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571: How to Crush Self-Doubt and Build Self-Confidence with Dr. Ivan Joseph

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Dr. Ivan Joseph discusses the critical practices that build unshakeable self-confidence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The fundamental building block of self-confidence
  2. How to control the negative tape in your head
  3. A powerful trick for overcoming impostor syndrome

About Ivan

Dr. Ivan Joseph an award-winning Performance Coach, Sports Psychologist, author and recognized educator and mentor. His TEDx talk on self-confidence – with over 18 million views to date – has been selected by Forbes magazine as one of the 10 Best TED Talks about the Meaning of Life. 

Dr. Joseph travels extensively around the world to speak to organizations and teams about the power of self-confidence in leadership, career, sports and life – and how to build high-performing teams that exceed expectations. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Ivan Joseph Interview Transcript

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

Ivan Joseph
Thanks for having me, Pete. Appreciate it. Looking forward to this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m looking forward to this conversation as well. And I have to chuckle a little bit. So, your book is called You Got This: Mastering the Skill of Self-Confidence and I couldn’t resist sharing that my mother really hates the phrase “you got this.” And I want to hear if you’ve heard that before.

Ivan Joseph
Yes, indeed. In fact, I’m looking behind you in your bookshelf to see if you have it. I don’t see it back there, so, clearly, your mother has won the day.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve clicked in depth on your virtual version, so. So, yeah, tell me, what’s…I’ll tell you my mom’s take, but what are you hearing in terms of the pushback on the title?

Ivan Joseph
You know, there’s two things. People say it’s really catchy, and they love it. It’s easy and it’s a good affirmation for themselves. And then some folks say, “Oh, man, I wish it wasn’t so contemporary and so pop culture-ish.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, pop culture-ish. Well, I kind of like it. I think the first time I heard the phrase was in a movie or something, I was like, “Ooh, yeah, that resonates.” But I think my mom, it’s the specific context in which someone’s on social media, they’re sharing like a real challenge, like someone has cancer or something, and then people comment, “You got this.” And my mom is like, “That is so inadequate. What they’re going through deserves so much more than a flippant…” That’s kind of her thing.

Ivan Joseph
When we were writing the book, we were vacillating back between You Got This, and The Skill of Self-Confidence. If I had to do it again, I’d probably stick with The Skill of Self-Confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that is your area of expertise. I’m really excited to dig into it. So, self-confidence sounds like a good thing. We’d all love to have it. Could you maybe share some research that reveals how more self-confidence can really translate into actual results for professionals, particularly if you’ve got those examples, as opposed to just feeling good?

Ivan Joseph
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean, it’d be nice to feel confident, but what does it mean in terms of results and victory?

Ivan Joseph
Well, I think the first thing you have to recognize is let’s start with the definition of self-confidence. So, everybody’s playing and starting at the same place. And so, the definition I use in the research is this genuine belief in your ability to accomplish the task at hand – self-confidence. And I want everybody to know it’s not this magic pill that you just take and you can swallow, and you can just, “Oh, I’m, all of a sudden, self-confident.”

But the research that started looking at this goes way back to some foundational work that talks about optimism and happiness. But the big one that I started that got me in this venue was looking and reading about Angela Duckworth and Grit. And she was studying grit, which is the belief in your ability to accomplish tasks despite setbacks, and she was looking at how people, what they’ve told themselves, how they believed in themselves, how that really influenced their ability to move forward.

And she studied a bunch of military personnel. It was Beast Barracks week during West Point Military Academy. And, you know, the Military Academy, they’re really interested in, “How do people decide that we should make it through candidate training school?” because it’s hell. They don’t get to sleep, they don’t get to eat, there’s noise pollution, all these things, because they’re testing those candidates to make them ready.

And so, they did aptitude tests, they did physical testing, they did all these leadership scores, they did a battery of tests. And when they looked at these tests, they were somewhat predictive of who would be successful. But when Angela Duckworth came to these 13 items to predict grit and resilience, she found those 13 items more reliable than those hundreds of questions combined.

And when I read that, I’m like, “Whoa! Grit is a reliable predictor of performance and your ability to succeed?” And when I started really looking into grit, I studied just the first half of it which was this genuine belief in your ability to accomplish the task at hand. And then there was further research that went into how affirmations played a role in that, which is another word for self-talk, how focus played a role in that, how repetition played a role in that. The research is out there and it’s all saying the same thing. you can’t start with talent. You have to start with this belief in your ability, and only then will the talent get a moment to shine.

Pete Mockaitis
it’s intriguing. You talked about a given task at hand in terms of self-confidence. Then I imagine you may very well have self-confidence in one domain and not at all in another because those are very different tasks, and some you think you’ve got totally covered, and others you feel woefully unprepared for. Is that accurate?

Ivan Joseph
This is really accurate, your concept about, “Is it global?” I want you to think about the first time you had your first job, right? You’ve got it, you’ve mastered that skill, and, all of a sudden, your boss comes in and says, “Here’s your promotion and you’re ready to roll.” And imagine the doubt and the fear. We all hear about impostor syndrome, that now starts to creep in. You are master of your domain, you had it taken care of, you were the queen of your ship, or the king of your castle, whatever it is, the term you want to use, and, all of a sudden now, you’ve got to manage people, or you’ve got to lead this presentation.

And because these tasks are typically novel to you, and you haven’t had the affirmations and the feedback that says, “You got this,” to coin a phrase from the book, then that whole self-spiraling doubt and negativity starts to spiral into you, which affects your performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so then if we find ourselves in a space where we’re not so self-confident, and we would like to be, what do we do?

Ivan Joseph
That’s a great question. And I always tell people this story, you heard me earlier in the podcast talk about this magic bullet. When I give a speech about this topic, I say it’s not like you’re at the Las Vegas, and Celine Dion is on stage, and I’m Canadian so I’m going to pick Celine Dion, and she gets food poisoning. And, all of a sudden, the manager comes in and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, we can no longer close out the show. Celine Dion can’t sing her amazing closing song because she’s sick.” And you stand up, Pete, you say, “Yeah, I got this. I’ve watched Titanic a hundred times.” That’s not really confidence. That’s somewhere on the edge of delusional, I’ll say.

When I talk about confidence, the task can’t be novel to you. So, there’s a series of steps to really move towards confidence, and the first one is repetition, repetition, repetition. Gladwell talks about it, there’s a 10,000-hour rule, whatever it is for you to have confidence and genuine belief in your ability. And so, I want you to think about it. For some folks and some listeners out there, about the first time you drove stick shift. You drive stick, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
I tried a couple of times then I stopped. It didn’t go very well.

Ivan Joseph
Right. The first time you drive stick on a hill with a car behind you, oh, my God, your heart is racing 100 miles an hour. By the time you’ve driven stick for a year later, a year and a half, whatever it is, that skill is so automatic. And so, the number one thing is, like, find a way to get to your practice, to your repetition.

And if you’re a leader and you’re getting ready to present, present in front of the mirror, present in front of your partner, present in a small group of friends, get the feedback, so by the time you got onto that big stage, you’re no longer scared. So, that would be the first step.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Ivan Joseph
After you get to repetition, for me, the next thing to do is to really control that negative tape that plays in your head. You know that tape, “I wish I was this. I hate myself in this look. Oh, I can’t do this job.” As a sports psychologist and a performance enhancement consultant, I work with a lot of athletes. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Olympians and NBA athletes and the national team of basketball for Canada, and we do a lot of what we call centering or thought-stopping.

The next time you’re watching a professional athlete, watch the different physical cues that they’ll use: pointing, clapping, finger-snapping. Whenever they make a mistake, they don’t dwell on the mistake. The phrase we use is “Live in the moment,” or, “Be in the presence,” right? And what that is about is about being in the moment, meaning forget about the mistake. Stop that negative talk, whatever that negative doubt is. Use a physical cue to bring you to the present and replace it with a positive talk, whatever that might be, “You got this,” “I got the next one,” “I’m ready.” The power of affirmation is really critical.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. So, are you telling us that frequently, when we observe such physical snaps, claps, etc., from athletes, this is exactly what they’re doing?

Ivan Joseph
Oh, 100%. I guarantee it. I remember one time, the first time I noticed it many years ago into my dissertation, there’s a famous soccer player by the name of Thierry Henry, and this is a guy making millions of pounds a year. And he missed a wide-open goal, right? And all he did was point back to the person that passed him the ball, and said, “Nice job. I got the next one.” And you could read it on his lips and see it on TV. You don’t get to be excellent by focusing on all the mistakes and all the inadequacies that you have.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, excellent. Well, so then I like that notion of the physical gesture to kind of just make it really clear, “Hey, we’re stopping that now and we’re transitioning to something else.” So, snaps, claps. What are some other good ones?

Ivan Joseph
You’ll see some athletes that will take a little rubber band and move it from one wrist to the other, sometimes they’ll snap it. You’ll see some folks that will jingle some coins. Watch the next time you’ll see an athlete just take a deep breath in, and that reminds them, “Okay, I got this.” I remember the one time, the very first time I was doing a big speech, and I’d spoken before, but you get paid in a bottle of wine or like a coffee mug. But the very first time I was on stage and it was 4,000 people, and then the night before Maya Angelou was on stage, and this was like the big deal. I was about to be big time, at least as big as C-level celebrities are, or maybe E, or G, or whatever the number is. But I was so nervous. Behind the stage, I had to clap, clap, clap, “You got this. You got this. You got this.” I had to physically remind myself that I was good at what I do, and that was really critical for me to be able to get on stage and speak in front of 4,000 people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. So, well then what’s next? So, we got the physical indicator or anchor, and then shifting gears from the negative to the positive talk. What’s the next step?

Ivan Joseph
Well, I want to remind folks that the affirmations must be really simple and bite-sized, right? Mine is, “I got this,” “Nobody outworks me,” and, “I can learn anything.” And you asked me about research before, I want to turn your readers to a study from Harvard that talked about how three affirmations a day, if you’re in the problem-solving world, increased your efficiency to solve that problem, something like 26%.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Ivan Joseph
And if you’re in the sales marketing world, your revenue went up 30 some odd percent by using three affirmations a day. And that’s that. What you tell yourself you start to believe and how it translated directly to the output of your work, your production, your ability to solve complex problems. And so, that affirmation and that self-talk moves right into that next thing which is reminding yourself of how good you are.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, this affirmation stuff, that’s juicy. I love a good study with some numbers behind it. So, we had Hal Elrod who talked about the six morning habits of high performers. He wrote the The Miracle Morning and such on the show earlier. And he gave some great distinctions associated with what makes an affirmation good versus delusional and problematic. So, I’d love to hear your take. So, from the research, what are some of the ingredients or do’s and don’ts for a positive affirmation? What I’m recalling, I think Hal used the example of, “Money flows effortlessly to me. I am a magnet for wealth,” is not so helpful because your brain goes, “No, it doesn’t. I’ve got to hustle and bend over backwards to make things happen.” And so, can you give us some pro tips on making those affirmations effective?

Ivan Joseph
I think it’s a great question. And one of the things I recognized early on is in order to have an affirmation be meaningful and have genuine belief, you have to have genuine control over it. And so, that locus of control for an affirmation is really important and critical. “Nobody outworks me,” so I can control that. “I can learn anything,” I can control that too, right? And so, when you listen to those things, are they within your circle of influence? “I’m the wealthiest guy in the world,” I mean, maybe if I was reading The Secret and I wanted to put that out there, and I wanted to start putting it out there. But the magic, for me, as a sports psychologist, is to always give agency to the people to control their affirmation. So, it has to be something that you can master and you can own.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Well, then proceed. So, that’s the affirmation side of things. What’s next?

Ivan Joseph
So, then from there, I talk about a letter to yourself. And I think this is a really important piece. We all will feel self-doubt, or it will creep into us when we get a promotion, when we get a new opportunity, or when somebody will criticize us, or be really hard on us, and you have to be able to pull out a letter that you’ve written to yourself at good times.

I remember when I became the Director of Athletics at Ryerson University, it was a university of 40,000 people. I came from Iowa, a university of a thousand people. Oh, my goodness, I’m in charge of millions of dollars, I have to manage people, and I remember that whole impostor syndrome kicking in, and I read this letter to myself.

And my letter goes something like this, “Dear Ivan, thanks for choosing the right person to marry. Nice job on accomplishing your Ph.D. before you hit 40. You’ve launched a business with an amazing partner.” All these things I wanted to brag to myself. It was my own personal brag sheet to remind myself, when I was going in the dumps and going this way, “No, no, no. Let’s remember all these things and all these challenges that you’ve had.” And I pull it out and I needed to read that day in, day out, day in, day out.

Now, a lot of folks out there will say, “Well, a brag sheet, that’s ego, man.” And I want people to recognize this is not a letter to others. That is arrogance, right? This is a letter that you’re writing to yourself. And so, people are like, “Well, how do you define confidence over arrogance and ego?” That’s it. Confidence is what you tell yourself. Arrogance and ego is about what you’re telling others about yourself. And so, it’s important to take this letter, look at yourself in the mirror, take your quiet spot, and engage in this personal reminder of all the amazing things you’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really like that. You had it in a letter, I have it on my shelf. There is a black Mead spiral notebook. I haven’t looked at it lately, which might be good or I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I haven’t needed it or felt the need.

Ivan Joseph
Well, that’s it, Pete, right? When you get to that next space, wherever your career or your life will take you when you’ll need it, you know where to get it. You found it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. And it really is so handy. And I think I borrowed this from maybe Tony Robbins who talked about if you have a belief, I still see this diagram in my head. I read this when I was a teenager. It’s like if you have a belief, you need to have some supporting legs, like a table, for your brain to be like, “Yeah, okay, that’s true.”

And so, I think this was in college, I was feeling kind of like a loser because in high school I was just like, I don’t know, I was kind of the man, if you will, in terms of, “Oh, I’m valedictorian and homecoming king,” and I was getting lots of praises and affirmations in all kinds of directions, and then in college, I was like rejected from the sketch comedy team, and the business consulting group, and the other business club, and then the other…and I was like, “What is wrong?” And so, I was feeling pretty down about my capabilities.

And then I just sort of thought, “Well, hey, maybe I’ll just make a list of reasons why the belief that I’m capable of rocking and rolling is true.” And I was like, “Holy smokes, this is a pretty long list. Okay, I guess I’ve just had a bad luck streak, and I’m going to keep trying.” And, sure enough, I found some clubs that would take me and a good college career.

Ivan Joseph
I love what you’re saying because you’re doing what we call as self-confident people interpret feedback differently. And what you’re able to do right now is, “I guess I had a bad streak.” After using some skills, instead of like, “My God, I’m a loser. I’ll never do any good.” And then you start to dig yourself what we call, “Lord, the snake’s belly and a wagon rut,” right? You interpreted those failures differently. That is so key. How we interpret setbacks really sets us apart.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, thank you. And it’s funny, and it wasn’t immediate. I’d say there’s definitely, I don’t know what the time period was, some weeks or so of just like, “Ooh, I suck.” But, eventually, that turned around. So, now, let’s talk about, Ivan, right now, as we’re recording, the coronavirus is a hot topic everywhere on the news, etc. and I’ve been chatting with a few people who have admitted to really experiencing a healthy dose of depression, anxiety, mental health challenges, that is not so typical for them under normal circumstances but, hey, not getting out, not seeing people, not as easy to get to the gym, or all these sorts of rituals habits, routines, healthy good things they got going on are disrupted, and they’re now kind of reaping what they’ve had to. So, hey, help us here. If listeners are experiencing this right now, how might we apply some of these tools to help shorten the time and the funk?

Ivan Joseph
Well, it’s a great question again, right? And so, one of the things you recognize is that we know that thoughts influence our beliefs which influence our actions. And so, when you’re in a funky space, you know that’s you’re thinking, and then it’s influencing your beliefs, and then how you get to the action part.

And so, one of the things that’s really important is in this whole world that we’re using the term social distancing, and the psychologist in me says, “I don’t know if that’s the right term that we should be thinking about. I think the term should be physical distancing, and we should be engaging with the people that are important to us, who add value to us.”

A lot of times when I talk about the lens of confidence, I talk about getting away from the people who will tear you down, which is the negative people, the people who are giving you negative feedback versus critical feedback. But I think the opposite is also true, which means get close to the people who will build you up.

And so, you know who are you and who those people are, and you can know and you can see what are the tells that are telling you, and you’re going off into a place. And you need to pay attention to your physical tells that say you’re getting to a point of stress, and then you need to put yourself in a place where you can connect with those people. And, in today’s world, it’s going to have to be virtual, but with Zoom, with Microsoft Teams, with FaceTime, with Google Hangouts, there’s a way to infuse yourself and your relationships with positivity to help build you up and to help pass you through these troubling times.

When we say we’re all in this together, nobody does it alone. And sometimes we’re so proud and we’re so afraid to share our vulnerabilities, that’s not what confidence or high-performance life is all about. It’s about recognizing that we are in this together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. Now, you mentioned physical stress tells. Please, flag them right up front. So, some listeners might be like, “Huh, that’s been going on.”

Ivan Joseph
You think about it, right? We don’t recognize we need to always talk about stress. There’s two types of stress. There’s distress and there’s eustress. Eustress is the positive pieces that raise our levels and help us perform better. And distress is the one that overwhelms us, how we react to that stress overwhelms us.

I remember when I was first leading, a stressor for me that I was not ready, the skin on my hand started to peel. I started to get like serious, like bad cotton ball mouth. But there’s also a point where I need to be at the right level of performance anxiety in order to get the best out of me. When the butterflies are in your stomach, when you’re feeling your heart start to raise, I know I’m ready. I’m at my peak game.

Have you ever had a client or a guest on your show where you are like, “Man, I was on. I brought my A-game to this guy,” and thought about how you felt just before that moment?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, you know, it’s funny, just before we spoke, I was feeling a little bit like, “Meh,” my energy level was sort of lower and, yeah, I was just sort thinking, “Well, how would I prefer to feel?” I was like, “Well, I’d like to be fascinated and powerful and curious.” So, yeah, I guess that’s how I feel before a great interview.

Ivan Joseph
Right. I think it’s really important about how we connect with those around us, and not just the energy we give but the energy we draw from those people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Well, let’s see, so in your book you mentioned five skills, and it sounds like we’ve hit a few of them: positive thought, team building, grit, higher expectations, and focus. Are there any of these that you think we’ve covered too shallowly and we got to give a little bit more love to before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Ivan Joseph
Well, I think the one that we haven’t touched is this ‘higher expectations’ one, and I think this is really key about we talk about it from the Pygmalion Effect is what we call it in the world of leadership or sport in which people will rise through a minimum level of expectations. And I think this is really important for leaders that are out in the field. It’s about, “How do you lead people to be excellent and confident? And how can you influence them?” And one of the ways is about catching them when they’re good because they’ll raise your minimum level of expectations.

And what I mean by that is we know that if you are critical, if you give negative feedback, “Hey, I need this presentation to look like this. Hey, this chart didn’t have what I needed on it. Hey, I need you to do this, this, and this,” that we know that we’ll get the behavior we want. But, typically, it erodes the relationship. Typically, it creates conflict.

If we can, instead, forget about that, the negative things that people are doing, and instead focus on the team member that might be doing it right, meaning, you’re in a meeting, “Hey, folks, thanks for coming on time to this meeting. It helps us get started.” Or somebody presented a report, “Hey, I love how this report was. Notice the font size is the way I want it. I love that the logo is here on the bottom left.” Instead, what happens is you catch people when they’re good. And what we’ve known and what we’ve seen in the research is that improvement exponentially improves over when we catch them when they’re bad.

In the world of psych, we call this the social learning theory, is that people learn through observation. If we can focus on the excellence, now, what happens is instead of us tearing down a player over here who was really sour or bitter or angry because of our feedback, we built up somebody else, and they feel great and aligned to you and really increase their loyalty and their willingness to follow you, and we’ve said somebody else over here is like, “Oh, I better pay attention. I want that same feedback.” And the whole organization rises because you catch them when they’re good.

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

Ivan Joseph
Well, I think the last piece is just to remind people that this is a skill. The skill of self-confidence isn’t about just sitting here and, “Okay, I’ve tried. I wrote this letter, I read it once, it didn’t work.” “Oh, I said my affirmation today, and it didn’t happen.” “Well, I tried praise and it still hasn’t happened.” We have to be willing to persist just like the master of any task in the workplace, and give it an opportunity to grab hold.

And so, for the listeners that are out there, be patient with yourselves, and be patient with the people that you’re leading, because good things will happen if you give it an opportunity to shine, and you will see a cultural shift in the people, and, most importantly, or just as importantly, a cultural shift in yourself in how you approach leading.

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

Ivan Joseph
Well, one of my favorites is an old Apple commercial. I always attribute it to Steve Jobs but I know it’s somebody different, but it was after Steve Jobs had been kicked out of his company and he came back, and they launched this commercial in the Super Bowl, and it was called “Here’s to the crazy ones.” I don’t know if you know. It’s really a poem. “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.” And I’ll fast-forward to the last line, “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” I love it because it speaks to a higher purpose.

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

Ivan Joseph
Oh, gosh, being a psychologist, I have a whole bunch. But one of them is a study by Jacobson and Rosenthal. Jacobson and Rosenthal studied the Pygmalion Effect in a New York high school, and what they did was they brought some teachers, and then they said to these teachers, “Hey, we developed this late-blooming acquisition test. It’s an amazing test. It will tell of all your students who the best late bloomers are.”

And so, of course, the teachers said, “Yeah,” and so they administered the test. And these students in the back of the class, the very back, the ones you would think would be the dumbest, most bonehead, because that’s what they sit. At least, that’s where I’ve sat but don’t tell anybody. They said, “These students here scored the highest on the late-blooming acquisition test. We’re going to come back at the end of the year and see how our test works.”

So, Jacobson and Rosenthal show up, and sure enough, at the end of the year, the teachers were excited, “Ah, your late-blooming acquisition, this was amazing, it worked. It did everything what it’s supposed to do.” But, as you can imagine, the magic of it was there was no such thing as a late-blooming acquisition test. It was a confederate. It was a ploy. In fact, what happened was the teachers, because they expected more from these students, they called on them more. They didn’t ask, they didn’t take the dog-ate-my-homework as an excuse. They didn’t say, “I don’t know good enough.” They didn’t say, “Okay, you know how you avoid eye contact when you don’t know the answer?”

By those teachers interacting differently with those students, those students exceeded their own expectations and rose to the expectations of the teachers. And this has been a key tool in my leadership toolbox.

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

Ivan Joseph
Oh, well, one of my favorite books, and don’t tell anybody because it’s one of those things. It was Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, hey, we have some more Tony Robbins references here, yeah.

Ivan Joseph
Right. Have you read that one?

Pete Mockaitis
I believe it is on my shelf, yeah. When I was a teenager, Tony Robbins was who I wanted to be. Fun fact, I was a weird kid. But, yeah, what’s something useful from that book that was impactful for you?

Ivan Joseph
You know, at the time I read that book I’d flunked out of school and I hadn’t told my parents. And, for me, what I liked about it was it gave you the ownership and the control. It was about awakening the giant within. Stop blaming everybody else outside, external reasons for why you’re not succeeding. It’s time for you to really take ownership, and you have the ability to control your destiny, where you want to be, who you want to be, and what you want to do. And I remember taking that to heart and really just taking my life right by the scruff of the collar and just deciding I was going to drive where I wanted to be.

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

Ivan Joseph
Well, I’m a big believer in surrounding myself with the right talent. And so, for me, that tool is I’m really careful about who I choose, and I really pay particular attention about who I hire and how I hire. And you always talk about it, it’s like fire fast, hire slow. I don’t think people think enough about building culture, and these other things that when you’re asking the questions around the workplace or in the interview process that will get at, “Who do you want and do they fit?” because that fit is so important. That values alignment is mission critical.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Ivan Joseph
I’m a morning person and I found this out by accident. But one of my favorite habits is getting up early to make sure I align my day up right. That time before anybody gets up is so productive. I’m not part of Sharma’s, 5 AM Club. I’m not that, but I’m probably a 5:30-5:45 club. But the ability to set your day out to really think about what those three big buckets, or four big bucket things are, that’s the way you move your needle.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And tell me, is there a particular nugget that you share and you’re known for, people quote it back to you often?

Ivan Joseph
I think it’s about getting away from the people who will tear you down. I think that’s really important because you will start to believe them. And if you can’t be really careful and mindful of who those people are, then you’re setting yourself up for failure, and they will undo all the good work you’re doing for yourself.

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

Ivan Joseph
Well, I would point them to You Got This launching soon as an Amazon website, or an Amazon book but I’d also point them to my website Dr. Ivan Joseph coming soon, so stay tuned. You can find me on Twitter, I guess, @DrIvanJoseph.

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

Ivan Joseph
I think one of the things that I want to remind people is that you’ve got to remember that if you don’t think you can or if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will. And I want to remind them that they’ve already achieved success, if they’re in a position right now where they’ve done a really nice job, or they’ve been promoted, and so we already know that you’re capable and competent. Just remind yourselves of that and keep reminding of yourselves of that when you go out into that next-level job and opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ivan, thanks so much for taking this time. And I wish you lots of luck in all your adventures.

Ivan Joseph
My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Pete. I really appreciate it.

564: Tapping the Motivational Forces of the World’s Most Successful People with Marco Greenberg

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Marco Greenberg says: "Some of the brightest people... see their professional life as an adventure rather than just a job."

Marco Greenberg shares how primal drives can be the key to unlocking your motivation and potential at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why the world’s most successful people are “primitive”
  2. How to tap into your primal drive using the ROAMING framework
  3. How to weaponize your insecurities

About Marco:

Marco Greenberg has spearheaded marketing communications and public affairs campaigns for an array of Fortune 500 corporations, healthcare organizations, and notable venture- and angel-backed startups, and has served as a senior advisor to foreign governments, democratic movements, and NGOs. Previously a managing director at global PR giant Burson-Marsteller, he sees his role as a creative catalyst for breakthrough communications. An in-demand speaker and facilitator, he has written opinion pieces for a range of publications, including Business InsiderEntrepreneurNY Daily NewsTablet Magazine, WeWork’s Creator.

He holds a BA from UCLA and an MA from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and taught as an adjunct professor of Innovations in Marketing at NYU and entrepreneurship and PR at Fordham University. He splits his time with his wife and three grown children between the upper west side of Manhattan and Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Items Mentioned in the Show

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Marco Greenberg Interview Transcript

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

Marco Greenberg
Hey, terrific to be on your podcast, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, before we hit record, I learned that we shared a pretty cool connection, and that’s Mr. Hugh O’Brian with his HOBY, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Organization, and a client of yours. I know he’s generous and loving and also cantankerous and, well, he will be missed in this world. So, could you tell us a noteworthy Hugh story to kick us off?

Marco Greenberg
I’d be happy to. I was introduced to Hugh O’Brian by, literally, the most legendary figure in the history of public relations, Harold Burson, who, sadly, passed away a couple of months ago just shy of his 99th birthday. And Harold called me into his office, and he said, “Look, I have a really important client to introduce you to who I love, but I want to give you a little bit of warning about Hugh O’Brian. He can be incredibly intense, so much so that we’ve had other people running in the account who ran for the hills or started crying because they couldn’t deal with him. He is absolutely messianic about what he wants to accomplish. He will act as if you have no other clients. But he’s someone that makes a difference. He’s someone that makes an impact. I think you’ll be great to run the account.”

And, sure enough, I was the young 20-something account executive on the Hugh O’Brian Foundation account running the gala, the awards, etc., and I learned a tremendous amount from him. And the fact of the matter is, and I hadn’t thought of this, Pete, until you made the connection between Hugh O’Brian in my own career. But, in my lexicon, Hugh is a classic primitive, meaning he marches to his own drum. He’s an iconoclast. He was non-conventional. He threw out the civilized rulebook. And, for some people, that didn’t jive well with their attitude of what you’re supposed to do in the workplace. But for other people it was actually key to his success. It was key to his ability to move the ball forward like nobody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is good. And, boy, I’ve got a lot of these Hugh memories coming back. I’ve learned a ton from him. And I remember he once shared with us that…so, he was an actor, for those who don’t know. Hugh O’Brian played Wyatt Earp back in the day on a TV series was his big role, and he started this great organization that kind of got me started in this leadership development world. But I remember he said that Gregory Peck left him a voicemail, another famous actor from back in the day who my mom loves, and he didn’t get around to returning the call before Gregory passed away. And I’ve thought about that many, many times in terms of like, don’t be too busy to reach out to your people, and it’s a good reminder. But, anywho.

the human touch doesn’t go out of style. And I think in this world of AI, and big data, and globalization, and outsourcing, and all the trends that we see, I would argue that human factor is more important than anything.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you and I’m with you. So, let’s dig into the topic du jour there. We had a little Hugh time. Let’s see, we’re talking about, so you got this book here, “Primitive: Tapping the Primal Drive that Powers the World’s Most Successful People,” so it sounds helpful. Tell us, what is that primal drive? First of all, what is that thing?

Marco Greenberg
Right. Well, there are a lot of people today that are described as disruptors, mavericks, rebels, non-traditional hires. There are all kinds of different adjectives that are thrown out there. But I think when you get down to it, when you do a reality check, when you do a gut check, it’s really about, “What is that primal drive in our core? What are the instinctive, inborn, natural traits that oftentimes society says, ‘You shouldn’t do that. You must not do that’?” But if we honor what’s primal, and obviously what’s primal can often be childlike, right? And that can be a loaded attribute.

But I found in the people that I’ve worked with who have risen to the top, whether they are the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, whether they are the founders of tech unicorns, whether they are the executive directors of NGOs, whether they are actually secretaries of state, and I’d be happy to share a few stories of anecdotes that I had with two secretaries of state that were very instructive for me in my career. I think a lot of the time, you find that they are honoring their primal instincts, that which comes naturally, that which is organic, rather than trying to bury it like most people are taught to do. Most people think, “Well, that’s not appropriate. I’ve got to cross my Ts and dot my I’s. I should follow the more conventional path.” But what I’ve discovered is the most successful people out there are those that, in the words of a famous book, take the road less traveled.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s an interesting theory. So, then what is the primal drive? I mean, so they do things differently, they march to the beat of their own drum, and they aren’t afraid to kind of shuck or disregard certain civilized norms as necessary. And so then, kind of what’s kind of getting them fired up and in motion?

Marco Greenberg
There are a lot of dynamics going on with these primitive characters. Let’s take an uber primitive in my book, someone like Elon Musk. And when you look at Elon Musk, he’s not someone that plays by the conventional rules, right?
And, originally, my book was supposed to be on marketing and how do you get it out there. And, thankfully, I have a more primitive agent, and I’ll explain why, meaning a literary agent, who said, “You know, marketing books are a dime a dozen. Why do you want to do that? Why don’t you do something more unique?” And he asked me, “What separates the most successful people that you worked with, and currently work with, and in the past worked with, and want to work with?” And the first answer that I had is, “They’re friggin’ nuts. They’re crazy.” They are out there. They are eccentric. They throw out the rulebook as we said. Sometimes they’re inappropriate, not in an offensive or illegal way, but just doing things in a bizarre, off-beat, free spirit kind of way.

So, if we go back to Elon Musk, he’s certainly nuts, right? And when I say nuts, I mean crazy in a good way, in a positive way. And that same nut spirit allowed him to launch PayPal, allowed him to get into the space business when people said, “You have no business doing that. What do you know?” And he got into that. And look at Tesla, flying high as of the beginning of the year in a way that no one would’ve thought. So, I would argue that it’s not necessarily the conventional way of following, with all due respect, the Harvard Business School case study of how a CEO should act, but rather someone who writes his own script.

And I think with Elon Musk, he does that. And I’d be happy to explain how, and how listeners can also, in my words, make a couple primitive moves. In other words, even if you’re quite civilized, quite conventional, more in the lane, more in your own world, your own box, sometimes it’s important to get out of that comfort zone and make a primitive move, be a little more nuts, and I can go through different prescriptions on how to do that when it makes sense with you, Pete. But I wanted to throw that out as just a paradigm.

But whether it’s Elon Musk or Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey, there are many, many leaders that exhibit these kinds of extraordinary traits that we talk about in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, they’re nuts and they’re unconventional. And so then, what is their primal drive? Like, what is their fuel source that gets them moving? It’s unique.

Marco Greenberg
I think it comes down to how they measure success. And, obviously, you can define success in a myriad of ways. But from the research that we’ve done in the book, from the over 60 interviews, from talking to neuropsychologists and others who, frankly, have expertise that I don’t, most of my expertise, as I’ve mentioned, is in the trenches, is in the weeds, I think the primal drive comes in four areas.

One is certainly they want to be well-compensated, right? That’s not a trivial thing. They want to be appreciated. And, for good or for bad, in our society, often that comes down to the almighty dollars they say, but I think it’s a lot more than that. I think it’s also about making an oversized impact in their own world and on the world at large. I think it’s retaining their sense of independence. These are not women and men who follow orders.

My dad was a classic primitive. He was a modern architect who died way before his time. But he was in the US Air Force Reserve between Korea and Vietnam. And he entered as a third-class private, and six years later, he left as a third-class private. And he said, “Make me a general or leave me a private, but I refuse to pass on silly orders.” So, we actually have that quote in the book and for good reason, because in my view, that kind of captures the spirit of why independence is everything. And you hear the term, and I hope I can use this on your podcast, Pete, “F you, money.” And that is another way of talking about a way to get independence.

But I think, on a primal level, it’s, A, that impact, B, that independence, and it’s also something that I’ve heard you talk about in past podcasts, and it’s something that other people in business, in my view, don’t discuss enough, and that’s the ability to have fun. I have a former client in Boston, his name is Mike Iacobucci, he has a great startup that’s now very mature, called Interactions. They do amazing, amazing work on the voice recognition side. Apple is one of their big clients. And he says to me, “You know, it’s now my, what, third, fourth startup, and I ask myself every day, ‘Am I having fun? Am I still having fun? If I’m having fun, I’m going to do it. If I’m not having fun, I’m not going to do it.’”

So, the primal drive certainly comes from being recognized, and often that’s from my point of view, but it also comes from, “Am I making an impact? Can I retain my sense of independence? And am I having fun?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then, so we get there, well-compensated, making an oversized impact, have fun. What’s the other one?

Marco Greenberg
Maintain that sense of independence. It’s certainly about the independence but a lot more. And the good news is that you don’t necessarily have to be an uber primitive like Elon Musk to capture that kind of spirit in your work. You can tap into that. Hence, the subtitle of the book “Tapping the Primal Drive That Powers the World’s Most Successful People.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I would love it if you could share a story or two, particularly professionals would be ideal, of those who, indeed, they were untapped into their primal drive, and then they did something that tapped it, and then the cool result they saw as a result.

Marco Greenberg
I’d love to. And speaking of love, I’m going to start with a former coworker and friend who actually goes by the name of Love. Love is his first name, and his full name is Love Whelchel, III. And I met Love when he was running talent development at Young and Rubicon, one of the big advertising agencies out there.

And what I realized about Love and his career, both before I met him and after we had stopped working together, was that he was a classic agnostic primitive. What I mean agnostic, not someone who specializes, not someone who is all about focus, but rather someone who jumps from field to field, job to job, a true renaissance man, renaissance figure, who makes that the essence of his DNA. So, Love started out working as a roadie for NWA. Remember the rap group?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Marco Greenberg
He went on to selling books for Deepak Chopra. He then got onto Madison Avenue where I met him. And we feature him in the book at a crucial crossroads in his own career when he got a conversation going with Sean Combs, none other than P. Diddy. And he met with P. Diddy on a Friday afternoon about taking over his head of HR and operations at Bad Boy Entertainment. And he’s going home, and he’s thinking about his conversation with Sean, and whether he should leave Y and R. And Sean calls him on the phone as he’s driving, and he says, “Love, I got to know if you’re taking the job.” And Love says, “Mr. Combs, we just met. I need time to think about it. I need time to process it.” He said, “Love, I’m not going to have a good weekend unless you tell me you’re taking the job.”

And in a heartbeat, his whole life went before him, and rather than being…

Pete Mockaitis
You can’t ruin P. Diddy’s weekend. You can’t have that.

Marco Greenberg
You can’t ruin P. Diddy’s weekend.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s just not acceptable.

Marco Greenberg
Exactly. And, Pete, what do you think Love said?

Pete Mockaitis
“Yes, I’ll do it.”

Marco Greenberg
He said, “Yes, I’ll do it.” And he did it for several years and helped take that company to a new level. And, FYI, he’s now at Vera Wang, working for another total primitive in the fashion world. So, here he goes from entertainment, to advertising, to fashion. And we have a great quote from Love in the book, he goes, when he gets a new assignment, he feels like he’s been dropped in the jungle with nothing but his loincloth, a pen knife, and has to fight his way out.

So, for me, that kind of captures the spirit of it. And, no, you do not have to be a guy. I’ve gotten great feedback from a lot of people who say that this book is actually more appropriate for women than men, and I can explain why in a moment if that’s of interest. But that’s an example of a pure primitive. I do think there are people that are really hypercivilized. Again, that’s the kind of other side of the coin in terms of these archetypes.

There’s a woman named Bonnie who I’ve worked with over the years, probably more to the book, a conservative, risk-averse, works her way up the hierarchy, has been in the same industry for years. She worked with me at BBDO, she was there for a quarter of a century, she said that she made a primitive move by going to her boss and saying, “No, I do not want that promotion.” And the reason she said no, which took a lot of courage, it was the kind of offer that you couldn’t refuse, that 99% of her colleagues would’ve said, “Yes, I’m taking that job,” and unlike Love, she said, “No, I’m not taking the job.” And part of it, she traced back to kind of making a primitive move and being oppositional, which is one of the key traits to being a primitive that I think is worth talking about, in having the courage to say no, having the courage to say, “I don’t see it that way,” especially in a world in corporate America that, a lot of times, there’s a lot of group-think going on out there, and we all shake our head, “Yes, yes, yes,” even though in our hearts and our minds we’re thinking something else.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then I’m curious, for those who are conservative and then they are…we want to tap into the primal drive, how is that done?

Marco Greenberg
I put a prescription together. And one of the books on PR that I suggested all my students read was “Made to Stick” by the Heath brothers. Have you ever read that book?

Pete Mockaitis
I have it on my shelf, and we interviewed Dan Heath recently.

Marco Greenberg
Oh, he’s just amazing. And, for me, that teaches us the value of the unexpected, but it also teaches us the importance of picking the right acronym, something that sticks, no pun intended, that’s memorable. And I was inspired by them, and after I came up with the premise for the book, I sat on my couch one morning, and I wrote “primitives are roaming,” kind of like our ancient ancestors, right? And I’m not talking about roaming on our cellphone. I’m talking about getting out there and exploring unconquered territory.

And I started with that theme, and then I worked backwards, and said, “What does roaming stand for? And how can it help people out there that feel stuck in their career, that feel burnt out, that feel underappreciated?” And you know how many people that describes, right? We’re talking in the millions. So, for me, and I’ll go through it very quickly, and then I’d be happy to dissect it. For me, people who are roaming are, A, relentless, that’s the R, and it doesn’t just mean working hard. It means sometimes stopping and then restarting or jumping lanes, but it means not forgetting what our big goals are, what those big targets are.

O, as we mentioned earlier, is for oppositional, the courage to say, “You’re wrong, and here’s why,” rather than just shaking our head, “Yes, yes, yes,” and engaging in more destructive group-think. The A is for agnostic, being able to roam from field to field rather than just being one occupation your whole life. A lot of people were typewriter repairmen in the day. That job has gone by the wayside along with a lot of other occupations. M is one of my favorites, Pete, and M stands for messianic, not necessarily being religious, but it does come from the word messiah, and it’s seeing that you have a divine calling, that’s it’s more than a job, it’s even more than a career. And I’d love to tell you about some people that represent that messianic fervor. I think Elon Musk certainly is one, but there are tons of others that do.

I is a bit of a counterintuitive one, it’s insecure. Yes, insecure. We’re told to be confident and have that swagger. I would argue some of the most successful people I’ve worked with are actually insecure. I have some anecdotes that Richard Branson as an example of that, and it’s not ignoring your insecurity like some do. It’s embracing it. It’s weaponizing it. N is for nuts. Yes, you’ve got to be a little crazy in the good sense of the word. And G is gallant, being noble, not just thinking of yourself but looking out for the other.

So, together it spells roaming. And I think you can give a prescription for people who want to tap into this primitive drive but, understandably, don’t want to get fired, don’t want to be so out there that they’re an outcast. They want to be team players but, at the same time, they want to maintain their independence and be that contrarian out there that actually can take an organization to new heights.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, yeah, I’d love to hear, I guess, each of these, R-O-A-M-I-N-G, has some things you can do to tap into it. So, why don’t we start with insecure and Richard Branson while we’re there? And then maybe you can share any of the other kind of most accessible and powerful means to tap into that power. So, how do we weaponize insecurity in a helpful way?

Marco Greenberg
Right. Well, it makes me think of my own career when I was working for BBDO, the big advertising giant in their Israeli office, and I met with a wonderful guy who was the former chief rabbi of Ireland, and he was in Israel at the time, Rabbi Rosen. And he looked at me and he said, “Marco, just because we’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not trying to kill us.” So, it was the first time I’ve heard that, and you guys, and viewers out there, probably heard of Andy Grove from Intel, and only the paranoid survives, so it kind of derives from that. But the idea is here we are in a world where I can’t tell you how many millennials have worked for me. And what’s one of their favorite expressions? “It’s all good.”

And sometimes it’s not all good. Sometimes it’s really messed up, so I think the all good kind of mindset comes from a position of chill, let’s just be relaxed, go with the flow, it is what it is. But, oftentimes, in business, we have to be more primal and think like cavemen and cavewomen that, “Yeah, we’re being attacked right now, and this is a time where we might want to tap into that primitive mind as oppose the cerebral mind, and be more instinctive, and be more quick, and be more fast.”

There was a time where neuroscientists thought, “Oh, the primitive mind has no meaning. We should be cerebral. We should be rational. We should be logical.” But recently, including MIT scientists discovered that actually there’s a lot to do with the primitive brain. So, on that insecure front, I think it relates very directly to that, back to Richard Branson, weaponizing your own insecurity.

There is a wonderful podcast on Freakonomics where Stephen Dubner interviews Richard Branson. And Branson admits, in front of his executives, when they’re talking about financials at Virgin, he stopped them and he wasn’t clear, and his top lieutenants didn’t want to embarrassed him, but they realized that, here, a billionaire, Sir Richard Branson, a legend, didn’t know the difference between net and gross. And he admitted it.

And he admitted that he had learning disabilities as a kid and was never very good at math, so they literally drew a figure of a net, like a fisherman, and they said, “Richard, the fish that you keep, that’s the net. The fish that go in the net and then jump back in the water, that’s your gross.” And he said, “Thank you. I got it.” So, in other words, here’s a great executive who doesn’t try to put the wool over people’s eyes and act, “Whoa, I got this,” right? He says, “No, I don’t got this. I’m insecure.” And there are plenty of other examples.

There’s one in the book that I’m very fond of, a former colleague who’s now running all of marketing for YouTube in EMEA, Europe, Middle East, Africa, etc. Her name is Riki Drori. And we have an anecdote with her that she proudly says, “I’m the most insecure person I know.” And she says it with glee. And part of that is it keeps her on her toes, it keeps her always moving forward. It’s not taking things for granted. Instead, it’s always trying to, yes, take it up a notch.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I hear you there. So, then with the insecurity, it can be quite powerful for, hey, Brene Brown and others, talking about the power of vulnerability, for letting other people be honest and psychologically safe and contribute great ideas, as well as you have some paranoid hustle that can emerge when you’re thinking, “Okay, this is about to be taken from me.” Okay, that’s helpful. Then let’s talk about oppositional. I can see the others kind of maybe more intuitively. But if you’re feeling uncomfortable about being oppositional, but even though you think there could be quite helpful and powerful, what do you do?

Marco Greenberg
It comes down, I think, and I’m saying this as a PR guy, you don’t necessarily need media training for this but it doesn’t hurt. I think it’s how you say it. If you say it in a disrespectful way…

Pete Mockaitis
“Marco, you’re dumb and that’s never going to work.”

Marco Greenberg
Exactly. If you say it in a demeaning way, you’re not going to get what you want, right? But if you’re able to say, “Look, I hear what you’re saying. In fact, I used to think that way myself, but I got to tell you I disagree. Respectfully, lovingly, I disagree. And here’s why.” So, it’s what you say but it’s also, even more important, how you say it.

I got to say, one of the most influential people, not just in my business life but in my life, who I dedicate this book to, is the late Danny Lewin. Danny was the cofounder and chief technology officer of Akamai Technologies. Without going into all the details, tragically, Danny was the first person killed on 9/11. He was a former commando in the Israel Defense Forces. He stood up against the hijackers, and he was killed before the plane went into the first tower.

Danny was a classic oppositional primitive, and not just because he fought back on 9/11, it’s how he did business.
Pete, I might be the first person that ever says a phrase in Hebrew on Awesome at Your Job, but I’m going to do it with your permission, [Hebrew 31:52], “You’re not correct and I’m going to explain why.” That’s what Danny did in a charming, loving way that people thought was irresistible. And, guess what, it took him to new heights. And we have an anecdote in the book on when he went head to head with Jefferey Skilling. Do you remember that name?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, with Enron.

Marco Greenberg
Totally. So, Danny was brought down by Enron to meet in Houston with the Enron team. This was at the time when Enron, these were the smartest guys in the world. They could do no wrong. No one have heard of Akamai Technologies. And Skilling had a certain idea for him getting involved in the content-delivery business over the World Wide Web, and Danny said, “Jeff, that’s a horrible idea and I’m going to explain to you why.” Needless to say, the meeting didn’t last long. But the point there is that when people at Enron were just saying, “Yes, yes, yes,” to Jeffrey Skilling, who was later indicted and sent to jail, as you well know, that’s not a good thing.

So, I think, like anything, it’s the happy balance between, “Yes, we want to be team players,” but part of our responsibility as a team player is to also indicate when we think things are headed south in the wrong direction.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I think there’s a lot of fear associated with being oppositional, and there are some ways that you can be diplomatic and helpful as you do so. But I think what’s fascinating is there are times when, boy, when you’re oppositional, it goes fabulously well. Like, I think there was…I remember I had a friend who was a relationship therapist, and she had some hotshot executive who was unaccustomed to having people disagree with him and kind of show him what was inconsistent or blind spots in his thinking and logic and approach. And so, he was just like amazed by this relationship therapist, like, “You need to come work for me.”

And I had an encounter in college, one of my good friends, Anne, she was dating a guy who I thought was kind of funny but also kind of mean. And so, I remember I think I was a little more wildly out there in my youth, and I said, “Oh, yeah, he’s really funny and smart. Although, sometimes has he ever kind of strike you as maybe just a little bit of a-hole.” I said the real word.

Marco Greenberg
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
And she laughed and said, “Yes, he very much does.” Later they broke up, and we’re still great friends and she really appreciated that candor. I think it’s largely why we hit it off and kick off such a great friendship is that there can be tremendous gains associated with being oppositional when I think a lot of times we only maybe fixate on the downsides.

Marco Greenberg
You’re so right. By the way, the research bears that out. A lot of people think that nodding your head yes is going to get you ahead in your career track when, many times, it’s the exact opposite. And a lot of research has been done with C-level executives that they actually respect people who argue a position persuasively and can convince them to question their own POV. For example, take Eric Schmidt when he was at Google. He said, “We run this company on questions not answers.”

And I think part of being oppositional is being able to ask questions. And the sad truth of it, and this gets back to the advantage of sometimes being more like a kid. Kids ask a lot of questions. But what happens with society? We beat it out of them, right? Like we say, we’re breaking a horse. We’re teaching a horse to be civilized. A lot of the spirit within kids is broken down. And in the book, we talk about research that the average five- or six-year old asks hundreds of questions a day. Do you know what happens, Pete, when they become teenagers?

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us.

Marco Greenberg
It comes down to asking maybe two or three questions a day. So, they don’t want to rock the boat anymore. They’ve been taught to stay in line, to do as they’re told, to be a good little boy and good little girl, to be excellent sheep. By the way, that’s a great book written by a Yale professor talking about how we’re doing a disservice to our young people today of saying, “Hey, we want you to be physicists, we want you to be poets, we all want you to start the next great NGO,” but sometimes we’re giving them the kind of message that, “We’d rather have you be Big Three consultants and just get in line to do what others do.”

Pete Mockaitis
I was a Big Three consultant but I left. I got out of line in a big way. So, I remember people who say, “So, Pete, what are you thinking about doing?” I was like, “Yeah, I want to go write books and speak and coach.” And they’re, “Oh,” and they all said the same thing, “Well, now is the time to do it. When you’re 25 and don’t have kids or a wife,” which was not an endorsement of, “You’re going to be great.”

Marco Greenberg
Totally. Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s just, “Let me encourage you without rendering a judgment on your success.” But it worked out.

Marco Greenberg
So, I think giving ourselves permission to be a little more out there, in however we define that phrase, can often be the key to our success. The good news is you don’t have to jump outside your organization. I was on the phone with a client from one of our largest academic institutions that we represent that I’m wearing their T-shirt, they’re based in Columbus, Ohio, and she loves the fact that she has the reputation of being someone who, in a respectful way, asks the right questions rather than just following the pack. And for her, that’s been key to her success within a large organization. So, you don’t just have to be an entrepreneur, you can make some primitive moves within a huge bureaucracy and benefit from it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Okay. So, now, I want to get a quick take from you in terms of we’re talking about conventions and how we can break them. Do you have any just real quick do’s and don’ts in terms of, hey, convention you probably want to break, and convention you probably don’t want to break?

Marco Greenberg
Let me give you some ideas on conventions that you can break, and we talk about this in the book.
Another anecdote and rule that I think you can think about is sometimes you got to be the craziest dog in the fight. I learned that from an esteemed venture capitalist Todd Degres who ran Spark Capital. He’s invested in everything from Twitter, to Tumblr, to Square, to 1stdibs, etc. And the idea there is you do, sometimes, have to be nuts. You have to be more out there, more daring, more willing to ride the tiger and live on the edge. And that’s something that oftentimes we’re taught not to do. We’re taught to do the analysis-paralysis thing, but we know where that gets us. Not very far.

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

Marco Greenberg
I think we want to remind listeners that some of the brightest people out there are people that see their professional life as an adventure rather than just a job, rather than just showing up. So, I’ll give one of my favorite examples of an author that I’ve learned a ton from, and the reason I mentioned, he’s more than just an author. He’s also an MIT professor. He’s also a social entrepreneur, and I’m talking about Alan Lightman.

If you look at his Wikipedia, it’s like mind-blowing. The guy writes textbooks on astrophysics, then he became the first professor at MIT to institute a writing requirement that you have to actually learn and understand the English language and literature. He then became a writer himself, and he’s written many bestsellers. And then he went to Southeast Asia and started a nonprofit to take a new generation of women leaders to new heights.

So, the reason I mentioned it is, forget about focus, forget about domain expertise. Alan is an example of someone who lives on the edge and has that childlike curiosity, and it’s been his jet fuel. So, for me, a lot of us are playing it too damn safe, and we need to start roaming and jump from field to field. And we have some great examples, including some rocket scientists out there like Alan Lightman from MIT.

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

Marco Greenberg
one of it comes from Troy Anderson who wrote a book about the Chinese game Go. Did you ever play Go?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Marco Greenberg
With the little pebbles, right? So, one of the things he says about the book, applying it to business, and with Stanford Business School, is “Don’t get too attached to your first moves.” And I think a lot of people, whether they’re starting a business, whether they have a new job, and they look at the job description, and they say, “Well, I’m going to be doing A, B, and C,” and then they might realize they have to shift gears very quickly, and they’re doing W, Y, Z. So, I think being nimble is something that a more primitive mind feels comfortable with as opposed to someone who is more circumscribed, who is following the exact recipe according to the cookbook. The primitives improvise. They’re more spontaneous. They throw a little bit of basil in, a little bit of pepper in, and out comes something great.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And, now, could you share a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Marco Greenberg
Yeah, we talked about some of the research that connotes the importance of being childlike and being oppositional. And I want to touch on that oppositional point and really bring it home. When I was in college way back when, the best airline in the world, Swissair. Well, back around 2001, Swissair, like a lot of airlines, had a challenge. They brought in consultants, no offense to your former colleagues at the Big Three, and they said, “Swissair has got to do what we say. Read the best practices. We did the benchmarking. You got to do this,” and all the nice, very polite, diplomatic people in Geneva and in Zurich said, “Yes, yes, yes, we got to do this.”

Well, what happened? They went out of business. Part of why they went out of business, the research said, is there was no one really presenting that alternative point of view. What’s another way that we can do this? So, there was group-think, and that group-think brought down one of the most successful airlines of all time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Marco Greenberg
It’s about the 1940 Cincinnati Reds.

Marco Greenberg
And it’s written by Brian Mulligan, and it’s about the various challenges that the team that had the first ever suicide of a player during a major league season, and how people reacted to that suicide. And part of the reaction was these hardened players, many of which emerged from the Depression, many of which went on to fight World War II, after the suicide of one of their colleagues, a kid named Hershberger from southern California, what they learned is, “Don’t make fun of people. Don’t boo people because that has consequences, and bullying is not cool.” And they learned that back from a 1940 episode. We see plenty of examples of that with cyberbullying.

If I can just get a little plug to one of the books that made a big impact on me over the last year. It’s called “In Praise of Wasting Time.” And guess who wrote it? Professor Alan Lightman of MIT. “In Praise of Wasting Time” came from an amazing TED Talk that Alan gave about two years ago. And here we are in an age where everyone is trying to maximize every minute, be billable, I’m sure a lot of your listeners can relate to that billability phrase.

And what Alan says is, “Let’s do the opposite. Let’s just sometimes zone out, have a great idea in the shower.” Speaking of research, it shows why sometimes great ideas happen in the shower, or on a long walk, or when we’re not forcing ourselves to think of something and come up with a solution. We just let our mind wander. We let our mind roam and great things happen.

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

Marco Greenberg
Let me connect it to another favorite book. “Deep Work” by Cal Newport from Georgetown. Have you had him on?

Pete Mockaitis
Soon.

Marco Greenberg
Yeah. You know, being productive in a distracted age, and I quote him in the book. Everyone is, I like to say, in 911 mode, like the 911 operator. We’re always reacting. We’re always going on someone else’s agenda rather than our own. How fast can we respond to that email? How fast can we spend to that text message? Am I looking at my Slack 24/7? Etcetera, etcetera. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We need to, instead, give us time, as Alan Lightman says, “Step back and actually think.”

So, here’s my tool. I start with the simplest app on my iPhone which is the Memos app. And that’s the first thing I do in the morning after meditating, and a hot bath because I wake up without a need for coffee. I just start with a blank slate and I create. It might be a memo to a client. It might be an idea for an opinion piece. It might be the chapter of a book. It might be an email that I want to write a colleague. But I think if you set the agenda at the start of the day, then that’s your agenda as opposed to following other people’s agenda. So, be more of a goat that climbs the top of the mountain rather than a sheep following the flock. And part of that starts with you write what you want to start the day with rather than consuming what other people want to start the day with.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Now, could you share with us a key nugget, something that you share that you’re known for, that resonates with folks?

Marco Greenberg
Getting back to insecurity, I’m a shrink-going Upper West Side, middle-aged Jewish guy, and I like to tell a lot of people who work for me, not just “only the paranoid survives” as Andy Grove said, but that a little bit of anxiety is underrated, right? I want people that show a little fear in their eye. I want people that are given an assignment and say, “Wow, how am I going to pull this off?” I want people who don’t think they know it all, right? They don’t think that just because they aced the SAT and went to an Ivy League school that they figured it all out. Quite the contrary. I want people who are hungry.

And, especially, amongst the venture capitalists that I’ve worked with. A lot of them like Todd Degres, they don’t care what school you went to. He went to Trinity, which is a great school in Connecticut, but he didn’t go to Harvard, he didn’t go to Yale, he didn’t go to MIT, he would’ve gotten in in a million years.
He also has a chip on his shoulder, which is another thing that I talk about in the book. Yes, have a chip on your shoulder. We’re told that that’s a bad thing. I think that’s a good thing. So, whether it’s having a chip on your shoulder, or whether it’s realizing that anxiety is underrated, I think it’s time that we interject into the business nomenclature some stuff that’s often counterintuitive but can help people leapfrog in their career rather than stand in line and wait for someone to tap them on the shoulder and promote them, or tap them on the shoulder and tell them they got to move on.

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

Marco Greenberg
It’s easy to remember, PrimitiveBook.com. You’ll find information on the book. You’ll find some information on me. I’m also really active on LinkedIn.

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

Marco Greenberg
one of my favorite psychologists is a guy named Albert Ellis who really started the behavioral school of psychology.

Marco Greenberg
So, one of his great books is how to stop making yourself miserable about anything. Yes, anything. And I want to share his wisdom, which is what I said at the beginning of our show, you got to stop should-ing on yourself. Stop should-ing on yourself. A lot of people put themselves in a corner and say, “Well, I should go to business school,” or, “I should be more left-brain and quantitative,” or, “I should do what my parents have been telling me to do, and take the MCAT.” F all of that, and you listen to what that little boy and little girl in you always wanted to do.

And, for me, I always wanted to write, and I always wanted to speak, and I wasn’t courageous enough, like you, to do it in my mid-20s. I’m not leaving my day job anytime soon but I’m finally doing it at 55 so it shows that it’s never too late, and you can honor that inner spirit, that primitive spirit, that can often tell you a lot more than your more cerebral mind.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Marco, thanks so much for spending this time. I wish you lots of luck in all of your primitive adventures.

Marco Greenberg
Really appreciate the opportunity, Pete. And continue the great work that you’re doing at Awesome at Your Job, and I will continue to be a loyal listener.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

557: How to Outthink Fear with Dr. Mark McLaughlin

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Mark McLaughlin says: "Fear comes when something is unknown. The more you know... the less fear or stress or anxiety one has."

Neurosurgeon and author Mark McLaughlin shares the science of fear and what to do about it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How fear affects our decision-making
  2. How to manage your fears effectively
  3. The two techniques to help you outthink your fears

About Mark:

Mark McLaughlin is a practicing board-certified neurosurgeon, a  national media commentator, author of the book Cognitive Dominance: A Brain Surgeon’s Quest to Outthink Fear, and acclaimed keynote speaker.

He is the founder of Princeton Brain and Spine Care where he practices surgery focusing on trigeminal neuralgia and cervical spine surgery. McLaughlin is also a thought leader in performance enhancement and physician hospital relations.

Items Mentioned in the Show

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Mark McLaughlin Interview Transcript

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

Mark McLaughlin
My pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your stuff. And, first, let’s hear, so you currently work as a neurosurgeon, but before that, you wrestled so well, you made the Hall of Fame. Tell us the story here.

Mark McLaughlin
Well, I’m from northern New Jersey and I took up wrestling as a young boy, had some very influential coaches along the way who helped me, gave me the tools to succeed. Wrestling kind of let me wet my whistle in terms of concentration and intensity, and as I got older and wanted to move onto medicine, I went on to become a doctor. And I picked neurosurgery because it’s the closest thing to wrestling that I could get after wrestling.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so intriguing. Please explain, what’s the crossover or similarities?

Mark McLaughlin
Well, it’s intense, it’s grueling, it’s extremely personal, there are high risks, and it just gave me the same pump and the same exhilaration that wrestling did, so I thought I got to go for it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then in the midst of operating in that, literally, operating in that capacity, you made some discoveries about how to deal with fear. Can you tell us the story of how that came about?

Mark McLaughlin
About 10 years ago, I got invited up to West Point to give some talks to the cadets, and so, I began to compile stories about patients and stressful events during surgeries or during my decision-making processes in taking care of these patients. And so, as I began to compile the stories, I’d start sharing with them things that I used to keep myself out of trouble and to save lives.

And so, those would be different techniques that I had in neurosurgery but I realized that they were real-life skills that you could use in the military or you could use in your personal life or your business life. So, I began sharing some of those things with the cadets, like the rules of neurosurgery, for one. So, rules of neurosurgery are things like never cut what you can’t see, always leave a drain, never worry about a patient alone, measure millimeters in miles. These are things that are drilled into your head during your residency, but you can apply them to anything in life.

Like, never cut what you can’t see is one of those things in neurosurgery that you never want to close your scissors unless you know exactly what’s between those two blades. But, similarly, that’s an allegory for life, isn’t it? You never want to make an important decision or make a move unless you know exactly what’s up in front of you. So, that’s how it all started.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. So, you say they keep you out of trouble in terms of these are just kind of best practices during the course of conducting a brain surgery. And then I want to know, kind of what the West Pointers wanted to know, what are you saying to yourself during the course of doing these surgeries?

Mark McLaughlin
So, those rules are ingrained in you, so you’re following steps through a surgery, but usually what I try and do is get into a mindset. So, before I start a surgery, I have a very specific routine, I call it my 5Ps. I take a pause, I think about that exact patient I’m operating on, I’ll say to myself, “This is a 42-year old accountant. He’s been suffering from severe sciatica for five weeks. He’s in excruciating pain. This is the most important day of his life. Let’s get him fixed up.”

Then I move onto my plan and that’ll be my exact step-by-step passage through the surgery mentally. Then I’ll put out a positive thought and that’s, “This is why you’re here today. This is what you trained your whole life for. You’re in the right spot. You’re ready to go.” And then, lastly, what I’ll do is I’ll say a prayer. And a prayer for me, one might say it doesn’t affect the outcome of a surgery, but it always affects me. It always calms me and it always helps me perform better.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, that’s the process and so you’re working with that and that is getting the job done for you. So, then let’s zoom into the typical professional who’s listening here, they’ve got a different job. It might be less high-stakes in terms of its immediate consequences in the moment. If you screw up, most of our jobs, if I butcher this podcast, no one’s going to die. We’ll have 20,000 people mad that we destroyed that hour or 45 minutes of their life, that’s less than a full lifetime though if you multiply it out. But, anyway, regardless, the stakes are probably, for most of us, lower hour to hour. But what is at stake with regard to us when we are dealing with fear, when the mind is on fear, what to do?

Mark McLaughlin
That’s important. Everything is important in work and in life and in your relationships, and they are life and death in some respect, they’re your life, and so they’re important. And I would just say that fear is a universal experience that we all have. I mean, we’ve all experienced fear every since we started looking under our bed before we went to bed at night, right? And it’s something that we have to manage in our lives. Some people do it better than others, but we could all improve on it.

So, it’s important to understand that fear, it’s just an alarm bell going off in your mind. So, what I see it as, it’s almost Pavlovian. We’re moving along, things are going great, nothing unexpected happens, we’re calm, we’re homeostatic, or we’re even feeling confident or assured or secure. And then something unexpected comes to us and that’s the first inkling that we might have something different or something interfering with our goal in life. And so, that unexpected event can do some type of anticipated anxiety or stress. Or let’s say it’s something real, something dangerous jumps into your way, like an intruder in your house, then it’s real fear. That’s real terror.

But fear is not the solution to the situation, it’s only the alarm bell. Figuring out what to do about the alarm bell is what you need to focus on. And that’s what I talk about in my book, is, “How do we look at fear and unpack it into its structural components and literally map it out in our minds so that we can outthink, so that we can know what the problem is, and attack the problem?” And, immediately when we start doing that, our fear level goes down. It dials itself down a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that sounds cool and appealing. And so, can you maybe let us in on perhaps the why behind that a bit? Is it okay to be afraid and to experience the fear or is it counterproductive or harmful at some level?

Mark McLaughlin
No, having fear is a good thing. You never want to be free of fear. Imagine the stupid things we would do if we didn’t have fear. It’s absolutely essential, and for survival in our earlier stages of development in life on earth, I mean, we wouldn’t have survived without it. But the thing about it, as far as the brain goes, and neurophysiology and neuroanatomy is, is that it’s almost like there’s an operating system that’s been built on an operating system, that’s been built on an operating system, and all the earlier operating systems are still running in your brain.

So, the fight or flight response is still very real in your mind and in your brain and in your neuroanatomy, the circuitry. You have to be careful about that. That’s great when someone is stalking you in a dangerous confrontation. But it’s not helpful when somebody says something that might be insulting to you in a business meeting. So, you need to know where your neocortex is working and how your executive function can override that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if we are not overriding that and we just sort of allow our earlier lizard operating systems to run wild and do what they want to do, what could be the consequences?

Mark McLaughlin
Well, you’re going to blurt out something that you probably would regret or you’re going to act in a way that’s not becoming of a leader, and you’re not going to have the most optimal outcome. And that’s the goal. The goal is to perform at your very best, so you have to recognize this. So, for instance, like if I’m at a business meeting with my partners, and one of my partners says something that I get very irritated about, and I can see that he’s anxious and irritated, what I try and do, one of the things I try and do is just identify.

I’ll say, “Listen, I know you’re raising your voice, and I am too, and that means that this is important and we care about this and that’s a good thing. But that’s not going to help us solve the problem that we need to solve. So, let’s talk about what the specifics are. Let’s break this down and line up possible solutions. Let’s start thinking about it.” So, identifying that is very helpful in this process.

Pete Mockaitis
So, certainly, there’s some interpersonal consequences there that you might really damage the relationship if you scream or tell them exactly what you think in that moment. And then, I guess I’m curious, even internally, what does the research have to say about how we go about thinking, processing, problem-solving, creativity, decision-making, when we’ve got the fear OS at work?

Mark McLaughlin
There’s a lot of cross-chatter among the higher functions of the brain and the lower functions, and it’s really interesting how we can map out the neurophysiology and thought patterns of fear and see what it looks like on functional MRI scan. And there’s some good studies that show that meditative mindfulness practices can decrease some of that chatter, some of that crosstalk that we have that creates anxiety and stress in our minds. So, it really is an important practice to perform and I’m a big believer in meditation for part of controlling and managing fear.

Pete Mockaitis
And is crosstalk a bad thing? Is that like concerning when you’re seeing that on the FMRIs?

Mark McLaughlin
Yes, I mean, generally it is because it means you don’t have like a focused pathway. So, the brain, when we do things, it creates connections, neural networks. So, you have a neural network for riding bike, that’s why you can jump on a bike 20 years after you’ve jumped on a bike the last time and you can still ride a bike. That neural network is that pattern of firing is all set. But if you have patterns of firing that are disrupted or they’re not clean and clear, you’re going to not think properly, you’re not going to react the way you’d like to react in a situation when you need your best.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s get into the particulars of how this is done. So, you say you can deconstruct and look at the patterns and structures of fear and go after them and effectively outthink it. So, how does this work in process and practice?

Mark McLaughlin
Well, I talk about a technique of using lateral thinking. So, lateral thinking is a concept where we try to dislocate the normal thought patterns that we have when we solve problems. So, normally, people think linearly and logically about how to solve a problem. A good example of lateral thinking is the King Solomon story. When the two mothers come to King Solomon and say, “Will you please…this is my child,” “This is my child,” and he says, “Okay, we’ll solve the problem. We’ll cut the baby in half, and you’ll each get half of the baby,” because he sort of knew that the real mother would say, “No, no, no, she can have the baby.” That’s how he knew who the real mother was.

It’s like thinking differently about things. So, I’ll give you an example in medicine. So, in medicine, you may have somebody that comes in and they’ve got a pretty straightforward problem, let’s say. Let’s say they have a headache and a stiff neck and a fever, and their roommate had meningitis two days ago, and you immediately jump to the conclusion, “Ah, they’ve got meningitis.” Okay, that’s one, that’s a logical step-wise progression. But a lateral thought process would be, “What are three other things that could be causing this that I haven’t thought of?” And that’s really important to do in medicine, and I think in business too.

So, we usually jump to the first solution but the first solution isn’t always necessarily the right solution or the best solution. So, if you can sort of train your mind to think of other solutions, and even if they don’t seem the best one right away, just get them on paper, talk about it with other people. You can sometimes come up with better solutions than you initially thought of. So, lateral thinking is another technique that I talk about, and it’s very important in medicine, but I think it can also help in business.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that helps you in getting more ideas. Does it also help with the fear?

Mark McLaughlin
I think so because, again, fear comes when something is unknown. The more you know, in general, the less fear or stress or anxiety one has. So, in my opinion, that would be another way of just using your brain to sort of dial down the fear measure in your brain, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then what are your pro tips in terms of staying calm in high-pressure situations? Maybe you’ve got some fear associated with entering them or maybe just the stakes are high, whether or not you’ve got butterflies in your stomach?

Mark McLaughlin
Right. The most important thing is really to be yourself. I always try and say, “Be yourself. Don’t be anybody, try to be anybody else.” I use a technique called narrating the room. So, when I’m flummoxed with something, I’ll start with, “Okay, I need to think this through, everybody.” And I’ll speak aloud, “All right. I was expecting to see this, but I don’t see this right now, so let’s take a step back. I’d made an incision over the frontal area, I’ve got down through the skull,” and I just, literally, will talk myself through exactly where I was and where I went.

And, it’s funny, because I had a chance to interview Sanjay Gupta for this book, and when I was telling him about this, he said, “Oh, yeah, I do that all the time. That’s I narrate the room. I narrate the room.” And so, that’s his process of talking things through. Even, again, acknowledging, “Okay, a little stressful here right now, everybody. I understand we’re missing…”

Let’s say, during a surgery we oftentimes have to count for the sponges. The sponges have to be exactly correct at every moment during the surgery, and sometimes the sponge count is off, and so that needs to be checked very carefully. And people are getting worked up about it, I’m like, “Okay, we’re going to find it. I just looked through the wound, I don’t see it there. Let’s look through all the collection, the papers that we have, the collection bags. We’ll get through it. It’s standard process.” So, just talking about it, I think, is a very important part of it and being one’s self. Those two techniques are helpful.

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

Mark McLaughlin
Well, it’s been interesting writing a book. It took me about four years to do this, and, gosh, it was such a huge effort, but I’m thrilled that it’s done. I feel like I’ve got a frame around a body of knowledge and I feel like being a neurosurgeon has helped me think about fear and stress in a different way. I have a lens on the world that other people don’t have, but I think the techniques to solve it are really transferable to anyone. In fact, I talk to my young wrestlers about it sometimes. I told them about sometimes when I feel overwhelmed and I feel like I’m in over my head, and I just step back and I say, “No, I’m not. Go to your basics. Just talk about it. Talk about your exact basics.” For wrestlers, that’s like risk control and control the tie-ups and things.

So, I say, “Whenever you feel like you’re out of your league, you’re wrestling somebody too good, go back to your basics. Risk control, control the tie-ups, focus on what you do, get back to your referee’s position.” And I think everybody feels it, and the better we cope with it, the better we’re going to perform.

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

Mark McLaughlin
My favorite quote of all time is Julie Andrews’ “Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it’s an order which sets me free to fly.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Mark McLaughlin
I talk about this in the book, the story of the invisible gorilla. When everybody’s focused on the task of counting basketballs and passing, and how they literally missed a gorilla 50% of the time that walks across the screen. I just think that’s such an interesting concept to understand that we all have blind spots. Everybody has blind spots. And when you know you have a blind spot, you’re less likely to miss something.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?
Mark McLaughlin
I love the “Traveler’s Gift.” That’s a book by Andy Andrews. It’s a story of a person that goes through time and meets a number of famous individuals: King Solomon, Abe Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, Anne Frank. And it’s just literally like getting a summation of their philosophy in a very short time. And it’s a book that I gave my father, and we shared a lot of discussions over that book, so I really love that.

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

Mark McLaughlin
I use an app called Ten Percent Happier which is a great meditation app. Dan Harris wrote a book called “10% Happier,” a guide to meditation for fidgety skeptics. And the only app I’ve ever purchased on my phone is Ten Percent Happier. It’s a beautiful compilation of guided meditations, and it works to help you sleep, to help you think more positively, and have more gratitude. I’m thrilled with it. I’ve been using it for over a year, and I highly recommend it.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit? Sounds that might be it, or maybe you’ve got another one.

Mark McLaughlin
My morning habit is very important to me. I do three things. And that’s I meditate, I file. I have an old-fashioned David Allen filing system with 31 files for the days of the month, and then 12 files for the months, and the one extra fie which I call my someday maybe. So, I file, I look at my file for that day. And then, lastly, I’m a Franklin Planner guy. I use a paper book because I can’t see the month and the week as well as I can on my phone so I work on my Franklin Planner, and I plan my day out. I call it my triple threat. My triple threat is if I do those three things, five to six times a week, I’m going to really do a lot of good work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks as you’re sharing your wisdom here?

Mark McLaughlin
One of the moms and friends of mine in our wrestling club, she has a great quote which I love too, and that is, “Gentle pressure applied relentlessly.” I’ve always loved that. “Gentle pressure applied relentlessly,” and I think that’s truly how you get better. That’s how I’ve worked on myself and over the years, and that’s what works.

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

Mark McLaughlin
My website MarkMcLaughlinMD.com has a number of videos, talks about the book, and I have a blog that talks about a number of these topics.

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

Mark McLaughlin
I would say just be present, be yourself, and keep getting a little bit better every day. Gentle pressure applied relentlessly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Mark, this has been fun. Thanks, and good luck in your adventures.

Mark McLaughlin
Thank you. It was a pleasure, Peter.

547: Finding Greater Success and Fulfillment with an Infinite Mindset with Simon Sinek

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Simon Sinek says: "There's no such thing as winning or losing in the infitine game, there's only ahead and behind."

Simon Sinek discusses the crucial pivot in thinking that professionals need to thrive in their careers.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What most professionals get wrong about work
  2. The five key practices for thriving in an infinite game
  3. How to keep your confidence during setbacks

About Simon:

Simon is an unshakable optimist who believes in a bright future and our ability to build it together.

Described as “a visionary thinker with a rare intellect,” Simon teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people. With a bold goal to help build a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single day feeling inspired, feel safe at work, and feel fulfilled at the end of the day, Simon is leading a movement to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.

Simon is the author of multiple best-selling books including Start With WhyLeaders Eat LastTogether is Better, and The Infinite Game.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Empower. Save more money, effortlessly. Get $5 free when you reach your savings goal at empower.me/awesome with the promo code AWESOME
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Simon Sinek Interview Transcript

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

Simon Sinek
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into so much of your wisdom. You’re known a lot for talking about your why and starting with why. So, just some folks can orient to you, if they’re not as familiar, can you share what’s your why?

Simon Sinek
To inspire people to do the things that inspire them so each of us can change our world for the better.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m all about that, so we got a good fit here. And so, I also want to talk about your latest book. It’s been a couple months, but still new, The Infinite Game. Can you share, what’s the big idea here?

Simon Sinek
So, in the mid-1980s, a philosopher by the name of James Carse theorized that if you had at least one competitor, a game exists, and there are two types of games: finite games and infinite games. A finite game is defined as known players, fixed rules, and an agreed upon objective – baseball, football – there’s always a beginning, middle, and end. And if there’s a winner, there has to be a loser.

Then there are infinite games. Infinite games are defined as known and unknown players, the rules are changeable, and the objective is to perpetuate the game. This means new players can join in at any time, it means we can play however we want, but there is no finish line so there’s no such thing as winning or losing.

And if you think about it, we are players in infinite games every day of our lives. There’s no such thing as winning in your career, no one’s declared the winner of careers. There’s no such thing as winning business or winning global politics. And, yet, when we listen to so many of our leaders, they talk about being number one, being the best, and beating their competition. Based on what? Based on what agreed upon objectives? Based upon what agreed upon timeframes? There’s no such thing. There’s no finish line.

And the problem is when we play in an infinite game with a finite mindset, in other words we play to win or be number one in a game that has no finish line, there’s some predictable and consistent outcomes: the decline of trust, the decline of cooperation, and the decline of innovation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s dig into a lot of that. So, in the infinite game, the goal is to continue playing, so I guess then the infinite game would need to be fun or worthwhile, just kind of basically if that’s something worth perpetuating.

Simon Sinek
It has to be worthwhile. I think that’s a good way of putting it. Yeah, it has to exist and that’s something bigger than each of us so that we want to contribute something that will outlive us. We also play for the good of the game. And you can see this in business all the time. Finite-minded companies, if they have anything that works, any system that works, they hoard it like it’s a trade secret because they don’t want anyone else to know about it because it should only benefit them.

Some of the more infinite-minded companies, companies like Costco or The Container Store, if they figure out different systems and better ways of doing anything, they talk about it. They talk about it out loud. They share their systems so that other companies may benefit. In other words, it’s for the good of the game.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I love that. When I was consulting with the Bridgespan Group, that was a paradigm shift for me, doing for-profit consulting then nonprofit consulting, it’s like, “Oh, wait. We want the insights we come up with to be known by everyone in the social sector so that more people can do the good thing to bring about benefits for everyone.” So, it was night and day from, “Ooh, we got some competitive insight. Don’t share that because we need to keep our edge.” But your point is some for-profit entities are doing that. What’s their thinking?

Simon Sinek
Oh, the infinite-minded companies are trying to protect capitalism and advance capitalism and take care of the economy, and they want other companies to do well because they want other companies to protect and look after their employees. It’s not just a short-term finite game where maybe we win and everybody else loses. There’s no losers in this game. There’s no winners in this game. That’s the point. There’s no such thing because the game has no agreed upon metrics, timeframes, or objectives. So, we play to advance our cause and, of course, we want to build healthier, stronger companies, but two companies can do well at the same time because it’s not a winner-take-all model.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. Okay. So, well, then you mentioned that there are some particular outcomes associated with trust, cooperation, and innovation when you’re working things in an infinite-game mindset, you get more of those good things than when you have a finite mindset, you have less of it. Can you give us a couple powerful examples of folks who were reaping those really cool benefits, kind of what they did, and the results they saw versus those who were not because they were thinking about things too finitely and suffering the consequences?

Simon Sinek
Well, if you take trusting teams, one of the things that infinite-minded organizations do is they strive to build trusting teams. And every single one of us knows what it’s like to be in a trusting team. It means that we can raise our hands and say that we made a mistake, or that we don’t fully understand the job that we’ve been given and we need more training, or that we need help, without any fear of humiliation or retribution. We don’t fear that we’ll be in some shortlist at the end of the year, but rather we say these things with confidence, that our boss or our colleagues will rush in to support us and help us.

Unfortunately, too many of us know what it feels like not to be in a trusting team, where admitting a mistake could get you in trouble or get you fired, where if maybe you don’t know something, it would be a sign of weakness, it will restrict your ability to get promoted or, worse, get laid off at the end of the year, and so we keep these things for ourselves. We never, never say these things out loud and, eventually, mistakes compound, and people who don’t know what they’re doing, things start to break and, in the extreme, it can collapse or end up in scandal.

And so, what you find is that those infinite-minded companies, they believe desperately in building trusting teams, and so the people who benefit are the ones who love working there. And you look at the best companies to work for, WD-40, The Container Store. You talk to people who work there, they love working there. They love their jobs, and it doesn’t matter if their product isn’t glamorous. Well, WD-40 makes lubricants, so basically a one-product company. How can you love working in a company that makes lubricant? Well, the people do, not because of the product, but because of the company, because of their colleagues, because of the leadership, because they have an infinite mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you said the word scandal, and that’s triggering for me. I stalked all the reviews of your book before this interview, and someone said, “You did the best job of actually describing what went down with the Wells Fargo fake accounts than anybody, and I work there.” So, can you kind of draw that connection there between the story of that scandal and how finite thinking is part of the key cause there?

Simon Sinek
Sure. I mean, many of us know what happened to Wells Fargo, about 5,000 employers were held responsible for opening 3.5 million fake bank accounts, and they did so because the pressure on them to meet their sales goals was so extreme that you could get fired if you didn’t play by the rules and you could get big bonuses if you did, that it led something called ethical fading where good people started to do things that were highly unethical believing that they were well under their own ethical frameworks and they were rationalized, “I got to put food on the table. This is what my boss wants. Everybody is doing it.”

And the amazing thing was they fired 5,000 people for doing it, but they didn’t hold the senior people accountable at all. The CEO eventually lost his job not because the company decided to fire him, but because of public pressure, because of Congressional pressure, and still walked away with multi, multi, tens of millions of dollars in pay. I mean, these are backward systems. These are backward systems. At the end of the day, they created a culture that was more obsessed with making money than doing the right thing. So, guess what happened? Everybody works to make money in the short term and it came at the great expense of knowing our ethical standards, but at the end of the day, it actually hurt the company more than all the money they were making. This is the irony of the finite game. The benefits actually only benefit you in the short term.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you, well-said and well-illustrated. So, then let’s maybe zoom into the realm of an individual professional, and you say that the mindset and thinking can really vary day by day, it’s like you’re not 100% infinite mindset or 100% finite mindset, but it’s, in a way, a choice that you make with how you choose to put your thoughts day after day. So, can you maybe give us some examples of typical maybe mental reactions or self-talk, and what sort of finite-thinking self-talk versus infinite-thinking self-talk sounds like?

Simon Sinek
these are not either/or, it’s both. maintaining an infinite mindset is not the rejection of finite, it’s the context within in which the finite exists. So, the problem is we all use sports analogies. We treat business or careers and politics like it’s a finite game, like there’s a finish line. We talk about winning at the end except there is no winning. We just keep going and going and going. We need to change the mindset to think more of it like a lifestyle.

Think of it more like an exercise. There’s nothing wrong with having a finite goal if you want to do exercise. You want to lose X amount of weight by X date, that’s fantastic. Goals are motivating, they’re easy to measure, we feel good when we make progress, and if we hit the goal, we feel amazing. The problem is if we hit the goal, we have to keep exercising for the rest of our lives. We can’t stop. It’s a context. Again, there’s a broader context.

But, at the same time, if we miss our goal, nothing happens. Nothing happens. And we might make the goal a month or two later, but the most important thing is we’re way healthier now than we were before we started working out, and we just keep at it. So, the goals are motivating, finite is good, but we have to remember that if we miss some of these goals, literally nothing happens and we may be better off simply because we tried. So, that’s a better way to think about approaching anything in the infinite game. Think of it more like a lifestyle rather than a game.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that is quite a turn-of-a-phrase, literally nothing happens. I think that could bring a lot of peace to me.

Simon Sinek
You want to lose 10 pounds in five months, and if you lose 8 pounds, you know what happens? I mean, you set the arbitrary goal and you set the arbitrary date. It’s the same in business. We set the arbitrary goals and we set the arbitrary dates, and we create incentive structures to drive people to hit a number on a certain date, but the reality is nothing happens if we miss those numbers. Nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, boy, that is getting my wheels turning. I mean, in a way it’s like, “Well, hey, what happened,” past tense, “is you lost 8 pounds instead of 10.” But in terms of, like, you’re not dead, you’re still…

Simon Sinek
People, organization, won’t collapse, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m with you. Well, that’s fun. That’s fun to chew on a bit. Okay. So, that’s the view in terms of so you mentioned sometimes that you can think about things not so much in terms of “I’ve won” or “I’ve lost,” but maybe “I’m ahead” or “I’m behind.” Can you talk about some of that language?

Simon Sinek
That’s 100% correct. There’s no such thing as winning or losing in the infinite game, there’s only ahead and behind. So, I’ll give you a great example. My nephew is eight years old, super competitive little kid, and does not like to lose, gets very, very angry when he loses. He played a football game and his team lost. And because my poor sister is subjected to all of my ideas as I’m writing them, she knew about this idea of being ahead or behind rather than winning or losing.

So, my nephew was very upset, and my sister didn’t dispense the standard parenting advice, “It doesn’t matter who wins or loses. What matters is how you played the game.” That’s usually what we tell our kids. My sister said, “It’s okay. Today, you had a behind day. On another day, you’ll have an ahead day.” And she asked him, she said, “What do you want to do?” He said, “I want to be a professional football player.” And she said, “Okay. Well, there’s going to be a lot of ahead days and a lot of behind days, and you want to work hard to have more ahead days, but you’re going to have behind days.” So, he didn’t think of these things as final. He started to learn that it’s a journey.

And so, he lost another game recently, and my sister asked him, “How did today go?” And he said, “I had a behind day.” And so, he’s learning that the short-term wins and losses we have in our lives, they’re just part of the journey. They’re not final. And I thought that was such a healthy way of looking at the world.

Pete Mockaitis
That is handy and it’s a nice little nudge that ahead or behind is relative to a bigger scale in terms of, “It’s not over. Here’s one snapshot in time and we’re going to have another one the next day, and we’ll see how that one looks.”

Simon Sinek
Exactly. And, remember, there are still finite games. You can still go out to play baseball, you can still go bowling. But we have to ask ourselves what we’re there to play to do as well. It’s okay to be competitive but we just have to remember the larger context.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, when it comes to leading an infinite game, you’ve spelled out five key ingredients that have got to be there. Can you give us a bit of a walkthrough of those?

Simon Sinek
Sure. The first one is you got to have a just cause. You have to believe in a vision that’s bigger than yourself, something you want to work to advance, an idealized thing in the world. The founding fathers in the United States imagined an idealized future, a world in which all men are created equal, endowed with inalienable rights, which is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And America will never get there. We will never get to the point where all people are equal but we will die trying. And that’s the point, to commit our lives to advancing towards the cause, and some of the finite victories we have rule us towards that ideal.

And when we have a sense of just cause, when we have a sense that our work, and the energy we invest, is contributing to something bigger, it’s what gives our lives and our work meaning. So many people work simply for short-term numbers and after a bunch of years and a bunch of bonuses, you start asking yourself, “What’s this all for?” We need to have a just cause. We need to have a clear idealized vision for the future that we can help build.

We also need to build trusting teams, I talked about that one already, and we need to change our mindset away from seeing the other players as competitors, because competitors are people you want to beat, but rather to see them as worthy rivals. Some others players, whether individuals or other companies, do things better than we do. Well, we can learn about them. Instead of getting angry or insecure, we need to look at ourselves and say, “Where can we improve?”

We’ve all had the experience at work where someone we work with gets a promotion and we got angry. Think about that for a second. We got angry at someone else’s good fortune. Well, that’s because their strengths are revealing some sort of weakness in us. And instead of getting angrier and competitive with them, we can look at ourselves and say, “Where can I improve? What nerve are they touching?” That’s really important in the infinite game.

And then the ability to completely change the strategic course to advance that cause, and, most importantly, the courage to do all these things. Because the pressures on us from almost every direction are overwhelmingly finite. The incentive structures in companies are usually finite-driven, the pressures we get put on by our parents or our guidance counselors are always pushing us to be the best, to be number one, but there’s no such thing really. Nobody wins education. And so, we have to have the courage to build and maintain this at the onset. It’s very hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Boy, there’s a lot here. Can you share with us what have you found, as you researched and worked with folks, are some of just really top do’s and don’ts, best practices and worst practices, associated with each of these things that professionals should start doing or stop doing right away to bring them about?

Simon Sinek
Well, as I said, the easiest one to do is stop seeing the people we work with as competitors, like age-old competition is unhealthy, but internal rivalries are very healthy. You don’t have to like the people, you don’t have to agree with them, but we do have to respect people who are better at things than we are, and we can learn about ourselves and we can learn from them. That, I think, is the easiest one and one of the best things we can do. And also just appreciate that there are these different types of people, that not everything fits the same rule, not everything is about winning or losing when there’s no finish line. So, just to appreciate the fact that the way we think the world works is actually not the way the world works.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay. And let’s talk about existential flexibility a bit. I think that one might be harder to conceptually grasp. Can you expand on that a smidge?

Simon Sinek
So, existential flexibility is a capacity to make a profound strategic shift in order to advance a just cause. This is not the daily flexibility that’s required but rather the profound strategic shift. My favorite example happened to Apple. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple, they had a just cause. They want to empower individuals to stand up to Big Brother, they were revolutionaries. And so, this is the reason they found appeal in the personal computer. It was always a tool that could empower individuals to do just that. They imagined a world where one day an individual could actually compete with corporations.

Apple had already had success with the Apple I and the Apple II, those were already in big companies, Steve Jobs is already, then, a CEO, and they go off, Jobs and a few of his senior executives, go off for tour a of Xerox PARC, this was Xerox’s internal R&D department. And Xerox showed them something they invented called the graphic user interface which allowed computer users to use the computer by clicking a mouse and moving a cursor to work the computer rather than having to learn code. This was a profound innovation. Jobs saw this as way more powerful to help individuals learn and take advantage of computer technology.

He left that tour and said to his senior executives, “We have to invest in this graphic user interface thing.” One of those executives, the voice of reason, said, “Steve, we can’t. We’ve already invested millions of dollars and countless man hours in a completely different strategic direction. If we walk away from that, we’ll blow up our own company,” to which Jobs actually said, “Better we should blow it up than someone else.”

That decision led to the Macintosh, a computer operating system so profound that it really changed the way computers exist in our lives today. The entire software of Windows is designed to act like a Macintosh. The reason that computers are a household appliance and on every single desk was because of Jobs’ willingness to make this existential flex, to walk away from the money they invested and the time they invested because he found a better way to advance his cause.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, existential, I’m hearing you there. It’s like we’re saying the very stuff that you have held, like, practically as sacred, as core to who we are, what we’re about, and what we fundamentally do, it’s like, “Well, we can be flexible with that and go in a totally different way.”

Simon Sinek
Exactly. And what a lot of companies do in the face of cultural change, or technological change, or political change, is, because they fear having to completely change the way they view things, they double-down. We’ve seen this happen over and over again. Why is it that Netflix invented itself and not the television and movies? Why is it that iTunes was invented by a computer company and not the music industry? How is it that Amazon invented itself and the e-reader and not the publishing industry? It’s because they were so short-sighted and so preoccupied with maintaining their finite game that they literally missed the opportunity to advance any kind of cause because of the technological change that they were facing. Now, they’re all playing defense.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. That’s good. Well, so let’s see, I’ve got a couple other things I want to touch on beyond the infinite game. Tell me, any kind of critical things you want to make sure that we get out there so that this part of the conversation feels complete?

Simon Sinek
No.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. That feels good. So, a friend of mine told me that I must ask you, because I first saw you do this spiel on Tom Bilyeu’s show Impact Theory about millennials, I don’t know if that was the first or just sort of what seem to go viral in my feeds but it was quite thought-provoking so we’ll definitely link to that. And so, I had a friend who said, “You have to ask Simon, ‘Do you have any key solutions for folks who are trying to facilitate the development of emotional maturity in millennials?’” So, you got solutions, tips, tricks, tactics? Lay them on us.

Simon Sinek
Well, number one, have empathy. Every single generation is formed by the experiences they had when they came of age. If you have grandparents who lived through the Great Depression or the Second World War, very many of them are a miser, they’re frugal. There’s nothing wrong with them because they lived through the Depression or the War.

Well, every generation is the same way, and the millennial generation was the first generation to come of age where cellphones and social media were ubiquitous because that’s their worldview. They also came of age in a time where mass layoffs at companies had become completely embraced and normalized. When you talk about getting a gold watch after devoting your entire career to one company, there’s an entire generation that has no idea what I’m talking about when I talk about the gold watch.

And so, when we complain that they have no loyalty, we have to consider how they grew up. They grew up in a world where they watched their parents getting laid off because of nothing that their parents did. The company happened to miss its arbitrary projections at the end of a year. And so they’re cynical. They don’t trust companies because companies have never shown them loyalty. So, we have to have empathy, that’s number one.

And, number two, we have to teach people the skill they’re missing, and that goes to the leaders as well. Do leaders that are overseeing millennials, do they even have the ability to listen? Are we teaching people listening skills? Are we teaching people how to give and receive feedback? Are we teaching people how to come to terms with their own limiting narratives? Are we teaching them about effective confrontation? These are the basics of leadership. If we don’t teach the basics of leadership, we don’t get leaders, we get managers. So, I think we need to teach leaders how to lead, and we need to help all generations to learn these skill sets

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s handy. And then I also want to get your view, when it comes to this why stuff, you’ve been playing that game for a while. So, I’d love to hear, have you noticed any patterns or insights in terms of, “Boy, it really seems that when folks engage in these questions of reflection, or these processes of introspection, it really seems to be delivering insights with a high probability and reliability”? So, what’s the latest greatest in how to come up with your why effectively?

Simon Sinek
Well, first, we have to ask for help. None of us is objective about our own lives and our own careers. We need somebody who has an impartial outside point of view. But there’s a fun way to do it that gets you in the ballpark. I call it the friend’s test. Basically, what you do is you go find a friend you love, someone whom you can call at 3:00 o’clock in the morning and you know they would take your call, and vice versa, you would take theirs. Don’t do this with a spouse, don’t do this with a sibling, don’t do this with a parent. Those relationships are too close. Do it with a close friend and ask them the simple question, “Why are we friends?” And they’re going to look at you like you’re crazy they’ll say things to you like, “I don’t know. Why are you asking me this?”

And so, you have to keep peppering them, but you should, ironically, stop asking why because it’s an emotional question, and you switch to, “What?” which is a rational question, “What is it about me that I know you would be there for me no matter what?” And they’ll start describing you, “I don’t know. You’re funny. I can trust you. You’re loyal,” and you have to play devil’s advocate, you kind of help them, you kind of let everybody else help them. You have to go through the process. You say things like, “Well, that’s the definition of a friend. That’s generic. What is it specifically about me that I know you’re there for me no matter what?”

And, again, they’re going to go through this process, it might be multiple times, it might be torture, but at some point they’re going to give up and they’re going to start describing themselves not you, and you’re going to get goosebumps, you’re going to have some sort of emotional reaction, you’re going to well up. My friend said to me, “Simon, I don’t even need to talk to you. I can just sit in a room with you and I feel inspired,” and I got goosebumps. In other words, what they’re finally able to articulate is the value you have in their lives, and that value you have in their lives is your why, the thing you give to the world, the reason people want you in their lives.

And, by the way, if you do it with multiple friends, they’ll tell you the same thing. If not the exact same words, they’ll tell you very, very similar words. It’s kind of amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
That is awesome and sounds like fun. I’m looking forward to doing exactly that. Well, Simon, tell me, anything you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Simon Sinek
No.

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

Simon Sinek
There is a great quote by Henry Ford that I love, that goes, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Simon Sinek
I think the Whitehall Studies are pretty amazing, that I wrote about in Leaders Eat Last, where, basically, we believe that people who go higher up in a company, the more stress you have because you have more responsibilities, etc. And what the Whitehall Studies revealed is actually the stress levels go down as you get more senior, and stress levels are actually the highest on the front lines because the more control and discretion you have, the higher you go up, it actually reduces stress. When you move control away from people, or you don’t give them discretion, it actually increases stress to a very, very high degree. So, one of the best ways to keep people healthy, you give them choices on how to do their jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Simon Sinek
Well, Finite and Infinite Games is pretty amazing by James Carse, and, also, I’m a big fan of Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

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

Simon Sinek
Maintain friendships. Look after your friends. Look after the people you work with because when stress is high and the chips are down, you get many people in your corner who rush to your aid without being asked. So, the way that that happens is you’ve got to be a good friend to other people too.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite nugget, something you share that really seems to connect and resonate, and they quote it back to you often?

Simon Sinek
I think the quote that people say back to me most often is when I said, “Working hard for something you don’t believe in is called stress. Working hard for something you love is called passion.” And I think when you think passion as an input. It’s not. It’s an output. People say, “I only hire passionate people.” The problem is passion is not an input. We’re all passionate for something but we’re not passionate for the same thing. Passion can be amplified if we’re working for something that we believe is bigger than ourselves. So, I think that’s a big one.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch with your organization, with what you’re up to, where would you point them?

Simon Sinek
So, we’re in all the usual places, SimonSinek.com, and LinkedIn, and Twitter, and Instagram, and Facebook. Not TikTok. We don’t do TikTok channels.

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

Simon Sinek
Be the leader you wish you had. So many people complain that they work in companies that have bad leadership and that their bosses or their boss’ boss doesn’t get it. Well, we don’t have to quit, we don’t have to complain, and we can be the leaders we wish we had. We can show up every day and work hard to ensure that the people we work with, including our own boss, feel inspired when they come to work in the morning

Pete Mockaitis
Simon, thank you. This has been a joy and keep up the great work.

Simon Sinek
Thanks very much and thanks for giving me a place to help share my ideas.

545: What High-Performers Do Differently with Alan Stein Jr.

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Alan Stein Jr. says: "Fall in love with the fundamentals."

Alan Stein Jr. discusses the fundamental habits and mindsets that separate the best from the rest.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The universal skill every professional needs
  2. The secret to making remarkable change last
  3. A powerful mantra to keep you grounded and present

About Alan:

Alan Stein, Jr. is a keynote speaker and author who spent 15+ years as a performance coach working with famous, high-performing basketball players. He now teaches audiences how to utilize the same strategies in business that elite athletes use to perform at a world-class level.

Alan specializes in improving individual and organizational leadership, performance and accountability.  He inspires and empowers everyone he works with to take immediate action and improve mindset, habits and productivity which is what makes him one of the top motivational speakers around.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alan Stein Jr. Interview Transcript

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Absolutely my pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. Well, let’s hear just a smidge about your background. So, you used to work as a performance coach for professional basketball players including Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. May he rest in peace. What exactly does that mean, a performance coach? What do you do and how does that translate into better results?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure. Well, the original moniker was strength and conditioning coach. So, I was always responsible for kind of the fitness and athleticism side of training. But, as that industry progressed, we, I say we as in I’m uniting all coaches, decided that strength and conditioning were just two of the pillars of performance that we actually worked on. So, most coaches today that are in that field go by performance coach.

And, yeah, I was responsible for every facet of performance except for the actual skill work. So, things like improving hand-eye coordination, and explosiveness, and acceleration and deceleration, everything that goes under the umbrella of athleticism. And I was able to work with some really good players and really good coaches who taught me every bit as much as I’d like to believe I taught them, and then decided I was going to take all of those lessons and pivot those to a new audience, which is what I do now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, so can you tell us an example maybe of, hey, here’s something that you did in that realm, beyond just strength, and then what result that emerged there?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Well, I think the foundation of it all, and I know you had mentioned with the rest in peace with the very sudden and untimely and tragic death of Kobe Bryant, but one of the biggest lessons I ever learned was from Kobe at a camp that I worked for him back in 2007, and it’s actually how I open every single keynote with that story of meeting him. And the lesson that he taught me was that if you want to be great at something, you never get bored with the basics, that you fall in love with the fundamentals and you fall in love with the process of doing the basics over and over during the unseen hours until you come as close to mastery as possible.

That is incredibly applicable to every walk of life. I mean, that’s something that is very true on the basketball court. With a basketball player, you have to work on your footwork because your footwork is involved in everything you do on the court. And then I translate that same message to folks in the corporate world, about figuring out, “What are your basics and your fundamentals that you need to master to be awesome at your job?” And once folks have an understanding of those, then they just need to have the humility and the consistency to do them every single day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love it if you could highlight what are some of those basics that show up a lot for folks who want to be awesome at their jobs?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Almost unilaterally in any industry, I can’t think of anything where being a better listener wouldn’t serve you very well. If you’re in any type of leadership position, you’re a manager, or a director, or a supervisor, an executive, whether you’re in sales, whether you’re in customer service or customer experience, I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t be drastically heightened if you improved your ability to actively listen, to ask insightful questions, then listen to the response, and then make sure that either your response or your behavior pivots accordingly based on what they said.

And not only does this help you take in more accurate information and make better decisions, but anytime we listen to someone, it unconsciously shows them that we care about them. Because, in today’s day and age, our attention in the present moment is our most valuable currency. And when you show someone by listening with good eye contact and warm body language and nodding your head, you’re showing them that you’re willing to invest your most precious resource and your most precious currency into them. And that is a glue that strengthens human connection. And, regardless of what vocation you’re in, we’re all in the relationship and people business, and anytime we can strengthen those connections, it’s a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, yes, I’m on board. Listening sounds great and more of it would be good. We’ve had a couple episodes about listening and, boy, I think we’d have a whole lot more. So, let’s dig in a little bit here.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’ve put a lot of these insights into your book Raise Your Game: High Performance Secrets from the Best of the Best. What are some of the top high-performance secrets from the best of the best? One of them we talked about was basics. And I think we’re going to revisit that one some more. But what do you say is the big idea and some of those top secrets we should all know?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what’s kind of funny is my publisher always gets irritated with me when they think I’m disparaging the subtitle, but I told them, in jest, “We’re going to use the word secrets because it’s something that attracts people, and we want to get as many eyes on this book as possible, but there really are no secrets to high performance.”

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve lied to us.

Alan Stein, Jr.
I have. What it takes to be awesome at your job, those pillars are readily available to anyone. In fact, there are things that most people already know intuitively and intellectually, but it doesn’t mean they’re doing them. That’s really the big idea of the book is what’s called a performance gap. And that’s the gap between what we know we’re supposed to do and what we actually do. And if you want to be awesome at your job, you have to learn how to close that gap.

A perfect example would be I bet everyone of your listeners right now knows what healthy foods are, knows that they’re supposed to get adequate sleep every night, and knows that they’re supposed to do some type of physical fitness workout throughout the week, a couple of times a week. I mean, I don’t think there’s a functioning adult on the planet that doesn’t know those three things to improve health, vitality, longevity, so everybody knows that but we can even look at the statistics, not very many people are doing that. Not many people eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep, and workout consistently.

And that’s a perfect example of, in health and fitness, performance gap. We all know what we’re supposed to do, but very few people do it. And when I bring that up, it’s never to disparage or diminish someone, it’s never to call them out or to make them feel bad, it’s simply to shine the light on the fact that you know what you’re supposed to do but you’re not doing it. And that’s where we have to start making progress.

I just use health and fitness as an example because it’s an easy one. We could easily say the same thing for our financial lives or for relationships. There’s not a person alive that doesn’t know what things they should do to continue to have a thriving marriage, yet many people, after 10 to 20 years of being married, they no longer do those things, and then they wonder why their relationship is on the rocks. Or financially. Does anyone know you’re not supposed to save some money and put some money away for the future? Everybody knows that but not very many people do it.

And, to me, I’ve always been fascinated why groups of really intelligent people, which is what we all are walking around as human beings, why would we not do the things that we know we’re supposed to do. And the answer comes down to these things aren’t always easy to do. And we all, as human beings, usually default to what’s easiest and most comfortable, yet that’s not very often the path to growth, is ease and comfort.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, there’s lots there. I like it. So, there’s quite the distinction there between it’s basic, in other words it’s not complicated, but it’s not easy. It takes some effort from you. So, they call it entropy or whatever the concept is. We like our comfort and kind of doing what feels good in a given moment and not maybe what seems super boring because it’s basic and you’ve done it a lot of times. So, yeah, I think you did a fine job of teeing up the challenge, there’s a performance gap, that we’re not doing the things that we know we should or could do to get the results that would be helpful.

So, let’s talk about some ways to push through that then if you want to do more of the basics. And I’m just going to say for being awesome at your job, boy, we could talk about a lot. I think sleep is a big one. Listening is a big one. I think maybe one would be not checking your email constantly but rather just take, I don’t know, a couple batch times a day. Email is easier and maybe interesting, like, “What I have to do now is kind of boring and hard, but my email might be cool and easy, so let me go over there.” Maybe making a list of things that are the most critical to do during this day or week or month, and then making sure that you attack them.

So, those are some of the basics. We’ve heard it from many guests many times. So, if you’re not doing it, you’re not feeling it, how do you start doing it?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, absolutely. I’ve got a basic process to follow but not necessarily an easy one. I’m so glad that you brought up the difference between those two because many people do use basic and easy as if they’re interchangeable, as if they’re synonymous, and they’re not. I tell folks all the time during my keynotes, “Everything I’m going to share with you today is going to be very basic. Nothing I’m going to share with you today is going to be easy to implement because if it was, you’d already be doing it.”

So, first and foremost, and this is just kind of the ground level, you have to have the self-awareness enough to know that you have a performance gap. Like, you have to be willing to look in the mirror and say, “I know I’m supposed to get enough sleep but I don’t. I know I’m supposed to save money but I’m not.” So, without awareness, then you just continue to go through life a loop. So, once you have the awareness then there’s a very distinct three-step process.

The first process is once you’ve narrowed it down to the performance gap that you’re talking about, and let’s just say it’s getting more sleep, then you just have to pick one habit or one behavior that you want to change. You see, especially with a lot of high performers and high drivers, they’re enticed into wanting to change several things at once, “I’m going to get blackout curtains for my room. I’m going to get an easy Nest Thermostat for my room. I’m going to buy a sleep mask. I’m going to take this cocktail of melatonin supplements at night.” And they come up with this long list of things they’re going to do, and then they up getting so stifled by it that they end up doing none of it. The key is just picking one thing to have hyper focus on.

So, if you realize that you’re not getting adequate sleep, pick one thing, and let’s just say that one thing is going to be, “I’m going to set a consistent bedtime.” So, that’s the only thing you’re going to focus on. You’re not going to worry about anything else right now, just the one thing. Then the next thing you need to do, so once you’ve established that one thing, is you want to aim to do that for 66 straight days. You want to start to build some momentum and some continuity.

Now, there’s nothing really magical about 66 except there is some research out there that says that when you do something daily for 66 days in a row, it starts to reduce the friction. So, I just like that because it’s an easy number to remember and it could be something very visual. I’m a visual guy so, for me, I’ll go get an old-school calendar from Office Depot and a big red Sharpie, and every night that I go to bed, at this bedtime that I set, I’m going to put a big red X on my calendar, and I’m going to be committed to doing this until there’s 66 red X’s in a row.

Now, anyone that’s into habits, I highly recommend you read James Clear’s book called Atomic Habits. Most of everything I teach on habits has come from James, and he’s got a lot deeper insight into that concept. But let’s just try to build some momentum, so that’s the second step. So, we pick one thing, we’re committed to doing it for 66 days. And then the third piece is you need to keep the spotlight of accountability on, and you do this by insulating yourself with an accountability partner or an accountability group of people that is going to hold you to that.

So, in this example, I might say, “Hey, Pete, I’m really trying to get better sleep at night. I promised myself I’m going to go to bed every night at 9:30. I’m going to make a commitment to doing this for the next 66 days, but would you mind checking in with me? Since you’re my buddy, would you mind texting me every morning and asking me if I did go to bed at 9:30 so that way I’ve got someone else keeping that light on me?”

And, statistically, if you’re willing to focus on one thing at a time, you’re committed to doing it for 66 days and you have some self-accountability, and you get people that you know want to see you successful hold you accountable, if you do those three things, you have a really good chance of changing that behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Super. So, then I suppose that you lock one in over the course of 66 days, and then start another, as opposed to doing multiples at once. You focus on one at a time, and then you give it that amount of time before you take on another.

Alan Stein, Jr.
You nailed it. And, to me, that’s the main reason that most New Year’s resolutions don’t work it’s because of the plural part, because most people wake up on January 1st and say, “I’m going to eat better. I’m going to get more sleep. I’m going to start working out. I’m going to start saving money. I’m going to start doing this. I’m going to call on my…” and they want to do all of these things. While I certainly applaud how noble their intentions are, and I love that they’re trying to better themselves, statistically, by the third or fourth week of January, most of those people aren’t doing most of those things. And it’s because, as human beings, we’re wired to have that hyper focus. So, set yourself up for success by only picking that one thing and having hyper focus.

And that, in and of itself, is hard to do because most people think, “Oh, I can handle two or three changes at once. Oh, those statistics are for normal people. I can do it.” Well, you might be the exception, but let’s play the odds in our favor, let’s use the statistics and the research to say, “I’m going to do my very best to stay focused on this one thing.” Very basic in premise, very hard to do.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve fallen for that myself, “Oh, I can handle doing that more and more.” The compromise I try to reach myself when I’m having this argument is like, “Okay. Well, only one of them counts.” It’s like for the X, if you will, on the calendar, the points, or to report to the accountability partner, it’s like, “The rest are like extra credit. If you really feel like it or you’re in the mood, go for it, but I’m not bending over backwards to pull those off.” It’s like it’s the one thing that gets the point scored and gets supported out.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Exactly. And I think we can all fall victim to that. And, once again, I’m not saying that it’s impossible to change more than one thing at a time, and I’m not saying people can’t do it. I’m just saying we should all have the humility to go into it not thinking that we’re the exception and let’s do our best with this. And, of course, these, I’m throwing out a very general prescription.

I don’t think anything is one size fits all, but I think if you’re going to start, you’re better off starting conservative.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. So, then let’s talk about some of the basics that make a world of difference. Sleep, I think, is huge, and so we’ve given that as an example. What have you found, I’d say particularly for professionals, are some basics, some habits, that are often real top contenders for being things that unlock a whole lot of power for you?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what I’ll do is I’m going to give you a framework so that your listeners can actually figure out what those things are for themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what I’d say is, for your listeners, to take five or ten minutes, and I just want you to reflect on the four or five activities that really fill your own bucket, that charge you up physically, mentally, emotionally. Sit with pen to paper and think, “What things get me going?” Maybe it’s taking a yoga class or a spin class. Maybe it’s prayer or meditation. Maybe it’s quietly reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee, or taking a hot bath, or taking your dog for a walk. Whatever activities fill your bucket, I want you to come up with a list of those four or five things.

And then take another few minutes, and I want you to reflect on what your morning and evening routine looks like. Jot down what you do most mornings and what you do most evenings. Now, I’m aware that most people listening, if you work a conventional job, your Wednesday morning is not going to be the same as your Sunday morning, or your Saturday evening is not the same as your Tuesday evening. That’s okay. But I’m willing to bet that what you do most Wednesday mornings and what you do most Sunday evenings is probably fairly similar because, as human beings, we’re creatures of habit.

So, just start to etch out what you do on the bookends of your day, and then you’ve got these two sets of notes. And what I want you to do is compare those two sets. I want you to see if you’re actually making time in the beginning and end of your day to do the things that you know fill your bucket. And for most people, this is when they start to find some glaring performance gaps. They know that taking a yoga class or meditating or taking their dog for a walk are the things that jive them up, and yet they don’t make the time to do those things near as often as they should. And that’s why I want folks to start making the first little tweaks is using the bookends of your day, the first 60 minutes when you wake up and the last 60 minutes before you go to bed, to do things that refill your bucket, because that’s the only way for you to be awesome at your job, is if your bucket is full. It’s the only way you can serve others.

There’s an old adage that’s been around a lot longer than I’ve been breathing that says, “You can’t pour anything out of an empty cup,” which means if your cup is empty, you have nothing to give other people. So, in order for you to be the most awesome you can be at your job, you have to make sure your battery is always charged and your bucket is always full. And the last way I’ll illustrate that, since I’m a basketball guy, I don’t know if the Lakers are playing tonight or not, but I know if they had a game tonight and LeBron showed up, and he didn’t get good sleep, he wasn’t well-hydrated, he didn’t eat anything, he didn’t do his stretches or his corrective exercises, if he didn’t do all of those things, and he showed up tonight, he would give the Lakers less of a chance to win because he chose not to fill his bucket before he showed up.

And we all have to view ourselves as kind of the LeBron of our jobs in that, “When I show up, I need to show up as my best self. And in order to be my best self, I have to make the time to take care of myself.” And when we’re all willing to do that, that’s the most basic principle we should all be living by to become the best versions of ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so much good stuff there. Thank you. Thank you, Alan. So, let’s talk about the game day, if you will. You talk about playing present, and so, I guess, part of the game was, hey, prepping in advance, and then another part of the game is really being present while you’re there. First of all, what do you mean by this term?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I’ve heard both Nick Saban, the head football coach at Alabama, and I’ve heard Oprah Winfrey, who I probably need to say her last name because she’s that famous. They’ve both used the term “Be where your feet are.” And I love that because, to me, it has such a strong connotation of being in the present moment. Be where your feet are.

Now, if anyone listening is going, “Well, how could you be anywhere other than your feet?” Now, I’m talking about the connection between mind and body, because in today’s day and age of digital distractions, there’s plenty of times where we’re somewhere, well, we’re not really somewhere.

Pete Mockaitis
He was using his fingers on the phone since we’re not recording the video.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah, and that’s ultimately the problem. And I think a lot of us do that. You’re out to lunch with someone, and you’re so preoccupied with your phone that you’re not really with that person. And the key to high performance is making sure mind, body, and soul are all aligned right where you are. And, once again, very basic premise, very, very difficult to do, especially with all of these digital distractions that we have. So, learning how to be in the moment, not distracted by the past, not worried about the future, not worried about the play that just happened, but completely focused on the next play is vital to being awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I buy it. And so then, how do we get there? In terms of if we’re naturally distracted by our devices or other thoughts, worries, what else we need to be doing, how do we develop the capacity to be present?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Like anything else, it’ll take some practice. And, as I said before, it starts with awareness. So, first, you have to be aware of when you’re not present. You have to be able to catch yourself saying, “Man, there I go thinking about yesterday,” or, “Here I am worried about tomorrow,” or, “Here I’m constantly letting my phone own me instead of me owning it.” So, you have to have the awareness. And once you have the awareness, then you’ll start to catch yourself more quickly. And once you do that, the other part is really important, is giving yourself some grace and some compassion. Just know that even a Tibetan monk of 80 years isn’t present every moment of every day.

Now, they’re present more consistently than probably guys like you and I are, but nobody is perfect, and I don’t ever want someone to get stifled by perfection. I want you to be motivated and inspired by progress not stifled by perfection. So, just know that you’re never going to have a day where you’re 100% present every moment of every day. But can you be more present today than you’ve been in the past? Can you have a self-talk or a triggering mechanism that you catch yourself when you’re not present to snap yourself back into the moment?

I, literally, say to myself, not out loud, they’d have me committed, I’d say to myself, “Be where your feet are. Be where your feet are. Don’t worry about that, that one is over, Alan. Get back to the present.” And I really believe that the definition of mental toughness is the ability to refocus the lens on the next most important thing regardless of the environment. It’s the acronym WIN, W-I-N, what’s important now. And as long as you can always stay focused on what’s important now, you’ll be in the present moment.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that a lot, be where your feet are. I’ve heard some variations. I think it’s from Joseph Goldstein, a mindfulness teacher, talking about, “Sit and know that you are sitting.” I don’t know if he made it up but I think it’s really good, or just sort of breathe and know that you’re breathing. Because, in a way, it’s like, “Well, of course, I know I’m sitting. Of course.” It’s like, “Yeah, but you’re not really sort of there-there in terms of what’s going on.” So, be where your feet are, another way to convey that. I dig it.

And so then, I’d also want to get your view, if we’re kind of focused in the present moment, is it possible to lose sight of the bigger picture, the overall goal because we’re just, maybe, I don’t know, reacting, responding, we’re so in the now moment of what’s happening, we’re not sort of charting a course and driving to wherever we’re trying to go? Is that a risk?

Alan Stein, Jr.
That’s an excellent perspective, and it’s one that I’ve wrestled with numerous times, because we can look both ways on that. I mean, for one, even though I want to be focused on the present, I still want to make sure I’m learning from the past. If I step on a landmine today, I want to make sure tomorrow I don’t step on the same ones. So, part of us does need to have a system in place where we’re constantly looking at previous performances and finding ways to tweak those and move it forward so that we continue to get better.

And then, along the same lines, what you just brought up so insightfully is we also want to make sure we’re prepared for the future. I mean, right now I’m focused on the present moment, but I’m hoping tomorrow does come around and I want to make sure I’m ready for tomorrow. So, I think we want to make sure that we pay homage to both, that learning from the past and being prepared for the future, but we don’t live in either one of those spaces. We’re aware of them, we’re doing our due diligence on both sides, but we’re still in the present moment.

A perfect example would be somebody in sales. They’ve got a yearly quota, or a quarterly quota, of things they’re suppose to sell, and it’s okay to have that number off into the distance, “I’m suppose to sell a hundred whatever by the end of February,” and that’s great to know that but I don’t want to live there. What I want to constantly ask myself is, “What do I need to do today to get me closer to that 100 goal? What do I need to do this hour that will take me closer to that goal? What do I need to do right now, in this very moment, that will take me closer to that goal? And if I can stay in the moment and in the process, there is a very good chance that outcome of 100 will simply take care of itself.” Especially, if you have some analytics behind it.

If you know that every 10 prospects you reach out to, one of them buys, well, now it’s simple math. If every 10, one of them buys and you have to sell a hundred, well, it sounds like you need to reach out to a thousand people over the course of a month. Well, if we divide that thousand by a five-day workweek, four weeks by 20, that tells me how many calls I need to make every single day to be in the process of being able to reach that actual goal. Some days you’ll go higher, some days you’ll go lower, but then if I know that I have to make X number of calls today, I don’t want to worry about any of the calls except for the one I’m about to make right now. That is the only call that matters because it’s the only one that’s directly in front of me.

And then no matter whether this call goes well or not, it’s in the rearview mirror and now I focus on the next call. And this is very similar to building a brick wall. If you’re tasked with building a brick wall, the best advice I have for you is lay each and every brick with care and precision. And if you put your focus on laying each brick perfectly, there’s a very good chance that wall will just take care of itself.

Pete Mockaitis
And if you are an excellent mason in the Chicago area, get in touch with me because I need to hire one. Thank you.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Oh, perfect. And whoever that person is, you make sure you lay Pete’s bricks brick by brick.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, right. Well, that’s a whole another talk, that’s a whole another conversation, in terms of people being awesome at their job in the home renovation world. That could be hard to find at times. So, anyway, refocusing on here and now, huh? How’s that for presence and tie-in.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Oh, that was perfect. Look at you.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. So, I want to get your take on is there anything else you really want to make sure we mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Alan Stein, Jr.
No, those are really the big ones. And I readily acknowledge that there’s really nothing sexy about anything I’ve just shared. There’s nothing flashy, there’s nothing new, there’s nothing trendy. Master the basics and the fundamentals during the unseen hours. Do your best to stay present. Those things aren’t sexy, that’s why they’re not tons of Facebook memes or Nike slogans with those in them, but those are what’s required at being awesome at your job. And once you’ve found something that you love to do, if you can fall in love with that process and doing that work on a daily basis, you will be awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I love it. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Alan Stein, Jr.
“If you do the things others won’t do, you’ll have the things others won’t have.” And that really is something that piggybacks on everything that I just shared. If you’re willing to commit to the basics, which most people aren’t, you’ll have plenty of things that other people don’t have. If you’re willing to be an active listener to the people you care about, you’ll have deeper relationships than most other people have. If you’re willing to lay each brick with care and precision, you’ll probably build sounder and nicer walls than anybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ll get a lot of referrals.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yes, absolutely. Without question.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, there was an interesting on that goes back on that why I told your listeners to pick one thing. There’s a gentleman named John Berardi, who was the Founder and CEO of a company called Precision Nutrition, and he did a study and he found that when you try to focus on one behavior change, you have an 85% chance of being successful, that as soon as you try to split that in half and change two behaviors at the same time, rate of success drops to 40% to 45%, so almost cut in half.

And then if you try to focus on three things at once, it drops down to 4% or 5%. So, once again, the statistics will show and the research will show that if you want to change a behavior, just focus and get hyper clear on that one thing to change. I remember when I read that for the first time, that was eye-opening to me because at the time, I was trying to juggle many changes at once all of the time and was getting frustrated with myself that none of it was working.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Leading with the Heart by Coach K. That was one of the first, like epiphanic books that I read from cover to cover in one sitting that just completely jolted the way that I look at building teams, and leading, and creating cohesion with an organization. It’s an old book but it’s still just as good as the day it came out.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I use the Headspace, the meditation app, the guided meditation, and I use it daily. It’s a 10-minute guided meditation which allows me to start my day in a much more present way, it allows me start my day in a grounded and mindful way, and it just kind of, in a very soothing way, talks you through 10 minutes of keeping you present. And I really love it because I’m a pretty competitive guy, and there’s kind of a daily run clock on it which will say how many days in a row is your Headspace streak. And as of this morning, at the time of this recording, I have done this for 929 straight days without missing a Headspace daily meditation. And, for me, I just love that.

Back to the brick-by-brick analogy, most people will think, “Well, 10 minutes of meditation, what’s that going to do?” Well, I agree, a one-time 10 minutes slice of meditation will do nothing for you, but I’m living proof that 10 minutes a day, for 929 straight days, can have a seismic effect on your presence, and awareness, and mindfulness, and mood, and the way you start your day. So, it goes back to the brick-by-brick. One brick doesn’t make a wall. Several bricks laid perfectly, now you’ve got yourself a sound, sturdy wall.

Pete Mockaitis
This is intriguing because here you are, a case study, 900 plus days, so not a lifetime, under three years, but an awesome habit that’s locked in. So, you say it’s made quite a difference. Can you sort of lay that out for us? Because I think there’s a lot like borderline, fence-riding, half-meditators listening to this show, and I’m one of them in terms of, it’s like, “Oh, hey, I did that. That felt kind of good. okay, I’m glad I did that.” And then I got busy, it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t do that.” So, it’s up and down, and I’m generally on board that the data is clear, the research that the benefits exceed the costs, and then sometimes I just get wrapped up, and it’s like, “That sounds boring. I don’t feel like it, so I’m not going to do it.” I’m a little sassy or self-indulgent, and at other times I do it and I’m so glad I did. Other times I do it, I was like, “Okay, well, that happened.” So, let’s get your take so that myself and listeners may be convinced. What is different for you now as compared to 900 plus days ago?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I mean, the biggest difference I would say is kind of my mood and outlook in how I start the day. Like many people, I used to wake up and the first thing I would do would be check my phone, check text messages, email, social increase, and I started to find, like most people, that I was giving my power away, that. I was putting my mood and rolling the dice into the hands of anyone that text me, emailed me, or sent me something on social, and many times I was losing that battle. I would get something that would frustrate me, or irritate me, or upset me, and it’s the very first thing I’m putting on my hard drive in the morning, and I just decided that enough was enough.

And I wanted to make sure that that was not what I was doing to start my day, and I needed something else to replace it. And around this time, somebody that was a mentor and very influential to me, was talking about his own Headspace meditation journey and how much it had helped him, and I think it was just perfect timing.

Everything that you just said, I found true especially in those first few months. There were times I didn’t feel like doing it, there were times where, even in that 10 minutes, I couldn’t stay present for more than 10 seconds. My mind would start racing about all of the things I had to do that day. But over time, it just started to chip away, and, over time, I just found that I was becoming more mindful. I was becoming better with just sitting in silence for 10 minutes, that I was starting my day with a little more pep in my step, with a little wider smile because I was in this rounded fashion.

I also like the consistency of it. I travel a ton as a professional speaker and this is something that I can do whether I’m home or whether I’m traveling. It’s something I can do whether my kids are with me or they’re not with me, so I had some control over it. And then, as I mentioned, I’m rather competitive, so once I had done it for 10 straight days, I was like, “Well, let’s not stop here. Let’s keep it going.” And, yes, there were definitely a few times where I did not feel like doing it but I was like, “You know what, I can’t let my streak break.”

I started putting it out on social because that’s a form of accountability. I had people come up to me at my talks all the time and say, “Hey, Alan, what’s your Headspace streak up to?” because they remember a few months ago I posted how many days I had in a row. So, it’s kind of a self-accountability, like I mentioned earlier with that spotlight, but it’s definitely allowed me to start my day in a much more mindful and controlled manner. And I know that’s very hard to measure, once again it’s not super sexy, but I’ve found that it’s a great tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think the most compelling there was you’re not putting your mood in other’s hands, so, I mean, it’s powerful right there. So, then, some meditation, Headspace is the tool. I was going to ask about a favorite habit. That might be it, but if you have another one, lay it on us.

Alan Stein, Jr.
You know, the longest running habit that I’m aware of that I have is probably going on 26, 27 years now, and it’s similar to the meditation. I make my bed first thing every single morning. I do that because I’m a firm believer that it takes discipline to make your bed. I mean, it might only take 8 to 10 seconds but it takes a little discipline, and that discipline is the key to freedom. Discipline is the key to everything that we want in life. If your goal is to be happy and fulfilled, well, self-discipline is what’s going to allow you to achieve that.

If you’re a hard-driver and your goal is success and significance in the board room, discipline is what’s going to allow you to do that. So, I love knowing that I start every single day with a very small simple act of discipline, and then I’d parlay that right into my meditation, and the first 11 minutes of my day, I’ve kind of set the groundwork for the rest of the day. And if the rest of the day is going to be filled with adversity and challenge and chaos, and I’m expected to respond and put out fires, I’m able to handle those things much better just by laying that foundation first thing in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And, tell us, is there a particular nugget you share that really resonates with folks and they quote it back to you, you’re known for it?

Alan Stein, Jr.
The number one, and this is not an Alan Stein, Jr. original, I think Coach K was the first to do it, but where I really learned it was from Mike Jones, who was the head basketball coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. I worked for him for six years, and was just phenomenal. And he always talks about this concept of next play, and it’s part of being present. And, basically, what he says, anytime during a basketball game when things don’t go well, Coach Jones says, “Next play.”

So, a player turns the ball over. No worries. Next play. You missed a wide-open layup. It’s all right. Next play. I know, the referee missed that call. Next play. And that mindset is what allows you to be in the present moment. You don’t worry about what just happened, you’re focused on now and what’s about to happen next. And I’ve had many people in my keynotes, you know, I’ll give a 90-minute keynote and they’ll say that was the stickiest most helpful thing I shared was the ability to move to the next play. And many people have told me, I mean, they use it with their children, they use it with their families, I know I use it with my kids all the time.

My kids would get into arguing about something, and I’ll say, “All right, let’s resolve this,” and then we’re moving to the next play. My kids will say they want a dessert after dinner, and I’ll say, “Well, not tonight,” and they whine about it. I say, “Hey, we’re moving onto the next play.” And that terminology, I found to be really sticky and something that’s been very helpful for not only myself but lots of people that I’ve worked with.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
They can go to RaiseYourGameBook.com if they want to learn more about the book. And if they want to hear more about my speaking services and what I do on social, they can go to AlanSteinJr.com.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I would say, actually, what you just said, is to put something that we talked about today into action, that knowledge without action is useless. I mean, it’s no different than the book on your shelf that you haven’t read. It’s doing nothing to help you. So, while you may have been sitting here listening to this episode and nodding your head, maybe even taking some notes and thinking, “Wow, this is great stuff they’re talking about,” if you don’t actually put it into motion, it’s not going to change anything. So, just remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alan, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in your future adventures.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Thank you so much, Pete. I appreciate you.