later, I was still working on the same garage. And I started complaining about it to my neighbor who was doing all of her yard work, and she introduced me to minimalism. She said, “You know, that’s why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don’t need to own all this stuff.”

And I remember looking at the pile of things in my driveway, dirty and dusty. I’d spent all day taking care of them, and out of the corner of my eye, there was my five-year-old son swinging alone on the swing set in the backyard where he had been all morning long. And I suddenly realized, Pete, that not only were my possessions not making me happy, like most of us would say, but even worse, all the things I own were actually distracting me from the very thing that did bring me happiness in life. And not just happiness, but purpose and meaning and joy and fulfillment.

So, that was the start of our journey into minimalism, our journey into owning less so that I could free up more of my life for the things that actually do bring back dividends that pay off in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, owning less, I mean, there’s such a spectrum between stuff and how much is enough, and too much and not enough. How do you think about that?

Joshua Becker
Yeah. So, it’s very interesting because when I…so, this was 14 years ago. I don’t think there were any…I think I was the first blog. I started a blog that weekend, just a diary. Becoming Minimalist is the name of the website. And I started it just to keep track of what we were doing and what I was getting rid of. Becoming minimalist was a decision that we had made and so it seemed like the perfect title for the website.

At that time, most people writing about minimalism, they were in their 20s, and they were backpacking around the world, or they owned a hundred things, or 20 things, and like I was never drawn to that type of lifestyle. I liked my neighborhood, I liked the school that my kids were going to, I liked having people over into our home that were new to the neighborhood, or I worked at a church at the time, people who were to the church.

And so, minimalism for me never became about, “I just want to own the least amounts of things as possible.” That’s not ever what I pursued. I pursued “I want to own just the right amounts of things so that I can focus most of my life on the things that matter.” And that’s always going to change from person to person. It’s going to look different from a family of eight to a single person in their 20s.

It’s going to look different if you live in the country, if you live in the city, if you’re an architect, or a teacher, or a writer, or a farmer, or a mechanic. Like, you’re going to own different things in order to pursue those things that are most important to you but, in most cases, the things that we’ve accumulated and the things that we continue to pursue have actually become the distraction from those greatest values in life.

And so, how each person finds that, I think, looks different from how they shake out looks from person to person but I think the value is in the pursuit and in starting to recognize how possessions become so much of a distraction from us for us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, in the book Things That Matter, are we talking distractions in terms of like physical stuff items as well as what are some other key distractions?

Joshua Becker
Sure. Possessions is a chapter in the book but there are eight distractions that I cover in the book that distract us from a meaningful life. I cover fear, I cover past mistakes, I cover the selfish pursuit of happiness, the distraction of money, the distraction of possessions, the distraction of accolades, the distraction of leisure, and the distraction of technology, or maybe trivial is a better way to say that last one.

So, yeah, people hear the title Things That Matter: Overcoming Distraction to Pursue a More Meaningful Life and they think, “That is a book I need to read. My phone is definitely a distraction,” like we can all picture that one. And then I think the book really hopefully, challenges us to think through distraction in broader and more socially ingrained ways than simply, “I’m playing too many levels of Candy Crush on my phone.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, before we dig into a couple of them in particular, are there any sort of fundamental mindsets, beliefs, habits, behaviors that transcend or cover all of them that’ll be handy for folks to take on in terms of pursuing a more meaningful life and being more awesome at their jobs?

Joshua Becker
Yeah, they’re very broad and they’re very varied. The distraction of fear is very different than the distraction of social media. But if I were to try to boil down the premise of the book that I think applies to all of them, it would be I start with a story of my grandfather who asked me to play a part in his funeral. It was really a life changing conversation hearing my grandpa talk about death, not fearing death, not regretting that death was coming, but proud of the way he had lived his life, so much so that he had few regrets about how he had lived.

And my question became, “How do we get to the end of our lives with fewer regrets?” And I think the way we do it is we identify what is essential, we identify what is important, we look at the distractions that are keeping us from those main pursuits in life, and then we work to overcome them every single day going forward.

And so, if there’s any uniting thought between the distractions, it’s that we were designed to live meaningful lives, that there are pursuits and there are good…there’s a good that we can bring into the world that no one else can bring into the world, and we need to work hard to overcome those distractions that keep us from it, and realize that it’s not a one-and-done thing, that we need to do this every single day when we wake up, to take it to work every single day when we go to work. We need to overcome the distractions that keep us from doing our best, most meaningful work in our jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any sort of key guiding principles or questions or thought exercises to help us zero in and distinguish the essential from the nonessential?

Joshua Becker
Well, yeah, very interestingly, we did a survey for the book and one of the questions we asked is, “Would you say that you have identified a clear purpose for your life?” And I was surprised 70% of people say that they have identified a clear purpose for their life, which I thought it would be lower but I was excited to see so many people who would say that.

We asked a follow-up question, “How often do you feel you are spending time and resources on less important pursuits at the expense of things that matter?” and 77% of people say that they often spend time and money and energy on things that aren’t as important as that thing that their clear purpose is. And so, number one, I think there’s just a thought process to taking a look at our passions, taking a look at our abilities, the personality that we have, and working hard to discover, like, “What is most important to me? And what role can I play in bringing that about or in pursuing that goal?”

Just thinking of all the different problems in the world, this is a side note but I’m pretty convinced one of the reasons we have so much division in our country, in the world today is that people are passionate about different problems, and we seem to have begun judging people in that way, that, “If you are not as passionate about the same problem that I’m passionate about, then there’s something wrong with you, or you’re distracted,” rather than leaning into, “Hey, I’m passionate about solving this problem. I’m passionate about serving this person,” and leaning into that.

So, I think, number one, just elevating what it is that we want to do in the world and the role that we want to play and how we bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of people is how I like to say that, and then starting each day with a thought exercise. I would just call it setting my intention every day, that I wake up every day and one of my first thoughts, usually when I’m in the shower, is, “Hey, today I commit myself to…” something and fill in that blank, and it’s usually the same thing every day.

But somehow starting the day and setting, “Hey, this is what I’m pursuing this day. This is what’s going to be important to me today.” I’ve learned that in college from a mentor of mine, and I’ve tried to keep it as a daily exercise as much as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us some examples of articulations of both a life purpose as well as a daily intention?

Joshua Becker
Yeah. For me, I think they’ll, hopefully, stem from each other. So, for me, I would say there’s three main purposes that I have with my life, and the first two come from the first one. So, like my greatest purpose in life, my greatest goal in life, the thing I desire most is I want to be a faithful follower of God. So, my faith has always been important to me and this is always my driving force.

Beneath that, I want to be a faithful husband. I want to be an intentional father. I want to focus on the relationships that are in front of me. So, I always want relationships to be important to me. And the second thing, or the third thing, depending on how you’re counting, is I want to make an impact in the world, and I want to use my gifts and talents, and I want to help as many people as I possibly can.

And so, those are the main driving forces in my life. As opposed to I want to make as much money as possible, I want to be as famous as possible, I want to rise to the top of my corporation, I want to own a house in that neighborhood. Those are the purposes that drive me the most. And then, of course, I think the goals along the way change.

So, my son just left for college, and so, me being an intentional father when he’s 19 is different than me being an intentional father when he’s three, but it’s the same purpose. The goals just change. And so, for me, my daily intention every morning would be I want to, again, just as a faith-based intention, I want to honor God with my day.

So, that’s how I would set out every single morning, but it might look different for someone else, “I want to be the best mom that I can be today,” “I want to be the best architect that I can be today,” “I want to serve people the best that I can today.” It looks different for different people.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, then zooming into the eight distractions, can we zero in on a couple? Like, what do you think are the most widespread destructive and easiest to get some quick wins on?

Joshua Becker
Yeah. So, good ones because, How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, man, so many I think of these distractions can pop up in work specifically, or in life more generally. Fear, I think, the distraction of fear can pop up, I think, in our work over and over again. And what’s really interesting, a friend of mine, actually, brought about this distraction. It wasn’t on my radar when I was penciling out the book or had the idea for the book, and so he’s the one that kind of shared it with me.

And the more research I did into fear, really, the more fascinating it became that I interviewed someone for the book, his story is in the book, and he’s always had this fear of failure. And it was interesting because he would say that his fear of failure, as he looks back over his jobs and careers, he said, “My fear of failure follows me.” And he said, “Even when I became more successful in organization, the more successful I became, the more my fear of failure began to haunt me,” is the way he would say.

And so, as he rose up in the corporation and got more and more responsibilities, and closer and closer to the top, he said, “My fear of failing, my fear of being found out that I’m not actually good at my job,” would like, eventually, he said it led him to resign from every good job he’s ever had. And it was a new way for me to look at fear that it’s not something that we just overcome one time, but we recognize it over and over again, and how the fear of failure can force us to set low expectations or small goals.

One of the ways we overcome the fear of failure is we just try little things. We’d set very easy goals that we can attain because we don’t want to really march for something that we might not attain. So, certainly, I think that’s a big one.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if we do have that fear, and maybe it’s failure or something else, and that can, one, just suck in terms of the experience of having that over your shoulder, and, two, cause us to not stretch for opportunities that are bigger or riskier, how do we overcome that distraction?

Joshua Becker
Yeah. Well, number one, I think we become aware of it. I mean, number one, I think we, just in that conversation with my friend, it was interesting. Like, I think he was learning as much about himself in my interview as he knew going in, he’s like, “You know what, I think this has led to me leaving every job I’ve had, now that I’m saying it out loud, and now that I’m talking about it.”

And he would trace it back to just conversations, I think, he had with his father and some of the words that his father spoke into him about being good for nothing. And he said, “I feel like I thought that I had overcome that but now I can recognize that it’s still sabotaging me even to today.” So, I think recognizing that.

Number two, I think believing people when they speak confidence into us, to not push those compliments aside as just flattery or someone trying to get something out of us, but if we’ve heard this compliment over and over again that we’re good at something, to begin believing it. I’m not the type of person who says that we always avoid fear.

Like, I think there is some healthy fear that we have in life. Fear, hopefully, keeps us from doing dumb things. But it’s when the fear is irrational, when, “Hey, I have been successful in my career. These are competent people ahead of me in the organization, that they keep promoting me or keep giving me more responsibility. Why am I so afraid that I can’t do this job? Or, why am I afraid of taking on this new responsibility, or taking on this new project, or really trying at this new goal? Or, why would I let one setback keep me from trying again if this is really what I feel like I’m supposed to do and good that I can bring about into the world?”

So, I think recognizing that, and looking back at our past, and learning from others, and putting some safety nets in place, I guess, if we need to. I tell a story how I transitioned. So, I worked at a church, now I just write full time, and that’s a pretty fearful thing for me to do to become self-employed and become a full-time writer. And along the way, there were, “We can save some money and we can put some money aside to dissipate that fear a little bit.” So, putting some of that safety net in place as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about money next as a distraction. How does that cause havoc?

Joshua Becker
Eighty percent of Americans, actually it’s 79% of Americans say they’ll be happier if they have more money. And over 90% of Americans have financial-related stress, which has always been a really fascinating statistic to me. I think it’s like 92% of Americans have financial-related stress.

And there are certainly some people who don’t have enough money but it is not 92% of us. We are statistically the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and still 90 plus percent of us are worried about money. It’s not because we don’t have enough money. It’s not because we don’t have enough income coming in, in most cases. It is simply because we have started looking for money to bring something into our lives that it is never able to provide – happiness and security.

We think that more money will make us happier. We think more money will make us feel more secure. Eighty-seven percent of millionaires say that they are not wealthy. And there was a study done by Boston College, and they did a study of the ultra-rich, they called it. And among people with a $20 million net worth or more, when asked if they had enough money, the most common response is, “I just need 25% more and then I’ll feel secure.”

And so, what happens is we start chasing happiness and we start chasing security in money, and then we start making more money, our net worth goes up, or our income goes up, and we realize that we’re not that much happier, we don’t feel that much more secure. And so, rather than thinking, “Hey, maybe money isn’t going to provide this happiness and security,” we tend to just think that we had the wrong number in mind, and we start thinking, “Oh, I just need that much money,” or, “I need that much income.”

77% of Americans say that, almost daily, they’re motivated by having more money. And I think this plays into our job, this plays into our work because the goal of our work, the goal of our job becomes, “How do I make more money in my job?” rather than, “How do I serve people better in my job? How do I find more meaning in my job? How do I help people more in my job?”

When the motivation just becomes, “How do I get more money?” I think that we lose out on a lot of satisfaction, and a lot of fulfilment, a lot of meaning, and even a lot of growth that we can find in our work and in our job and in our careers.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that really resonates and this reminds me, I’ve quoted this a couple of times, but this song “Ill With Want” by The Avett Brothers. There’s just a stanza that just grabs me, that 25% more comment, it goes –

“I am sick with wanting
And it’s evil how it’s got me
And everyday is worse than the one before
The more I have the more I think
I’m almost where I need to be
If only I could get a little more.”

And it’s like that is it. And I kind of tease myself if I start falling for that, whether it’s money or…I think about podcast downloads, like, “Oh, boy, when I have 18 million downloads, then I’ll be happy.” It’s like the absurdity, and much like the possessions, not only is it sort of maybe enough, but it could be actively harming you if you’re pursuing more money at the expense of other dimensions of your career that really are bigger drivers of happiness.

And I think it was a paper with Daniel Kahneman and others, and I’ve updated the number for inflation a few times, but it’s something like in America, they didn’t see happiness gains above $75,000 or they became quite minimal at that point, which I thought that kind of resonates, like, “Okay, when you’re not worried about your home, your vehicle, your food, your ability to do a bit of saving and giving, then that’s a lot to just take care of them.”

Joshua Becker
There’s a Harvard study and they surveyed 100,000 adults, which I always think it’s, for me, the go-to study on money and happiness. There’s literally some studies say there’s no connection between money and happiness. Some 75,000 is the most common quoted one. There’s one study that said it’s 24,000. There’s one study that literally says the more money you have, the happier you can be.

But this Harvard study, they tried to really sort out this answer, and what they discovered was it’s not so much about how much money you have, but it’s “What priority are you making money in your life?” And what they discovered is that people who trade off more important things to get more money end up less happy than those who just pursue the things that are important. And so, for them it’s about time, and it was this whole idea of, “Hey, if I just work really hard for the next six months, then I’ll make it financially and I can finally focus on the things that matter most.”

If that’s the thinking that we embrace in our jobs, those people always end up less happy even if they have more money than the person who says, “No, I have enough already and I’m just going to focus my time on family, or I’m going to focus my time on hobbies, or focus my time on these pursuits that mean the most to me.” And so, I think that’s one of the things.

Like, there’s no limit to the amount…I would say there’s no limit to the amount of money making opportunities in the world, like if the goal just becomes, “I want to have more money,” like there’s no end to the amount of things that we can sacrifice or give up in pursuit of that because I don’t think we never reach that security that we think it’s going to bring us, and so we just constantly want more, and we take on the new opportunity and the new clients, or whatever it might be.

Anyway, and here, your story about the podcast is great because there’s a whole chapter on accolades, which is basically that whole point. In some ways, podcast downloads equals money in some indirect way or direct ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Or likes.

Joshua Becker
Yeah, but when the goal becomes, “Hey, I just want this many people to know my name,” or. “This many people to be listening to the podcast,” or, “This many people to be mentioning me,” what it can do, like you know this, like it can change the content of your podcast. Like, you know by now, a topic you could put on that is going to be really popular and is going to be downloaded pretty often, like I know the articles that I can write on Becoming Minimalist that are going to go more viral, but they aren’t necessarily the content that helps people the most, or is the most meaningful work that I can do, same with your podcast, I’m sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess I do think that way about the podcast and meaning because I believe the most popular podcast categories are news, sports, politics, true crime. And I’ve listened to three out of four of those categories, and that’s kind of entertaining, occasionally riveting, but it rarely improves the quality of my life in terms of, like I heard an awesome hacker story.

And, okay, maybe there’s an actionable nugget about password manager, and it was a thrill for the moment. We’re talking about Darknet Diaries, Jack Rhysider, a free shoutout. But in terms of that’s what gets me going is when listeners say, “Whoa, I did this thing, and I got this result, and life is better from that.” Like, that’s the coolest.

Joshua Becker
Yeah, I agree. I agree. I think that, I mean, there’s a time and a space for sports and entertainment and hobbies, like not to discount those things, but, for me, yeah, you could get more podcast downloads by doing something. I could write the article.

Pete Mockaitis
“One weird trick to become minimalist.”

Joshua Becker
“One weird trick to never clutter again.” And I just know that it’s going to get a lot of clicks and it’s going to get a lot of views, but it’s not true. There isn’t an easy one-step answer to some of these things, so.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s talk about technology. That is often the source of much distraction. Any unique insights to share here?

Joshua Becker
Yeah, my approach to technology is, and obviously it’s always going to be an important chapter in the book, look, I get to do what I do today because of technology, and so this was never going to be, “Hey, how do we avoid technology? And technology is evil.” We’re here today because of technology. What I think the problem is, the way I look at technology is I try to notice a difference between creation and consumption when it comes to technology.

I can use technology to write an article, I can use technology to be on this podcast, I can use technology to create something that’s going to spread on social media, or I can use technology to scroll cat videos, or play Candy Crush, or watch and binge another season of something on Netflix. And so, noticing in my life the difference between, “Hey, I’m using technology to bring about good,” or, “I’m just using it and it’s become a distraction.”

And so, that’s always the first way that I think about technology to try to help me, I think, notice the good and the bad. And, again, not that there’s not a space for cat videos and whatever the video game is that we might be playing, but when it becomes a distraction is when it becomes the problem. And, for me, I have always taken, I started about four, five years ago, I started taking one annual tech fast every single year.

And the first time I did it, it was for 40 days. I’ve done it as low as 14 days and up to 40 days, which was the longest, where I just set aside a time where I do, ideally, no technology in my life. That’s not usually possible with my job and with most people’s jobs, but there are still limitations that we can put on it in terms of, “Hey, I’m just going to use my computer when I’m at work. I’m not going to do anything. I’m not going to do social media for 14 days, or I’m not going to play my games for 14 days, turn off the TV for 14 days,” whatever it might be, and having that period of time.

Well, for me, going that whole cold turkey route is better than, “Hey, I’m just going to turn off the TV at 9:00 p.m.,” or, “I’m going to limit my social media to 30 minutes a day.” I’ve always just done better with three weeks of no social media, three weeks of no television, and then I always think it helps me evaluate better when I come back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and then you can really feel, I think, more of the impact and the difference, like, “Huh, okay.” Like, if I go on a camping trip where technology just isn’t even an option, it’s like, “Oh, there’s some loveliness here,” versus if it’s just small changes or interventions, often lead to small results, but not always. That’s rather exciting when there’s levels there.

Joshua Becker
I always think like a food detox is a way to think about that. If I think, “Hey, maybe I’m allergic to dairy,” and you take it out of your diet for a month, and then the first time you come back and have a glass of milk, and you can feel it, you’re like, “Oh, this actually was having a more negative impact on my body than I thought it was. I thought it was just normal how I felt but now I can see that the impact that it has.”

And so, you cut out social media for a month, over the month of July, or the month of August, and you enjoy your summer, and then you come back in, you’re like, “Oh, this is kind of a waste of time scrolling this constantly every evening.”

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

Joshua Becker
We asked, “How much your past was harming your future?” and 61% of people self-reported that something they had done in the past, a past mistake was keeping them from the future they wanted, and 55% of people said that a past mistake committed against them was keeping them from the life that they wanted to be living in the future. And that’s just the people that could identify it.

And, certainly, there’s a lot of overlap there but, man, that is a lot of bottled-up potential. That’s a lot of people who can say, “Hey, I am not able to live the life I want today because of something that happened in my past.” And I just encourage people, if that’s you, to turn and face that problem, whether it’s getting professional help or reading something or talking to a friend. Like, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not easy to overcome but it’s a distraction I really think we need to work hard to overcome.

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

Joshua Becker
Yeah, a favorite quote, actually one that I use in the opening chapter of Things That Matter came from Seneca, the philosopher, and this is what he said, he said, “It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievement if it were all well-invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we’re forced at last by death’s final constraints to realize that it passed away before we knew it was passing,” which is very much, I think, the message of minimalism and the message of this book that we would invest our lives in things that matter.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite book?

Joshua Becker
A favorite book, man, the greatest book that I read recently is The Greatest Salesman in the World. It’s an old book and I bought it for everyone on my team, and I recommend it to everyone.

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

Joshua Becker
Yeah, I mean, I just want to say my computer here. My favorite tool, got to be my laptop computer, as boring as that sounds. I make my living online and I have found it to be a powerful opportunity to influence people.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Joshua Becker
My favorite habit is I go to the gym every morning and I work out every morning an hour before starting at work, and it’s become my favorite habit for the last several years.

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

Joshua Becker
Yeah, own less, live more, that our lives are too valuable to waste chasing and accumulating material possessions.

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

Joshua Becker
My homebase online is BecomingMinimalist.com. So, everything, I do quite a few things but that’s the best place to always find me.

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

Joshua Becker
Find the meaning in your work. Don’t see work as just the thing you do to bring home the paycheck. But find out how your job is helping others and serving others. Find the selfless side of your job and focus on it, and you’ll find more joy in it every single day, and you’ll find more passion to excel in it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Joshua, thank you. This has been a huge treat. I wish you much luck and fun in doing the things that matter.

Joshua Becker
Thank you so much.