Tag

Mindset Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

653: Training Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance with Dr. Ellen Reed

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Ellen Reed says: "That which you focus on expands."

Dr. Ellen Reed reveals how to build mental toughness by training your brain to be more solution-focused.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biological reason why we underperform 
  2. Three simple questions to your build mental toughness 
  3. How to beat out stress in 60 seconds 

 

About Ellen

Dr. Ellen Reed has been a top performance coach for more than ten years, working with Dr. Jason Selk. In addition to helping others reach high-levels of success, she has a well-established career as a professional dancer. With her background in academia and the performing arts, she helps athletes, students, and business leaders reach their peak performance by developing mental toughness. 

Dr. Reed received her PhD. in experimental psychology, with a focus on memory and cognition, from St. Louis University. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease! Save $20 on a $150+ purchase with promo code AWESOME.

Dr. Ellen Reed Interview Transcript

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

Ellen Reed
My pleasure. I’m so excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom, talking about Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance. I love so many of those words so I think you’re right up our alley. So, maybe, first, could you tee us off with a cool story? So, you and your colleague have been using relentless solution focus to help athletes win Super Bowls, gold medals, national championships. Like, can you tell a cool story with a particular athlete and how this stuff made the difference for them?

Ellen Reed
Yeah. Well, a big part of what I do is helping people perform at their best. Athletes have really kind of this opportunity to kind of show us how these mental tools can play out kind of in their arena.

But, really, what we do on a daily basis, and what the listeners do on a daily basis, is probably so much more important than what the athletes are doing, and these fundamentals were developed by my colleague Dr. Jason Selk. And you’re absolutely right that they were developed originally for athletes and teaching athletes how to focus on the right things, especially when the wrong things want to be swirling through their minds.

So, when a basketball player, is at the free-throw line with one second left, and they’re down by two, all those thoughts that want to swirl through your mind and all that pressure, how do you deal with that?

So, Jason Selk, who is the co-author on our book Relentless Solution Focus, his first book was called 10-Minute Toughness, and it was geared towards athletes. And in this book, he detailed a mental workout for athletes to do to really help train their minds be prepared for high-pressure situations. And people started picking up this book and applying these fundamentals to their own lives, in business, in their relationships, whether it be a business person, a doctor, a stay-at-home mom, and really started to find that these fundamentals, that really helped athletes play to their peak potential, really had almost better results with us regular people.

So, Jason, he started as the director of sports psychology for the St. Louis Cardinals in, I think it was 2006 where they had not won a World Series. I might need to fact-check this but they had not won a World Series in, I think, over 20 years. And the year he started with them, they won the World Series and they won the World Series again, I think, six years later. Again, I may need to fact-check this. I may be a couple years off on this.

And Jason spent, gosh, 20 plus years really studying highly successful people, and studying and paying attention to kind of the common threads that these people that have accomplished great things and people who are happiest in life, “What about them stands out? What about them kind of sets them apart?”

And what he noticed is that it’s really their ability to stay focused on solutions especially in the face of adversity, whether that be an athlete standing at that free-throw line with two seconds left, down by two, being able to keep their mind focused on, “What I need to be doing in this moment to improve or to succeed…” versus, “The pressure is on and we’re down by this much, and all of those thoughts. And I’ve got to make this shot.” All of those thoughts that are really normal that swirl through our minds on a daily basis.

So, relentless solution focus is essentially a method of training our brains to be able to stay focused on solutions and improvements when it’s really normal for us to want to focus on problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so, that sounds very useful and powerful for professionals who… their brains can go, myself included, our brains can go in all kinds of places that might not be super helpful. So, I think, for me, it’s like, “Uh-oh, I feel tired. I feel stressed. I feel overwhelmed. I am annoyed at…” fill in the blank.

So, yeah, there’s all kinds of thoughts going on up in there, and I imagine some are helpful, some are not. So, walk us through it, how do we get our brains to do what we want them to do? And, maybe first, what do we want them to be doing?

Ellen Reed
Right. Right. And I love that example, and I think that those thoughts that you’re kind of talking about that are normal for you, I think we can all really relate to. How many times do you wake up and think, “Oh, I’m so tired”? And then it’s easy to carry that into the next hour, and, “Gosh, I’m so tired today. I’m so tired today. I’m so tired today.” Right? And the more we focus on things, the bigger they get in our minds.

There’s a theory called expectancy theory that states that that which we focus on expands. And those examples that you just gave are such a great testament to that. When you focus on the fact that you’re tired, and when you focus on the fact that you’re annoyed by something that your spouse has done, those things get bigger in our minds.

And when you pair that with this what’s called problem-centric thought, where it’s normal for our brains to focus on problems first and foremost. We’re built this way. This is part of our DNA. And if you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, it was really important that we were very quickly able to pinpoint and recognize the problems and threats and shortcomings in our environments and so that problem-centric thought was really essential to our survival.

But, now, statistically, this is the safest time to be alive. Even with everything going on in the world right now with COVID, it’s still the safest time to be alive. And so, this problem-centric thought that really set us up well years and years and years and years and years ago, now really just causes us to underperform, it causes us undue stress, it’s unhealthy for us. And so, how do we get around that? That’s your question. What do we do? Because we know that we’re wired to focus on problems, and we also know that the more we focus on problems, the bigger they get.

And so, relentless solution focus is essentially a concrete method of training your brain to become abnormal. Mental toughness really is abnormal because it’s normal to be driving home from work, and having done 99 things right that day and one thing less than perfect, but then on that drive home from work, you’re focused on that one imperfection. That’s normal.

What’s abnormal is to be driving home from work and thinking, “Hey, what’s one thing I want to do that’s a little bit better tomorrow?” or, “What three things did I do well today?” Can you imagine how great life would be if that was what you were thinking on your way home from work instead of hampering on that one imperfection?

And so, the point is that this requires training because it’s not going to happen for most of us naturally. Everyone once in a while I think there’s somebody that’s kind of born with this amazing mental toughness and this amazing kind of uncanny ability to stay focused on solutions. I certainly was not one of those few that was born with it. For the rest of us, we can learn to be solution-focused. And RSF, relentless solution focus, is the polar opposite of that PCT.

So, the training aspect of this is critical. And we have a couple of tools outlined in the book, and I’d love to be able to teach everybody at least one of the tools today. And this tool that I’d love to teach everybody is called “the success log.” The success log is composed of, for our purposes, three questions. In the book, it’s a little bit extended because we talk about some goal-setting in there, but for our purposes, if you can get a start on these three questions, you’re going to experience some really dramatic results.

And that first question, just ask you, “What three things did I do well today? What three things did I do well in the last 24 hours?” So, it’s forcing your brain to think about and focus on some of the little things you’ve done well when, remember, your brain wants to be focused on what you feel like you screwed up that day. So, that’s the first question.

And the second question is, “What’s one thing I want to improve tomorrow? What’s one thing I want to improve in the next 24 hours?” So, keeping your focus on making small incremental improvements instead of, “Hey, what did I screw up today?” Again, that’s where our brain wants to go.

And then the third question is, “What’s one thing I can do that could help make that improvement? What’s one thing I can do that can help make that improvement?” So, let’s say that today you got really behind on emails, and so the one thing you want to improve tomorrow is you want to catch up, you want to clean out your inbox, you want to catch up on emails. That’s where most people stop. And most people are pretty good at identifying, “Hey, what do I want to do better or what do I want to improve the next day?” but most people won’t take this critical next step to identify something concrete you can do to bring about that improvement.

So, then you might say, if the improvement you want to make is to clean out your inbox, “What’s one thing I can do that could help make that improvement?” Maybe you say, “Okay, I’m going to block out from 10:00 to 10:30 on my calendar to go through emails,” or, “I’m going to set my alarm for five minutes earlier so I can get into the office five minutes earlier and work through emails.” It doesn’t matter so much what you come up with to make these improvements. What matters and what’s important is that you’re training your brain to be searching for improvements.

And you’re really taking advantage of the brain’s ability to change and mold itself through training. It’s called neuroplasticity. You probably learned about it in school, and it’s really important. And I think anyone that thinks, “I’m just not motivated,” or, “I’m just not a morning person,” or, “I’m just not good at math,” or, “I’m just not…” you fill in the blank. We’re really good at labeling ourselves as lacking certain things. But you’re failing to recognize that you have the ability to change your brain through training. What fires together, wires together.

So, using the success log and filling out that success log on a daily basis, starts to cause those positive thoughts and those productive courses of thoughts to wire together. So, it’s a really, really useful tool that I would encourage everybody listening to this, just try to answer those three questions three, four times a week, and you don’t need to spend more than a minute or two on it.

Pete Mockaitis
And for three things I’ve done well, I guess that’s interesting. As we talk about being positive and journaling, I’m thinking about gratitude. Three things I’ve done well is a different prompt than three things I’m grateful for. Can you maybe give us some examples? Because I guess there could be a Venn diagram overlap there, like some things are both.

Ellen Reed
Yes, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
But others are uniquely…So, I’ll just put you on the spot, Ellen, can we hear your success log from today or yesterday?

Ellen Reed
So, how about I’ll do my success log for today right now?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ellen Reed
Because usually I would do it about the end of the day and it’s about that time. So, three things I did well today. I snuggled with my boys this morning for a little bit of extra time before we all got ready and went off to school and work. I sent out an email to someone that I wanted to follow up with about getting their thoughts on the book. And, number three, I got my headphones ready for this podcast today.

And one thing I want to improve tomorrow, let’s see, I want to make sure that I get my mental workout done before I go to rehearsals. So, today, I was a little bit late getting out the door and so I had to do my mental workout kind of lunch break but I want to make sure I can get it done before rehearsal. And the one thing I can do to make that improvement is I’m going to write myself a Post-It note and I’m going to stick it on my dashboard to say, “Don’t leave before doing your mental workout.” And I’m going to get it done in the car on my way to rehearsal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you.

Ellen Reed
So, that took what? About 45 seconds?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s quick.

Ellen Reed
And let me go back to your point and your question about kind of the three things I’m grateful for versus three things I’ve done well. I think if you’re in the habit of, every day, identifying three things you’re grateful for, I think that’s awesome, and I would absolutely keep doing that. I think that’s awesome. I think that really promotes that positive thinking and I think that’s really important for our soul.

Now, there’s an added element to the success log that I think is really important that I want to talk about, and that is developing self-confidence. Now, self-confidence, scientifically-speaking, is the number one variable for performance. It’s the number one variable for performance. So, empirically-speaking, there is nothing you can do that’s more important for affecting your performance than developing your self-confidence.

Now, remember, PCT, problem-centric thought, we’re really good at honing in on our imperfections or where we feel like we fall short, which is a disaster for our self-confidence. And so, if you can get in the habit every day of identifying just three things you did well, three little things you did well, search for the small. I spent like five or ten minutes, snuggling with my boys this morning, when it’s really easy for me to be kind of rushing around in the morning to get out the door. They don’t have to be huge. But identifying the little things you’re doing well on a consistent basis really promotes that self-confidence.

And I think it’s easy to blow this off and it’s easy to kind of shrug it off as being kind of soft. It doesn’t necessarily sound very tough to take that time to develop your self-confidence but I want to be really clear that there’s really nothing more mentally tough than being able to identify some things you’ve done well when you’ve just lost a game, or when you’ve just lost a deal, or when you’ve had a bad day at work. That is mental toughness. It’s being able to get your mind focused on what you’re doing well and what you want to improve because that’s going to make you perform better in the future. Being hard on ourselves and really beating ourselves up for mistakes is a big, big factor in people underperforming to their potential.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious then, when we talk about three things I’ve done well, should we kind of keep it broad, like in any and all domains of life?

Ellen Reed
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, is it preferable to focus it in terms of one thing or another?

Ellen Reed
Right, that’s a good question. And the best option is to just get it done instead of trying to get it done perfectly. And I think it’s a really important thing to point out is that you don’t have to do these success logs perfectly. Getting them done is so much more important than getting them done perfectly.

If, one day, you’re sitting there for two minutes trying to come up with something you want to improve for the next day, just stop and put it away and then come back and start a new success log the next day. It’s the consistency of forcing your thoughts onto what you’re doing well, and forcing your thoughts on searching for improvements that really works to rewire the brain. Remember, that’s the key here. That’s the key is working on re-training, rewiring the way our neurons are firing together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s one approach. Boy, there’s so much I want to ask about. Okay, maybe we’ll hit this. You say it’s key to remember 60 seconds. What do you mean by that?

Ellen Reed
Yes. Yes. Okay, great question. So, what we talk about is you want to really recognize that you’re focused on a problem and be able to come up with a potential solution within 60 seconds. And why this is so crucial, it’s so important to understand the biology behind it. I won’t bore you guys with a ton of the details of the biology behind it but I think it’s important to understand a little bit of it so you really understand why this is so important and why this is so effective.

So, when you are faced with a problem, or when you’re faced with kind of thinking about something that you messed up or something that you feel like you’re lacking in life, that sends a message to your body to feel a certain way, to experience negative emotion. And I want you to think of negative emotion as really a wonderful gift, a gift that tells you what you’re focused on because you don’t feel anything without your brain telling you to. Your body does not feel any emotion without your brain telling you how to feel.

So, if I’m focused on a problem in my life, I’m going to feel like garbage, right? I’m going to feel stress, I’m going to feel frustrated, I’m going to feel nervous, I’m going to feel worried. Whatever it is, whatever that feeling is, you’re going to feel like garbage, and that is your signal that your brain is focused on a problem.

Now, what happens when we’re focused on a problem and when we’re feeling these negative emotions is that our brain sends a message to our body to release cortisol, the stress hormone. And we’re all probably a little bit familiar with the effects of cortisol. Now, in small doses, cortisol is actually helpful for performance, it kind of gets us going.

But, now, people are walking around with really elevated levels of cortisol because of this problem-centric thought. And even at moderate doses, cortisol really wreaks havoc on our health and on our happiness. It causes us to feel like garbage but it really increases our propensity for a lot of diseases, it limits our creativity, it significantly limits our intelligence.

And, again, because of this problem-centric thought that, evolutionarily-speaking, doesn’t really do much for us anymore. Our cortisol levels, for most normal people, are really elevated to the point where it’s creating a lot of unhealthy people and a lot of miserable people. And so, being able to recognize that you’re focused on a problem, within 60 seconds gets you ahead of that cortisol release.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ellen Reed
And so, this is why that 60 seconds is so important. Now, let me tell you though what you do within that 60 seconds because I think it’s easy to say, “Oh, just recognize you’re focused on a problem and start thinking about solutions,” right? We all probably know that it’s good to think about solutions and that it’s good to be positive and it’s good to be optimistic, but I think people have a harder time with understanding how to do that because we haven’t really been taught how to do that.

And so, I challenge everybody out there to write this down. Write down this question, it’s called the RSF tool, the relentless solution focus tool, and the RSF tool is a question. The question is, “What is one thing I can do that could make this better?” So, when you catch yourself focused on a problem, when you catch yourself feeling any negative emotion whatsoever, you’re feeling stressed, that’s your cue that you’re focused on a problem, and that’s your signal to ask yourself, “What’s one thing I can do that could make this better?” You ask and answer that question within 60 seconds and you’ve just beat that cortisol release.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. And so then, I’m curious, Ellen, not to be a downer or super difficult, but what happens when there’s just not a solution?

Ellen Reed
Great question.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, your parents are dying of a degenerative illness, etc. Like, it just sucks and there’s not much you can do, but you feel lousy because your environment sucks. What do you recommend we do there?

Ellen Reed
Yeah, that’s a great question. And we’ve got to redefine the way we think of solutions. Okay? So, I think kind of the traditional definition of solution is complete resolution to the problem, right? But it’s really important that we’re really clear about how we define solution. And the way we define solution is any improvement whatsoever to the current situation even if that means improving the way you deal with the situation.

So, I think that’s a great example that a lot of people are going through. I work with, in my other life, I’m a professional dancer so I spend the first half of my day in dance class and rehearsals, and then the second half of my day coaching others. Our outreach for the dance company is in senior living facilities.

We do a little performance, we’re not doing them now, obviously, because of COVID, which has been really sad, but we go into a lot of memory care units with older adults who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, and we do like a little 45-minute show, and we use music that’s from their era, and it’s just amazing to see a lot of these residents who their caregivers will tell us, “Gosh, this person hasn’t spoken in a week, and after the performance we couldn’t get them to stop talking.”

Or, we’ll go up to the residents afterwards and try to talk to them for a little bit, and they’ll tell us about, “Oh, that reminds me of my grandchildren who I used to go to their dance recitals. And my husband and I used to go dancing all the time.” It conjures up all these emotions and these memories, and it’s really amazing to see.

Now, I completely got off on a tangent there, but I think the point that I want to make with this is that we’ve got to search for anything we can do to improve our situation. And maybe, in your specific example, maybe there is nothing we can do with a parent who is, let’s say, suffering from Alzheimer’s. But what’s one thing you can do to make their day a little bit better? Or, what’s one thing you can do to help yourself emotionally deal with watching them and caring for them?

And this isn’t a one-time question that you answer. This is something that you have to be relentless about. You may ask yourself this question 50,000 times a day. Just because you come up with one answer to the question doesn’t mean that that’s going to solve your problem, right? We’re searching for the small, we’re searching for anything we can do that will improve our current situation or improve the way we’re able to deal with the situation by one, because remember expectancy theory. That which you focus on expands.

And when you’re focused on all the sadness, that’s a really, really hard thing to watch someone that you love go through dementia or Alzheimer’s, and that can really consume a person to watch that. But when you search for the small, kind of going back to what you said, you search for what you’re grateful for, those moments of seeing that spark, or thinking about the memories, or whatever it is that turns your focus onto something positive.

Again, go back to the biology of it. You can get ahead of that cortisol release and you can prevent yourself from going down what we call the PCT tornado where you get going on a negative train of thought in a problem-centric thinking and it becomes really hard to climb out of. But as soon as you can turn that around, and the one thing you can do that can make this minute a little bit better, or make this minute a little bit better for someone else, you’ve stopped that tornado from going down and you can start that momentum going in the other direction.

Pete Mockaitis
And I want to get your take, Ellen, if there’s any skeptics in the house. We had a couple guests just very fond of the poem by Rumi about “The Guest House,” I don’t think I can recite it, but about the notion that each of our emotions is a guest which has something valuable to offer, and we should allow them to enter and remain until they exit. Or, others have said, you said that which we focus on expands.

Ellen Reed
Expands.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve also heard it said, “That which we resist persists.” So, how do we reconcile or work with the idea of avoidance or running away from negative feelings and how does that square with what we talk about here?

Ellen Reed
Okay. I love that you asked because I think probably a lot of other people are thinking the same thing. And one thing that’s important to understand is that this isn’t about running from your emotions, or resisting your emotions, or turning a blind eye to the problems in your life. It’s about being able to get to solutions faster. And, really, it’s about being able to look at your problems with much more accurately focused lenses.

It’s important to recognize our emotions, and I think people have become so afraid of negative emotion. We do everything to try to avoid negative emotion. We run from it. We take medicine to not have to feel negative emotion when, really, again, negative emotion is given to us as a gift and we need to be able to recognize why we’re experiencing these emotions so that we can start to get to work on it, start to move in the direction of, “What can I do to make this better?”

Because what happens is that we get so consumed with the problem that, oftentimes, we don’t even get to the solution. pick up any newspaper, or watch any news show, and you just see how focused the world is on problems, and it is so important to be able to recognize the problem. And, in fact, we have, in the Relentless Solution Focus book, we have this broken up into three steps. Three steps to developing this relentless solution focus.

And the first step is to recognize. You’ve got to recognize when you’re focused on a problem because, a lot of times, people will feel a negative emotion and then they’ll try to put a Band-Aid over it, or try to, like you said, kind of resist it, and, meanwhile, this problem is still swirling around in their minds but they haven’t done anything to be able to move forward with it or figure out what to do about it.

And so, that first step is to recognize that negative emotion because, remember, negative emotion is there to tell us that we’re focused on something that we can’t control or we’re focused on a problem. And so, it’s so much more efficient to focus on what you can control or to focus on the solution by asking yourself, “What’s one thing I can do to make this better?”

If everybody in our world right now was asking themselves, “What’s one thing I can do that can make this a little bit better?” just imagine what kind of a world that would be, and we can do it. We can train ourselves to think like that even though it’s normal to want to really get consumed with the problems and spend so much time focused on the problem that we never take that step towards a solution. We can learn to do that. We can learn to become more solution-focused.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, you mentioned the mental workout a couple times. Have we covered that or is that something else we should talk about?

Ellen Reed
So, that’s something else, that’s something else. That’s another tool that we outlined in the book. So, the first tool, again, was that success log that I told you as three questions. And then the mental workout is a tool that’s designed to help you visualize and keep your focus on what you want out of life, and then to practice in your mind what you need to do on a daily basis in order to get there.

So, in the book, we talk about something called the framework of achievement where we walk the readers through how to develop, basically, a vision for what they want out of life in the long term, what they want out of life in the short term, so within the next year. And that’s really important because you’ve got to know where you want to go or you really have zero percent chance of getting there. And I think so many people kind of avoid this question because it seems like such a big question that they’re afraid to get it wrong, like, “Where do I want to see myself? What do I want out of life?”

But we really challenge people to just get a start on it. Just spend a little bit of time, and we walk you through it really specifically, really concretely, it’s not scary, and just get a start on it. You don’t have to get it perfect but you want to avoid holding pattern at all costs. Get a start on that vision and then modify it along the way. But it’s important that you know where you want to go so that you’re motivated to do the things on a daily basis that are going to get you there.

So, we establish that vision, but then the really important piece of this is establishing what we call the integrity piece of the framework. By the integrity piece of the framework, we mean what it takes on a daily basis in order to achieve that vision. What are the most important daily activities for you to be doing that are going to get you to that vision in the short term and then in the long term?

So, for example, let’s say you’re in sales and your goal is to increase your sales from a million to 1.1 million in the next fiscal year. And you’ve identified that the most important thing for you to do on a daily basis that’s going to put you in the best possible position to achieve that is to make ten prospect phone calls every day.

So, what you’re going to do in your mental workout is you’re going to visualize who you want to be and what you want your life to be in the long term, so three to five years down the road, but then you’re going to visualize yourself doing those things that you need to be doing in the upcoming day in order to get there. So, you’re going to practice and rehearse and visualize making those prospect phone calls, or putting in the effort and with the intensity that you want and that you need to achieve what you want to achieve.

So, it’s really a targeted mental tool that helps you practice what you want out of life and prepares you for what you need to be doing in order to get there.

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

Ellen Reed
One of my favorite quotes is by Coach John Wooden. And John Wooden is one of the winningest coaches of all time, one of the quotes that really sticks with us, and we talk a lot about in our coaching, is that, “It’s the little things done well on a consistent basis that cause greatness.”

I think most of us know what we should be doing on a daily basis that’s going to put us in a great position to get to where we want to go, but we have a hard time executing those most important things.

And let me give you one more quote because I think this is a good one in conjunction with Coach Wooden’s quote. And this is a quote from Jason Selk’s, one of his books, I think it’s Executive Toughness, where he says that, “Highly successful people never get everything done in a day but they always get the most important things done each and every day.” So, you don’t have to get everything done in a day but you’ve got to get the most important things done.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share with us a favorite book?

Ellen Reed
This is probably not what you would expect me to say but I love interior design and organizing and all of this stuff, and there’s a book called The Home Edit, and they’re actually a company and they do organizing, and they’re kind of taking the world by storm right now, The Home Edit, and they basically teach you how to organize. They teach you how to organize your drawers, your closet, your garage.

But when I go through this book and I look at all of their amazing, beautiful, inspiring pictures of these beautifully organized drawers and closets, it just reminds me in kind of a strange way of what we try to do for our clients. And they basically teach you how to get rid of all the stuff that doesn’t serve you, get rid of all the noise, get rid of all the extra stuff that we don’t need and that holds us back, and really prioritize what’s important, and make sure you have it prioritized and organized in a way that you can execute it and that it’s functional for you.

And so, I know it’s kind of a weird response.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, that’s beautiful. I think it’s a great book.

Ellen Reed
But I love that book and I love kind of what it represents for people’s lives, and I think it’s like a different way of packaging kind of exactly what we do for our clients.

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

Ellen Reed
I think it’s probably, I would say, the importance of self-confidence. I think that’s where everybody that we worked with, one of the first things that we are going to teach them is a success log.

And the beauty of it, and this is what, again, really kind of drew me to Jason’s fundamentals and Jason’s perspective is that it’s so simple.

And one of the simplest things you can do is to really start working on your self-confidence through the success log. And so, I think the nugget that probably comes back the most is, “Gosh, the success log is really making a difference and it really affects the way I go throughout the rest of my day.” And just taking that one or two minutes to identify what I’m doing well and what do I want to improve, really fuels so much performance and success and happiness in people.

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

Ellen Reed
Well, you can go to RelentlessSolutionFocus.com and that’ll take you to some really great resources. There’s also more information about Jason and myself at JasonSelk.com.

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

Ellen Reed
My challenge would be to pick one thing from this that maybe stuck with you. Maybe it was the success log or maybe it was that RSF tool, “What’s one thing I can do that could make this better?” and pick one thing and work on starting to implement that one thing. Don’t try to do it all. Pick one thing, whether it be the success log, or that RSF tool, or something else that you heard that maybe resonated with you. But try to just start implementing that one thing with consistency.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ellen, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your dancing and your coaching adventures.

Ellen Reed
Thank you. It was so fun to be here.

652: The Nine Mindset Shifts for Your Best Preparation and Performance with Brian Levenson

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Brian Levenson says: "We all need to stay curious so that we earn the right to be convicted."

Brian Levenson shares the key mental shifts that elite athletes use to prepare and perform at the highest levels–and work for professionals too!

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get into the elite performer mindsets
  2. When it pays to be arrogant
  3. The visualization hack used by elite athletes

 

About Brian

Brian Levenson is the founder of Strong Skills, which provides executive coaching and mental performance coaching, speaking and consulting to elite organizations, performers and leaders. He has been fortunate to work with CEO’s, professional athletes and with teams in the NBA, NHL, and MLS, Division 1 athletic departments, the Federal Reserve, the Department of Homeland Security, Hilton, Disney, Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and many other organizations. 

Brian has a weekly podcast, Intentional Performers, where he interviews a diverse group of elite high performers. Brian has a weekly newsletter called Brian’s Message of the Week, which shares articles, videos, podcasts, and information to subscribers. Brian also created an assessment tool called the Self Belief Inventory which is used by elite athletes, executives, and organizations. His book, Shift Your Mind, was released in October of 2020.

Brian currently lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife and two kids.

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease! Save $20 on a $150+ purchase with promo code AWESOME.
  • Monday.comExperience a 14-day free trial of the Work OS that boosts the ownership, joy, and efficiency of work.

Brian Levenson Interview Transcript

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

Brian Levenson
Thanks for having me, Pete. Excited to chat with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited too, and so, we’re going to be talking about your book Shift Your Mind: 9 Mental Shifts to Thrive in Preparation and Performance. And so, I think you’ve got such a great idea that you’ve captured here. Maybe, why don’t we kick it off by hearing a little bit about the behind-the-scenes research in terms of is there a particularly surprising or fascinating discovery you made while researching this stuff?

Brian Levenson
For sure. So, I work as a mental performance coach and an executive coach but most of my career, before what I’m doing today, has been with athletes and working with athletes so I really cut my teeth in coaching people with mental performance for athletes. And as I started to work with these athletes, some are golfers, some are basketball players, baseball, you name it, I would notice that their mindset for preparation was very different than their mindset for performance. And there were many times where they were bringing their mindset for preparation into their mindset for performance.

So, we just started putting a line down a piece of paper and saying, “Hey, what do you need in preparation and what do you need in performance?” What we started to realize was that they were very different mindsets and often they were actually opposites. So, the preparation mind and performance mind, they weren’t just different. They were often like very, very polar and sort of had polarity in them.

And then as I started to study more and more elite performers and I’d watched documentaries and I’d study the great performers in music or in comedy or in sports, I would notice this trend that many of them, not even consciously, but they would actually set their mind for preparation and set their mind for performance. And then I did a deep, deep dive and took about four years to write the book formally but spent much more time thinking about this framework and using it with my clients as well. So, that’s sort of the background of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s a cool big idea there. So, the preparation mindset is different than the performance mindset, and we’ve got some nine particular distinctions we’re going to dig into shortly. But when you said you noticed some of your clients, they were in performance but some of the preparation stuff was getting in there, is that a bad thing? How do we think about that? Is it fine or do we want there to be a really crisp line between them? And what difference does that make?

Brian Levenson
I think what I started to notice, even with the pro athletes that I worked with, that many of them would bring their preparation mind into their performance and it would get in the way. So, for example, perfectionism. It would really help them to drill down on what they needed to do, how they needed to do it, as they were training their body, or they were training their technique, or they’re training their mind, yet when they got between the lines and they needed to execute and compete, they actually needed to be adaptable.

So, we’ve seen performers and, for your audience, I’m sure a lot of them have been in meetings or have been in sales calls, and what they need to do to prepare for that meeting, it might be perfectionistic, but when they get into that meeting, it might be completely different than how they imagined or how they planned, and they have to be adaptable. And if they try to perfect it, it will really get in the way of their performance.

And if we just go from a macro level and zoom out a little bit, we’re recording this in the middle of a pandemic, like there’s no perfecting a pandemic. Some people might try to perfect it but you have to be agile, you have to be adaptable. So, really, the ethos and the thesis behind the book is that what we think dictates when and how far we’re going to go and what we’re capable of when it’s time to deliver. And a lot of times we just tell people to be humble or be selfless and we don’t really think about the when.

And so, I saw with my clients in sports, and then, as I said, I do a lot of executive coaching now, my clients in business, whether they’re directors or VPs or at the C-suite level, they often need to shift their mind in preparation and performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you’re saying, “Hey, be humble, be selfless,” you’re saying, “Well, no, there’s a time you want to be humble and there’s a time where you just want to be the opposite of humble, and there’s a time when you want to be selfless and then there’s a time just want to be just the opposite of selfless, and match it up right,” is what you’re saying.

Brian Levenson
Pete, have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs or any those personality assessments?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Brian Levenson
Like, on one hand, I love them and on the other hand, I hate them. And it’s a love-hate relationship because I love data and learning more about myself, and that part I love, but I hate being put into this box, and I read it and I’m like, “Well, sometimes I’m like that and sometimes I’m not.” Like, let’s take introversion and extroversion, for example. I’m like, “Well, sometimes I’m very extroverted and sometimes I’m very introverted.”

Now, I don’t go into introvert and extrovert in the book, but I just really believe in the power of polarity, and I think when is so important when you’re talking about performance, and how you’re going to prepare, and when you need to bring out a part of you that might be more humble, and when do you need to bring out a part of you that might be more arrogant. And I think that when really dictates how far we’re going to go.

Pete Mockaitis
As you speak, I’m thinking about times I’ve been particularly humble and particularly arrogant, and I hope I matched it up appropriately.

Brian Levenson
Yeah, because if you don’t, it’s a disaster, right? It’s a disaster. If you’re arrogant at the wrong time, first of all, you seem like a jerk, and then, second of all, like that’s probably a time when you needed to learn and grow and develop, and I think about young people, for example. I know a lot of your listeners might be in their 30s, I’m in my 30s. I felt throughout my career that I’m often the youngest person in the room.

This morning I was on a board call for a nonprofit, and I was like the youngest person in the room. And I think sometimes when we’re the youngest person in the room, we feel like we have to overshare, add value, like bring something bigger to the room to compensate, perhaps, for our inexperience, or, perhaps we feel like an impostor. And I found actually it’s the exact opposite, like we need to be aware of what room we’re in, how we can add value to that room, while also understanding there’s a time to learn and grow and develop, and then there’s another time to share with conviction. And figuring out when you do those is essential.

Look, I have a podcast. My job as a podcast host is to ask questions and be very curious and learn, learn, learn. And then when I put on this hat, and you’re asking me questions, I need to share and I need to be willing to share everything that I’ve learned.

Pete Mockaitis
And you nailed that, and I’ve noticed that when I’ve been a guest on other podcasts. I just sort of didn’t make the same shift, it’s like, hey, I’m comfy, I’m behind the mic, and so I’m just sort of curious, like, “I don’t know. Well, you know, I think I would say…” And it’s like that’s not what people want when you’re the guest, like, “No, I’d actually like for you to be confident and have the answers that you’ve thought through and establish your best thinking on as opposed to just kind of, ‘Huh, I’m just thinking out loud.’” I mean, some shows you might want to do that but I noticed that was a pause I had, is that, “Oh, I would say…” it’s like, “No, Pete, you’ve actually thought about this for many hours and you’re not just making it up on the spot, and you don’t want to convey that as a guest.” So, hey, I guess humble and arrogant right there.

Brian Levenson
Yeah, Pete, let’s use curiosity because I know you are a very curious person. You’ve done hundreds of these episodes, a lot of episodes. You don’t get to, where are you at, like 800, how many episodes have you done?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, 650-ish.

Brian Levenson
Six hundred fifty, right? Like, you don’t record that many episodes without curiosity. You’re trying to learn, you’re trying to grow, you’re trying to develop, and there’s a time to have conviction in them, there’s a time to share your ideas and whatever you’ve learned along your way. Actually, I think about humble and arrogant because we’re often told just to be humble, and we’ve all been around that guy or gal who was just trying to be modest, and they’re saying, “Oh, I’m just humble,” and we’re saying, “You’re actually really not but you say you are.”

And, actually, what we need right now from our leader is not someone who is going to be humble. Right now, we need you to give us direction. Right now, we need you to give us some answers and some solutions. There was actually an interesting study that was in the Harvard Business Review that talked about when being a humble leader backfires, and it can backfire. And I’m not saying I don’t want people to be humble. Trust me, I love humility as a value and as a trait, but I just don’t think you need it all the time. And so, understanding when we tap into these different sides of ourselves is really key.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, actually, I have not read that article. When does being a humble leader backfire?

Brian Levenson
When people are looking for answers.

Pete Mockaitis
And when answers are like, “Well, hey, you know what? We’re going to explore, we’ve going to engage, we’re going to listen, we’re going to do our research, we’re going to see where the science leads.” Like, “Give me the answers.”

Brian Levenson
For sure. There are times when team members are expecting leaders to be powerful and expecting them to say, “You know what, let’s go forth. Let’s do this. Let’s maybe be a little fearless.” And in those moments, if you’re being fearful, or you’re being humble, or you’re being too careful, or you’re being too cautious, or you’re asking too many questions in the room, there does come a time where leadership requires us to step into something and take a risk.

And if you’re just going to be humble and look for a meritocracy or look for everybody to have a say, you might actually not be leading. And so, I think there are absolutely times where leaders need to step away from humility and, trust me, there are plenty of times we need to step away from arrogance. I’ve worked for arrogant bosses before and that’s not a fun experience either.

So, the book is really about the power of and, the power of when, the power of polarity. And beyond the book, I use this just like a framework for how I operate with most of the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so lay it on us. We talk about humble versus arrogant, so we got nine shifts or continua or polarities. Tell us, how should I be thinking about these in terms of like an axis, or a continuum, or a polarity, or a shift? And what are the nine specific shifts?

Brian Levenson
So, I think there are nine shifts and I don’t think they are the nine. And when we were thinking about the book cover and the title, I pushed back on the publisher, I was like, “I don’t want there to be the nine.” So, we settled on nine, I sort of met them halfway. And the reason for that is I don’t believe that these are nine shifts that everybody should use. They might have different jobs and different requirements, and these are the nine that were the most compelling, they were the most backed by research and backed by anecdotal evidence, and that I saw also with my clients.

So, we have humble and arrogant, we have work and play, we have analysis and instinct, perfectionistic and adaptable, experiment and trust in process, and comfortable and uncomfortable, future and present, fear and fearless, and selfish and selfless. But there are many other shifts that we cut out of the book. I’m just big on truth telling and these are the nine that we settled on that would be most impactful for the reader. But I hope that people finish reading the book and think, “Wow, there’s actually a different shift that I need to make that’s actually not listed in the book.” That, to me, would be a sign of success.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, with those nine pairs, the first word is generally associated with the vibe we’re going for within preparation, like, “I want to be humble. I want to have some fear. I want to be perfectionistic, etc. while I’m prepping.” And so, that might be with, “I’m writing the speech,” “I’m rehearsing the speech,” “I am practicing basketball,” “I’m rehearsing the instrument,” “I’m thinking through the plan.” That’s what preparation feels like versus performances. It’s like, “All eyes are on you and it’s time to dazzle.” Is that a fair encapsulation there?

Brian Levenson
Yeah, there’s three distinctions that I would make just so we all have clarity and we’re all speaking the same language. So, for me, preparation is the action or process of making ourselves ready and competent. It involves learning, growing, developing, improving. It’s about being ready and, hopefully, working on our competence. Performance is much more about execution. It’s about the execution of actions that will be evaluated in some way, so I do think there is judgment, there is evaluation involved when we are performing. But, at the end of the day, a performance is about execution.

And then there’s a third distinction that I do think is important to point out which is practice. So, practice, to me, is actually a combination of both the preparation mind and the performance mind. Because a great practice will be an action of working at something repeatedly so that we become more proficient. So, the argument is the book is that you need to become proficient at both the preparation mind and the performance mind so you need to practice both of these.

You mentioned getting ready for a speech. Yes, we need to practice what it’s like to be in front of an audience whether that’s our family, or our dog, or our friends, like, let’s actually practice. Dogs are probably a little harder to be judged because they’re probably just going to bark at you and run out. But try to find ways to practice your performance so that you can feel what it’s like to be evaluated and to be judged.

And then there’s also that time where you’re away on your own, working on your material, really making sure you’re perfecting your craft, and you’re taking care of everything you need to take care of so that you’re learning, you’re growing, you’re developing. And so, we need both the execution and the learning and growing if we want to be effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then can we say a few more words about each of the nine shifts? Not the nine, but nine. And so, we talked about humble versus arrogant. In terms of humble, hey, we’re learning, we’re growing, we’re curious during preparation. And we’re arrogant, like, “Confidently, this is the point of view that I’ve settled on and that could be compelling.” So, lay it on us some of the others here.

Brian Levenson
Sure. And before we move on from arrogant, I know arrogant triggers people and it gets them up in a roar often. And there’s a reason we used arrogant instead of confident, and it’s because we believe that it takes confidence to be humble. If you’re truly humble, it actually is an act of confidence. It’s a belief in yourself that you can learn and you can grow. For us, arrogance is this exaggerated sense of your own abilities.

And I think anybody who’s done great things in this world has to exaggerate what they believe in, and a lot of times our society will say that they can’t do what they think that they can do. So, I think there does need to be arrogance. And I, also, would argue that our society prefers humility. It prefers the person that says, “No, I can’t do that,” or, “Let me take a step back.” And it’s often the people that are willing to dare greatly and to go for it, and say, “You know what, I think I can do this,” and it’s way safer to just stay humble. It’s way safer to stay humble than to go into this space to say, “No, I believe I can do it even if society is saying we can’t.”

So, I’d like to make sure that people understand how I think about arrogance because, once again, I think we’ve all seen arrogance run amuck and it can really backfire when it does.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s very well said in terms of when maybe naysayers, like I guess I’m thinking there’s a point early on in the podcast, it’s like, “Wow, this is a lot of work and I need help, yet I don’t have much revenue or budget. What can I do? Surely, there must be exceptionally talented English-speaking people in developing nations I can hire to help out with this.” And some say, “That’s a really bad idea, Pete.” Like, “Hey, maybe data entry is something they can handle.” First of all, I thought that was a little bit, I think, maybe conceited. I thought that was a little bit of an attitude.

And, secondly, I thought, “You know what, I’m looking at English newspapers in other countries that are excellent, have excellent writing so I think this can be done.” And so, in a way, I was arrogant in that I defied the conventional wisdom of the podcast Facebook groups and such, but it totally worked out. They’ve been amazing. I love you, guys. So, yeah, that’s a better spin on arrogant. I like that.

Brian Levenson
We talk about curiosity because I think we both really value curiosity. And I love curiosity for preparation and I need to be curious. And it sounds like, “Okay, I’m curious. What is possible out there?” And then there needs to be a time to be convicted. And that conviction is often greeted or birthed from your curiosity. So, I think the arrogance in performance, if done right, will be birthed from humility and preparation.

So, done right, a lot of these shifts will actually serve the other shifts because if you’re just arrogant all the time, you’re going to miss the opportunity, you probably are thinking, “I’ll just do it all myself. I don’t even need help. Like, I’m good.” But the humility to say, “Hey, I need help if I want to get this to where I want to get it to.” You needed that and it allows you to be convicted when it’s time to execute and pull the trigger on something.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. And there’s humility in terms of, “Hey, you know what, I’ve tried it. So far, it hasn’t quite worked. Is this even possible?” I guess one way we all learn is by asking some opinions. Another way I’ll learn is to see, “Is it being done anywhere on this Earth?” Like, “Does that thing exist?” And so then, in that humility, this is why I like this idea, Brian, humility does lead to arrogance in terms of I had a period in which I was wide open to learning and exploring and seeing what was what, and being willing to be wrong. And then after having accumulated a lot of research, I’m like, “Well, holy crap, this is totally possible. I’m going for it even if people say I’m nuts.”

Brian Levenson
Like, we all have these things that are holding us back in some regard, and we’re very quick to share with others why they shouldn’t do something perhaps because we haven’t gone and done that thing as well. And so, I’m an idea guy, and I can tell you when you’re an idea guy and you share your ideas with others, the first thing they’re going to go to, most people, is why it won’t work. And I think it’s often their own stuff coming up as to why it won’t work. Sometimes it’s really good feedback and I know you care a lot about feedback, and, trust me, I do.

This will actually dovetail nicely into some of your shifts, which was your original question. Analysis and experimenting are two preparation mindsets that you’re even talking about. Like, “I ran the analysis. I tried to figure out, all right, what else is out there. I experimented. I tinkered.” And when you do the analysis, that’s when you can trust your gut. That’s when you can rely on instinct. I almost think of analysis as a mind experience. It is, “Hey, what am I thinking? How am I thinking it?” And then instinct is more of a body experience. And so, there is a time where we do need to go to the gut instead of the head.

And then I think experimenting is no different. We need to test. We need to try things. We need to try to discover. You said, “I need to see the possibilities. What’s out there? I need to experiment,” so that you can then trust your process and have an unquestioning belief and resolve in your process and the systems in which you set it up. And, for me, this is always a back-and-forth so we don’t always just stay in trust and process. We want to evolve, we want to get better, we want to experiment, we want to tinker, and keep improving.

And when the lights are on and you’re interviewing me, now is not the time for you to tinker with your process. Now is not the time to try to find a new way to do it. It’s about trusting that you’re ready, that you’re competent, and that you can do it. So, those are two other shifts that I’m hearing from you as I hear you talk.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well said. It’s not the time to experiment. I remember I used to do a fair bit of keynoting on college campuses, and I don’t do much of that anymore, but I remember there is a big conference for fraternity and sorority people. And so, the idea is that if you’re a speaker and you’re keynoting at that conference, you’d just be exposed to like tons of different schools and groups with budget, and so you might be able to book a dozen or two keynotes off of one speech as sort of a promotional thing.

And then I remember someone from the agency said, “You know, I didn’t think it needed to be said but I guess it does that this huge keynote that sells all the gigs for a year is not the time to be experimenting with new material. It’s the time to bring your greatest hits that you know are absolute gold so people will say, ‘Wow, that person was great. Let’s book him on our campus, or let’s book him at our fraternity/sorority convention.” there is a time and a place for the experimenting and then for delivering the goods.

And I think comedians is another great example there because, well, you started the comedians. I’ll let you take it. What’s the story there?

Brian Levenson
Yeah. So, I was actually, as you were telling the story, I was thinking of Chris Rock. And what Chris Rock does is he goes and experiments at a small little club in New Jersey and tests over and over and bombs, and just tries ridiculous stuff so that when he gets to the HBO Special, he can trust his process and let go. And so, I think comedians are great at working on their craft and constantly bombing and experimenting with new material. So, I would bring that back to your situation.

The other story that I share in the book is my own. So, when I was a senior in high school, I was running for vice president of the student body, and I looked over and there were all these people running. And even the advisor, when I turned in my application, she goes, “Why are you running?” I’m like, “What do you mean why am I running?” She said, “You’re never going to win,” which, of course, fueled me to try to do it. And she didn’t know I was the eighth-grade president of my middle school. She didn’t know I had the experience to be in this role.

However, the difference between me and eighth grade when I ran as president was, I wasn’t expected at all. I came in there, I went over my speech over and over and over again, I perfected it, I got feedback. I did all this work and then I delivered a killer speech. And in eighth grade, you do an eighth grade, then you do seventh grade, sixth grade, and I was like standing ovation-type stuff, which is like maybe it’s when I peaked in life was eighth grade, but it was a moment and still people remember my speech, which is crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, I want to hear it right here.

Brian Levenson
Brian “is the bomb” Levenson for president. I may be small but I have tall ideas. Like, I did amazing. And for that senior year, it’s four years later, or five years later, I didn’t prepare at all. And I got on that stage, and I looked over, and I was like, “Shoot, I don’t have this at all.” And so, I just winged it, completely experimented and it was awful. I was terrible and I had no shot.

And I think, similar to the comedian, or similar to anyone who has to give a speech, and we all have to do some form of speaking in our life whether it’s a wedding or a funeral or a board meeting or whatever it might, I really believe that when you prepare and you experiment and you play with all the stuff, that allows you to earn the right to then trust your process and let go of it.

So, Chris Rock is a really good example of somebody who constantly does that. Jerry Seinfeld has an experiment calendar where he marks an X every single day that he creates, and he really just believes that a lot of comedy or writing is constantly experimenting and creating. So, I think Seinfeld and Chris Rock are both good examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there’s a lot of good stuff there in terms of like it is back and forth, so you had a victory. And this is, I don’t know if I made this up, but I’ve experienced it a couple of times and I’ve seen it with others what I call the second-time syndrome, which was you do something great the first time because you’re kind of worried. You’re not quite sure you got it so you put a lot of time and effort, you learn, you grow, you prep, you figure it out, and then you nail it. You’re like, “Okay, I’m awesome at this.”

And then the second time, you don’t do those preparation things because you think, “Well, hey, I was great the first time, so naturally I’m just going to be great the second time.” And the second time is actually way worse than the first time because you sort of overestimated what’s innate versus what’s the hard work and prep that needs to happen.

So, I have suffered from that myself a couple of times as well as others. And your student government example really resonates in that way. It’s that we do need to keep going back and forth here from preparation to performance, and then back to preparation, and then back to performance.

Brian Levenson
Yeah. And, by the way, I lost. I didn’t win.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I just assumed.

Brian Levenson
It did not end well. My friend, Michael Burns, won. Good for you, Michael. But, look, I think this is fear and fearlessness. And we often say, “Oh, just be fearless. Just go for it. Just live fearlessly.” And I don’t really believe in that, and I think your story is a good example of that. If you don’t have a healthy dose of fear and you don’t have a concern or any apprehension for the potential consequences or losses, you’re not going to give it the attention that it deserves, so fear is actually really helpful in preparation.

And we all know that it can be crippling when we’re in performance, and that’s when we need to shift into fearlessness. So, for me, fearlessness is a boldness. It’s being brave or courageous and not really caring about, “If I lose…” And that is healthy in performance if we’ve done the work and been fearful in preparation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, as we’ve been chatting through this, I think we’ve hit the majority of these shifts. We’ve talked about humble to arrogant, perfectionism to adaptable, analysis to instinct, experimenting and trust in the process, fear to fearlessness. How about selfish to selfless?

Brian Levenson
Yeah, selfish gets a bad rap. We tell people, “Stop being selfish.” And, for me, we have to take care of ourselves first if we want to pour into anyone else. Like, I work with a lot of executives who they’re never taking care of themselves. They’re always focused on their people.

I work with head coaches of sports teams, and they’re always focused on, “What are our players doing?” The executives are often thinking of, “What do my team need?” And they get burned out and they’re unhealthy, and then they can’t serve and be selfless. And so, for me, we really need to be selfish in preparation, which is a concern, primarily, with our own interests, benefits, and welfare. And if we do that, if we take care of ourselves, then we can serve other people.

But a lot of people, and I even think about, like, I know a lot of women who have left their career, and their whole lives is to serve their kids. And, look, I’ve got two small kids at home. Being a full-time mom, it’s tough. And I think anyone who questions that, during the pandemic, is now learning how hard that job is. It is really, really difficult.

And a lot of the women that I know, I often have these conversations with them about, “Hey, what are you doing for yourself?” because they’re living so much for their kids and they don’t always take care of themselves, and then it can backfire. So, we can see it in business, we can see it in our personal life, we need to take care of ourselves and then be outward-focused and think about how we can serve others.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I totally buy that in terms of when your needs are being met very well, you have a lot of energy, creativity, sort of loving generosity, better ability to listen and be present as opposed to be distracted by the fact that you’re hungry or exhausted or need to be doing all kinds of things you’re super behind on. Like, you’re totally better-equipped to be selfless and help others when you’ve invested there.

Brian Levenson
Pete, you even sent along this document that had all this great information about what makes this conversation great. And one of the elements of the document was, “Hey, make sure you’re good before we hit the record button.” So, I’ve got this, people aren’t going to be able to see, but I’ve got this big jug of water to make sure I’m hydrated, I went to the bathroom before, I got on here a few minutes early even though we had some tech issues. Like, I wanted to make sure that I was taking care of myself.

I’ve got two small kids at home. I told my wife, “Hey, I’m recording a podcast.” I locked the door to make sure they don’t barge in here and interrupt it. Like, there are things we have to take care of. And I’ll tell you, as a parent, I have had those experiences. My wife turned to me at one point when we had our second kid, and said, “Brian, are you okay?” And I was like, “Man, I’m tired.” And she’s like, “Yeah. When was the last time you did something for yourself?” Like, what an awesome wife, first of all. And, second of all, she was right, and I needed to start focusing on what I was doing to take care of me so that I can be there for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s perfect. Well, so then theoretically that’s cool. We got nine or more shifts and a very different vibe when you are preparing versus when you’re performing. So, how does one just make that shift on command, like, “Oh, I’m now going to be selfish. Oh, now I’m going to be selfless. Oh, now I’m in analysis mode, and, oh, now I’m on instinct mode”? How do you pull that off?

Brian Levenson
Yeah, it’s hard. It takes work. I think everything worth doing, typically, takes work. And so, in the book, I’ve got a bunch of exercises. If you’re an exercise-type person, I have a workbook. I live in the how with my clients, like, “All right, how do we actually put these into place?” But I’ll just go to that selfish and selfless one. First, I had to be aware of it, I had to notice it. And then, from the notice and the awareness, I had to be intentional with what I was doing and how I was setting up my days and how I was showing up for myself. And so, I think it starts with awareness.

Then there are processes that you can integrate into your day. I even talk about winning the week instead of winning the day. I think a lot of people talk about winning the morning, and, “What are you doing every day to be successful?” I don’t know about you, but my days can change and I need to be adaptable. So, I often think about winning the week and what that looks like for myself, and where are these shifts playing for me throughout the week. But there’s a ton of exercises that you can get into.

Like, for me, self-talk is a big one. How am I talking to myself? Let’s talk about arrogance. Third person self-talk has been studied and researched, as in like literally saying, “Hey, Brian, you’re good, you’ve got this. You know how to handle this situation,” is a really good example for arrogance. Visualization is really good. We didn’t talk about future and present, but visualization is a how-to for future focus. Breathing and meditation is great for being in the present.

There are all these exercises that I talk about in the book that are how-to’s. Those are three. I’m happy to go into more of them but I think a lot of it, it takes work. So, one of the other shifts is work and play. Like, you need to put in the work and preparation if you want to earn the right to play and to play with joy. But, yeah, there’s a lot in there. I live in the how world for a long time and there are exercises that you can practice. But it always starts with, “Hey, what do I need to work on?”

So, if someone is listening to this, I would say pick three. Pick three of these shifts that you think are essential for you and then go to work on them and start bringing in tension to them, and then you can shift them and you can change them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe let’s hit visualization real quick. Well, I think, in many ways, just knowing, “Hey, there’s a difference between preparation and performance. This is more of the prep vibe, this is more of the performance vibe, and so I’m going to, now, deliberately choose to move away from analysis and adapt some instincts.” So, I think that’s huge just right there. Like, conscientiously deciding, “Hey, this is how I’m looking to be right now.” So, that’ll take you far right away.

Then, let’s talk about, so we got the visualization, the mindfulness, the self-talk, how do we do visualization well? I have a feeling, working with so many athletes, you might have some pro tips that we need. Lay it on us.

Brian Levenson
I’ll just share what I do. I warm them up by doing a lemon exercise to just show them the mind-body connection. So, we go through a whole experience where they have to visualize a lemon, and how it smells, what it tastes like, what it looks like, and we’re trying to activate the senses. So, great visualization often involves activating the senses because our mind doesn’t really know the difference between whether we’re imagining it and we’re visualizing it, or if we’re actually experiencing it. So, it’s one of the powers that does exist with visualization.

And, as you mentioned, athletes, Olympians, are really big on visualization because, for many of them, it’s very hard to simulate what it’s going to be like from an environment standpoint, let’s just use the Olympics as an example. They train four years for this event that lasts, for some of them, it can be one event, and that’s going to determine how successful they are so the have to put themselves in that situation as often as possible.

The Blue Angels, who fly fighter jets 350 to 700 miles an hour and are within feet of each other, doing flips and turns and all kinds of wild stuff, they use visualization because they know they have limited amount of time actually practicing in the plane because of expenses and because of a lot of other reasons, weather, etc. So, first of all, I just try to acknowledge and get them to understand the power of the mind-body connection.

Second, how I do it with my athletes that I work with is I’ll have them tell me an experience that was a great experience. Let’s use a basketball player as an example. So, they’ll explain to me the experience. What was it like before the game? What was it like in warmup? What were they feeling? Once again, we’re going to try to activate those senses.

And then we’ll go into the game and actually record an audio clip. And with the power of phones now, it’s really easy to record and send an audio, we’re even recording this, I can use my podcast equipment, but you don’t need that. You can do it on your phone. So, I’ll type it up for them, I’ll basically try to capture their emotions and their feelings and their senses, and then we’ll try to paint the picture of what a great performance looks like, and then we’ll record it. And mine typically run about five, seven minutes and they can listen to that before a performance, and they can close their eyes and see themselves performing, and use that future focus to visualize how they’re going to perform.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we get a real good description of a great performance memory, and then you’re trying to use the senses to make it all the more powerful and come alive there?

Brian Levenson
That’s correct.

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

Brian Levenson
It’s interesting because when I was thinking about this, I was really thinking about curiosity. And I do just value curiosity tremendously, so I love, “I have no secret talent. I’m only passionately curious” from Einstein. I just think that is, when in doubt, I try to go into my curious mind and it often serves me.

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

Brian Levenson
Yeah, I mentioned that humility study earlier, but I’ll give you something else around self-determination theory, which is what makes people motivated, what allows people to thrive, especially in organizations. And self-determination theory, typically, looks at people are most satisfied when they’re competent, when they have relatedness, and when they have autonomy.

So, competence, I think people have a good sense of what that means. It’s you know how to do your job, like you’re a competent podcaster. Okay, cool. Now, relatedness, “Are you building relationships? Are you part of something bigger than yourself?” I think all of us, as human beings, crave to be part of something bigger than ourselves. And then there’s autonomy, and just, “Do I have the freedom to go toward the things that I want to?” And so, that’s something that has been really helpful for my clients and helpful for myself as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Brian Levenson
So, for fiction, I always say I love The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I just find it to be a great read and something that really stuck with me as far as what leads to successful teams and businesses, and I think your audience may be familiar with that book.

Then there’s a book called The Master Plan by a guy named Chris Wilson. That book is fascinating. It’s about a guy who was arrested for murder and committed the crime and was in jail, life sentence, and got out. A little spoiler alert. But it’s all about his journey. And I think it’s really valuable to hear his perspective and how he got to where he’s at. And I just couldn’t put it down.
Range by David Epstein, I think, is an awesome book. And then I go to like what is a biography-type book that I love, and I love Open by Andre Agassi. So, they’re different types of books, and I like them all for different reasons.

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

Brian Levenson
There’s an app called Pocket which I love. I send out a newsletter so whenever I read a great article or watch a great video or get a piece of content online that I really like, I throw it into Pocket and it saves the content for me. And there are sometimes where I’ll see a headline for an article and I’ll be really intrigued and curious, but I won’t be able to read it right away, so I’ll throw that into Pocket. So, I was actually telling a client about it today, so that’s a tool that I use often.

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

Brian Levenson
Twitter and LinkedIn are probably the places I play most, so it’s @BrianLevenson at both of those places. And then my website for my company is called StrongSkills.co. You can learn more about the book, my podcast, the newsletter, and the business that I’m involved with and that I founded. So, StrongSkills.co it’s dot co not dot com. I always joke that the dot com was too expensive and it wasn’t worth paying for so we went with that co.

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

Brian Levenson
When I think about that idea of curiosity and conviction, and I think we all need to stay curious so that we earn the right to be convicted. And I think about the world where we are right now, and we’re in this pandemic, it’s hard to be convicted. It feels like things change every day. And so, if we can continue to be curious, especially as it relates to what’s going on socially in our society today as well, like let’s just stay curious and then be convicted. And I find that that usually works out for me, and I find when I usually am convicted before my curiosity, that’s where I tend to regret some of the things that I say. So, I’ll just leave people with the power of curiosity so that they can step into their own convictions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Brian, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your preparations and performances.

Brian Levenson
Thanks for having me, Pete.

647: Cal Newport: How to Break Free from Your Email Inbox

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Cal Newport says: "You don't need advice for how to deal with your overflowing inbox... You need to change the structure of your business so that your inbox is not overflowing."

Cal Newport reveals how the rise of email led to a productivity disaster and what we can do to change that.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How email changed the way we work for worse 
  2. Simple strategies for cutting down the email back-and-forth 
  3. Why we feel guilty when we don’t respond—and what to do about it 

 

About Cal

Cal Newport is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. In addition to researching cutting­ edge technology, he also writes about the impact of these innovations on our culture. Newport is the author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller, Digital Minimalism, which argues that we should be much more selective about the technologies we adopt in our personal lives, and Deep Work, which argues that focus is the new I.Q. in the modern workplace. 

Newport’s work has been published in over 25 languages and has been featured in many major publications, including the New York TimesWall Street JournalNew YorkerWashington Post, and Economist, and his long-running blog Study Hacks, which receives over 3 million visits a year. He’s also a frequent guest on NPR. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Cal Newport Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Cal, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Cal Newport
Well, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, I got to hear one of the most noteworthy things about you, which is an interesting comment to make in this day and age, is that you have no social media accounts. Can you tell us why and how it’s going for you?

Cal Newport
It’s true. I think I’m the last person under the age of 65 and above the age of 12, for which that’s true. I don’t know. I’ll tell you what, this has not been that bad of a period to not be on social media, I think, if you could measure cortisol levels and graph it somehow, you would have all of American culture, all American society, and then me, probably a good 50% below it because I’m just not exposed to the up-to-the-minute fretting and doom-scrolling. So, it’s been good.

So, basically, it turns out it’s allowed. Just for idiosyncratic reasons, a long time ago, I’m talking 2004, I just decided, “I think I’m not going to use social media,” which at that point that was not a fraught decision in 2004 because there was not that much social media but I just sort of stuck with it because, why not? And it’s given me this really interesting vantage point. I’m like an anthropologist able to look around me and watch the impact the social media on everyone’s lives with a little bit of distance. I mean, I’m the last people who’s actually never had an account who can actually study it with some distance.

And here’s what I’ll say, I know what’s going on in the world, I still have friends, I still find ways to be entertained, I still manage to sell books and run a business, so it might not be as bad as people fear.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’ll take it. And have there been any downsides, any regrets, anything you miss? Maybe you can’t miss it if you’ve never had it.

Cal Newport
No, not really. I’ll tell you what happened that helped reduced regret is the big social media platforms, they had initially had this claim that, “We’re valuable because of network effects. We’re the best way to connect with friends and family and we’re the platform where all your friends and family are, so if you’re not on Facebook or if you’re not on Instagram, you can’t connect with your friends and family.”

But they basically gave that up about five or six years ago, and said, “No, no, what we’re really about is entertainment. We’re kind of leveraging your social connections to learn the type of stuff you’re interested in but what we are is a stream of things to look at,” and most of these digital interactions with friends and family began to shift from social media over to tools like text message, or Zoom calls, or other types of tools like that which I do use.

And so, I’m not missing out on the original promise, which is, “This is how you keep up with friends and family,” because that is largely moved off of social platforms. Now, they’re just a highly addictive form of entertainment and, I don’t know, I think I found other ways to entertain myself so, so far so good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s talk about your latest work, A World Without Email. Provocative. Could you kick us off maybe with one of your surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made as you’re doing your research there?

Cal Newport
Well, I was surprised to discover the extent to which how we work today, which I call a hyperactive hivemind workflow, which is, put simply, work unfolds with a constant unstructured stream of ad hoc messaging, whether that’s delivered through email or Slack or whatever tool you want to use. I was surprised by the extent to which that way of working is basically arbitrary.

So, we assume all of this emailing and Slacking, like we do this because it’s a pain but it’s more productive, or this is how work gets done. If we didn’t always communicate with each other, if we weren’t constantly, “Here’s a message,” “Here’s an email,” “Here’s a reply,” “Here’s a CC,” that we’ll somehow be less productive. And it was rationally decided by managers and consultants, and at some point, people figured out this is a better way of working. It turns out that’s not true.

It largely emerged somewhat haphazardly, more it’s just a side effect of what this new tool made available and it interacted in an unpredictable way with just human nature, and you can document this. But, basically, we stumbled into this world of sort of constant, ongoing, unstructured conversation. And then we look backwards and try to justify it and live with it.

And one of the big claims in this book is that there’s nothing fundamental about, “Let’s put an email address, associate it with every person. Let’s put everyone on a Slack channel and just rock and roll to figure things out.” There’s nothing fundamental about that being the best way to do knowledge work. And, in fact, when you really look closely at it, it’s actually a pretty terrible way of doing it for a lot of factors. There are many other ways you could approach it. So, I think that degree to which this is just, in some sense, email is decision that we work this way and not our own was definitely a liberating discovery for me as I got deeper into this topic.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. All right. So, we just kind of fell into it. And so, lay it on us, so why is it terrible? What makes email so detrimental to knowledge worker productivity?

Cal Newport
Well, the first thing I’ll further clarify, just so we have like a foundation for the discussion, is the title is sort of provocatively succinct when I say A World Without Email, but what I really mean, and this would be a less sexy title, is a world without the hyperactive hivemind workflow that email introduced. So, when I say a world without email, what I mean is a working world in which constant unstructured unscheduled conversation is not at the core of how we get things done.

The problem with that workflow, that hyperactive hivemind workflow, is that it forces us to switch cognitive context constantly. Say that four times fast. Because if you have to be maintaining dozens of these ongoing asynchronous, unstructured, unscheduled conversations, all these different threads, because that’s how everything gets figured out, from figuring out how to deal with a new client, to scheduling something, to pulling together bullet points, I mean, all this is happening on asynchronous threads, unstructured, unscheduled, just messages going back and forth, the only way for work to move forward is you have to constantly be monitoring and tending these threads.

That’s why when you look at the data, you see that people check their email inbox, on average, something once every six minutes. It’s not a rational behavior, it’s not a lack of willpower, it’s the only way you can keep up with so much ongoing concurrent communications is you have to keep checking. The problem is every time you check an inbox, you check a Slack channel, you induce a context shift within your brain. So, you’re switching your attention from the primary thing you’re working on to an inbox full of messages, most of which you can’t address right there in that moment.

And then you’re trying to bring your attention back to the main thing, that creates a huge pileup within your brain that reduces your effectiveness, that stresses you out, it makes you anxious, it makes it harder for you to think. So, we basically designed an approach to work that accidentally really reduces our ability to actually do work. We just cannot maintain these two parallel tracks of constantly monitoring communication while also trying to work on other things. We’re not wired for that, it goes against our sort of fundamental neural architecture, and I think it’s been a real big hindrance to both productivity but also people’s happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I’m curious. We had Dave Crenshaw on the show recently talk about the myth of multitasking and talked a bit about switching costs. Can you dig into that a little bit sort of just how costly is it when we do that? Do we lose a few seconds or something much greater?

Cal Newport
I would say it’s much greater. It’s hard to exactly quantify but every time you’re doing one of those email checks, you might induce 10 to 15 minutes of notably reduced cognitive capacity, where one-half of your mind is still trying to figure out, “Well, what about this message from our boss?” And we’ve all had that experience of writing emails in our head, which is like a real indication of our mind. It sees these open loop social communications. It wants to have to deal with that.

Now, the issue is if you’re checking your inbox on average once every six minutes, that means you never escape that effect. So, the typical knowledge worker is basically spending the vast majority of their time in a significantly reduced cognitive state. It’s almost as if every 30 minutes, you walk by and gave everyone in your office a shot, “Here, take some whiskey,” right? It’s less fun but it kind of has a similar effect. So, we’re talking about not, “Oh, I’m wasting a few minutes.” We’re talking instead like maybe you’re at 50% of what you could produce.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in that ballpark of 50%, okay, that’s striking. And could you share, is there any provocative studies or experiments or bits of research that can put an exclamation point on this?

Cal Newport
Well, the idea that there are these switching costs goes is something that goes back to research from even the early 20th century. But there was a researcher named Sophie Leroy who more recently really applied this idea of switching costs to exactly the context of working in an office. And she had a really interesting background.

I tell her story in the book because I spent some time interviewing her. She had actually been in academia, she had been working on her degree, and then she went and worked in industry. And then when she came back to academia from industry, she said, “Man, there’s this thing going on out there that wasn’t like it was before with all of this messaging,” this was the early 2000s, “We have to study that.”

And so, she had this dual background where she had a business background, she was an organizational management but she’d also trained in psychology so she understood the brain, and she exactly was quantifying what happens when you do this context switching and you’re trying to do actual office work. So, she had subjects come in to do this research, and they were giving them office work style tasks like reading resumes and trying to summarize and rank candidates, like the type of stuff you would really do in knowledge work, and they would interrupt them.

So, the researcher would come in and they would interrupt them. They had various ways of doing it but it would be, “Hey, you forgot to fill out this form that we need for our research.” And they could really precisely measure the impact on their performance, so the groups that got interrupted and the groups that didn’t. And you could just see that performance, you can see it drop, and you can just watch the numbers as it drops.

They recall less information. When they’re working on puzzles, they make more mistakes. And so, Sophie Leroy’s research really makes clear the degree to which these switches, boom, you just watch performance graphs just drop.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then tell us, what is the superior alternative?

Cal Newport
So, once we understand the issue is the workflow, the good thing about that is that it takes off a lot of sort of common responses off the table. So, when you understand, like, “Oh, the hyperactive hivemind, this fundamental way that the way we organize work and identifying and assign and review tasks, the way we do this is just messaging back and forth.”

Like, when you understand that is the underlying way you do work, then you realize that superficial fixes won’t get you there. Let’s say, “Let’s talk about etiquette, let’s talk about norms, let’s talk about turning off notifications, let’s talk about checking your email in batches, let’s talk about having a rule that says don’t expect you to answer emails after 5:00 or whatever.” None of that is going to solve the underlying problem so long as the underlying way that you organize work is unstructured ad hoc messaging.

So, in the book, what I really push is forget those superficial fixes, forget the etiquette, forget the norms. You got to actually replace, you have to replace the underlying workflow, “This is how we do this type of work. This is how we identify, assign, and review tasks.” You have to replace it with something better than the hyperactive hivemind. You don’t need advice for how to deal with your overflowing inbox more efficiently. You need to change the structure of your business so that that inbox is not overflowing.

And, basically, two-thirds of the book gets into principles for how to redesign whether it’s in your own life as an employee, or if you’re an entrepreneur that runs your own company, or if you’re an executive of a big team, “How do you begin this re-engineering process? How do you begin seeing your work in terms of these different processes?” And we can actually talk about each process, “This is how we’re going to do this. This is how the information is going to flow. No, we don’t just figure this out on email. For this, we have weekly status meetings. We have a shared document. We have this…” whatever it is.

There are tons of examples that you begin to explicitly engineer how work happens in a way that minimizes all this ad hoc unscheduled messaging, stops all the context shifting, and makes work much more sequential, “This then this, then this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s really beautiful in that I personally had some experiences with that, it’s like, “It seems like I was sending a lot of emails back and forth about this. That needs to stop. How would I go about stopping that? Well, I guess we’re going to make a standard process associated with boom, boom, boom.” And it’s worked. It’s so funny, like you and I, that we have this podcast interview, like we could’ve had a lot of emails between us. We had zero which makes me feel pretty cool, I’m talking to the no-email guy.

And we pulled that off because of the systems and the processes and the automation. It’s sort of like there’s an invitation, you pick a time, and then you get all of the info. And then, on my end, me and my team are thinking about, “Okay, what do we want to ask Cal? Okay, and then you’re going to send me the draft of some things, and I’m going to edit those things, and then I’m going to study it up the day of, and away we go.”

So, lay on us these principles and some examples for, hey, before we’re emailing about this thing, and after, here’s how it gets done.

Cal Newport
Well, let’s make it really proximate to what we’re doing right now, right? So, I’m doing a book launch, so there’s a lot of podcasts to be done, and I have someone at my publisher that I work with to help sort of schedule the podcasts and keep that calendar, or this or that. We had to figure out a process. So, the very easy thing to do would be she could just email me, like, “Oh, here’s one. Does this time work? Here’s another podcast. What do you think about this?” But I said, “Okay, that’s not going to work. There’s going to be so much back and forth emailing that I’ll constantly be context shifting.”

So, we created a process where I thought about the problem. And I had tried before with a previous book. Just to be concrete, I had tried giving the publisher access to a calendar, or I had made open, like, “Okay, here’s times I’m available,” and they would schedule things directly. I didn’t quite like that because I wanted more control over when I schedule things because I have a more nuanced understanding of my calendar.

So, what we did this time is we have a shared document and it has different sections. And what happens is I check it a couple of times a week. She’ll put into the top section, like pending, “Okay, here’s a podcast,” or, “Here’s the link to schedule it,” or, “Here are some time you’re available. Which one works for you?” And I just go into that shared document and just annotate it, like, “This time works for me. Okay, I went to the link and set up this interview. Here’s a question.”

So, I basically go into this shared document twice a week, spend about 20 minutes in it, and all of this happens. Now, it might seem like, “Well, what’s the point? Is it really that hard to just have figured this all out on email?” And one of the big principles, to argue from the book, is, yes, that matters. So, to take those two checks that are 20 minutes and to spread it out over 20 emails is a huge difference in terms of the impact on your cognitive performance because those 20 emails are unfolding throughout the week. It’s a conversation you have to keep tending. To tend it means you have to keep checking your inbox, and it’s a thread that’s kind of an open loop in your mind. There’s a huge drag to having you go back and do those back-and-forth communications.

Which brings me to a larger point about this type of process engineering is that it’s annoying, it’s almost always less flexible and convenient than just emailing that’s why this hyperactive hivemind is so entrenched because it’s easy and it’s flexible and it’s really convenient. But flexible, easy, and convenient in the history of business and technology rarely is the formula for getting the best work done or getting the most work done.

And so, example after example in my book come back to the same point which is it’s like often a pain to say, “Let’s actually think about the right way to do this in a way that minimizes all these messages.” It’s a pain. It might generate some hard edges. There might be some exceptions where bad things happen. Still worth it. Still almost always worth it because, again, the way to get the most value out of your brain is almost differently going to be something different than what would be the easiest way to organize work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I dig it. So, we think through it. And do you have any particular prompts or guidelines or steps associated with how we might do some good structured thinking and collaboration about, “Hey, what is the process by which this thing gets done?”

Cal Newport
Well, one thing I talk about is when you’re trying to optimize a process, think about context switching as being something you’re trying to minimize. So, just like if you’re optimizing a manufacturing process, you might try to minimize like the time required to produce a car. In knowledge work processes, you want to minimize context switches, “So, how many times am I going to switch my attention to this thing in order to get it to completion?”

And so, if your process involves back-and-forth emails and there’s going to be a dozen back-and-forth emails to figure something out, you’re now context shifting a dozen times to complete this process. So, if you could come up with an alternative where maybe, “Okay, I spend some time in a shared document for 20 minutes twice,” you’ve now reduced the amounts of times you have to shift your attention to this and back significantly, and that makes a big deal. And then the other thing to try to optimize is the degree to which you have to keep track of things in your mind or you feel like things are somewhat unscheduled or out of control.

So, the more you can actually have a sense of comforting structure, “Oh, I know how this works. It’s in the system. It’ll come up automatically. I don’t have to keep track of it in my mind. I don’t have to hope that I’ll just wait to get an email at some point, that’s just like, ‘Hey, what’s going on with this thing?’” That you feel like, “This is controlled. It’s not just in my mind. I don’t feel overwhelmed by various things,” that’s another thing to optimize.

So, those are the two general metrics you want to push people: less context shifting, less sense that things are just up in the air, in your mind, or ad hoc, or out of control.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got it. So, those are the things that we’re optimizing for in terms of let’s minimize those bits. And so, I guess there’s probably a million different ways we can make a process to get something done. But could you maybe share a few of your favorites in terms of, “Wow, these are maybe pretty flexible. They cover a wide array of stuff, work that needs to get done, as well as they’re pretty darn time-leveraged when you do it”?

Cal Newport
Well, one thing that seemed to come up a lot was making task assignments more transparent. So, we often use email to assign tasks and to check on tasks, we keep track of tasks just because they’re messages in our inbox. That’s where we keep track of everything on our plate. When you look at companies or groups that have moved all these tasks out of just people’s individual inbox and onto shared like task boards or project management systems, there’s often huge wins to be had.

And you can go and look at a Trello board for your team, or a Flow board, or an Asana board if you’re more techie, and you can actually see, like, “Here are all the things we’re doing, and here’s their status, and here’s who’s working on what.” Once a day you get together and you all look at it, and say, “Okay, where are we? What do you need? Here’s a new thing. Who should take this on or shall we leave it over here?” That seems like a basic thing but it makes a huge difference.

I profiled a guy who runs a marketing company and when they shifted. I talk about how they shifted from their inbox, just everything was kind of in there, to these Trello boards, one per project. And I actually had them show me the Trello boards, and I go through them, and I kind of go through, “Okay, here’s specifically what the columns are and here’s what’s under it.”

The relief they got when now their workflow is not about, “Open your inbox and rock and roll with messages,” but, instead, “Go to the Trello board for the project you want to work on, look at the status of things, take what’s assigned to you, make some progress on it, update the information. All the information you need to make progress is here on the Trello board attached to different cards. You don’t have to go find it in an inbox.”

Just the relief they got from that being the workflow, “Oh, I’m working on this project now. Here’s all the information on this project. Here’s what I’m supposed to be doing. Here’s everything I need to know to do this. Let me work on this. Let me update this board. All right, I’m done. Next project.” You switch over to that board. It was so much more relieving than, instead, just having this inbox open where, “Yeah, you’re hearing about that project but also other projects, and everything is coming in, and the whole thing is riled together.” So, task boards come up a lot in groups and teams that have moved away from a hivemind.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I’m wondering if we zoom into the individual contributor, if they don’t feel they’ve got a whole lot of power or influence to restructure the fundamental processes of how stuff is flowing, do you have any pro tips on how to navigate those conversations or bring it up?

Cal Newport
Well, one of the things I actually talk about is running your own shadow processes individually and having basically an invisible interface to everyone else. So, let’s say you’re at a big company and your boss is a jerk, he’s like he’s not going to want to hear this. He’s like, “I don’t care. I want you to answer my emails. It makes my life easier.” You can internally have these processes. And I talk a lot about this, like personal task boards or personal communication protocols where you really work out your various processes and how information comes in and out of them, how you keep track of things to try to keep yourself out of your inbox.

And instead of actually trying to explain it to everybody and say with autoresponders, like, “Here’s how I’m doing it now and this is how it’s going to work,” you just do it internally. And they don’t even maybe realize that you have these processes, they don’t even really realize that, “Oh, I was ready to just send a bunch of messages back and forth with you to, whatever, set up this meeting or pull together this report. Andfuiltwhen you replied, it was actually there’s a list of times, you had a Calendly schedule app, it was like ‘Choose one of these times and I will have this information ready, and it’ll be in this folder. Look it up before. We’ll meet at this time.’” You’ve described some process in an email. They don’t even realize it’s a process, they go, “Okay, whatever. Great. That saves me some messages.”

But internally you have it all processed, or you have different Trello boards internally for your different roles, and you’re keeping track of who you’re waiting to hear back from, and things you need more information on, and what you’re working on this week. I talk about how I ran a stealth ticketing system for a while when I had an administrative role where I had to answer a lot of questions from students in my department at Georgetown for an administrative role I ran. I didn’t make them use a ticketing system but I was moving all their messages into a ticketing system so I could much better keep track of them with my program manager, we could see what was going on where, who we’re waiting to hear back from, we can annotate them with notes, and then we’d just email people to get back to them again.

So, that’s one of the things I talk about just how to basically structure all of the process in your own life. Even if all the people around you aren’t restructuring how they do it, even if they’re still bothering you without constraint, if all that incoming goes into internal structured processes, you can still have a massive win in terms of how much context shifting and email wrangling you have to do.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I don’t know about all the listeners, but as I think about this, I’m super excited, like, “Heck, yeah, let’s get processes up and going for everything.” How do you recommend thinking about where to start or how to zero in on your first couple wins here?

Cal Newport
Use your inbox as a guide. So, you’re in your inbox, you’re overwhelmed, that you’re annoyed at all these messages. Start asking the question as you’re answering these messages, “What is the underlying process that this is a part of and that this message is trying to help advance towards completion?” And so, you just let the messages you’re getting be a guide. Then you can start saying, “Okay, this process kind of comes up a lot. Like, a lot of these messages have to do with whatever, like pulling together the weekly client memo. Or a lot of this have to be like answering questions from clients about the status of the project.”

So, now, you’ve let your inbox be the guide, “Oh, a lot of my communication is about this.” Then you can ask the key follow-up, “What would be a better process for accomplishing the same thing?” So, then if you see a lot of your messages in your inbox or your clients asking you questions kind of ad hoc, “What’s the status here? What’s that?” you might realize, like, “Maybe what we should do…” and this is just an example from the book, “…is like schedule a weekly status call with each client, we let them know where things are, we listen to them, and we immediately send them, after the call, a record of everything we committed to during that call, and they know that we are going to be on the phone the next week.”

You do that, for example. You may reduce your back-and-forth emails from a client down to basically none. Just the same thing done. The client wants to know what’s going on, to make sure the ball is not being dropped, to make sure that you’re actually doing the things you said you’re going to do, that’s a lot of what client emailing is, it’s just that they’re not sure, like, “I don’t know. Are you really doing this? Do I need to keep bothering otherwise I don’t know what’s going on?”

That’s just a case study but now that you’ve seen that’s what a lot of your emails were, you could actually come up with a better process that has a lot less back and forth. So, let the messages in your inbox influence you, “What is this message about? Is there a better way to get that general type of work done?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig it. And how about some of the internal emotional guilt stuff in terms of, if folks, they have incoming messages and they feel, from habit or compulsion, the need to frequently check the inbox? You say, “Well, hey, part of it that’s kind of how it has to be done because your processes are so unstructured, what alternative do you have?” But if we’re starting to move in this direction and there are some emotional guilt or resistance or trickiness, how do you recommend folks address that?

Cal Newport
Well, that guilt is really important because it’s at the core of why email makes us so miserable so I really get into those studies where basically the way we’re wired as social beings means it is really hard for us to see an email message in our inbox from a person we know and to not answer it. And it’s a deeper part of our brain. So, if you feel guilty about these things, as a general notice to your audience, that’s not a flaw. That’s a deeply human reaction because there might be, let’s say, a prefrontal cortex part of your brain that says, “I know I don’t have to answer that email right away. We have norms, they’re not expecting an answer right away. It’s okay if I write them back next week.”

That’s fine but there’s a deeper part of your brain that says, “Someone in my tribe is tapping me on the shoulder. If I ignore them, that’s a problem. If I ignore someone in my tribe who’s tapping me on the shoulder, what’s going to happen when we come into the famine? They might not share their food and I might starve.” We have a huge genetic compulsion to take otherwise communication very seriously. So, email really contradicts that instinct because, again, our paleolithic deep brain knows nothing about email etiquette. It’s just like, “Here’s a person I know, they want something from me, I’m ignoring them. Danger! Danger! Danger!” and that’s why we feel this anxiety about our inbox and the fact that it’s always growing.

So, that’s a really real thing and it’s a problem. It’s also a problem because this guilt is not equally distributed among people. So, there’s research I talk about in the book where they could look at how you scored on the big five personality scale, and based on how you scored on various attributes of that scale, they could measure real differences in how stressed you get about batching email.

So, for some people, your personality type is naturally such that you get incredibly stressed if you say, “I’m going to wait to check my email till the end of the day because all these people need me.” Other people have personalities in which they don’t mind it that much. Now, the issue is the people who are probably more willing to ignore their inbox till the end of the day are probably going to get more important things done, which means they’re going to move ahead probably faster than other people.

And what you’ve now done is accidentally selected for in your company that people that are essentially more jerks from a personality scale, less conscientious, are going to do better in your company. And so, now you’re selecting for the executive ranks to be less conscientious and more like jerks, which is not what you actually want to happen. It’s an unintended consequence.

So, I think that is also an issue and so, I don’t know, this is probably not the most optimistic answer but this is why I’m saying until you fix the underlying processes, this is going to be a real problem and it’s going to apply unequally. As long as there’s a lot of messages that you’re not answering, you’re going to be stressed, and that stress is going to vary dependent on your personality. So, your best bet is to figure out how to reduce the number of messages that end up in that inbox. It’s just not the right tool for doing a massive amount of communication.

Pete Mockaitis
So, lay it on us, where and when is email appropriate, when it’s something sort of new, one time, different, undefined, uncharted? What are your thoughts?

Cal Newport
Well, it’s a fantastic communication protocol, so if you need to asynchronously deliver information from one person to another, from one place to another, it solves a lot of problems. Before that, we had fax machines, memos, and voice mail, and those were all pretty ineffective and pretty high-friction ways of communicating asynchronously. So, for the delivery of information, for the delivery of digital files, for the broadcasting of information, email is a fantastic tool. You would not want to get rid of it.

Where it is a problem is where it becomes the primary medium of collaboration. So, if the primary unit of you working together with people to solve things, just back and forth messages, that’s where you get into the problem. If you want to email out, whatever, “Here’s the new parking policy at our company,” that’s a great use of email. It’s better than printing it out and having to put it in people’s mailboxes.

If you need to deliver a contract to someone, or let’s say I want to send you a headshot or something, yeah, email is great. Better than putting the mail or using the fax machine. So, it’s a great medium for asynchronous delivery of information and files but it’s a terrible medium for being the primary tool by which you actually interact and collaborate with people.

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

Cal Newport
I would say, more generally, when it comes to email and when it comes to the shift, at least the way that I see it, the less that I’m trying to convince people that they should move away from this type of hyperactive hivemind, everything is just back and forth messaging, it’s more giving the message that that shift is inevitable. There is a lot of money on the line.

Just like when Henry Ford figured out the assembly line, no one made cars the same way again after that. The same thing is just beginning to happen in knowledge work. There’s no way ten years from now we’re all still just going to be plugging into email inboxes and checking every six minutes. There’s just so much productivity and value and human happiness on the line.

This transformation to a world in which we have more sophisticated ways, less convenient maybe, more annoying, more overhead, but more sophisticated ways of actually collaborating, that means we get a lot more done and we’re a lot happier in general, that’s going to happen. So, the only question is, “Are you going to be ahead of the trend or not?” And that’s the way I like to see it.

So, I’m kind of prognosticating that we’re in a very early stage of knowledge work in the digital age. The way we work today is just our very first rudimentary attempt to figure out how we should work in an age of computer networks. The history of commerce and technology tells us that transformations take a long time, but then the phase shifts can be pretty rapid. We’re going to have a rapid phase shift away from this world of constant communication. So, again, hopefully, this is a book that’s predicting the future, more so than it’s trying to convince people that we need a better future.

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

Cal Newport
A favorite quote that came up kind of in the context of this work came from Neil Postman who was a really well-known sort of philosopher and social critic and technology critic. And he had this really important quote for at least my own thinking about technology and the world where he was saying, “Technological changes are not an addition; it’s ecological.” It’s not addition, it’s ecological. I’m a little bit messing that up but the basic point is when a new technology comes along, it’s not just like, “Oh, you’re in the world you were before, plus the addition of this new technology.”

Instead, a lot of technologies tend to change the entire world, change the whole ecology. So, he famously said that when the printing press came along, it wasn’t like you had medieval Europe plus a printing press. Like, no, you had a whole different Europe. It just changed the way everything worked. I like that quote. That’s the way I see a lot of technologies.

In 2001, we didn’t just have the 1991 office plus email; we had a completely different type of office. What worked meant the ecology of work completely transformed once this tool is here. And so, that quote is important to me because it tells us we got to be pretty self-aware of the way that new technology can completely change things often in ways that no one planned or no one intended. And once you realize that, then you might say, “Maybe we should step back and push back a little bit.”

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

Cal Newport
There’s a bit of research I enjoyed in the book because it was devious where they’re trying to understand exactly what we’re talking about, how communication is something that’s really deep in us, we get really anxious when we can’t communicate, when we know someone wants our attention and we can’t give it to them.

And so, there’s this great study where they brought people in and they hooked them to heartrate monitors, and they told them it’s a study about something unrelated. And then they had a confederate come in and say, “Hey, your phone is interfering with our machines and we’re just going to move it to get the electromagnetic radiation.”

And when they moved the phone to the other side of the room, they turned off the silent mode. So, they could only do these with iPhones because iPhones have the switch on the side. And then they would call it. So, you’re in the room, you’re doing this experiment, you’re all hooked up to all these heartrate stress monitors, thinking you’re supposed to be working on this computer screen, and you hear your phone ring.

And it’s a really cool experiment because, obviously, they did not expect to be able to communicate, they didn’t need to communicate, they had turned their phone on silent so they’re completely comfortable with the ideas of, “During this experiment, I will not be communicating with people.” But, still, hearing the text message buzz on the phone, their heart, their galvanic response, all the indicators of stress jumped up because they’re all hooked up to these things and they could measure it.

So, I just love that experiment because it meant they were calm even though they knew rationally, “Oh, yeah, I turned off my phone. I’m not going to hear from anyone who calls me. It’s fine.” They knew rationally that was fine, “I’m doing this experiment. It’s fine.” Still, hearing a text message come through made the stress response go up.

That’s all day every day in the world of email. It’s like no matter how you tell yourself, “It’s okay. I don’t have to answer all these emails. We have expectations. We have norms,” there’s a deeper part of you that when it just sees or hears that person’s name and it’s in bold and you can see they want something from you and you’re not answering it to them, we get stressed. And so, I thought that was a beautifully designed experiment to try to capture that real effect.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Cal Newport
One I like to recommend is Amusing Ourselves to Death, also by Neil Postman who I mentioned. It’s short and it’s brilliant and it’s really original. And, basically, it gets at that ecological notion. His argument is when you change the technologies with which we communicate or send information, you can actually change the way our brains understand the world, that there’s this impact between the medium and the message being delivered.

Postman studied under Marshall McLuhan who actually said the medium is the message. Simple idea, beautifully delivered, but it completely changes the way you see technology. It moves you away from this notion of like, “Heck, it’s just tools and it can do some things well, so use it in the way that it does things well. And if you’re having a trouble with the tool, you’re just using it wrong.” It’s like the typical nerd, engineer, or like our typical response.

And Postman comes in and says, “No, no, it’s way more deeper than that.” This was before email but basically you could extrapolate from him. Like, the mere presence of email can change the very structure of what work means, and his work was about television. The presence of television changed the way we understood the world. He’s really smart, really accessible, and I recommend it, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

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

Cal Newport
I’m a big believer in time blocking where you actually schedule out what you’re going to do with your time as opposed to going down a list. And so, having a good notebook in which you’ve schedule out what you’re going to do. Give every minute of your day a job. Don’t just go from a list and say, “What’s next?” Instead, say, “From 1:00 to 2:00, I’m working on this and I have a meeting from 2:30 to 3:00.”

Having a good notebook in which you do that is a complete gamechanger. So, in the fall, I put out my own planner called a Time Block Planner that helps you make these plans. But whether or not you use my planner, I have used notebooks and I’ve built these analog plans for my day for whatever it’s been, about eight years now. So, that simple of a piece of a paper in which I see the whole plan drawn out is, by far, one of the biggest impactful things I have in my professional career.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Cal Newport
I do a shutdown ritual and I’m a big proponent of this, that when you’re done with your workday, you have a shutdown ritual where you basically close all of the open loops. So, you look at your inbox and make sure you’re not missing something, you look at your calendar, you look at your plan for the week. If you’re captured like notes or ideas on scraps of paper, you get them into your system. So, you close all the loops, “All right. There’s nothing else I need to do for work tonight. I have a plan for tomorrow. I’m not forgetting anything.”

And then you have some sort of phrase or ritual you do to indicate that you’re done with that routine. So, like I used to actually say the phrase, “Schedule shutdown complete,” which was like purposefully nerdy. I talk about this in my book Deep Work, and there’s a whole subculture of people who, when they see me now, are like, “Schedule shutdown complete.”

But it was weird on purpose because what happens is that later in the evening when you begin to feel some work anxiety, instead of going through it, instead of…

Pete Mockaitis
A schedule shutdown has been completed.

Cal Newport
You say, “Why else would I have said that stupid phrase unless I had actually gone through the whole thing?” Now, in that planner, I actually added a checkbox that says, “Shutdown complete.” So, instead of having to say that out loud and risk the mocking of everyone within earshot, you can put a checkmark next to the phrase. But the whole point is you have something really weird and clear you do to indicate you’ve done the shutdown ritual. So, if you get anxious, you just say, “I did that weird thing, which means I did a ritual, so I’m not going to get into the particular anxiety. I’m just going to trust myself that I would not have said something so dumb unless I’ve actually gotten things under control.”

I love that ritual. I’ve been doing that since 2007. I started it as a grad student and it’s incredibly effective.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you say or have written that people quote back to you frequently? It sounds like “Shutdown ritual complete” is one of them. Any others?

Cal Newport
Yeah, I get “Shutdown complete” a lot. For some reason, so I have this podcast Deep Questions where I answer questions from readers. And, for whatever reason, we went down a rabbit hole of…I don’t know how I encouraged this. It’s just like one of these cycles of superfluous references to Greek mythology. So, I do these mini episodes once a week where people kind of call in with questions, and now it’s become kind of a competition to see who could work in like the most superfluous reference to Greek mythology in trying to set up their question about workplace productivity. So, I get a lot of that from people now. I don’t know how that started, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
“How could I soar like Pegasus to new heights of productivity?”

Cal Newport
Oh, yeah, Hydras. Earlier today, I had a Bacchus reference. That’s a good one. I had a question from a classicist recently, a classicist professor, so that was intimidating because she actually knew the whole canon. So, yeah, I don’t know, but I get that a lot. I get a lot of Greek mythology.

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

Cal Newport
So, you can go to CalNewport.com if you want to find out about the books and sign up for my newsletter. I’ve been writing a weekly essay there since 2007. If you want to hear me instead of read about me, Deep Questions is my podcast. If you want to find me on social media, as we’d mentioned, you’d be out of luck.

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

Cal Newport
It is a hundred percent possible for almost anyone or any job to get to a place where your email inbox is something like it was in 1995. It’s something you check maybe once a day, “Hey, here’s this file I needed,” or, “Here’s a reminder. Let me look at it,” and that’s the only role it plays in your life. This idea that you have to constantly be checking and communicating to do your job, that might be true about your job as constructed right now, but it can be reconstructed.

So, my challenge is do not give up on this utopian dream of a world without email by which I mean not a world in which you don’t have an email address but a world in which email does not play a central role to how your work actually gets done.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cal, this has been a treat. Thank you so much and keep on rocking.

Cal Newport
Yeah, thanks. It was my pleasure, like Icarus flying close to the sun on wax wings, I think. I’m trying to make the reference work. I’m trying to make it work.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe not afterwards.

646: Redefining the Rules to Make Work More Enjoyable with Vishen Lakhiani

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Vishen Lakhiani shares foundational principles to make work more fulfilling.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How the most successful people find bliss in their work 
  2. How to keep stress from fazing you
  3. Why hustling hurts your career 

About Vishen

Vishen Lakhiani is one of today’s most influential minds in the fields of personal growth and human consciousness. He is the founder and CEO of Mindvalley and behind several top-ranking health and wellness apps. He also has two New York Times best-selling books, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind and The Buddha and the Badass. With an incredible passion and drive to unite humanity and challenge the status quo, he has built a movement of growth-seekers, spanning across 195 countries, engaging more than 15 million followers on social media, and nearly half-a-million students online each year. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease! Save $20 on a $150+ purchase with promo code AWESOME. 
  • Monday.comExperience a 14-day free trial of the Work OS that boosts the ownership, joy, and efficiency of work. 

Vishen Lakhiani Interview Transcript

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

Vishen Lakhiani
Pete, thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. And, first, tell us about A-Fest. It seems like the coolest thing and I want to hear the story as to how it came about and what goes down there.

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, first, for those of you listening, A-Fest, it’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around that word. It’s A-F-E-S-T, it’s a festival I created 10 years ago because I wanted to be able to meet fascinating people, hang out in paradise locations, and grow my network. Back then I was just starting out my career, I was a kid in Malaysia, and I had bigger dreams in my tiny little country. Now, obviously, there’s no point talking about A-Fest because, like any other festival, it shut down for two years because of COVID. It’s devastating. I miss it but it’ll be back next year in 2022.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s the A stand for?

Vishen Lakhiani
I’m laughing because I’m embarrassed to say so. So, the very first A-Fest started because I was fascinated by surfing. I sucked as a surfer. And in surf lingo, there’s that word, “Awesome, dude,’ so it stood for Awesomeness Fest because the very first happened at Witch’s Rock in Costa Rica, which is a famous surfing site. And I didn’t know there’d be 15 more of them all around the world but the word awesome stuck to it. Everyone got free surfing lessons when they showed up. And then when we realized that you couldn’t build a festival around the concept of surfing, we’d be awesome and it just became A-Fest.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we love awesome here at How to be Awesome at Your Job so that’s kind of why I zeroed in on this one, and I think awesomeness is a great thing that needs to be celebrated via festivals. And so, I look forward to the day that that and other awesome events return to the world.

And I want to dig into more about feeling awesome versus miserable at work. You’ve got some perspectives here. Can you kick us off by maybe setting some foundational principles? Like, what’s missing from our work lives?

Vishen Lakhiani
Rather than what’s missing from our work life, let’s talk about a different concept and then it becomes evident what is missing, okay? So, this whole podcast is about how to be awesome. Now, I gave a speech once in Calgary and the speech was called “The Theory of Awesomeness.” I love that word.

Now, “The Theory of Awesomeness” suggested this. It suggested that there is a state, back then I called it the state of awesomeness. The word awesome in 2008 meant this for me. It meant being in a state of mind where there were two ingredients in your life. Now, the first ingredient is awe. It’s awe towards a future vision. That means there is something that excites you, that tickles you, that gnaws at you, that makes you want to build, to create, to produce, and you cannot wait to get this out to the world. So, that’s the first lever.

But there’s a second lever, and that second lever is, as you’re building, as you’re creating, you are not pushing forward your happiness. In other words, your happiness, your bliss, your feelings of magic and being in the flow do not come from you hitting your goal. They come from you moving towards your goal. In short, the awe is not towards the end goal but the awe is the journey.

Now, when you combine both of these together, what happens is you have a really wonderful state of human existence. You have a vision calling you forward but you also have bliss in the present. This is the ultimate state of human existence. It is to have visions that pull us forward but to be blissful in the now. It is the merger of your future and your present. It is why so many great men and women across history spoke about life in these esoteric terms.

For example, Bruce Lee said, “The point of a goal is often not to hit the goal. The goal is simply a force of direction.”

And then there’s this poem by this historical figure. So, I’d like to read this out to you, guys, because it illustrates this point of the dance between vision and bliss. This man wrote in his 82nd year, he wrote this down:

“I was early taught to work as well as play;
My life has been one long, happy holiday–
Full of work, and full of play–
I dropped the worry on the way–
And God was good to me every day.”

Now, when you listen to that, it sounds like some beautiful farmer like plowing his field, enjoying the sunshine, but that was actually written by John D. Rockefeller in his 80s. John D. Rockefeller created Standard Oil. He was the richest man of his era, potentially the richest man who ever lived if you count for the value of money back then. That was written a hundred years ago. But, again, John D. Rockefeller doesn’t talk about chasing goals. He talks about a life which was one long, happy holiday, full of work, full of play. His worry dropped along the way.

And this is just further evidence that people who are crushing it at work are not stressed out. They are not facing extreme anxiety. They are dancing this delicate dance between visions pulling them forward and bliss in the present. The dance between the future and the now, this is what I call the theory of awesomeness. And this is the state of awe that I think all of us need to be in. Now, this is what is missing from work. Because if you look at work, we see work as separate from play. We see work as separate from living.

And I remember once hearing Richard Branson say this, he was asked, “How do you balance life between work and play?” And he said, “Work? Play? To me, it’s all the same thing. I just call it living.” So, this is what I believe is missing from the way we’ve been trained to show up at our jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I’d love some more of that for sure. Tell us, what is the path by which we land there? Because I imagine if you’re Richard Branson or John D. Rockefeller or any professional, that they had some issues. I’m sure there’s some lawyers saying, “Hey, we’re suing you,” there are some acquisition targets they wanted to get but then the price was higher than they wanted to pay, whatever. So, like, they’re playing the business game at a higher level and they have disappointments, things that they want to happen but don’t happen, and things they don’t want to happen that do happen. So, how do we get into this rocket mindset where it’s all good?

Vishen Lakhiani
Beautiful question. So, to answer that question, particularly what you said, “I’m sure they have things that they want to happen that happens, I’m sure they have things that they don’t want to happen that happens.” I want to share with you a conversation I had with a famous business school professor. His name is Professor Srikumar Rao. And Professor Rao used to teach classes at Columbia, at Kellogg, at other famous business schools like London Business School, and there was something really unique about Rao. His classes were not on business. I mean, they were on business. This was an MBA program. But his classes, rather, explored the art of living. They were called classes on personal mastery.

And what Rao did was he would bring in wisdom from ancient sages like Confucius or ancient sages and saints from India, and he would implant this wisdom in the minds of his MBA students. Now, his classes were so popular, there was a line to get in through the door. Students who graduated from his classes would form alumni groups because they would bond so firmly with other students. I sought out Rao as a mentor after I saw a video of him giving a talk on Google, and that video blew my mind.

And so, I sought him out as a mentor, and as we became friends, I remember one day he came to me and he said, “You know, Vishen, all of this stuff that American business schools are teaching are bull.” Now, he didn’t actually say bull. He’s a very polite man. He used a far more polite word, I think, but I’m not a polite man so I think my brain changed it.

So, I said, “Rao, what do you mean?” And he goes, “What they need to teach is consciousness.” And I said, “But they do teach consciousness.” And he goes, “No, no, no, no, no. You’re confusing consciousness and ethics. Since Enron, all business schools teach business ethics. Consciousness is beyond ethics.”

And I said, “Well, do explain. What do you mean by the need to teach consciousness?” He said, “To be truly conscious, you have to understand one thing.” And I said, “Well, tell me, what is this one thing?” Rao went on, he said…Now, Rao, he’s a man of Indian origin. He’s American. He lives in New York but he speaks in his Indian accent so you can picture this in his Indian accent.

He said, “Business schools need to teach that the most important thing is not your business. If your business hits a billion dollars, it doesn’t matter. If your business fails, it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is, ‘Did you grow?’ If you become a billionaire, I don’t care. Did you grow? If you go bankrupt, you shouldn’t care. Did you grow?”

And he said, “The point of life is growth. When you make growth the number one thing, and you measure everything in, ‘Am I better today than I was yesterday?’ in some way, your life takes on a whole new meaning. Growth has to be the number one goal but we don’t teach that, do we? We teach chase the money, chase the career, and that is the problem with how we are training today’s business folks.”

So, that’s a very important lesson. Growth should be the number one thing. Now, back to the theory of awesomeness: vision and bliss. A core concept of growth is to make yourself better and better at being you. Now, when you make yourself better and better at being you, what happens is that all the bold things that you’re seeking to do, they come to you faster. As you grow, your business grows. You’ve read that from countless books on personal growth.

But the other aspect of growth is mastery of yourself. It’s not just becoming better; it’s becoming more comfortable in your own head. Now, what mastery of self means is being able to navigate the complex ebbs and tides of being human, being able to navigate extreme emotion, being able to deal with anger but not have anger consume you, go through failure but not have failure define you, see everything as “Is this helping me grow?”

Now, when you do that self-mastery plus constantly seeking to become better and better, That is how to be in a state of perpetual awe.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s awesome in terms of the mindset there in terms of, “Is this helping me grow? It’s all about the growth whether I hit the goal or I don’t hit the goal. It’s all good.” Well, so then let’s talk about some of this emotion self-mastery stuff. So, we’re just going to have to duck some of the naughty words and just say them freely so we can do this. So, for example, in your book The Buddha and the Badass, you talk about how we can master the art of unf-withability, which sounds like something I want for myself.

So, we’ve established some of the foundational ingredients for that. How do we move forward in terms of really developing, I don’t know if you want to call it a skill or a set of skills in the realm of emotional regulation self-mastery so that we get there? Because I imagine, Vishen, right now, if listeners say, “Okay, that’s my thing. I’m going to say, ‘Hey, is this helping me to grow? Am I making growth my number one thing? Okay, I’ve got that decision made internally and, yet, if a curveball gets thrown my way, I’m probably, the first time or two or many perhaps dozens of times, going to be feeling some of the stuff.” So, how do we take our first steps here?

Vishen Lakhiani
So, first, let’s set a vision. Remember what I said, right? You must have a vision. You must have a direction pulling you forward. Let me paint a vision of what I mean by self-mastery. And to understand this vision, I want to read you a poem from the Rumi, it’s called “The Guest House.” Now, the poem says this:

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”

This is the epitome of truly being able to have mastery over your emotional states. Our natural state should always be bliss. But this doesn’t mean that we push away sadness. This doesn’t mean that we don’t get annoyed by failure. It means we embrace these emotions. We open our doors to them, we welcome them as guests, we feel them, and then we move beyond them.

When you cultivate that, what happens is that you develop what, in psychology, they sometimes refer as resilience or grit. And this is one of the most incredible things you can have. Even if you look at people like Elon Musk, I once actually asked Elon Musk, like, “If I could put you in a blender and distill your essence, what makes you Elon?” And he said, “You know, I think what makes me who I am…” and so he answered this in 2013, he said, “…was my ability to endure extreme pain. I have high tolerance for pain.”

Now, high tolerance for pain simply means that if you go into the darkness, you embrace it and you move beyond it. Elon can accept his pain and then bounce back. But not everybody can. Many people, they sit in that pain. They make that pain define them, “I’m a failure. I suck. Why does this happen to me?” But that is not in the criteria of truly being able to become awesome at your job or at work. You must see pain as your friend.

And if you go through pain, what you want to ask yourself is, “Is this pain helping me grow?” Now, it turns out that one of the most powerful ways we grow is through pain.

In Zen Buddhism, they call this Kensho moments. Most of us go through Kensho or growth through pain. If you’re listening, ask yourself how many times has someone broken your heart. But because of that act of your heart breaking, you gained a better understanding of what you want in a relationship.

How many times have you been fired from a job – I’ve been fired twice – or been near bankruptcy? I’ve been there nearly three times. But it led you to greater fiscal responsibility or to finding a job that was even better for you. How many times have you ended up sick or in a hospital and it made you realize, through growth, that you go to take better care of your health?

So, you see, when you understand, when you make growth your number one goal, that’s the first rule, you start to see suffering and pain as Kensho, as a lever for growth, as the great educator, as the wakeup call. And that mindset shift is one of the key ingredients of people who are really doing awesome at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So, I’d love to get your view then, when it comes to growth “Am I better today than I was yesterday in some area?” do you have any particular ways that you love to capture, measure, gauge, quantify that growth? We talked about the business metrics not mattering so much, but they’re so easy to measure. We can see in the bank account, we can see in the income statement, the revenue growth. What is trickier to graph or measure or see or appreciate can be some of the internal growth things. How do you recommend we get our arms around that?

Vishen Lakhiani
So, firstly, if your audience is on MindValley, they would already know the answer. Now, on MindValley, there’s a free tool that you can use. It’s Life.MindValley.com. It’s a 22-minute assessment that has you measure your life from 12 aspects of personal growth.

Emotions, for example, is one, “What are your persistent emotional states?” That’s like what the Rumi poem spoke about. Finance and career are two common ones that are very much spoken about in the American education system. But then there’s also relationships, there’s character, “How are you with your habits, with your routines, with your values?” There is your physical fitness, your spiritual states. There are 12 different things or dimensions of life. And by taking this survey, Life.MindValley.com, you get a score and you also see where you stand among the hundreds of thousands of people who have also taken the survey.

Now, what the survey tells you is where you might be crushing it and where you might be lagging behind. And when you see where you’re lagging behind, that is what you want to start exploring further.

Vishen Lakhiani
Now, the thing about your career is that you want to specialize. If you’re a designer and you want to increase your hourly rate, you go deeper and deeper and deeper into design. You become the best designer you can be. You don’t jump from design to, say, copywriting. But in your personal life, you don’t specialize. You have to be balanced.

You cannot be crushing it at work, be making millions of dollars but have a messed-up relationship with your family, nor can you be the ultimate mom or dad, the ultimate family person but be completely broke. You need balance. There’s a certain wheel of life that has to be balanced out. And this is why this assessment that we made free helps you identify where you might be off kilter.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then we talked about different areas of life. And when we used some of the words like crushing it versus lagging behind in a performance-achievement-y world, kind of bring me up to another point of yours I wanted to discuss. And you say that hustle as the path to success is a myth. And we get some things wrong about hustle. Can you set us straight?

Vishen Lakhiani
Absolutely. So, there’s this prevailing theory out there that hard work is what makes you successful. There are many people like Gary Vaynerchuk who speak about hard work. But hard work only applies if you’re a lazy bum and you’re just hooked on computer games. Then get off your butt and hustle and put in some work. But most of us are not like that. The typical person listening to this podcast isn’t some guy hooked on computer games.

In that scenario, hard work is actually dangerous. You see, we have to move in life in a balance, and all the most remarkable people who are really successful do not work hard. Jeff Bezos just gave an interview, and he said, “You know, I sleep eight hours a day.” That’s a lot more than the average American. The average American sleeps 6 hours 52 minutes a day. Jeff Bezos, eight hours.

I’ve spent significant time on Necker Island with Richard Branson and I observed how Branson works. He has this beautiful balance between work and then play. He will be on his mobile phone on a hammock. He doesn’t have a laptop, everything is on his mobile phone, and then he’ll go swim in the ocean and kite surf for an hour, then go back to his mobile phone. It’s a beautiful balance. Now, I call that dance the dance of acceleration and navigation.

You got to accelerate at your work but you got to step back. People like Steven Kotler who wrote a book on high performance says that after about three and a half hours, you got to go from acceleration to navigation. And navigation is where you sit back and you think. In my case, I like to relax with a cup of tea and just think, or even take a nap, or meditate, or read a book on poetry or personal growth, then you go back to work. That dance, acceleration and navigation, happens in the day but it also happens in the month.

For example, I’m going to be working a 60-hour week this week but following that, I’m flying to the Maldives to spend eight days in a paradise island in navigation. Now, in navigation, I’m not doing what we think of personal work. I’m writing, I’m journaling, I’m reading books on personal growth. I’m working on new manuscripts. This is how, it turns out, the top performers work. When they work, they are protective of their physical state. And now, science is starting to back this up.

For example, Shawn Achor who wrote the book The Happiness Advantage cites study after study after study that shows that happiness, or positive states, directly correlates with work performance. Examples, doctors who are happy are 19% better at diagnoses. Salespeople who are optimistic, 55% better at closing sales.

Now, Shawn Achor’s work has been developed further by another researcher called Shirzad Chamaine. He wrote a book called Positivity Quotient, and what he did in his studies is he found that the number one factor of high-performing teams is they are positive states. The more often the team is in a positive state, the better the performance of the team. And it turns out that to create these positive states, you don’t overwork yourself. You got to play that dance.

Now, in America, we’ve created this awful rule that hard work is a path to success. You know who created those rules? The robber baron, the titans, the factory owners who want people slogging away at a factory.

It is a lie that hard work results in success. It is an awful lie. It breaks lives. It destroys relationships. It messes up with your health. Work and productivity is the dance between focus, between acceleration, moving towards your goals, and watching your emotional states, and putting yourself in the optimal states where you can think, you can create, you can ideate.

Pete Mockaitis
You used rule, which is one of the main things I associate with you – brules. And one them is that, hey, hard work is the key to success. And you say, nope. In fact, adapting that mindset is problematic. So, can you define for us brules, and give us some other examples, and make sure how we conquer them?

Vishen Lakhiani
So, a brule is what I coined in my first book The Code of the Extraordinary Mind in 2016. Brules are a simplification of a complex world. When we look at the world, we create rules to help us navigate this complex world of human dynamics. These rules come from culture, from beliefs, from religion, from a country’s government, from our teachers, our preachers, the media, and these rules have a purpose. They help us navigate.

We know that when someone greets us, to say, “Good morning.” We know to say “Thank you” to a waitress. Easy rules. We learn these as kids. But then there are brules that serve not much of a purpose but are just blindly carried forward from generation to generation to generation. What are brules? Well, hard work makes you successful is a brule.

Another example of a brule might be, in terms of how we define relationships, how we think about our health, how we think about money. The question is what may be a brule to one person, may not be a brule to another. The way to understand is to look at your life. And Alan Watts, the great philosopher, suggested this exercise. Ask yourself, “What do I believe? Because I learn through my own experience is true,” versus, “What are my beliefs that I were told is true?”

Now, when you start putting this together, it’s a disruptive exercise. Let me ask you this question. What is it that you came to understand as true because you discovered it to be true?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, there are so many things. I mean, it is disruptive in that it is so all encompassing. We could talk about it small and big in terms of like the nature of reality and human existence, or productivity strategies. So, yeah, I’m just looking at a glass of water right now, and so one thing that I believe to be true, from a lived experience, is that drinking plenty of water feels great in terms of making me feel alive and vital and healthy and smart and sharp, and it’s also very easy to forget to do, and then wonder, “Why do I feel so crappy?”

Vishen Lakhiani
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s just like a visual stimulus, there’s a cup of water there, so that’s one thing.

Vishen Lakhiani
Yeah, exactly. That’s great, right? Now, what is it that you took to be true because you were indoctrinated into it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess, this is so small stakes but while we’re on the topic of hydration, like someone said, “Oh, you need to have eight glasses of water a day.” And that’s just something that’s just repeated and I’ve sort of dug into the science behind it. It’s not really founded anything, it’s like, “How big is the glass? Who says eight? What if you’re like a tiny 80-pound woman or a Mr. Olympia hulking bodybuilding man, like, one size does not fit all? That’s silliness.”

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, here’s a bunch of other brules that most people believe not because it’s real but because they were told to believe it. One is, “A woman’s place is in the home.” Another one might be, “You need a college degree to get a job.” And so, there are so many brules that we blindly take on without evidence simply because that’s the way it’s always been.

Remember that great quote from Steve Jobs? He said, “At a certain point in life, you come to realize that everything we think about life is made up by people no smarter than you. And you can change things, you can poke things, you can make things happen. And once you understand that, your life will never be the same again.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. And so, let’s just take, “Well, hey, you’ve got to get a college degree to get a good job.” I think that that’s something that, yeah, that’s just sort of in the air, and there are some truths to it in terms of we could look at some stats to show that, on the whole, people with college degrees earn more than those who don’t, or we could look at many individual job posts that claim “Must have a bachelor’s degree in these or related fields.” So, there’s a smidge of evidence that can point you in one direction, although I know of truckloads of evidence that say that that’s not true at all.

So, yeah, what’s the next step? We take some time to say, “Okay, hey, what are some beliefs that I’ve come to understand in my own experience?”

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, what you’re asking me to do is to simplify life, is get the great secret of life in the tiniest soundbite as possible, and you can’t do that because everybody has to discover their own secret.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s probably a fine transition point, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Vishen Lakhiani
“The most extraordinary people in the world do not have a career or a business. What they have is a mission.” And what I mean by this is that you would do the work that you do even if you didn’t get paid. It is your mission. It is your art of living. It is your contribution to the world, and this sums up that idea I said earlier.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
One of my favorite experiments, and this actually has to do with what we were talking about earlier, that positive states, that positive emotions, amplify your productivity at work. So, Shawn Achor did an experiment, I believe it was at the company First National. The CEO Gary Baker, he said was not a numbers guy, and Shawn wanted to suggest to Gary Baker that if he wanted to transform his company, he needed to do a simple 2-minute exercise with all his managers every day.

So, Gary Baker thought it was a joke but he decided to try it. Now, this was the 2-minute exercise. The managers, when they started their day, would set a timer for two minutes, and in no less and no more than two minutes, they would open up their email and write an email of appreciation to someone else in their company. Shawn Achor said anything beyond two minutes is too much of an obligation, less than two minutes is ideally too short.

So, Shelly might write an email to Tom and say, “Hey, Tom, just wanted to appreciate you for the wonderful idea you gave me last night and helping me improve my keynote presentation.” That’s it. Now, what they found is that in one year the company started to go through like a radical transformation. They went from 650 million in revenue to 950 million in revenue with no new headcount.

The number of job applications went up 237%. All of this because employees were spending two minutes a day appreciating each other. And it goes to show that emotions and our states of bliss really have a massive impact on our job. Shawn Achor said, “What was going on is that as you appreciated someone, you were actually practicing a form of gratitude. You were recognizing elegance, beauty, like great work. And then when they replied, you were getting another dose of happiness because you are being recognized for appreciating someone. It’s a beautiful cycle.” But that surge in positivity that it caused within an organization was transformative for Gary Baker’s company.

And this is probably one of the most interesting studies I’ve come across. I wrote about it extensively in my book The Buddha and the Badass.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Vishen Lakhiani
I’m holding it up right now, The Poetry of Rumi.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
Airtable. You got to love Airtable. It’s a no-code coding software. It allows me to build any application I want to make myself more efficient in any way.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, taking supplements every morning, but also meditating to “The 6 Phase Meditation” which is a meditation process I pioneered. There’s going to be a book coming out on it. It’s a meditation process used by super performers in just about every field. And it’s about retraining your brain to operate in that state, that dance between vision and bliss. It’s called “The 6 Phase Meditation.” You can find it on MindValley or you can Google it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. And not to go too deep down this one, I’m sure we have a full episode on supplements, but give us the hitlist, top daily supplements that Vishen swears by.

Vishen Lakhiani
Magnesium to help you go to bed. I believe in healthy sleep. 5HDP, wonderful in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, people quote back to you frequently and ascribe to you?

Vishen Lakhiani
People love some of the words I created to help us navigate the world, words like brules. Conscious engineering. All of these you’ll probably find in my book.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
Follow me on Instagram @vishen or go to MindValley.com.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
The most important thing you can do, which will transform your life, transform your job, is to get a MindValley membership. It will just freaking change your life. Go check it out.
Pete Mockaitis
All right. Vishen, this has been a treat. Thanks so much and I wish you lots of luck in your growth adventures.

Vishen Lakhiani
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

623: Mastering the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in the 2020s with FranklinCovey’s Jennifer Colosimo

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Jennifer Colosimo says: "It takes a lot of confidence to have humility."

7 Habits expert Jennifer Colosimo discusses how to practice Stephen Covey’s principles more consistently in your daily life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 7 Habits and why they’re still relevant today
  2. How proactivity improves your effectiveness by 50X
  3. The two habits that make the biggest difference in your career

 

About Jennifer

Jennifer Colosimo is a 7 Habits expert as well as President of the Enterprise Division for FranklinCovey. She has led teams in operations, human resources, IT, sales, learning and development, and corporate social responsibility while with Accenture, DaVita, FranklinCovey, and several private equity backed organizations. Her titles have included chief learning officer, COO, EVP, Vice President of Wisdom, and Vice President of Sales. 

She co-authored the book Great Work, Great Career with Stephen R. Covey, and has been a featured keynote speaker and panelist at numerous business, government, and education conferences. She has also delivered onsite training and keynotes to more than 50,000 people across 45 states and 12 countries.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Jennifer Colosimo Interview Transcript

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

Jennifer Colosimo
Appreciate you having me, Pete. Thank you so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really looking forward to digging into your wisdom. In a way, this is sort of like a stroll down memory lane. The 7 Habits was one of the first books that got me in to think, “Wow, there’s books about how to just live life better. I want more of these in my life as a teenager.” And you actually had the honor of co-authoring a book with Stephen Covey himself. Tell me a little bit about that.

Jennifer Colosimo
I did. Stephen passed eight years ago so this was a few years before that. We co-authored a book on building a great career, it’s called Great Work, Great Career and many of the principles in there are based on The 7 Habits. So, my voice was primarily different stage in my career, obviously, than Stephen was, and how I applied them at that different stage.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve had a couple FranklinCovey folks on the show. Can you share any fun stories or anecdotes that give us a bit of a feel for who that man was and the impact he’s leaving?

Jennifer Colosimo
In the years that I worked with him, the one thing that I think really stands out, that I don’t know that you can say about everyone, is that person was an authentic, same person, work, home, he did his best to live what he was writing about. He believed it completely and with total passion. And it didn’t matter if you saw him at a grocery store, or were at a board meeting, or were working on a book. He believed in the principles and put them into practice in his life.

Now, I probably had it easier because he was a mentor and advice-giver. I worked and have worked in the past with some of his actual family members. I think as teenagers, they sort of got a little bit tired of some of the principles and have all come back to living them. But I think they would finally be like, “Dad, could you just be like a dad?” And he was but he lived his principles.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s funny. I think my family feels that way about me sometimes a little bit on not-so grand a scale. And I understand he can also be a bit of a goofball at times.

Jennifer Colosimo
Oh, he was a joker. He said funny things. He would take you off guard because you would wonder, “Is that serious? Are you being serious?” until you really got used to some of his jokes. I mean, one of my favorite things, long, long time ago, is he kept his speaker microphone on while he ran out to use the restroom. And we were chasing him, basically being like, “Turn it off. Turn it off before you get in there. We can still hear you talking in the hall in the big room.” And he just joked it off.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, so I think this is going to be a fun one. I think many of our listeners have probably read or listened to or, at least, heard about The 7 Habits, but many of us have probably forgotten some of them. So, maybe before we dig into the nitty-gritty, like, “What are those seven habits?” could you maybe give us an overview of what impact have they had over the last 30 years? And why do you think this book, this message, has really just lived on and on and on?

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, a couple of things. Number one, when Dr. Covey said effective, he meant the ability to get results now and maintain your ability to get those results in the future. That’s a more complex skillset than, “Can I just get a result right now?” And those principles, in order to be effective, are, frankly, timeless. I mean, when I say words to you like the ability to make choice, having empathy, collaboration, personal management, which is often geared now into social and emotional intelligence, social management. Those principles of effectiveness of how you would get results now and in the future are timeless.

What changes is the practices of how you put that into place. And when we came out with the 38th edition, while we didn’t change any of the original texts, there are pieces added in by Sean Covey, Stephen’s son, kind of updating some of the practices and adding some detail to each of those but they’re timeless principles. I mean, how can you not say, “You’ll be more effective if you make choices that will get your result now and in the future.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I mean, it totally is just true. And, you know, it’s funny, I was listening to the audiobook just a few months ago, and I hear him in my voice now, P/PC balance and the golden goose, production and production capability. So, let’s dig into it a little bit. Could you give us maybe the one minute each version of what are the seven habits of highly effective people?

Jennifer Colosimo
So, the seven habits were not original thinking. Dr. Covey would say they’re aren’t original thinking. What they are is organized in a way that actually builds effectiveness. So, they all start with a verb, and the first three are focused on what is called private victory, “Are you self-aware? Are you confident in who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish?” So, they focus on, number one, being proactive, which is the habit of choice. In summary, things happen. We know a lot that’s happening right now in the world. Things happen and how you choose to behave defines who you are and making that choice.

Habit two is “Begin with the end in mind,” which is the habit of purpose and vision. So, “Do I let life just take me and I’m in a wave across the ocean, and I react to what comes my way? Or, have I set out, ‘This is who I want to be, what I want to achieve. This is my life’s mission to take it to the most detail big picture’?”

Third, “Put first things first.” So, you can make choice and you can have a purpose and a vision, but if you don’t make choices day to day and managing yourself, then that will never come true, right? You have to manage yourself, and not every little thing, but you have to manage yourself in order to make that vision come true. With that private victory, you have a level of confidence that allows you to be more effective in relationships. It may be counterintuitive but it takes a lot of confidence to have humility.

And the next three habits, focused on relationship, are requiring you to look at how you better collaborate, how you have an approach to an abundance. Think win-win, notice it says, “Are you looking for mutual benefit?” You don’t always get to it but are you trying? Habit five, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” I would say has an immense amount of skill-building built into it in how to practice empathy, how to actually understand someone. Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply, “When will her lips stop flapping and I can reply?” And so, that’s a big skillset because empathy is so critical in the workplace in order to build connection.

And to get to the sixth habit, which is synergize as a verb. Really, this is the habit in our terminology now of innovation, of building inclusive environments, “How do I think win-win, build understanding, express myself with I-messages in a way that we can create something better, whether that’s a result at work or in a relationship?”

And the seventh habit circles all of those, the private victory and the public victory habits, called “Sharpen the saw.” And the basis of that is balance, “I can’t be as effective as I possibly could be if I’m not physically, socially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually defined as something that gives you a greater sense of meaning unless I’m sharp.”

I mean, think about it. If you’re really sick, it’s hard to be effective. You can do your best but it’s hard. If you’re struggling with a relationship at work, you know the person that you now are meeting all the time on Zoom but used to sit several cubicles over, if you are constantly just always upset at them, how effective can you be?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. That’s a nice rundown there. I love it. Well, you are an expert. You have the title of the seven habits expert because I think a lot of us are like, “Oh, yeah, I kind of know the habits. It’s like be proactive and, you know, win-win.” So, I like that. That’s excellent.

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, thank you. Again, an expert just means you now know what you don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jennifer Colosimo
But it leaves a lot of holes of you thinking, “I don’t know that well enough.” But thank you for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, before we put you on the spot here as we dig into a little bit more details, so I was struck by…I love numbers. And so, in The 7 Habits, it says under “Be proactive,” that the difference in being proactive versus not being proactive makes for a 5,000 plus percent difference in effectiveness. Now, that’s a big number, 50X. Can you sort of lay that out, how that is true and even possible for anyone who says, “That seems too big”?

Jennifer Colosimo
That seems too big, that being proactive would make that much more effectiveness.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jennifer Colosimo
And, actually, this has worked behind it in terms of neuroscience, in terms of data that says researchers that will say the level of effectiveness you can get in different jobs has different quantum leaps. So, let me just talk about maybe different categories.

I worked fast food as a teenager, if I am the very, very best at flipping hamburgers then what’s the percentage difference in effectiveness you’re going to get? And we’re only on the line and we’re not working that much with other folks in the restaurant, we’re not client-facing, “Oh, you’ll get a different percentage. They’ll be cooked different, it’ll be faster.”

Pete Mockaitis
Or maybe doubling if you’re a chief burger sensation.

Jennifer Colosimo
Maybe doubling, maybe doubling, if you’re just…yeah, you’re a savant at it. But when you go to a more complex job, let’s say nursing, and you think of patient care, talking, speaking with relatives, making very quick decisions based on all of your background, how much effectiveness seems reasonable there?

Pete Mockaitis
More. I don’t know the number.

Jennifer Colosimo
More, right? We don’t know if we’re at four to five thousand percent. Actually, and some of this work comes from, you can see it. There’s a newer book from Netflix, I’ll think of the author, where they basically said their approach to hiring was they believed there was 5,000% in software developers.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Yes, that is ringing right now…

Jennifer Colosimo
Do you remember the book?

Pete Mockaitis
…in terms of, I think I was looking at their culture deck which maybe made reference to this or some Netflix document. So, yeah, understood. And so then, different domains, that’s a great point right there. So, different domains have a different ceiling or capacity to be differentially effective and, I guess, hey, the more responsibility you have, the more that’s going to be more variability there. So, how is it specifically that being proactive can unleash that 5,000 plus percent difference?

Jennifer Colosimo
So, obviously, a lot of it is based on the technical domains we were talking about, right, the technicalities of that job. But, and when you think about the communication pieces, regardless of, let’s use the one that we’re saying has a huge differential, software developers, they still need to communicate with those on their team, to sell their ideas. Some may aspire to higher-level leadership roles. They may aspire. And as you think about being proactive and making choices, the really direct link is we’re talking about social-emotional intelligence, “How well do I communicate? What choices do I make?”

So, let’s just give an example. “I’m the most talented software developer and I can’t sell my ideas because I can’t communicate in the form that the finance person understands or that my sales manager understands. In addition, everybody on the development team seriously just wishes I wasn’t there. I’m not viewing my results as both the results as a developer, a very talented developer, but the results I’ve obtained in relationship.” And that’s a bit of a mindset shift, “Do I make choices to get to the end in mind I’m looking for even if it’s just, ‘get my new game on the market’? Am I making the choices that help me get to that end in mind? Or, am I, basically, sabotaging myself because I’m not being proactive and taking a space between things that happen and my response?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I buy that in terms of if you’re proactive versus reactive, think of software developers, that’s sort of like, “Hey, I’ve got a really cool idea.” Proactivity would be to sell that idea, to package that idea, to get stakeholders, collaborators rallied around it to test that out, to see if it’s even a good idea that people can care about this or it’s just kind of my thing.

And that very well can make all the difference in terms of, “Yeah, that’s the breakout feature that makes this program or game like the coolest thing that everybody has to have,” and then you can have huge sales flowing from that, maybe 50 times of sales, as oppose to you’re just like, “Ah, well, you know, no one really cares and I guess I got to just sort of finish my to-do list.”

Jennifer Colosimo
Right, “I’ve just got to finish my to-do list. People don’t listen to me.” I think one of the deepest…well, this is actually something that Stephen would say, I’m paraphrasing, that one of the deepest needs of the human heart is to feel understood. And so, you may be a very talented, and we could go to any role of any of your listeners, but if you want to build your influence, are you influenceable? Are you working on your self-management, your social management, in addition to that technical skillset?

You know, LinkedIn, and I’ll miss some of them, but said the skills that people are really looking for that are soft – so I’ve got to assume you’ve got the technical skills, you’re the best in this whatever – are empathy, collaboration, self-management, communication skills, all things that are in The 7 Habits.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that makes sense. All right. I’m convinced, 5,000% is real. No hyperbole there. Let’s talk about being understood. That’s a deep need and I think there’s not a lot of that going around. How does one do a great job at understanding others and having them feel understood?

Jennifer Colosimo
So, a lot of the seven habits is really based on, first, who you are, building character, second, how you think, and I’m going to start there, and then how you behave to get the result, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jennifer Colosimo
So, with mindset as the starting place, this is the mindset that I would challenge if you’re really trying to truly, in your intent, you’re thinking, “I do want to understand. I really do. This isn’t fake. I really do,” can you stop the chatter in your mind, literally, stop thinking, “Do I agree or disagree? Do I have another example of that that I want to either judge or assess? What’s my response?” Stopping, “Do I want to have a comeback?” Simply, can you stop?

So, let’s assume I’m listening to you and I’ve decided, and I might even be angry, I might even totally disagree so this is an incredible discipline, so I get hit with this amygdala hit of like, “I’m totally ticked off.” Can I stop and say, “Okay, I’m going to stop all that chatter, I’m going to listen for…” and if I’m lucky I can see you. Hard in social media days but if I can see you, I’ve also got nonverbal cues, I’ve got your face, I’ve got your tone of voice in addition to the words, “How does Pete think and feel about this? How does he think and feel? And can I accurately summarize it?”

Probably not parroting back because that might make you crazy, like I’m just parroting, so, “Pete, you’re upset about X.” “Well, yeah, that’s what I just said.” But what I found is as long as you don’t put that response out, as long as you’re waiting to actually get to understanding, “So, let me summarize if I heard you correctly. What I’m hearing is you,” this is the most basic, “feel blank about blank.” And often you’ll say, “Well, that’s not totally it. You missed this small piece.” “Okay, so I missed this piece. So, in summary, you feel blank about blank,” putting in different words, “Your assessment is, your thinking is. No emotion. I’m truly trying to get to understanding.”

If you have that discipline, you will, at a minimum, develop an understanding. And the purpose is not to get necessarily to an agreement. You don’t have to agree but you can get to understanding as long as you can control the chatter in your mind and truly focus on what the other person is thinking and feeling.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, it’s funny, what comes to mind here is I was chatting with…this was a real rock star over at the Northwestern Mutual financial network, so life insurance, sales. I wasn’t super interested in having this meeting but he was a friend of a friend, so I said, “All right,” and he was so good because we had one meeting where that’s all that he was doing was understanding, seeking to understand my stuff.

And then so we met again like a week or two later, he’s like, “You know, Pete, I heard you say this and this and this. And you mentioned this and it what was really important to you is this.” And it was like it was the weirdest experience because it was like he was some kind of a prophet or like a psychic, and it’s like, “I know I said all these things to him, but it is a unique experience to have someone have really absorb all of that and kind of gotten to the heart of things,” which is why he’s leading the practice, he’s really excellent and has a big team, I don’t know.

So, yeah, it is wild how powerful that is. And so, you just mentioned the most basic level is, “You feel blank about blank,” so I’d say, “Jen, you feel frustrated that there’s a family member in your life who needs an XBOX.”

Jennifer Colosimo
We talked about this, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“You feel frustrated that there’s a family member in your life who needs an XBOX, and it is very hard to come by, and you sort of feel like they’re putting you in an impossible situation and that’s really uncomfortable.” I don’t know if you actually feel that way.

Jennifer Colosimo
I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you may have mentioned it.

Jennifer Colosimo
I want one. But, see, the difference between that conversation, number one, I mean, the question back to you, you mentioned it was weird. Whether you decided to purchase or not, because that’s in a sales environment, was it weird because you actually felt, “Wow, yeah, I am understood. That’s what I want”?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it was weird because, well, one, I guess he was talking for like 10 minutes, about 10 straight minutes of him talking of understanding me, and it’s like, “I don’t know that that’s happened before.” So, it’s weird just because it’s novel.

Jennifer Colosimo
It’s novel.

Pete Mockaitis
And that it was so dead-on. I did not end up…I kind of wanted, I didn’t need it but I wanted to support this guy, it’s like, “Man, he’s just so great. I want to help him out.” It’s like, “But I really don’t have any kids, I don’t have…”

Jennifer Colosimo
Yeah, I don’t need it at all.

Pete Mockaitis
“I don’t need an insurance right now. Maybe later.” So, yeah, that’s why it was so weird for me.

Jennifer Colosimo
So, if you think about it, one of the big hints of you…and I don’t mean it to mean used, but to really say, “I am going to try to understand.” And, again, intent is big. I said who you are. You don’t want to use this to be a manipulative person. You’re using it because you actually do care, really. I think people know when they’re being manipulated, right? They know.

If you are truly trying to care, it’s less about technique than it is caring. And the hardest time to do it is when there is – but it’s also your best signal – high emotion or some level of conflict, right? I mean, think about how hard that is especially if…you summarize well. I am frustrated and I would like to find an XBOX. But if you and I were truly arguing and you just said…

Pete Mockaitis
“Mom, you won’t give me anything cool.”

Jennifer Colosimo
“Mom,” or work, right? You know, “Jen, what you did in that meeting completely…I mean, I can’t believe that’s what you did. It’s ruined this project,” and I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m being attacked.” That’s why those first three habits are so important because if I can’t feel confident enough in myself that I don’t need to win this argument, I’m truly thinking about how you and I are going to work together in the future and I, all of a sudden, become very curious, “Wow, I must’ve really done something. Pete is mad.”

I’m not responsible for you being mad. That’s not what I’m saying. I may be based on actions but I’m not taking the responsibility. I’m taking the responsibility to understand because I would like you and I to maintain our work relationship. Possibly, I’ll apologize. Possibly, I’ll get to the point of where I understand and I’ll say, “So, Pete, do I understand?” “Yes, you do.” “I see it differently. Could I share how I see it?” We may not come to agreement but it’s part of thinking about, “How do you gain influence in an organization? How do you get to your potential? How do you get sponsors and allies that will support you?” And a big part of it isn’t just your technical skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. And so then, let’s talk about the different levels there. So, we arrive there via curiosity, via being very kind of solid and firm in your character and foundations, and genuinely caring about the person and their perspective, and having that curiosity to dig in. And then the basic level is, “You feel this about that.” What’s the advanced level? What’s the master of understanding vibe?

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, again, I think intent counts much more than technique here. In fact, I would totally assert intent counts more than technique because if you’re truly trying to get to it, people will give you a lot of leeway than if they think you’re using a special technique. And if I can see you, I could nod because you might have some emotion that keeps you going for a minute, and I’m processing, okay, like, “Okay, wait it was that? Is it that? Is he mad at me for that or was it this?” I’m processing, I could not, I could say, “Mm-hmm, go on. So, when that happened, it caused this? Right, I’m summarizing back some of the things you said, paraphrasing,” or it might be just staying silent, but you know I’m not using empathic listening if I say, “Pete, I totally agree.”

Now, I might get to that but that’s not me getting to understanding. That’s me totally agreeing with you. Or, “I disagree,” or, “You know what, my sister kind of thinks the same way,” or, “You know what, this work group that we worked on, they agree with me.” It’s the, “I’ve taken everything away and I’m just trying to understand you.” Does that get to more advanced?

Pete Mockaitis
It does, yes. And I’m thinking sometimes when I’ve done this well, which is rarer than I’d like to admit, I guess I almost think about it like…we had Chris Voss, the FBI hostage negotiator, on the show, and in his book he talked about sort of like identifying sort of what is the religion of the person you’re working with. Not really like Catholic or Mormon or Muslim, but like the worldview and ultimate beliefs that are kind of underneath this. And I think that’s a good lens as well as sometimes I think about it in terms of like if I were an actor who needed to convincingly portray this person, it’s sort of like a Sprite commercial, “Excuse me, what’s my motivation?”

Jennifer Colosimo
Exactly, “What’s my motivation?”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s sort of like, “What is the motivation?” Like, if you were a director, or a screenplay writer, or an actor trying to imbue that character with a life and a motivation and a backstory and a belief or religion, it’s sort of like that’s kind of what I think, for me, is how I kind of try to see if I’ve really nailed it. And it’s been kind of rare but it’s been awesome when it happens, you’re like, “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel.”

Jennifer Colosimo
“Yes, you get me. Yes, you get me,” which is huge when we’re talking about effectiveness whether it’s in work, in your family, in relationships. You don’t have to agree with me, although I would love it if the whole world agreed with me but that’s probably unrealistic. But that felt need of you understand me, especially in times that are a bit turbulent, to use, a bit turbulent where there doesn’t seem to be much understanding, I think that’s a nice way to say it.

Frankly, have you ever been at work and you’ve solved a problem that wasn’t even the problem? Because, you know this, and people bring this up to you all the time and you just hear two words, you’re like, “No, no, no, no. I got this. Here’s what you do,” and they walk away and then you find out later that was not even the problem at all. It can be that tactical of, “What is really the problem here that we’re looking at? Have we defined it and are we working at that? Or am I so impatient, I just hear two words, and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no. I know this problem. Solve it this way’?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Well, boy, so many directions we can take off from here. Maybe could you share, in your experience, what is the habit that has the – it’s kind of like consultants, right, we could put everything on 2×2 matrix – the habit that is the most lacking amongst professionals and the most costly in terms of, “Boy, this is really hurting your career and if you nailed it, your career would soar”? Maybe that’s one habit that nails both of them or maybe it’s two separate ones, but lay it on us.

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, I think the one we just discussed is the one where you’re going to really kind of get the exponential. It’s quite an emotional intelligence but intent skillset and it requires self-awareness. It’s like a hard one and it really accelerates. The one I would say, truly, that is foundational to being effective, so getting the results now and in the future, is, and that’s why it is habit one, as I mentioned, they’re progressive, is choice. And let me give you an example.

Some of what the company I worked through has done has worked with inmates in the correctional system using the seven habits. And habit one, while if you and I are discussing it, or you read it in a book, and you see some great hints, you may be able to integrate so much more of it into your life. Habit one takes months in the correction facility because it’s basically saying, “Regardless of what has happened to you or does happen, you have the ability to make a choice in how you think and behave.” And just think about that for a second.

In The 7 Habits, there’s four gifts that are human-based, so you have to have the self-awareness to be able to say, “Okay, this is how I feel.” You have to be able to have the mental, like be able to look out into the future and say, “What I do now matters and this is probably the best to fulfill my vision.” You have to be able to tap into conscience, “And here’s what I value and here’s who I am.” And then you have to have the independent will to act in the face of things that may not have been natural to you.

And it’s even as much as using language that is proactive. There’s neurotransmitters when you use positive language. This used to make me crazy. I used to say, “That’s to woo-woo for me,” even though I’ve been around this forever. But when you think about me saying to you, “I’m going to the grocery store. I’m flying to LA. I’m going to work out,” the difference between that and, “I have to work out. I have to go to the grocery store. I have to fly to LA,” truly serotonin differences in the way you use your language, which is part of habit one.

So, honestly, where I think for many professionals who are good at it, that’s where we have the most opportunity to be solution-focused, to ensure we’re making those choices, and to use those gifts. And then, probably, the biggest career advancer when it comes to building credibility, connection, collaborators is habit five, the “Seeking first to understand then to be understood,” because you also have the skillset to be able to convey your ideas with respect.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that just makes me feel great as the interviewer because the two I zeroed in on, and I was like, “You tell me what are the two?” It’s okay, we got synergy.

Jennifer Colosimo
And you knew. Was that a leading question?

Pete Mockaitis
No, I thought, I was like, “Hey, I’m going to pick two that I think are important and I’m going to throw it to you and say, ‘What are the two…’” Okay, cool. Well, we’re on the same page. Hey, how about that?

Jennifer Colosimo
We are.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then let’s talk about how one develops these or any habits? How does one embark upon change, personal transformation in general? Like, what are your top do’s and don’ts here?

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, one is basic and I bet you’ve had other guests even say it, is that it takes at least three weeks to form a habit. It does. Really conscious effort, you know this if you’ve tried something new like physical, “I’m going to go running.” The first week you’re all, “Yay, yay, I’m running.” The second week, you’re kind of achy, maybe you can miss Wednesday or Friday and by the third week, you’re like, “Ahh, as long as I can get out one day,” right? It takes three weeks to be able to form it in any kind of…and then, obviously, it gets easier after that. That’s why trainers are literally saying, “You got to commit to three weeks.” Most diets, three weeks.

But when you think about it, you have to have a commitment. And, frankly, books, including The 7 Habits have actual things in the back saying, “If you want to improve this, watch your language for four days and see how many times, ‘You have to,’ ‘You have no choice,’ you use victim language, and how many times you use proactive language,” right? Each of these has a practice you can put into place.

One that I’ve been challenged, I’ve done a significant amount of executive coaching, is to say, “You need to have a sticky note that says, “The first time I feel a strong emotion, I’m going to stop and pause, examine what the feeling is, think before I speak, and try to put these practices, whatever they may be, into practice.” Like a reminder as soon as you feel emotion. Because how can you predict when you’re going to feel a strong emotion while you’re working? But most of them have practices you can put into place.

One of the most details, habit two “Begin with the end in mind,” actually encourages you to write a mission statement. And you can Google mission statement builder. There’s an app, free, but something that we have at FranklinCovey, and then there’s others. Write a mission statement. “Put first things first,” has many tactical hints and tips – managing your technology, managing distractions. So, it really depends on the habit that’s yours, “Is this more of a think than do? Is this, ‘Okay, I’ve got the think down. I just need to do’?” Which one is it and which practice will help you the best?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. And maybe the last question before we hear about your favorite things. In a world where everything seems urgent, how do we escape and really do those important but not urgent things?

Jennifer Colosimo
Well, of course, there’s a lot in The 7 Habits and I recently read a book that I think inspired me, and I don’t know if I say his name correctly. It’s a book called Indistractable, Nir…

Pete Mockaitis
Nir Eyal.

Jennifer Colosimo
Yeah, Indistractable. Have you read that book?

Pete Mockaitis
He’s been on the show.

Jennifer Colosimo
Oh, I didn’t see that when I looked through the other podcasts that I was listening to. I honestly think his practices, well, the principles of personal management, and the mindset pieces we do a quadrant model of how to think about urgent versus urgent versus important versus aligned to your values and managing your technology. I think some of his practices…did he talk about the tree app that he has in his book? Do you remember?

Pete Mockaitis
The tree app? I don’t have a picture in my head of a tree, so.

Jennifer Colosimo
It’s an app that you pull up a tree and you say, “This tree will be built on my app as long as I focus on this task for this amount of time. And if I take my mind off that task, and I have to click it and it kills the tree.” There’s all these great hints, obviously so many. So many will say, “Establish your rules. Here’s where you turn it off. Here’s how much time you say that you’ll respond to your email. This is when you’ll respond to texts. This is when you’ll do social media,” and some of that is even in The 7 Habits even though some of those tools weren’t there. I think the mindset of urgent versus important and tying it to your values, but there are a lot of practices to put that into place. I was really inspired by his.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s great. So, there’s a lot of practices, but if we go ever deeper to the foundational root, you’re suggesting it’s more of about having kind of like a total clarity on what’s important based upon an understanding of your values.

Jennifer Colosimo
Yeah, and I’ll say imagine there’s kind of a beam, since people can’t see me. If on one end of the beam are the things that you profess to value, and some of the work that is proposed in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to write down statements that you would want people who know you in that role to say about you. So, maybe it’s my retirement party and I wish people would say this about me at my party. Maybe it’s a partner or spouse, here’s what I would want them to say. What would they all say? My ideal is this, and this is what I’m trying to do in my life.

And on the other side of the beam is how I actually act every day, and no way would I get any of those tribute statements based on my actions. Well, then you philosophically know, no matter what tools you’re using, you aren’t aligning your important things with your actions each day, so how do you get closer to that? And one of the strategies that’s in The 7 Habits that’s worked for me is, of course, you can’t align your whole life to that, but do you choose one thing for each of your roles that you will do – It might be relationship-focused or it might be result – that would get you closer to that tribute statement each week? And on a weekly basis, do you do at least one thing that moves you closer to that vision?

And if you’re not doing anything in alignment with who you say you want to be and what you want, frankly, you’re not going to have a very credible claim to feeling peaceful let alone effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Yup, I buy that. Thank you. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jennifer Colosimo
You know, one of my favorite quotes, and it gets attributed to a lot of different people. Albert Schweitzer, I think, said part of it. Stephen Covey used to say it but I love this quote, “In everyone’s life, at some time, an inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.” And then sometimes people add, “Let’s be thankful for those who rekindle the inner spirit.” Because I think about times my own flame has gone out where I’m kind of like, “Okay, I’m completely depleted.” The people that will burst you into flame and bring back you and what you can contribute, I mean, what an amazing contribution.

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

Jennifer Colosimo
My favorite research, and I realized this by thinking about how many times I read it or look at profiles, is really Martin Seligman’s and positive psychology. His books on Flourish, Learned Optimism, the positive psychology assessments that have been built, I just find that work so fascinating, and it goes so deep in thinking about how your mind drives, truly, positive psychology which is different than happiness but more of that sense of fulfillment.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jennifer Colosimo
My favorite business book most recently, and, of course, it’s not the newest book, but I love Ray Dalio’s Principles book. Love. And my favorite author doesn’t write enough, I have two. Donna Tart, and she’s only written a few books. And then I love Tana French. She’s an Irish author who writes mysteries.

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

Jennifer Colosimo
Honestly, I would say it’s less tool-based, although I am, especially I work from home right now, working at home, I really love IM chats. So, you could use a variety of tools. Sometimes it’s been Slack, sometimes it’s been Zoom chats, sometimes it’s been Teams chat, but with my close workers, I think it feels more like that we’re in the same environment because people can pop in.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jennifer Colosimo
My absolute favorite habit, and as you might expect, I get asked for career advice a lot, of course, it comes from The 7 Habits, Pete. You would’ve had to have expected that. But my favorite habit is proactive. I say the number one thing you can do in your career is say, “Based on the situation I’m in, what’s the best thing for me to do or say right now?”

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

Jennifer Colosimo
What gets quoted back to me a lot as an original quote is, “You have to have curiosity. If your curiosity dies, you’re dead.” Especially at work.

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

Jennifer Colosimo
I would point them to FranklinCovey.com. That’s where you’ll learn more about what we’re doing and all of our books and all of the works that we have for individuals. Me, personally, I’m at @jencolosimo on Twitter. I have tweeted very little over the past several months because I had to do a bit of a calming myself. My be proactive was not to be Twitter but that’s where I am on Twitter. Also on LinkedIn at Jennifer Colosimo.

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

Jennifer Colosimo
My final challenge is to take up the challenge we invested the most time in this conversation on. Bring empathy into the workplace. Although you can’t force others to bring empathy into the workplace, you will release more potential, you’ll be more fulfilled if you bring empathy into the workplace yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Jen, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you all the best as you’re practicing the seven habits.

Jennifer Colosimo
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate the time.