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451: Deploying Your Mental Energy Brilliantly with Dr. Art Markman

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Art Markman says: "You have to generate a certain amount of dissatisfaction in order to do something different."

Professor Art Markman shares insights from cognitive science research for us to be smarter every day at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to making a great first impression
  2. The pros and cons of high energy
  3. The role of dissatisfaction in motivating yourself

About Art

Art Markman is a Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. He got his ScB from Brown University and his PhD from the University of Illinois.  Before coming to the University of Texas, Art taught at Northwestern University and Columbia University.

Art’s research explores thinking. Art is also the executive editor of the journal of Cognitive Science and is a former executive officer of the Cognitive Science Society. Art has always been interested in bringing insights from Cognitive Science to a broader audience. To that end, he writes blogs for many sites including Psychology Today and Fast Company. He consults for companies interested in using Cognitive Science in their businesses.  Art is also on the scientific advisory boards for the Dr. Phil Show and the Dr. Oz Show.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Art Markman Interview Transcript

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

Art Markman
Oh, it’s great to be talking to you today. Thanks so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’d have a ton of fun. And I think, first things first. I got to say I-L-L.

Art Markman
I-N-I.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. It’s great to have a fellow alum in the house. And I also understand that you play sax for a blues band. What’s the story here?

Art Markman
Yes, so, in my mid-30s I decided to take up the saxophone.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Art Markman
And I’d played the piano as a kid, and realized I’d never played another instrument, because when I was 5th grade, and they demonstrated band instruments, I asked my mom if I could play the French horn, and she said, “No, we have a piano. You play the piano.” And I realized in my mid-30s it was no longer her fault. So, I took up the sax and then started playing in bands after I’d been practicing for about 10 years. And it’s great fun. It gets me out of the house in a healthy way.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are the names of the bands? I love band names.

Art Markman
So, right now, I actually transitioned to playing with a ska band, and we’re called Phineas Gage who was a 19th century railroad worker who had a spike blown through his head and lived.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I don’t know why I know that.

Art Markman
Well, it’s just one of those random facts that once you hear it once, it tends to stick with you.

Pete Mockaitis
But didn’t he have some sort of a condition as a result of it that was studied by a lot of folks?

Art Markman
Yes. So, one of the things, so Antonio Damasio makes a lot out of this because if Phineas Gage seemed to have trouble actually connecting the emotional experience of his life with the cognitive experience. And so, it was easy to take advantage of him because that little spidey sense that goes off in most of us when we’re dealing with somebody who’s a little shady didn’t seem to affect him.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, cognitive science is your cup of tea, and you, indeed, like to talk about applying it, too, in your latest book, Career Advancement. Could you maybe orient us a little bit to what exactly does the term cognitive science mean, and what are some kind of key concepts that make a world of difference in career advancement?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, cognitive science, it goes beyond mere psychology to say that if we’re going to understand something as complex as a mind, we need to understand the science of behavior, that’s where psychology comes in, but also how brains work, so neuroscience. It’s useful to have some computation to think through how we might build an intelligent machine, and so robotics and computer science come in, as well as culture so you get some anthropology, and linguistics to understand how language functions.

And so, when you take that much broader-based perspective, you get all of these different insights into the way the mind works. And I’m sort of a native-born cognitive scientist. My undergraduate major was actually cognitive science. And one of the things that that does is it allows you to get more perspective on why you think the way you do.

I like to point out that almost everybody I know has a mind and almost nobody knows how that mind works. And, yet, if you learn about the way your mind works, it can help you to do the things that you do more effectively. For example, one of the things that I talk about in the new book is it has to do with the way that you present yourself in a resume, that you might think, “Well, I should jam every conceivable positive thing into my resume that I can find,” under the assumption that people are adding together the total amount of goodness about you. But it turns out that when people actually look at a resume, they are averaging.

And so, if you put on something that’s good but not great, you could actually lower your average a little bit. And so, if you’ve got that honorable mention for a prize, yeah, you might want to think twice about whether you want to include that because it might actually bring down people’s overall evaluation of you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And I think, in particular, when you’re trying to customize a resume to tell a story in terms of that’s really going to resonate for the recipient, as opposed to like, “This guy is all over the place,” versus, “Oh, this guy is a real pro and exactly the things I want him or her to be a pro at.”

Art Markman
Exactly right. So, you really want to understand the mind, not only your own mind, but the minds of the people who are going to be evaluating you so that you can be as effective as possible at impressing them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s handy, yes. So, we’re going to talk about a lot of stuff. But I’d love to kick it off by hearing what’s perhaps the most fascinating and surprising discovery you’ve made when it comes to deploying some of these cognitive science insights for career advancement?

Art Markman
So, I would say that one of the more surprising elements of this has to do, for me, with understanding values and value systems. That one of the things that you find, particularly when you start to talk to people who’ve been in the workplace for a little while, is they get dissatisfied with their careers because they realize that the things that they thought they wanted when they were 20 are not actually the things that they wanted.

And it becomes useful to begin to think about, “Well, what kinds of things do I value? Am I the sort of person who actually cares about prestige? Or do I really care about helping others and being part of my community? And am I on a track to be able to do that?” Because you may not be able to reach all of your goals and achieve all of the things that meet your values in your first job, but, at some point, you’ve got to feel like you’re making progress towards it.

And I think that a lot of people don’t take that into account until too late, and then you experience that mid-life crisis, or you think, “I’ve just wasted all of my time.” When, in fact, you can begin to do that much earlier in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. Could you share what are some key values that folks think they want and realize that they don’t kind of often?

Art Markman
Well, so, I have a number of stories in the book because I was happy enough to be able to enlist the help of people on social media. So, as I was writing the book and had all these concepts, I would just ask people questions and they would tell me their stories. And I’ll tell you two that were kind of fun.

One is a guy named Brian. He finished college and, really, took a job that was going to pay well and give him some prestige, and he actually realized that was not what he wanted at all. He left his job, went to do the Peace Corps for a while, and came back, and really focused on jobs that were going to help others. That was actually something that he ended up being passionate about.

But there are other kinds of values. There’s another story in the book about a guy who went into a session to talk about State Department jobs, and walked out of a test that they took, and other folks were laughing at this one question about, “Who would enjoy being in a warzone?” And he realized, actually, he wanted that. He responded positively to that question. He realized that adventure was a very important value for him, and he ended up fashioning a career that put him in a lot of dangerous places, but it was utterly exhilarating to him.

So, some of us want enjoyment and adventure, and some people want stability and they want to know where their next paycheck is coming from. Some people want to be helpful, and some people really want to look out for themselves. And all of those things across the population are values that people hold. We get some of those from the culture around us, but, particularly in the United States, we’re given a lot of opportunity to really decide for ourselves how we want to live our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And so, you lay out Shalom Schwartz who crafted a set of values with 10 universal values there from power, and achievement, and hedonism, and stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, conformity, tradition, security. That was fast.

Art Markman
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
No need to dig into every one of them. But it’s intriguing, you say that there’s a couple of ways you can go about clarifying your own values and what’s most potent for you. And what are those?

Art Markman
Well, the very first thing you want to do is actually to be aware of them, to be aware that there are these values, and to begin to ask, to what degree do these resonate with you. And there are scales that you can take. I’m actually going to be putting one up online for people who read the book if they want to actually test themselves against these values.

But one of the things I think is important is periodically, throughout your career, not every week by any means, but maybe on that yearly basis, to ask yourself, “Well, how am I doing? Do I feel like I am doing the kinds of things in my work life often enough that I am making progress towards those kinds of goals? Or do I feel like my values are not being reflected at all in the work that I’m doing?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really resonating for me as I’m thinking about my first job that resembled a professional job. There was an internship at Eaton Corporation, which I’ve not heard of but is a Fortune 500 company, it’s a diversified industrial manufacturer. And I remember, as I wrapped up that internship, I thought, “You know what? This was pretty cool in terms of I learned some things, my brain got tickled and challenged a little bit, there were some great people I enjoyed sort of seeing regularly, and I got home at a decent hour. And, yeah, option was there to return.”

But I remember walking away, thinking, “You know, I think that this company could provide me a satisfying stable kind of a career,” but I really wanted a thrilling one. And so, I went with strategy consulting after graduation. And then after some years of that, I thought, “You know what? I want more autonomy. And I want maybe in-between 40 hours and 65 hours, somewhere in that zone would probably be better at that phase.”

And so, it definitely connects that both of those opportunities were great, and it’s just about seeing what’s the best fit for you and life, and what’s going on.

Art Markman
And it can change over time as well. Later in the book, I talk a little bit about another guy who, early on, was focused on developing that career and having that very stable career, but also one that had a certain amount of achievement in it. Then, in the middle of his career, his wife got sick, and he needed to really back off and put his value on his family and on taking care of his wife and his kids.

And then, later in his career, after he went back to work, after she got healthy again, and had some success, and engaged those values again, and then decided he wanted to really help others, and actually left the practice of law and ended up running a non-profit for a while. And so, you get these shifts over time sometimes as a result of life circumstances, and sometimes just as a result of changes in perspective as you see more things in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, we’ve already kind of gotten into some of the meat of it, but maybe to zoom out for a moment, what would you say is kind of the main thesis or big idea behind this book you got here, “Bring Your Brain to Work”?

Art Markman
Yeah, so the idea is that if you think about your career, which is bigger than any individual job, it’s that collection of things that you truly contribute as a result of the work that you do, and has this cycle of looking for a job and getting it, then succeeding at it while you’ve got it, and then considering whether to move on or move up. That that cycle can be really informed, no matter where you are in your career, can be informed by understanding more about your mind and the minds of other people.

And that this is stuff that we don’t really ever learn in class. And most people, when they hit mid-career, realize that very little of what allowed them to succeed at work was something that they learned in a class in school. And so, part of what I’m trying to do in the book is to bring more of the research around cognitive science to help people to learn some of those things that are critical for career success that they probably didn’t get in a class.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, excellent. Well, thank you. We appreciate that effort in the world. And so, let’s dig into some of the stuff then. We talked a bit about zeroing in on what you value and figuring out how a job might align to that. But you’ve also got some pro tips in terms of acquiring the job using cognitive science insights. Like in the midst of an interview, how do you figure out kind of where the interviewer’s head is at, and what they might love?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, one of the things that fascinate me about interviews is a lot of people walk into that interview focused almost exclusively on, “I have to impress the interviewer. I need this job, and I want them to think great thoughts about me at the end.” And, of course, that’s not irrelevant. You want to go into the interview well-prepared so that you’re able to really talk authoritatively about yourself and about the way that you would fit with the company, which means you need to know something about the company.

But what a lot of people don’t do effectively is to realize how much they can learn about the organization that they’re interviewing with as a result of that interview process. So, if you get totally stumped on a question, you might think to yourself, “Well, that’s it. I’ve screwed this up completely.” But, actually, it gives you this opportunity to engage in a conversation with the interviewer and to get a real sense of, “Is this a company that actually wants to support me, that wants me to learn, that wants me to help, to think the way that they think?”

And to the extent that the interviewer actually digs in and works with you to walk your way through an interview question, they may be telling you something about their willingness to help to mentor you and to train you, and for you to understand that this is a company that doesn’t necessarily think you need to be fully formed on day one in order to succeed. On the other hand, if the company just brushes you off for not knowing the answer to a question, then, well, their communicating something completely different, right?

And so, you should be paying attention to that from the beginning to really understand, “What am I learning about this organization?” through the interview process, frankly, through the negotiation process as well, where they’re communicating a lot about what they value in the way that they treat you when you are trying to negotiate salary and benefits and things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, that’s a great point there, is to, first of all, to broaden my question a bit. It’s not just about impress, impress, impress. It’s a two-way street. You’re picking up intelligence on their side, like, “Is this a good fit? Do you like the way they work it?” But then back to the wowing side of things, when you are putting half of the attention on that side of the equation, what are some things that do some of the wowing or help you sense what they’re really feeling?

Art Markman
Yeah, so one of the fascinating things about the interview is, more than anything else, companies are trying to figure out whether they want to work with you, because they’ve already brought you in, which means they’ve looked at your materials, they feel like you have potential qualifications for the job. And so, now, they’re trying to envision how you fit in.

And so, part of what you want to do is to really engage. So, yes, you need to be prepared but, at some point, you need to really have a conversation. Give those interviewers a chance to have a sense of what it would be like to have you as a colleague. But to do it by putting that best foot forward, every once in a while, you think to yourself, “Well, do I really have to put on an act for them? Do I have to be really my best self?” And the answer is yes. You don’t want necessarily need to show every single quirk in the interview. Right, exactly. Those things that people will find charming eventually. Maybe get them to learn to love you first.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got plenty of quirks, Art, that’s why I’m laughing over here.

Art Markman
And so do I, right? And it’s fine. I think quirks are part of what makes us interesting in the long run. But in the short term, you want to put that best foot forward. And I think, really, believe in what’s called the halo effect. So, the better the first impression that someone gets of you, the more charitably that they interpret every other thing that you do, because every behavior that you exhibit in the world is ambiguous, right?

Are you brash and arrogant? Or are you confident and assertive, right? Well, those could manifest themselves with almost identical behaviors. But if I like you already, I’m going to think of you as confident. And if I don’t like you from the beginning, I’m going to think that you are kind of an arrogant jerk. And so, you really want to come out initially with creating the best possible impressions socially that you can in order to get people to feel like you’d be somebody that they really want to work with.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, in terms of some of the details for how that’s done, I imagine there are some basic fundamentals, like smile, make eye contact, engage, listen, shower.

Art Markman
Shower is good, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Put on some clothes that aren’t stained and wrinkled. But are there any sort of like cognitive science secrets that are some huge do’s or don’ts when it comes to making a great impression?

Art Markman
Yeah, one of them is it’s not just smile. It’s, bring the amount of energy and enthusiasm that you want that person to feel later. So, one of the things we know about conversation is that people tune to each other, even down to the level of the pitch of your voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Really?

Art Markman
Yeah, absolutely. Really, yes, they do. And if people are laughing, right, or smiling, then if one person is doing it, the other person is doing it. They will even mimic facial expressions, and if one person crosses their arms, eventually the other one is going to do it.

And so, if you’re trying to generate energy and enthusiasm, because that will ultimately be interpreted by the interviewer as enjoyment. The fact is that the higher your degree of energy, the more invested you are motivationally in something.

And so, if you come in really flat, then you’re going to get a flat evaluation later because the interviewer is going to mimic your flatness, and you’re going to end up just it’s going to be a mediocre evaluation at the end. But if you come in with energy and enthusiasm, you will create energy. And that energy actually now feeds back into the evaluation that you get.

So, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And so, you need to bring the energy that you want the interviewer to have, particularly because many times you’re working with somebody who may be a recruiter, or a hiring manager, who might be doing 15 interviews. And so, if you don’t bring it, well, they don’t need it, right? They’re doing a ton of these all day. So, you’ve got to make sure that you create the atmosphere that you want.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, Art, I think that I am one of those people, I don’t know how if I’m in the majority or the minority here, that could overdo it with regard to the energy, like, “Whoa, that’s a little too much. Like, are you, I don’t know, a clown, or a motivational speaker?” Like, how do we think about when is it too much?

Art Markman
Well, honestly, I don’t think that the energy level can be too much. But I do think that you have to be careful when you’re energetic to still stay on topic. So, one of the things that a high level of energy can do is to allow you to overcome your filter, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, certainly.

Art Markman
One of the things that we know motivationally is that we have in our motivational system what you can think of as a go system that drives you to do things, and then a stop system that gets you to inhibit things that your go system says you should do that on sober reflection might not be such a good idea. And the more that you overload that go system, which is something you can do when you give yourself a tremendous amount of energy, the more you can override the breaks which can potentially cause you to say something that you probably shouldn’t have said in an interview.

And so, the danger with too much energy is not so much the impact that it’s likely to have on the interviewer, so much as the likelihood that it’s going to cause you to do or say something that probably was not a great idea.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good thought there, certainly. So, I imagine, so long as you’re keeping like your volume and gestures like within a normal reasonable human dimension, and you’re not just disclosing crazy things. I heard a story of a person who interviewed someone who said, “Hey, how are you doing?” He said, “Not well.” And then he went on to share quite the story of how his girlfriend threw him out of their apartment, and his clothes were thrown out of the window, and he was trying to figure out a place to, I don’t know, get a suit cleaned or something in the middle of the night. And he was like, “Okay, this is uncomfortable now.”

Art Markman
Right. I think the correct answer there would’ve been, “Fine.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Exactly. Okay. So, that’s handy. So, great energy but not so much that you      are doing unwise things and short-circuiting the stop system there. Well, now, let’s say you got the job, and you want to apply some of these cognitive science insights to, let’s say, communicate, collaborate, interact with your colleagues and clients better. What are some of your favorite do’s and don’ts there?

Art Markman
Yeah, so one of the things to watch out for in the modern environment is that we do so much discussion with our colleagues that is mediated by text, whether it’s email, or instant messages, or Slack, or any one of these ways of communicating just through the words alone being sent through the ether.

And the problem is, human communication is really optimized because of our evolutionary history for a small number of people interacting face to face in real time. And the further away that we get from that ideal, the harder it is for us to communicate effectively with our colleagues. And that means that if you’re going to do most of your communication with your colleagues via text, you need to go out of your way to create a certain amount of facetime with them in order to establish a relationship so that they can read the tone of what you say more effectively.

Because if I need your help with something, and I poked my head into your office, or over your cubicle wall, or whatever it is, and I say, “Listen, man, would it be all right, could you possibly make some copies for me right now? I’m running late, I’d really appreciate it.” You can make a request of someone that imposes on their time and still demonstrates to them through the words that you use and your tone of voice and the look on your face that you understand what a big imposition it is, and that you deeply appreciate what they’re doing.

When you say the same thing over text, it comes across as cold and as demanding. And so, unless they can hear your voice in their head, then you’re actually going to end up sabotaging some number of your relationships just because of the overuse of this kind of text. So, we have to find ways to create that kind of facetime.

And, as it turns out, that is often more efficient because things that can take you 10 minutes going back and forth by email or instant message, can actually often be resolved in about four seconds of real conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love what you had to say there with regard to give them lots of experiences of the facetime, and then they can imagine in their own mind’s eye and ear what your facial expressions are looking like and what your voice is sounding like. This reminds me when I was consulting. We had this client and we kept getting these emails back. We asked about, “Hey, we want some data like this.” And then the client sent back some things. And we’re like, “Oh, actually, hey, thank you. But we’d really kind of want it like this.”

And then she sent something back and had some red-letters in it, like, “Oh, man, she’s angry.” And then we thought, “Why don’t we just pay her a visit?” And it was like, “Hey, what’s going on? We really appreciate you taking the time to help us, think through it, share these things. We’re trying to accomplish this and it’d be really awesome if it’s possible to do that.” She’s like, “Oh, yes, absolutely. Certainly, I can get that to you this afternoon.” Just like the sweetest thing.

Art Markman
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And like, “Oh, thank you.” And then it’s like it just sort of reinterpreted every email that we were like sweating over. It’s like, “Oh, I guess maybe red is just a clear means of delineating and separating that text from the original email text in black or blue, as opposed to, “I’m furious at you.” And it was quite the lesson. Yeah, eyes opened.

Art Markman
Yeah, and we’ve gotten out of the habit of doing that. We think, somehow, it’s easier to be doing everything mediated by text. So, I really think that making sure that you create that relationship, I think, is just critical for success.

Pete Mockaitis
And we had Dr. Nick Morgan, a famed communications consultant, on the show earlier. He said one great phrase used often in like a phone call or sort of less rich exchange is, “How do you feel about what I’ve just said?” You know, just to get real explicit, like it may not have been conveyed so let’s figure it out. It seemed pretty brilliant to me.

Art Markman
Oh, yeah. And if I could add to that, one of the places where it’s really brilliant in the modern environment is when you’re dealing with people who have a different cultural background than you do. So, we live in a world in which we may not just be working with people in another state, but they might be halfway around the world. And there are big cultural differences in what people will generally say to each other and what kinds of things they give voice to.

And sometimes you just need to be really explicit with people, including, “I need to know exactly what you think of this,” and to summarize your interpretation of a conversation just to make sure that you actually really are on the same page. Where, if you were talking to somebody you’d known for years or grew up in exactly the same culture, you might share more of the biases and the way you think about things that would allow you to communicate effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so good. Even just the words, phrases, idioms. I was working with someone in the Philippines, and she says, “Hey, can we meet up at this time?” I was like, “Oh, yeah, sure thing.” And she emailed back, “Thanks for giving me the time of day.” I was like, “Oh, dang, I know. I know I’ve been absent. I’ve got a new baby. I’m really sorry. I mean to be more there, and available, and guiding, and developing, and coaching.” I’m really stewing it. She’s like, “Oh, no, I just meant thank you for that time.” “Yeah, oh, okay.”

Art Markman
Oh, yeah, “I do not think this means what you think it means,” yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

Art Markman
Yeah, that’s fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, handy communication tips. And how about for just productivity, getting the job done, motivation, distraction avoidance, what are your cognitive science insights there?

Art Markman
Well, so one of the things that I think is really important is to recognize that the best way to motivate yourself is to create a gap between where you are right now and where you’d like to be in the future, that that gap is what creates energy. And I think it’s really important for people to recognize that there are days when they feel somewhat unmotivated. And part of that lack of motivation is that they’re just not dissatisfied enough with the way things are right now. And that you can actually, by focusing on how the world could be better, you can actually create that kind of energy and get yourself to stick with something.

But another piece to this that’s really important is you got to learn about what the Yearkes-Dodson curve. And I love the fact that these two guys, Yearkes and Dodson, wrote a paper in 1905 that is still relevant today. And the idea behind the Yearkes-Dodson curve is that the more energy you give to a particular goal, the better your performance up to a point. And you hit a sweet spot where you have the right level of energy, or what psychologists call arousal. And that when you’re in that sweet spot, you work really effectively.

But if you get hyper aroused, or you get more and more arousal, say, the deadline is creeping ever closer, then you may find yourself slipping over the edge of this Yearkes-Dodson curve, where now additional energy actually lowers your performance because you have so much energy you can’t think straight, you’re pacing, you’re panicking.

And so, what everyone needs to learn is, “Where is my sweet spot?” because that’s what helps us to figure out, “Will I get stuff done ahead of time? Do I need to have a small thermonuclear device detonated beneath my chair before I can get anything done?” And figure out where that sweet spot is and learn to live there with your project so that you find the right level of engagement and arousal to allow you to work consistently without getting so over-aroused that you find yourself unable to make progress on important things.

Pete Mockaitis
And you know that’s interesting as you talk about the curve, and I’m imagining, “Okay, X and Y axis here, and we got more and more energy, that’s good.” And then I guess you have two much energy, it’s bad in the sense you’re panicking and, I don’t know. I guess, we had Tony Schwartz on the show earlier. We talked about energy stuff, and it almost sounds like more energy there is equating to anxiety and panic, but I guess you just call that negative, high energy but a negative type of energy. Can you have too much what he might call high positive energy in terms of, “I’m really, really, really excited about this?” Can you be too much of that?

Art Markman
Yup, you absolutely can, because even with too much positive energy, you end up pacing, right? That energy creates actual energy for you that needs to dissipate. And if you’re sitting there trying to work at your desk, and you have much bubbling positive energy that you need to pace around, you’re not being particularly productive in that moment.

And so, you find sometimes people so excited about something that they need to get up, walk around, get it out of themselves so that they can calm down and actually get work done, even when that energy is really positive.

I know, over the course of my career, I’ve had times where I felt like I had just figured something out, and in that moment when I figured it out, I couldn’t write it. I had to like quickly say it into a recorder or something, and then walk around for a while, like calm down, and then I was in a place where I could actually write about it. So, yeah, it’s overall energy level, even if it’s positive.

So, panic, obviously, it can be negative energy, but just being hyper-aroused in general creates terrible performance. And you can even see this in athletes, right? When they’re so jazzed up about something that they actually can’t coordinate their motions.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then, with the Yearkes-Dodson curve then, is that kind of like different activities or tasks that have different curves where some things are better-suited to lower energy states and others high energy states?

Art Markman
You know, it seems to be that everyone has got a sweet spot, and that sweet spot seems to be pretty similar across tasks but different people will differ in their resting levels of arousal. So, some people are naturally very high arousal people, and so they are the ones who’d start a project six weeks before it’s due. And then there are the people who are very low arousal, who really need to have a cattle prod taken to them before they start getting anything done.

And what’s really tough is when you have a high-arousal person working with a low-arousal person, because a high-arousal person gets a whole bunch of stuff done ahead of time, and then they hand it off to the other person who does nothing with it till the last moment, sends that back to the other person 10 minutes before it needs to be submitted. And that person is a pool of jello on the floor at that point because they’re just so over-aroused by the deadline. So, you have to find ways for people to work effectively together when they have different resting levels of arousal.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any pro tips in terms of you would like to amp up or amp down your arousal in a given moment for a task at hand? How might you do that?

Art Markman
So, to amp it up, one of the things that’s useful is to create things like false deadlines for yourself, and to do things that really say, “There’s a reason why this has to get done right now,” or, really amp up your sense of how important this is to get right.

When you’re trying, though, to calm yourself down, it really is doing the kinds of things that help you to dissipate energy, which could be going out for a walk, or it could be deep breathing exercises, right, because those are the kinds of things that will actually calm you down. And, really, what you’re doing is trying to create some sense of distance between yourself and the goal that you’re engaged with so that it feels mentally further away.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I want to talk about that next is that point you made about creating a gap between where you are and where you want to be. How is that done in practice? I imagine it boils down to, you know, how you set a goal, and maybe some of this is visualization stuff, it really is worthwhile. How do you think about creating that gap and that energy?

Art Markman
Yeah, so there’s a lot of really nice work in psychology, some of it done by Gabriele Oettingen that talks about, essentially, the role of creating fantasies, and not in the kind of parlance that we often think about, “Oh, I’m fantasizing about this.” But, really, in the sense of creating that vision of the future, of, “Here’s what I could accomplish.” Or, frankly, sometimes, “Here’s what will go wrong if nobody does anything.”

And to really elaborate on that mentally, to think about how much better or worse the world could be, and then to explicitly contrast that with the present. So, you develop this vision of the future, and then you compare it to where you are right now. And it is that act of creating that contrast that actually generates that sense of the gap and that energy that comes along with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Could you maybe walk us through an example there?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, for example, think about supposed you’ve kind of stagnated in your job, but you can’t really motivate yourself to go look for another one, right? Now, so what could you do? Well, one of the things you could do is to begin to think about, “Well, let me imagine a little bit more about what my ideal job would be. What are some of the tasks that I would be doing in my day-to-day life that I’m not currently able to do?” and to really envision that clearly, and then contrast that with the job I have right now, and to really begin to compare that, say, “Whoa, here are all the ways in which my current job is not ideal.”

And what that does is it generates dissatisfaction. And that dissatisfaction is motivating. So, it turns out that when you’re utterly satisfied in life, what you tend to do is fall asleep. And so, you have to generate a certain amount of dissatisfaction in order to be motivated to do something different.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you overdo it in terms of like you’re suddenly zapped of gratitude and bitter and anxious about how crappy everything is right now?

Art Markman
Well, you can overdo it but mostly the way that you overdo it is by creating gaps that are not bridgeable. So, I’m a big believer in what I call the bridgeable gap which means not only do you need a sense of the gap between present and future. You need to believe that there is a plan, a set of actions that you’re capable of performing that will get you from here to there.

And as long as you feel like you’re on a path that will help you to narrow the gap, then focusing on that gap is not a bad thing because you have agency. You believe that you are the author of your future. But when you believe that there’s no path from the present to the future, well, then, creating that gap creates that sense of bitterness and resentment because now you feel like, “Well, I’m stuck here. I have no control over the circumstance.”

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

Art Markman
You know what? Let’s take it where you want to go. Oh, I will say one thing, which is one of my favorite things that I got to do in the book, because I play the saxophone, I added a bunch of sections in the book that I called “The Jazz Brain,” which is basically focused on that ability you have to improvise. And I think it’s really important for people to understand that in order to improvise effectively, you need to know a lot.

I think a lot of times people feel like, “No, no, there’s the curse of knowledge. If I know too much I’m going to be constrained.” But the people I know in any field, whether it’s music or anything else, the people who are best able to adapt to a circumstance on the fly are actually the ones who know a ton of stuff, but are willing to apply lots of different knowledge to a situation.

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

Art Markman
I grew up in Edison, New Jersey, and that’s the place where he strung up lightbulbs. His lab was actually not in Edison or what became Edison. But Edison once said that, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” And while we could probably quibble about the percentages a little bit, I think there’s something important about this idea that a lot of our success is about the work we do.

Yeah, some people are more talented in something than somebody else is, but most of the difference in performance between people comes down to doing the right kind of work. And the reason that I’ve spent so much time in my life over the last 15 years, really trying to bring more cognitive science to other people is because I believe that the more you understand about minds, the more you can put in the right kind of work that can help you to be successful into things you want to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite study or piece of research?

Art Markman
Let’s see, one of my favorite pieces of research that I talk about a lot comes from a buddy of mine named Frank Keil at Yale. He and one of his students, Leonid Rozebilt, did this set of studies on what’s called the illusion of explanatory depth, which is this idea that you believe you understand the world better than you actually understand the world. And so, they did this by having people describe various household devices that they thought they completely understood, and only to have people discover that there were significant gaps in their understanding about the way the world works.

And it turns out that this kind of knowledge about the way the way the world works, what psychologists a causal knowledge, is the stuff that allows you to do new things in new ways. And so, when you lack that knowledge, then all you can do is execute procedures in your work. You can’t really try a new thing. And if you’re unaware of what you don’t know, then it means you can’t work to improve the quality of your knowledge. So, I really find that study to have a profound impact on the way people should treat their knowledge.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Art Markman
Gosh, I love books, and there’s so many. But, lately, I’ve been reading quite a bit about small towns of different kinds. I’m just fascinated by it. I grew up, I’m an urban kid, born and raised, and I’m living in Austin, Texas right now. It’s a beautiful city. But, lately, I’ve been reading books like Our Towns, and Hillbilly Elegy, and things like that, just trying to wrap my head around what it’s like to grow up in a place very different than the one that I grew up in.

And I think that’s important, right? I think so much of the way we understand the world is by filtering it through our own experience, that it’s really important to find people who’ve characterized the world that’s different from the one that you grew up in, and whether it’s different within the country you grew up, or outside of it, as a way of helping you to recognize that not everything that you do is a human universal.

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

Art Markman
Gosh, I love word processors. And it’s a funny thing, right? I think we don’t appreciate some of the simple tools that are in front of us. But if my 7th grade teacher knew that I wrote for a living, I think she’d be in hysterics because of how much I hated writing as a kid.

But just having that ability to put stuff down, and then edit it easily, is such an important thing. I think very few people value the editing process enough. And having just a tool, whatever your word processor is, to have that in front of you to be able to edit is such an amazing thing. Because most of us look at good writing, and we think, “Wow, I could never write like that.” And what we really mean is, “I could never write like that the first time that something comes out.”

And what we don’t realize is nobody writes well when something just pops out of them. What you’re seeing is the result of getting something out, crafting it, polishing it, re-arranging it, deleting, starting over, and then you only get to see the final product. So, yeah, to me, it’s just what we’re able to do with a simple word processor is just, to me, absolutely amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Art Markman
Favorite habit in the workplace. It would have to be that when I come into work, I triage my email. I answer the three emails that absolutely have to be answered, and then I shut my email off for a half hour and do something else that matters. Because I do believe that people take a tremendous amount of pride in their work, but I don’t think anyone looks back over the last year, and says, “The most important thing I did was to send these 18,471 emails.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and students?

Art Markman
Obviously, I think a lot of things are a matter of personal taste. But I think this recognition that we have a go system that drives us to act, and then a fallible stop system that prevents us from doing things effectively, because we are not good at stopping something that that go system has engaged. And that when you want to be productive, your job in life is to reprogram that go system towards habits whose accumulated impact will create the contribution you want.

To me, understanding that and living your life knowing that the best way to be effective is to reprogram that go system, is something that I think when people internalize, that changes the way that they go about their work.

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

Art Markman
So, you can find me pretty easily on social media. I love to have people finding the stuff that I write. I try to give away as much as I can. So, I write for Psychology Today, for Fast Company, for Harvard Business Review. I certainly would love for people to pick up my books. But you can find out all of the stuff that I’m writing on Twitter and LinkedIn. I have an author page on Facebook. I have a website smartthinkingbook.com that has information about all of my books, and I also post a few blog entries and things up there. So, all of those are places where people can find me.

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

Art Markman
Yeah, I think that the most important thing that you can do is to recognize that it is always about what you’re going to learn next, that no one is completely ready for the job that they have. And as I said to my oldest son when he was first going out on the job market, I said, “If you’re completely prepared for the job you applied for, you aimed too low.”

And so, we should think about our work lives as a constant opportunity for growth and challenge. And that when you do that, when you look for the next thing that you can learn, then it continues to open up new worlds and new possibilities. Because, as I say at the very end of the book, bumper sticker wisdom tells us that no one on their deathbed says that they wish that they’d spent another day at the office.

But, honestly, the people I know who look back on their careers with fondness are the ones who feel like they’ve really accomplished something over the course of their years, and they are justifiably proud of the work that they did.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for that. That’s nice. Nice thought. Nice final words. Art, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you and the book “Bring Your Brain to Work” lots of luck and keep on doing the good stuff.

Art Markman
Well, thanks, Pete. It’s a pleasure talking with you today.

448: Rejecting Nine Common Lies About Work and Embracing Human Individuality with Ashley Goodall

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Ashley Goodall says: "Get really fluent about your strengths. Get specific. Get detailed."

Ashley Goodall debunks deeply-embedded misconceptions about work and how fostering human individuality provides valuable possible solutions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How deeply-rooted misconceptions about work lead to inefficiency
  2. Why you should focus on being “spikey” rather than well-rounded
  3. How systematizing can remove the human essence from wor

About Ashley

Ashley Goodall is currently Senior Vice President of Leadership and Team Intelligence at Cisco. In this role he has built a new organization focused entirely on serving teams and team leaders—combining talent management, succession, coaching, assessment, executive talent, workforce and talent planning, research and analytics, and technology to support leaders and their teams in real time. Previously he was Director and Chief Learning Officer, Leader Development, at Deloitte. He is the co-author, with Marcus Buckingham, of “Reinventing Performance Management,” the cover story in the April 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ashley Goodall Interview Transcript

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

Ashley Goodall
Hi, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your book Nine Lies About Work but first, I want to hear a little about your musical talents and performances.

Ashley Goodall
I started playing the piano when I was six years old, and it’s one of those funny things that I can’t remember very much of my mind as a six-year old, but I remember pretty clearly that there was this thing in the front hall and it had keys and they made noise and I wanted to play it, I wanted to learn how to make sound from it. And then that turned into playing the violin, and then I finally found these things called symphony orchestras, and they were fascinating, and so I took up the viola to be able to play in a symphony orchestra.

And then, after a while, I thought, “Well, there’s this guy in the front waving his arms around. That looks something like something I should give a go and looks sort of interesting.” So, when I was an undergrad, I finished up conducting a couple of student symphony orchestras. And that led to, I suppose, a fascination with how people play together, I mean literally, of course, how do musicians play together. Because, while you have the score, if you like, which tells you sort of basic bits of the performance. There’s a lot more to a performance than what’s written in the notes.

But, also, then of course more broadly in the world in which I finished up, in the world of work and leadership, how do people play together on teams, how do we play together at work, what is the essential magic that happens between a group of people when they get something done together? So, the music sort of led into that fascination which I think is going to keep me going for years and years.

Pete Mockaitis
And you made a number of discoveries about how people play together when it comes to the workplace, and you have documented those with your co-author, Marcus Buckingham, there, in the book “Nine Lies About Work.” I’m so intrigued. Well, first, what’s maybe the most shocking or startling discovery you made as you’re putting this together?

Ashley Goodall
Well, of course, the listeners can probably guess by the title. We uncovered a lot of things which are problematic in the world of work. There was one, I don’t know whether this is the most surprising, almost fascinating, but it certainly was surprising and fascinating. And, actually, it didn’t make it directly into the book, so maybe this is a fun nugget.

Pete Mockaitis
Too hot for “Nine Lies.”

Ashley Goodall
Or maybe too geeky. Let me explain it first and then you can tell me. I came across this thing I hadn’t come across before called the extrinsic incentives bias. Now, you tell me how exciting that sounds.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it all depends on how you apply it.

Ashley Goodall
Right. And what it tells us, the research is good, a number of different experiments, and the experiments always looked like you had to say, each subject had to say how they thought other people were motivated or incentivized, and then say how they thought they were motivated or incentivized. And the fascinating, for me at least, fascinating thing that comes out of this is, time and time again, people will go, “Okay, the other people are motivated by extrinsic things. Other people are motivated by money, by power, by promotion, by big titles, extrinsic motivations. I, on the other hand, I’m motivated by intrinsic things. I’m motivated by learning, by growth, by making my mark on the world, by living my values.”

And this happens time and time again. Whenever they do the study, the more distant somebody is from me, the more I believe that they are extrinsically motivated. Other people I believe are extrinsically motivated. I, however, am intrinsically motivated. Now, that might sound like that’s just a sort of fascinating and weird asymmetry of human reasoning until you think about the world of work. Because we’ve designed the world of work in many ways on the assumption that those other people are extrinsically motivated.

So, we design bonus schemes, and we design promotion schemes, and we do an awful lot of things which overlook the fact that if it we were designing it for ourselves, we would design a workplace that allowed us to grow as much as we can, that allowed us to express what we value the most, that allowed us to do the things that energize us the most. So, weirdly enough, this bias, I think actually explains a lot of what’s wrong with the world of work is that we’ve designed it for what we think other people need, and we haven’t designed it for what we need because we don’t think that we are a good representatives of the other people in the world, but actually we are.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s beautiful, and worth thinking about it for a good while. Well, maybe could you line up a few of the top intrinsic motivators that you and, by extension, just about everybody really respond to a lot?

Ashley Goodall
Well, I think there’s always something about, “I want to do things I value,” which is why purpose is so important, and talking about purpose and meaning is so important. But there’s also something about, “I want to grow. I want to get better at what I do.” And what that means is if there’s a system of work that tells me, “Here’s what you’re not good at,” I’m not nearly as interested in that system as I am a system —and by the way, this system very often is a human being —a system that says, “Here’s where I’m powerful, here’s where I can increase my impact.”

So, if you think about work as a system of attention or as a system that’s focused on individual growth, or individual strengths, or individual energy, or the things that we have in ourselves that we are happy to contribute and motivated to contribute, so much of that is ignored by the way that we’ve designed our world. It’s a little sad, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s intriguing, and thank you for sharing those. And so, then I want to dig into some of these nine lies to get at least a little bit of the overview of all of them, and then a little bit of depth on a couple of them. But, first of all, why are we calling them lies? They’re not just misconceptions or mistakes or boo-boos, but lies. What’s that about?

Ashley Goodall
Well, they are held to be true very strongly by the world of work . And we’ll get into them in a second and your listeners will maybe hear what I mean. But let’s pick one at random. The lie that “people need feedback” is very strongly believed in the world of work. Very, very strongly. So, firstly, because they’re strongly held to be true, we wanted a strong word to push back against them, and the antidote to that is just call it a lie and not to just say, “Well, it’s a little bit off.”

There’s an old quote, I’ll have to find out where it’s from, that “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has got its pants on.” And so, these things are lies very much in that sense, in that they zoom around, they don’t get looked at particularly skeptically. They are almost universally accepted. And before anyone can clear their throat and say, “Well, hang on a second, the evidence points to a very different thing,” all of a sudden, these things are halfway around the world, if you like. They’re the sort of fake news of work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s dig into some of these lies. Maybe you can share with us, first, a quick overview in terms of what’s the lie and the antidote, maybe a couple of sentences for each, and then we’ll have some fun with our favorites.

Ashley Goodall
One of the ways I thought we could quickly go through the lies is I’ll read them out and then I’ll just turn each one into a sentence with “because” and that maybe won’t reveal what the truth is, but it’ll give maybe listeners a little insight into some of the things that we’re talking about here.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds like maybe you’ve done this before actually.

Ashley Goodall
Well, there has been a lot of conversations about these lies, but it’s fun to think about different ways of sharing them. So, we’ll give this a go and if everyone thinks it’s horrible then I’ll shut up.

Okay, so lie number one. “It’s a lie that people care which company they work for because work doesn’t live in a company, it lives somewhere else.” “It’s a lie that the best plan wins because plans move too slowly for the real world.” Lie number three, “It’s a lie that the best companies cascade goals because people actually need to know the why of work more than the what.” “It is a lie that the best people are well-rounded because, well, have you looked at the best people?”

“It’s a lie that people need feedback because brains don’t grow when they’re threatened.” “It’s a lie that people can reliably rate other people because evidence, an awful lot of it.” “It’s a lie that people have potential because it doesn’t exist and, at any rate, we should figure out how to invest in everybody, not just a select few.” “It’s a lie that work-life balance matters most because balance is stasis, and health, on the other hand, is motion, and actually because there’s some other reasons too.” “It’s a lie that leadership is a thing because there aren’t actually any leaders who have it.” How about that?

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. There’s so much to say here. All right. So, let’s jump into “The best people are well-rounded.” Tell us, what are the best people if not well-rounded?

Ashley Goodall
So, what I just said was that “Best people are well-rounded because, have you looked at the best people?” And this is what’s so interesting. So, first thing, where does it come from?

Pete Mockaitis
I think college admissions is where it comes from.

Ashley Goodall
Yeah, or maybe even earlier. I mean, I think we start this one in school. There’s a classic experiment, a research that was done where they go to parents and they say, “Your kid comes home with an A, a C, and an F. Which grade merits your most attention? Which one merits the most attention?” And, of course, 75% of parents say, “Well, it’s the F, isn’t it?”

Now, the point is not that the F merits zero attention, but the question is, “Which merits the most?” And the question for the hypothetical parent is, “Is your kid going to build a career on the back of the F turning into an E, or on the back of the A turning into an A-star, if you like, or an A+? Where is that kid going to make their way in the world?” And, of course, it’s never going to be about turning the F into the E, so the F gets a bit of attention, but the A should get most attention.

But, yet, we’ve constructed the world of school in a sort of remedial way which is to say that, and we do this at work too, of course, we like to measure people against a number of different things, and then we say, “Well, the things you should focus on most are the things where you are most broken, if you like, where you have the biggest deficit,” because then, by implication, you’ll be good across the board because the best students are well-rounded, and the best people are well-rounded, and the best employees are well-rounded, and the best team members are well-rounded.

So, whenever we encounter anything that starts off by saying, “Let’s measure you against a number of different elements, and then let’s use the gaps as the motivation for your development,” we are encountering this lie. That’s what it looks like in practice. And, funnily enough, we can do all of that without ever really pausing for very long to study the best people. And if you study people who are brilliant at what they do, you find out that they’re the antithesis of well-rounded.

They’re not well-rounded. They’re, in fact, spikey. There are a few things that they’re brilliant at and they figure out how to make those things more and more and more powerful for them, which is to say that growth isn’t really a question of adding ability where we don’t have it. It’s a question more of adding impact, growing impact where we already have ability.

Now, the example we give in the book of this is the soccer player, Lionel Messi, who is profoundly left-footed, uses one foot over the other more than any other soccer player that we encountered in hundreds of hours of watching YouTube videos of people playing soccer, and counting.

Ashley Goodall
So, that’s the work is all about.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it was a labor of, well, I don’t know.

Ashley Goodall
Working hard, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
It was hard to do until I discovered that YouTube has a slow-motion button which plenty got a lot easier. But, anyway, you watch Lionel Messi and it’s all left foot, left foot, left foot, left foot, left foot, left foot. Now, if you lived in well-rounded land, you would say, “Lionel, oh, my God, we’ve got work on your right foot a little bit. You’re only using the left. What’s with that? You’ll be predictable. The defenders will know that you’re always going to go left. You’re always going to go left and you’re giving up half the possibility so maybe it’s twice as easy to tackle you.”

That’s not what he does. He hones and hones and hones his left foot until it is the most brilliant weapon arguably in the world of soccer today. The defenders still know that he’s going with his left foot, he’s just so good at it that they still can’t stop him. And the lesson from that is that excellence is really, really spikey. It’s a few things done brilliantly well, not a whole bunch of things made sort of well-rounded and rounded over. That’s not what the best people look like at all.

Pete Mockaitis
And, now, when we talk about an example of a spike, so the left foot is one. Could you give us some more? Because I think, in a way, some people would say, “Oh, mine is my communication skills,” but that kind of sounds pretty broad in terms of a strength or a spike of excellence. So, could you maybe give us some examples of particular spikes so we can get our arms around what are we talking about here in terms of how narrow versus broad the spike is?

Ashley Goodall
Yeah, and you’re good to call that out. It’s a sort of good test is that if you think your spike is the sort of thing you would find on a competency model or a development plan, you haven’t defined it nearly precisely enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, even if you’ve got a Korn Ferry, what are we at, 37 nowadays, in the latest one?

Ashley Goodall
But if it’s a thing on a competency model, if it’s communication skills, or political savvy, or strategic thinking, and you say, “That’s my spike,” you are not nearly precise enough to be able to build on it. I’ll give you a few from leaders in history, maybe that’s an interesting place because we all know these people. If you think about Kennedy, J.F. Kennedy, his spike was making the future a morally uplifting place for all of us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ashley Goodall
Okay. That’s not on any competency model. You don’t get feedback on making the future a morally uplifting place for all of us. If you look at Winston Churchill, his spike was being incredibly stubborn. That’s not a thing on a competency model.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, like never give up.

Ashley Goodall
That doesn’t show up at all. But if you look at Churchill as a strategic thinker, he wasn’t actually very good. He got chucked out of government in the ‘20s and ‘30s because none of his plans worked particularly well. But there came a moment where Britain needed somebody to stand their ground, and they found the guy who was probably the world’s most stubborn person, and he was brilliant at being stubborn. And, of course, it was more than just saying no. It was inspiring resistance. But I think stubbornness is somehow at the heart of that.

So, you might think, “Well, how do I articulate what my spike is?” And it’s a process, at least it has been for me, of thinking about, “Where am I most energized and what do I always run towards?” that’s if you like a strength. “What are the things I would do if I weren’t paid to do them anyway?” And then you have to hone it. Under what circumstances? What does it get used for? Does it matter if you’re doing it in this context or in this context?

And it’s a process of self-reflection and self-observation until you can write a sentence that says, “This is a spike of mine,” and you’ll know if you got it specific because it won’t feel like something that anyone else in the world could particularly have.
Pete Mockaitis
And so, Ashley, what’s yours? Or, if you have a couple, how many spikes do we get?

Ashley Goodall
Mine is looking out into a messy future and explaining to the rest of the world what I see clearly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ashley Goodall
And, again, that’s specific. There’s not a model that says that. And if you were coaching me, you would never say from a standing start, “Well, Ashley, let’s talk about looking out into a messy future and explaining to the world what you see clearly.” That’s not a sentence anyone ever says. But if you look at the book I’ve written with Marcus, my goodness me, it is an extended essay in looking out into the messy future and trying to explain what we together see clearly. So, it does show up in places.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And do you think that we, as humans, professionals, have one, two, three spikes? What do you think?

Ashley Goodall
I don’t know. I think it’s not 15, and it’s probably not six either. It’s interesting when it gets to leadership because actually there’s a connection between these spikes and leadership. It turns out that what happens in the world of leadership is that people hook onto your spikes, that’s what they see. And the spikes help them feel better about the world that they’re facing. They know what you’re going to stand for and where you’re going to go.

When you look at leaders, most leaders with any sort of renown, you come down to more or less one spike. Now, that might just be because we’re seeing it from a distance so we the one that’s the most powerful, or maybe there are another couple of things going on there as well. But, as I say, I don’t think it’s six.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s helpful. Thank you. Intriguing. So, now let’s talk about the feedback picture. So, what’s the story here?

Ashley Goodall
There is an awful lot of conversation in the world about how to give people feedback. And, recently, it’s taken a little turn for the sort of, I don’t know, the chest-thumping, if you like. We have to give people radical feedback, and we have to be super candid, and we have to be unvarnished, and all these words that somehow make this an exercise in macho truth-telling, which is just weird. I think we should just call it weird.

But, behind that, is this ongoing question of, “What’s the best way to give somebody feedback?” And what’s presumed in that, of course, is that giving people feedback is the best way to help them grow. Now, by feedback, what I mean is, and it’s worth clarifying, when I say feedback, I mean the sort of standard approach where it says, “You did this. I would’ve done this, or you should’ve done it this way. Or, it’s where I tell you what I think of your performance.” That’s what we could call feedback, right?

And we’re spending a lot of time saying, “Well, what’s the best way to do that? And should it be 360 and should it be anonymous? And should it should be on your phone and how frequently should it happen? And how radically candid the whole thing should be?”

But if you actually ask the underlying question, “How do people best grow?” you find out that as soon as the brain feels threatened, as soon as the brain feels that judgment is about to arrive, it measurably shuts down. It goes into fight-or-flight mode. And that’s not the mode of brain system, if you like, that’s not the brain system where neurological connections get made.

So, at a biological level, if someone feels threatened, they stop learning. And if your read the research on this, the research actually say that that brain state is best described as impairment. So, in all our efforts to help people grow, we’re actually impairing their learning, so that should give us pause. Then you say, well, as we’ve just been talking about, “Gosh, the best people are spikey, and the spikes are different from one person to the next.” So, it’s very difficult for me to tell you how you should move towards excellence because your version of excellence will be different from mine, and I can’t possibly guess what’s going on inside you, what your definition of your spike, or your growing edge might be. So, that makes it a little bit difficult.

And then, thirdly, if you look at the science in learning, and you discover that learning is actually an emergent thing. I can’t force you. I can’t compel you to learn. What I can do is give you some ingredients when your brain is ready to hear them. And, from time to time, you’ll find a different way of assembling, with some input from me, or mainly input from you, and you’ll go, “Oh, right. Oh, that.” But that moment is not what I told you to learn. It’s you figuring out an insight for yourself. So, learning is actually an emergent property.

So, given that, given that I’m a horrible judge of other people, which is another thing the science is very clear on, so I can’t judge you. You learn it idiosyncratically. Your excellence is idiosyncratic. And the second I start telling you how to do something and you perceive that as any sort of a threat, your brain shuts down. That would mean a lot of this feedback isn’t achieving an awful lot.

It’s okay for risk mitigation where you’re not worried about learning, you’re not worried about growth, you’re worried about, “Don’t do that because it will cause harm.” Okay, that’s one case where we can go, yes, by all means tell people how to do it differently. Just don’t expect them to learn a lot. Don’t expect them go get anything above adequate of the task you’re talking about because brains don’t work that way.

And then you find, “Okay, if we’re no longer in the getting to adequate business, but we’re in the fostering excellence business, what should we do, given all of this?” And what we should do is give people our attention to what works really well. We should help them realize and reflect on their moments of excellence so that they can build on those patterns in their brain and make them more pronounced and more powerful.

What that looks like in a nutshell is that when we say to somebody, “Good job,” we think today that’s the end of the conversation, right? Good job means, “You did it great. Well done. It’s not a risk for me because you’re good at that, so I’ll go back to figuring out where you’re next going to fall down and giving you all sorts of constructive,” as I suppose we call it, “or negative feedback.” But, in fact, good job is the beginning of a conversation.

And the conversation continues something like this, you start by sharing your reaction, okay, “So, Pete, good job. The thing, the way that you phrased that question really captured something important for me. Now, then, where did that come from? What were you thinking? Have you asked the question like that before? Could you take the thought that led to that question and inform different questions with it? Could you do that again is essentially what I’m asking?”

If I do that for you, some of the time a little spark will go off in your brain, and you’ll go, “Oh, yes, I could do it again. It would look like this. Or I could do it over here. Or I could do it maybe, when I‘m not asking questions but when I’m writing. Or I could do it here, or I could do it here, or I could do it here.” And, lo and behold, you have growth, and you have growth towards excellence, not merely remediation towards adequacy. So, people don’t feedback. People need attention.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so, then if you are in a spot where something needs to be corrected, what do you do?

Ashley Goodall
What you do is you talk about facts, steps, and outcomes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, say more.

Ashley Goodall
So, very easy to say, “Hey, you did that and perhaps you didn’t know about this fact. Perhaps you didn’t know about this thing which is a factual thing in the world.” You can always point that out. “Maybe you hadn’t read this research paper when you wrote that article,” something like that. So, you’re going to want to say that.

When you have a process with a series of defined steps, there’s a series of defined steps, for example, for taking off in an airplane, or for giving a safe injection, and somebody misses a step. Then, by all means, you can say, “Oh, my goodness me, you missed a step. These are the required steps. Don’t miss that step again. You will create risks.” And that’s why, of course, we have checklists in the world. And two of the places we have checklists are in operating rooms and in airplane cockpits, because if you miss a step, you’re in trouble.

Most of the world of work, certainly the world of knowledge work, by the way, isn’t like an operating theater or a cockpit in that there isn’t a prescribed list of steps that everyone would agree to. So, the facts and steps things are a little limited but it’s worth just saying that those are real things. And then the other one is the most effective way I found to remediate performance is to say, “You missed on the outcome. The outcome we were after was,” I don’t know, “to close the deal, and you didn’t close the deal. Let’s talk about why.”

Now, in that, you’re still remediating but at least you are trying to talk about not, “Here’s what’s wrong with you through my eyes, which will get you, believe me, nowhere at all.” But at least, instead, you’re trying to say, “We missed. You missed. Let’s explore.” You don’t get a lot of growth by doing that because as soon as you say to somebody, “You missed the outcome,” their brain is already trying to get out the door pretty quickly. But you can at least come up with a plan for not missing again.

And so, what you get is, of course, “The deal might close next time.” What you don’t get is, “Is it a great deal?” So, there’s a difference between, as I said, there’s a difference between adequate performance and great performance. You don’t create a transporting piece of writing by fixing the grammar which is not to say that you can’t fix the grammar and that you shouldn’t fix the grammar. But it is to say there’s a big difference in the real world between getting the basics down and real unique excellence.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. All right. Thank you. Well, tell me, Ashley, so given that these lies are around and they are pervasive, if you are, say, a rank-and-file professional, maybe you don’t have any direct reports or just a couple, what do you think are some of the top things that we should start doing right now that can help us get better results at work given that these lies are all over the place?

Ashley Goodall
Yeah, I’ll give you the one that’s absolutely top of the list for me the whole time, which is, “Get really fluent about your strengths. Get specific. Get detailed.” There are a couple of things that sort of lead us to that, if you like. The first is that, “No one else really cares about you as much as you care about you. No one else really cares about your strengths,” and by strengths I don’t mean what you’re good at. I mean what energizes you, what gives you, what you run towards. “No one else really cares about that as much as you do. And no one else is going to do the work for you. And, anyway, nobody else can because they can’t see inside your head, and they can’t see how it feels to be engaged in an activity when time is flying by, and you can’t wait to do it again.” So, firstly, no one will do it for you.

Secondly, we are very strangely and, to my mind, sadly much more specific about our weaknesses, about the things that drain the living daylights out of us, than we are about our strengths. It’s a sort of oddity of the way we’re put together as people, I think. And the example, of course, is if you say to somebody, “Name an activity that drains you.” Most people will think for four seconds and then talk for about three minutes. And the three minutes is a rant, “Oh, my goodness me, when they make me fill in this form, and then this has to happen, and then this have to happen. I hate that.” And they can give you enormous detail, they can tell you precisely when it last happened, they can tell you exactly what drains them about it.

And then you say, “Okay, very good. Tell me about what strengthens you, what lifts you up.” And a lot of the time, people will lean back in a chair, and they’ll smile, and they go, “You know what, it’s people. I’m a people person.” And that is woefully inadequate. Which people? Where? What are they doing? What are you doing? What’s your relationship with the people? Are the people professional people? Are they family people? Is it at work? Is it outside work? Do you know them? Are you reaching out to them for the first time? Are you forming long-lasting relationships with a few people? Are you forming light-touch relationships with hundreds and hundreds of people? Which people? Not, “I’m a people person.” More, more, more.

Because until you know those answers for yourself, you can’t do anything with them. And no one else, as I said, is going to do it for you. So, the piece of advice I would give for anyone in any walk of life is get really, really specific about the activities that give you joy, the activities that you love, because on that will be built, with luck and with effort, a great career and a great life. But if you don’t know what those building blocks are, you can’t get there from vagueness. It won’t work. If you’re going to find your winning edge, you need to get really specific about what it is that lifts you up.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And is there anything that you recommend professionals stop doing, you know, they just cut it out right now?

Ashley Goodall
We over-rotate. I mean, it’s the flipside of what we were just talking about. We over-rotate on weaknesses and we beat ourselves up about not necessarily the things that, in the proper sense, the things that drain us, but certainly things we can’t do very well. And we can sometimes obsess over these and get very, very focused on trying to make ourselves more well-rounded, if you like. But you only have to think, and human kind are probably thousands and millions of things that a human being can do, and most of us suck at most of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Ashley Goodall
We tend to go all sort of narrow. But if you think about, when I think about the things I can’t do, goodness me, metal work, field hockey, also ice hockey, paragliding, I can’t paint. There’s an enormously long list of things that I can’t do. I can’t ride a motorcycle. I can’t speak Chinese. My Latin is very remedial these days. Okay, the list of things I can’t do is infinity things long practically.

The list of things I can do is very few, so I better not spend my whole time wallowing in, “I can’t do this, and I can’t do this, and I can’t do this, and I can’t do this, and I can’t do this,” because, as I said, that’s not where a career and a life is to be forged. Those are the wrong raw ingredients to start with. We come into the world with certain patterns of thought and behavior, and those only become more pronounced over our lives. They don’t change very much. They just get more and more clearly defined.

And the question is, “Are you accelerating the definition of yours or not?” And the place to start, therefore, is, “What are my patterns of behavior and thought? What do I run towards?” as I’ve said. Not, “What are some of the millions of things I can’t do?” So, it’s not that, “Where I don’t have a skill, I shouldn’t have a bother acquiring it,” but it’s the, “I shouldn’t hook my future to things that, seem very distant from my current field of endeavor, and I shouldn’t say that that’s the most important thing for me to focus on.” The most important thing for me to focus on is, “What works? And how can I do it more?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. Ashley, let me get your take. So, we had an overview of the nine lies, we had some depth on a couple of them. Would you say there is an overarching theme, or kind of underlying set of forces that draw all these together? Like, what are the nine lies have in common other than they’re all over the place and that they’re wrong?

Ashley Goodall
There is, and I think it’s been sort of hovering around our conversation today, Pete. And, I suppose, it’s got a couple of angles. Particularly in the workplace, we tend to focus on what doesn’t work and we miss giving at least as much attention, or properly much more attention, to what does work. So, we’ve sort of got the world of human prospering and human flourishing, we sort of got it backwards.

And the other thing that runs through the lies very, very strongly is that we think that the human individuality is a bug, not a feature. We think that human diversity is something to be rounded out, something to be made to conform. This is why we cascade goals so that everybody is singing off the same songbook, if you like. This is why we round people out. This is why we give people feedback against the prescribed model. This is why we sort people into categories of potential or not.

We’re trying to put people in buckets. We’re trying to make people conform. We’re looking for one-size-fits-all. And, as a result, we lose sight of humans at work, which is particularly ironic, because human is all there is at work, but we lose sight of it, and we lose sight of the beautiful and precious fact that what we prize most about the people we share the planet with is not how they’re the same as us, it’s how they’re different. It’s what they add that we can’t do. It’s what they see that we don’t see.

And the world of work, I think, as described through these nine lies, the world of work is, in its funny sort of way, annoyed by that, frustrated by that. Wouldn’t it be much easier if all the people were interchangeable, if they were all the same, or at least if we could describe their differences in a list of eight competencies? And then we could measure you all up against that and we could decide whether you’re an A, a B, a C, a D, an E, an F, a G, and we could treat you like that.

It’s wrong on the evidence, it’s not useful according to the science, and it’s also, in some way, immoral. So, I think the book, if you like, is a plea to get back to a world where we appreciate the local, the local team, we appreciate the weirdness of other people, and the wonderful weirdness of other people. And we put the human beings back in work because we’ve lost them.

Pete Mockaitis
This has kind of reminded me of Henry Ford had a famous quotation, and I might not nail it but it’s something like, “Why is it when I hire a pair of hands, I have to get a brain and a mouth as well?” Or something like that, in terms of, “Look, I’ve got a great system here. So, just don’t mess with it. Don’t bring your personality and your ideas and all of your complicated humanity into the equation because that just makes my job more difficult, and I just want to see my system run and get things cranked out the other side.” In a way, that’s kind of the whole industrial revolution in action.

Ashley Goodall
You’re exactly right. And that’s almost where it begins. I mean, by the time you’ve thought about Taylorism and you thought about Henry Ford, they’re all about the same era. And there was almost an explicit attempt to purge the humanness from work. And, yet, you look at work today, and most of us aren’t making cars step by step by step. Most of us aren’t at the Bethlehem coal factory, or wherever it was that Taylor was counting people moving wheelbarrows of coal backwards and forward. That’s not most work for most people most of the time.

We are talking about a world where our edge at work is innovation and creativity and collaboration across enormous complexity, using technologies that are more and more and more complex and sophisticated and incomprehensible by any single person, and all around the world with people, we sometimes know very well and sometimes we hardly meet at all. You can’t thrive in that if you think that the essence of a human being is a problem, not in fact the only thing that you have going for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, Ashley, tell me, any key things you want to mention before we quickly hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Ashley Goodall
Gosh, I think we’ve covered a lot. I suppose the one thing that we did, the one thing maybe we didn’t talk about a lot is, “Where do these lies come from?” And it’s interesting to talk about Ford and talk about Taylor. Some of the old lies start out as a small good thing, which then turns into a big bad thing when we make it into a system.

So, I suppose one of the morals of the book might be beware of systematizing stuff. And when anyone comes to you and says, “Can we scale that?” be very, very cautious because sometimes in scaling something, you wring the human essence out of it altogether. The best example I can think of that’s in the book is this idea of goals.

And, of course, we’re all very familiar with goals, and we’ve all had the experience where we set our self a goal about something we want to do, and it’s very helpful. And so, you go, “All right, goals. If I set one for myself voluntarily, that’s a useful way of expressing how I want to get stuff done in the world and what I value.” But then, of course, what we do is we go, “Well, if it’s good for one, it’s good for many.” And we’ll turn it into a goal cascade and, all of a sudden, you’re being told to set goals, and you’ll also being told what sorts of things go in them.

And in taking the beautiful, precious thing of “Ashley and Marcus set out to write a book because they felt they needed to express some ideas in the world”, and turning that into “There’s a great big cascaded-goal system, and Ashley is down at the bottom of it, and he’s got to fill in a form”, you lose everything that is valuable about the first sort of goal by turning into a sort of cascaded goal.

And there are other examples in the book of things that start out really small and really local and beautiful and well-intentioned, but then by the time we’ve turned them into a system, we’ve taken all the goodness out.

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

Ashley Goodall
I came across this one years ago, and if you hear rustling, I’m just going to grab my book of Richard Feynman. And Richard Feynman, I’m sure your listeners will know, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, but also, towards the very end of his life, was asked to put his feet in the inquiry into the Columbia, the Challenger disaster, the Space Shuttle Challenger. And as he went through the inquiry, and he pushed deeper and deeper into the workings of NASA, or at the time, he found a lot of cases where people were assuming that something would work a particular way because they really wanted it to, and they were turning away from the evidence, and were sort of buying their own PR, if you like.

And when the Challenger Report was published, he asked to write his own appendix, which people can go look up today. And if anyone is after a wonderful, wonderful, super rational, detailed, humble evidence-based analysis of something that’s happened in the world, go and read Richard Feynman’s appendix to the Challenger Report, and he ends it with a sentence that I have always adored, “For a successful technology,” he says, “reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” Nature cannot be fooled.

And it connects to some of the ideas in the book because what we’re trying to do is, we’re saying, “Look, this is what the evidence is.” And the evidence doesn’t care whether you believe it or not. The facts don’t care whether or not who believes in them. They’re just going to hang around being facts. Nature will not be fooled. So, if we’re smart, we figure out what’s knowable about the world and build on that. We set aside our misconceptions and we reject the lies.

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

Ashley Goodall
I have, for years and year and years, I’ve used a particular propelling pencil. How funny is that?

Pete Mockaitis
Propelling?

Ashley Goodall
A propelling pencil, you know, an automatic pencil.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ashley Goodall
And I got it a few years ago. When I annotate a document, which I do a lot when I’m writing, I like to scribble on it by hand, and for some reason I’ve always liked to do that in pencil. It feels, to me, a little less judgmental than ink.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re not ready.

Ashley Goodall
Exactly. Pencils work on planes. Pencils don’t explode in your pocket if you take them on a plane, so they’re practical. But I’ve just always loved this particular pencil. And, actually, the one I have right now is the second identical one I had because I lost one, and I had lost one on a trip. And the second I got home, I went straight to the store and just bought exactly the same pencil again because I can’t live without it. So, there you go, my automatic pencil.

Pete Mockaitis
You got me so intrigued. What is the make and model of this pencil?

Ashley Goodall
Well, I think it’s German or Swiss. It’s Graf von Faber-Castell, and it is just this little beautiful…I mean, it’s a good question for a podcast, isn’t it? How would you describe a pencil to somebody who can’t see it? And so far, I’ve managed to say it’s a pencil and it’s silver.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s awesome.

Ashley Goodall
And it’s propelling. And it’s Swiss or German. I don’t know. I guess we’ll finish up being lame and saying we’ll look it up online. But that’s the one that fits my hand. I like the way it works beautifully. And I can’t live without it.

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

Ashley Goodall
So, if they’re interested in the book, the book is available on Amazon right now, anywhere books are sold. If they want to connect with me, I’d love to connect with anybody on LinkedIn, and there’s a bunch of us having a whole bunch of fun and debate over there on some of the ideas that we’ve talked about today.

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

Ashley Goodall
My final challenge would be don’t short-sell you. You’re awesome. Figure out how to share that with the world because we need you to.

Pete Mockaitis
Ashley, thank you. This has been such a treat. I wish you lots of luck with your book, the “Nine Lies About Work,” and all your other adventures.

Ashley Goodall
Pete, thanks so much.

446: Making Fear Your Friend with Judi Holler

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Judi Holler says: "Scary things don't get less scary, but you will get stronger. Keep going."

Judi Holler makes the case for exercising your bravery muscle and making fear your friend—one challenge at a time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The small things we do each day that slow our long-term progress
  2. Why technology is a great servant but a terrible master
  3. How to deal with fear when it never goes away

About Judi

Judi Holler is a keynote speaker, author, and a professionally trained improviser and alumna of The Second City’s Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois. Judi is a past president of Meeting Professionals International, Chicago Area Chapter, and was named one of the 40 under 40 in the meetings industry by Connect magazine in 2015

Judi’s book on Fear, titled “Fear Is My Homeboy: How to Slay Doubt, Boss Up, and Succeed on Your Own Terms”, was recently endorsed by Mel Robbins calling it: “relatable, relevant and most importantly ACTIONABLE!” Fear Is My Homeboy came out last week.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Judi Holler Interview Transcript

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

Judi Holler
I am honored to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. Well, I am honored to have you here. And I think we’re going to have a lot of fun digging into some cool stuff. But I got a real kick out of your fun fact, which is you do some karaoke performances from time to time, and you’ve got a go-to “Caribbean Queen.” What’s the story here?

Judi Holler
Okay. So, Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen” is always my go-to karaoke. I have a few. I have a bag of tricks. But, you know what, listen, I always loved karaoke. Who doesn’t want to be a rock star? Who doesn’t want to be Beyoncé for just a minute? And I can’t sing to save my life, so karaoke, it’s just a great way to sort of play rock star, crack people up, improvise, which we’ll talk about later, and improv background, and just be goofy.

And so, Billy Ocean really kind of became one of my favorite songs because nobody sees it coming. It’s super old school. I’ve got a thing for yacht rock and like old R&B, and my mom used to like clean the house to like Lionel Ritchie and Billy Ocean, and so I kind of grew up listening to that song and I know all the lyrics, so it’s just great because no one sees it coming.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s really fun and what that reminded me of is that song, I remember when I was a kid, all the time there’d be this TV commercial for an ‘80s compilation CDs called “Totally ‘80s” or something like that.

Judi Holler
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, my buddy Ronnie and I like knew every word to this commercial because it was on so much. And our favorite part was when they show you one sample and move to the other, they didn’t really transition very well, so it was like, “Everybody wants to rule the…” “Caribbean Queen.” And I was like, “Do they want to rule the Caribbean Queen because that’s what it sounds like when you splice it together?” Oh, you brought me back, so thank you, yeah.

Judi Holler
That is amazing. Oh, yeah, Billy Ocean, it’s just old school, so there might a lot of people listening and they’d have to Google it up to find out who the heck he is. But that’s why I love it because no one sees it coming and, yeah, like ‘80s R&B.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m wondering if you’ve ever bumped into any Caribbean women, like, “I’m the Caribbean Queen”?

Judi Holler
Well, you know what, okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, in the bar or so when you’re there.

Judi Holler
Totally funny caveat to that. My husband and I honeymooned in the Caribbean, and they had musical performances in our hotel lobby, and we got to know the band because they were there a couple nights in a row and I’m not a shy sort of person. And I said, “Hey, do you guys do any Billy Ocean? You got Caribbean Queen?” And they were like, “Well, yeah.” These were American performers. And so, I’m not kidding you, we have a video footage of me doing “Caribbean Queen” in the Caribbean, the Caribbean as they say it, and it was just epic, and it was just amazing and people were kind of clapping, also awkwardly wondering what was happening. It was just magic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s lovely.

Judi Holler
So, there you have it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it sounds as though you have, indeed, lived out the title of your book, Fear Is My Homeboy because it seems like you have befriended those sensations that, “Oh, I don’t know if I wanted to go up there and do that, and everyone is going to be looking at me, I don’t know.” So, could you sort of share with us kind of what’s the main idea behind this book here?

Judi Holler
Yeah, so the big idea behind the book is this, if I could have one page in my book, literally, one page in my book, it would say, “It doesn’t get easier. Scary things don’t get less scary, but you will get stronger. Keep going.” The big idea is that when you choose courage over comfort on purpose, almost every day you will start fearing less, which is how you pick up momentum, which is how you get stuff done, and it’s how you start succeeding in and outside of work the way you really want to succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, yeah, that sounds great and I’d like to have some of that. So, maybe could you give us a little bit of a picture here when it comes to what are some of the ways that we frequently choose comfort and not courage to our detriment, particularly in a career context?

Judi Holler
Yes, so I really believe it’s all the small stuff we don’t do every day that ends up holding us back in the long run and really leads to regret. And I’m sort on a mission to remove the word “regret” from the dictionary because we’re too brave, we are too busy dancing with our fear. This means we’re getting stuff done.

And the main reason we’re not leveling up personally and professionally is because we’re afraid. We’re afraid to raise our hand in the sales meeting. We’re afraid to speak up in a meeting. We’re afraid to sit in the front row, or go for the promotion, or ask for the raise, or to promote ourselves, to talk about ourselves online, to toot our own horns.

So, I’m on a mission to stop that, and I think there’s a lot of unique things you could do to get uncomfortable every day to sort of mix up your routine to make sure that you’re staying in the driver’s seat of your life and not your fear.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s really interesting is that what this makes me think about is sort of all the little ways that we choose comfort instead of courage. And it’s like, in a way, I think I may have become, at least temporarily, a little bit less courageous than before only because I’m married now, you know. And my wife is awesome, and our kids are awesome. But there was a period of time in which I was, you know, meeting a lot of people and asking for a lot of dates, and I kind of got into a groove where I didn’t have that momentum such that I felt kind of bold and able to kind of ask for and do all kinds of things because I was in that regular habit.

Whereas, now, I’m kind of settled in and mostly working from home. And so, it seems like it does take me a little bit more of a push to think, “Okay, I’m going to send that email to ask for that opportunity. All right, we’re going to do it. Okay, I’ve put this off a couple of times, now is the time.” And it seems like that’s crept in a little bit more, which would follow your theory, that I’m kind of had fewer moments of choosing courage on a day-by-day basis and all kinds of other contexts.

Judi Holler
Well, think about it like this, Pete, like you just nailed it. Here’s the deal. If we don’t work that fear muscle, we will not work the fear muscle, just like when we go to the gym. We go to the gym and it’s hard at the beginning, right? But we keep going and we keep showing up and then we get stronger. And when we don’t go to the gym, we get weaker, right?

So, I look at it that way, like we have to be working that brave muscle. And so, when you’re not dating, and you’re in a relationship, right, you’re not out there doing that scary thing anymore but you, and I can bet my bottom dollar, doing all kinds of other uncomfortable things to move your life and your business forward, and that’s the real big idea.

We have to be doing something every day. Maybe it’s just something as simple as taking a different way home from work, right? Or, asking for a discount in a coffee shop, or just like taking a selfie of yourself in public to get better and not carrying what people think. But we have to work the brave muscle and, I tell you, this is how we fear less.

We shouldn’t be chasing the unrealistic goal of fearless. Because if you really think about it, if we were fearless, we would never pay our taxes, we would never go to a doctor, we’d walk down alleys at 4:00 in the morning by ourselves, at night, we would eat poisonous foods on purpose. Like, the goal shouldn’t be fearless because fearless could be dangerous in some situations.

So, the goal should always be brave. And how do we fear less? Well, the way you get to the other side, the way you fear less is by working that muscle, and you have to use it or you’ll lose it, so doing those small scary things every day. And sometimes, maybe some days, it’s a big scary thing. Maybe you’re leading a toxic relationship tomorrow, maybe you’re literally moving to a new city, maybe you decided to quit smoking. There are big things you could do for yourself as well, but it’s all those little small things that add up over time that really end up causing a lot of the problems, so we’ve got to work that fear muscle.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it there, you provided a few examples in terms of little things you can do every day to work that muscle, from asking for a discount in the coffee shop. And that came up with Jordan Harbinger, and a little bit of Ruth Soukup as well in those conversations. So, loving the reinforcements.

Judi Holler
So cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what are some other key things you recommend as means of working the fear muscle? You call it, is it the fear muscle or is the brave muscle?

Judi Holler
I guess you can say it either way. There is no wrong way to work that courage muscle, or fear muscle, or bravery muscle, whatever that looks like for you. I could give you an example of someone, and this could apply to your audience if you’ve got someone who’s leading a team, or maybe there’s someone in your audience and they’re working for someone else. I bet you have a little bit of both.

I have a client, who lives and works in downtown Chicago. She’s leading a team of about three or four people. And so, remember, the idea is to get uncomfortable, to mix up our routine. And so, she found herself really overwhelmed, and really stressed out, and exhausted and crabby and irritable. She just wasn’t succeeding the way she wanted to succeed. She wasn’t leveling up.

So, she started a fear I proposed in my keynote. I work primarily as an author and a keynote speaker. And one of the things I proposed in my keynotes is this idea of fear experiments, doing something small and scary and brave every day to advance yourself and get stronger. And so, I told her about this idea, and she said, “Okay, I’m going to try something on my own. I really need to get in front of my schedule.”

And I talk a lot about focus. And this can feel scary because it requires us to do things we’d never done before in our schedule and in our work lives. Most of us sit down and we literally, the first we do, maybe sometimes before you even get out of bed is we open our iPhones and we look at our email. It’s what we do, right? Or we’d check out social media.

So, she says, “I’m going to do a fear experiment, and I’m going to take the first, I’m not going to look at email until 9:00 a.m. every day. No emails.” So, she’s getting up at 7:00, she’s not looking at that phone, she’s not looking at her email, but she’s taking the first 60 minutes of her work day from 8:00 to 9:00 to move one small thing forward for herself or for her work first, and she started small with that first 60 minutes, just that first hour for a day. And you can even go as small as 30 minutes.

And what happened for her is she immediately started triggering momentum in her life because she started actually moving things forward which made the dopamine in her brain happy and it gave her confidence to keep going. And so, she saw it, she said, “Oh, okay, if I can do this in 60 minutes, what could I do if I did 90 minutes, if I grew this?”

And she didn’t look at email for 60 minutes, she didn’t take a phone call, she didn’t sit in meetings, again, advancing a goal before she was fine to the rest of world. That 60 minutes grew to like, I said, an hour and a half to 120 minutes. And today, most days, because there’s no perfect world, no perfect day, she doesn’t look at her email until noon.

And let me tell you, she is working in corporate America, she has a boss, she has a team, but she started small, bird by bird, and it took guts because she did not ask for permission. She just took the action and monitored her results because, after all, you are the CEO of you. And let me just tell you, Pete, what she did in a year.

So, because she started with this hour, and then it grew to like a 120 minutes, I don’t think she got to noon until like the second year of doing this, but in her first year of just protecting that first 90 minutes of her day, she lost 50 pounds because she started going to the gym in the morning, she read 19 business books. She was reading zero books. She reduced her staff turnover by like one person left in an entire left. They had had a really bad problem with turnover.

She got the certification that she had been trying to get for a long time. She grew tradeshow revenues at that organization by 25%. She watched like over, I could get this number wrong, 45 or 50 TED Talks. And she found herself happy, healthy, and this really bled into her personal life, so she was leveling up at work, leveling up at home, she got herself a promotion, she was making more money. And watching all these talks and reading all these books gave her a lot of great information to be able to have cool conversations at work, with her leadership, at the dinner table, at the networking event, sending them an email, to clients.

So, again, she started small but that took courage. It took her getting uncomfortable, literally not looking at her email, to open up a whole new door. I mean, she got a promotion on a video.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that example, too, because when we talk about fear, I think sometimes it’s natural to think about big, dramatic, scary fears, like, “Oh, I’m terrified of public speaking,” or heights, or you can sort of fill in the blank there. As opposed to, I don’t imagine she was terrified of not checking her email but it was uncomfortable. It was a little bit uneasy, like, “Oh, what if there’s something really important, and someone is waiting for me, and they’re like, ‘Hey, what’s the deal? How come you didn’t get back to me?’” As well as it’s a habit, it’s a groove that you’re in, so it just feels kind of off when you sort of reject that and don’t engage in it the first few times.

Judi Holler
And here’s the kicker, and this is new data, we are spending 6.3 hours a day on email. A day on average. The average worker is spending 6.3 hours a day on email. And you wonder why we’re not getting anything done. And we wonder why we feel stuck and irritable, and overwhelmed, and I’m doing air quotes here, “crazy busy,” right?

So, if we want to get out of this cycle of suck, we have to have the courage to try something new, to break a pattern, to flip the bad habit, and the more you do it, the better you get at it, and you’re going to start seeing results which welcomes momentum into your life party, and that’s really where all the magic lives.

It’s some staggering stuff, 55% of us are checking email after 11:00 p.m., 81% of workers are checking email, work email, on the weekends, 59% of us keep up with our work email while on vacation, you know what I mean? So, we wonder why we’re overwhelmed, and irritable, and crabby. We’re not turning off the machine, right?

When you hit the pause button on human beings, we actually start. It’s the opposite. So, we’ve got to be getting in control of this, and it takes courage to break some of those habits that are important. We need to be engaged. We need to be connected, certainly. But how do we make sure that we’re the boss? Technology is an incredible servant but a terrible master.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, intriguing. So, all right, well, that’s quite a case study in terms of tremendous results possible when you just sort of unplug a little bit from the technology. Sort of reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer stops drinking.

Judi Holler
Oh, my gosh.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, geez, all these phenomenal things.

Judi Holler
That’s hysterical. Perfect analogy.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s good. All right. So, anyway, I think we talked about a few things to sort of challenge yourself and to grow the muscle. I’d love to hear a few more things. So, that’s a great idea, is maybe you start with a few minutes away from the technology and maybe in the morning, and it’s high leverage there. What are some others you’d recommend?

Judi Holler
So, I would say it’s looking for, you know, and I think you’ve got to think about it mentally, too, because you’ve got to, I believe, when you’re managing fear and working with fear, knowledge is power. So, understanding, this is a big thing for, I think, everyone to understand. If you want to get better at fearing less, you can make more bold courageous moves in and outside of the workplace, you have to understand all of the sneaky ways that fear shows up. Fear is a trickster. It hides on purpose to trick you with the number one goal of getting you to stop, right?

Because if you keep going, if you do these new things, you become a version of yourself your fear has never seen before, and so fear doesn’t know what to do with that. So, understanding, I think, for me it was really big. I have a background in the improv theater, and I started to realize all of the sneaky ways that fear showed up to get me in my head as an improv performer. So, self-doubt is fear. Self-sabotage is fear’s way of stopping you.

Let’s not forget about procrastination. Just understanding, when I understood that procrastination is a way that fear shows up to stop you and block you is a powerful thing to get. For example, I was trying to finish a really meaty chapter of my book, and I was putting it off because I was afraid to sit down and do the work. So, I found myself for, literally, about 60 minutes, 45 minutes, organizing all of the drawers in my desk. I was on a deadline. I needed to finish this chapter of my book. But, boy, my office was clean, right?

And then I realized what I was doing. I was procrastinating instead of sitting down to do the work. So, the reason I shared this is because understanding that procrastination is sort of one of fear’s best friends is really a good thing to know so that you can move through it, right, and say, “Oh, hello, fear. I see you. I appreciate you. Do you ever take a day off? I don’t know if you do, but right now I don’t need you because I’m in control. I’ve got work to do, so have a seat on the other side of my desk and come back when I’m done, right?”

So, that was an a-ha moment for me, understanding that that’s just one of the many sneaky ways fear shows up. Perfectionism. Excuses. If you have someone on your team, someone in your life, that is making excuses for why they can’t do the thing, instead of getting frustrated and upset and trying to control, ask them what they’re afraid of because nine times out of ten there’s a fear on the other side of that excuse, you know, blame, gossip, jealousy, all of those are fear-based behaviors. So, just a few ways that fear mentally shows up. And I share them because we’ve got to be aware. Awareness holds our power.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’d love to get your take then, when it comes to this procrastination story, so you were avoiding writing a chapter of your book, and instead organizing your desk. So, what exactly was the fear there?

Judi Holler
Oh, my gosh, the fear of impostor syndrome creeping in, doubly fearing that, “I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough.” It was a chapter that’s been, it was meaty. It was the chapter that is now chapters three and four. We actually ended up combining it into two chapters. But I was just afraid to start because I knew that if I sat down to do the work, I would have to sit down and do the work, and I would probably face a few things that I wasn’t comfortable with in building out and beating out that chapter. But a lot of it was impostor syndrome, worried that I wasn’t good enough.

And, by the way, once I finished the chapter, oh, my God, we’re moving forward, we’re moving forward, we’re putting a book out into the world. And so, there’s that. So, it was probably a combination of things mentally for me. And I think we all find our own internal demons, but there’s always usually something there. There’s always usually a reason. Anxiety. You know, you’re anxious and feeling fearful because maybe you feel that what you have isn’t good enough or whatever that may look like. But there’s usually always something living there.

If we’re procrastinating, okay, what are we afraid of? What is it? For me, it was about not being good enough, of not being smart enough, of not having a good chapter.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. So, now, but you were not aware that that was what was going on at the surface level, it sounds like, at first.

Judi Holler
At first, I wasn’t, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how did you get to that level of awareness?

Judi Holler
Well, in my research, and in really studying all the different things I was studying about fear, and then realizing that fear’s job is to stop you and to block you, and that self-doubt is a way it does that. Certainly, we self-sabotage, and procrastination is a form of self-sabotage. And that’s when it clicked, I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m sabotaging myself here. My office can get cleaned anytime, right? So, what am I doing here? It’s just busy work.”

And I, still to this day, do it. My husband always says, “You know when you’re stressed out,” because I’m either doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen, doing the laundry, mopping something, sweeping something. I do an activity, right, when my mind is filled with stress about something else. So, just understanding that stressors are triggers, right, to stop us from really sitting down and do the work.

So, I’ll give you a hack. If you’ve got someone listening that finds himself procrastinating, or not able to start something, what I did, and I write about this in my book, is I set a timer for 10 minutes because I believe so much in the magic of momentum. Because once we get a little juice, it helps us move forward.

So, I set a timer for 10 minutes, and I do this sometimes with working out as well when I don’t necessarily feel like it. I set a timer for 10 minutes, I say, “Okay, let me just do 10 minutes of the thing. And if I hit that 10 minutes and I don’t feel like it anymore, then I am not in the right mental space, the energy, the vibe isn’t right, and I stop the work. But if I have caught a vibe, and I feel good,” and nine times out of ten you will because you just welcomed momentum into the party, you just keep going, and then you keep going.

So, I find just even it’s the starting, that’s the problem. And sometimes 10 minutes can get you out of a funk. Just sit down to do the work for 10 minutes. Go sit on the bike. Go for a walk anywhere. If you’re not feeling it after 10 minutes, stop. And if you are, which most times you are, keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so now, I want to dig a little bit into your mindset and your title Fear Is My Homeboy. So, how do you think about fear in terms of befriending it as oppose to dominating and destroying it and you’re subjecting it to your fiery will of superiority? So, it sounds like that’s a different kind of a feel in terms of fear is your friend versus fear is something you were to punish and minimize. So, how do you think about that?

Judi Holler
Certainly. And here’s the deal, we have to work. I dance with my fear. I work with my fear because I realize that in my community, we call ourselves fear bosses because I’m the boss of my fear not you. Fear is never going to go away. Fear isn’t going to go anywhere. But I choose to dance with my fear. I choose to work with my fear. And in our community, we’re called fear bosses. This means we’re the boss, not our fear. So, I call the shots. And fear isn’t going anywhere.

So, fear, well, they’re very different for you at the age of 20, they will for you at the age of 50, what you fear, the things you fear, what keeps you up at night. And men and women, we internalize and externalize fears very differently. So, I got really awake to this idea that we’re never going to be able to get rid of our fears. This idea, this notion of fearless that everybody is telling us we need to be. I go back to that because it’s unrealistic.

So, why am I wasting my energy, my precious energy, trying to outrun something I’ll never be able to get rid of? Let’s work together. And, yes, I may feel fear. I may be afraid about whatever it is that I need to go to do, whether it’s going to a doctor’s appointment, or it’s making a phone call, but I know, yes, I’ll feel afraid, and I’ll never not feel afraid of things I feel afraid about, but I know because I know that fear is my homeboy. That if I keep going, if I keep doing small scary brave things every day, I will get stronger, and those scary things won’t be as bad. I’m now actually start fearing less, that’s the big idea, right? We’ve got to work with it. We dance together. We dance with our fear.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, then. So, you just sort of given up the idea that fear will ever be completely absent.

Judi Holler
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in a way, yeah, it seems like fear is both your friend and your slave or colleague, I don’t know, if you’re the boss of it how you see that.

Judi Holler
What do they say? Keep your friends close but your enemies closer, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there you go.

Judi Holler
So, there you go, right? It’s this idea like, yeah, fear is not the best thing to have around. It can really destroy so many beautiful things that can happen for you. Yet, keeping that enemy close is a powerful way to get to know it and dance with it a little bit. So, that’s an analogy that may help people sort of mindset to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so now, we’ve covered a lot of different potential things to do when it comes to fear. But I’d love to hear what do you think is just the most reliably outstanding, efficient, effective means of advancing when you are experiencing fear? Like, what is the thing you think is just the best?

Judi Holler
The thing. Action. Starting action. Action. Making the decision to go, and to do something, and to stop overthinking, and to stop self-doubting, and to stop overtalking. Just go do it. There are so many ideas and dreams and goals living inside of people all over the world and they’re waiting. They’re waiting for the right time, they’re waiting for, “Someday when the kids are grown. And someday I’ll have our money, and someday when I’m older. Oh, if I was only younger,” any excuses we make. So, starting is the hack, right? If you want a hack, that’s the hack.

So, momentum, again, I’m going back to that 10-minute timer. Just doing it, right, and propelling yourself into action. Mel Robbins has a great book The 5 Second Rule, right? That’s what the book is all about. It’s action. It’s starting. It’s momentum, right?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. And so, what would you say, on the counterpoint to that, is sort of like the most frequently arising mistake? Folks, they’re trying to do the stuff you’re saying, but they are kind of flubbing it. What is sort of the obstacle that’s popping up for them?

Judi Holler
Yes, I have one. It’s probably the number one question I get asked, this idea of, “Listen, I want to be more brave. I want to put myself out there. I want to promote myself and take more risks, and all of those things. But I don’t want to look like I’m bragging. I don’t want to look like I love myself. I don’t want people to judge me or make fun of me or not like me.” We get so worried about what other people are going to think. We’re so worried about publicly failing, or embarrassing ourselves, or people not liking us.

And here’s the hard, real truth, and this is a massive a-ha moment for me, and this will help you manage fear, and I hate to break it to you, but people already don’t like you. People are already judging you. And people are already making fun of you. So, the question is, “Who are you living your life for? Who are you running your business for? Who are you living for? You or everybody else?” So, the number one mistake people make is worrying way too much about what other people think. They’re already talking, you might as well give them something to talk about.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s really interesting perspective. I thought you were going to say, “Hey, for the most part, people are just aren’t paying much attention to you and they don’t really care because they’re wrapped up in their own lives.”

Judi Holler
It’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
But then you took it in the direction of, “They’re already making fun of you.”

Judi Holler
Right. I mean, I’m not saying everybody is making fun of you every day, but people are already talking about you, right? Look, we can’t control that or stop that. And people don’t care about you as much as we think they do, but we’re already being judged, right? It’s already happening, so live your life. That’s the point, right? Live your life.

Pete Mockaitis
And I really appreciate that when it comes to I think I’ve had an a-ha moment recently because we had a previous guest, Mindy Jensen from the Bigger Pockets money podcast. We talked about sort of money things. And she was just making a point how she just doesn’t care at all about what other people think with regard to her money decisions or if they think she’s a total cheapskate or whatever in these certain ways. And what I found interesting is that folks are going to judge you no matter what you choose in terms of like, so, it’s funny. We have two kids and we don’t own a car yet, right? So, hey, you’re in Chicago, so you know it. It’s not so essential especially when we’re really close by a Brown Line stop.

Judi Holler
Love it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s on the list. We’re going to get to it pretty soon.

Judi Holler
So good. So good.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I sort of thought people judge me or imagine me to be foolish or, I don’t know, a bad dad, or broke, like, “Oh, Pete’s business must not be doing very well. He can’t even scrap together to get a used minivan or something.” So, whatever. And so then, I sort of just imagine that to be the case, I was like, “You know what, I’m fine. We’re going to wait till the time is right, till we get just the right vehicle.” And then I mentioned this to someone, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, we’re going to get a car pretty soon, that’s long overdue.” And then that person said, “Why do you need a car for? The train lands right there.” That’s like, “Wow, you just judged me in the opposite way. I assumed everyone else is judging me.” Therefore, my assertion is that people will judge you good or bad whatever you choose.

Judi Holler
It’s so true.

Pete Mockaitis
Therefore, that’s not a useful or valid or helpful decision-making criterion, they’re going to do what they’re going to do.

Judi Holler
Correct. It’s a waste of time or energy. We can’t control people, places, or things. So, all we could do is control ourselves. So, when we take action, the courage to take action, and just to trust ourselves, I mean, that’s what the improv theater is all about, just really trusting ourselves. So, I love that your guest said that, like, “I don’t care what people think.” I learned that so big and clear in the improv theater at The Second City because there is so much power in looking silly and not caring, and just doing you. And it’ll inspire other people to want to do that as well.

And that’s what need more of in the world, to get a little woo-woo here. We need more people being themselves and doing things that light them up, right? So, yeah, it’s like a brave movement. We love watching people do brave things and be themselves because it makes us want to do more of that ourselves.

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

Judi Holler
No, I think that’s it. Like I said, if I could have one page in my book, it doesn’t get easier. Scary things don’t get less scary but you will get stronger. I think a big consequential mistake people make is they do one brave thing and then they stop, and they think that, “Okay, now I’ve done it. Now, I’ve got that brave thing going.” That’s how we miss opportunities and end up with a mediocre life. We’ve got keep going and it’s just consistent action little by little every day. We don’t need to do big scary things. We can start small and just still be very effective. So, that’s it in a nutshell.

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

Judi Holler
Yes. I would say I love the Steve Martin quote, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Love that.

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

Judi Holler
I would say, ooh, this is a good one. I recently read a study that showed, it was on happiness and laughter, that babies laugh about 400 times a day, and adults, we laugh, about 4 times a day. And that just certainly made me sad but it inspired me to bring more joy and laughter into my life. And I think joy and laughter is coming back into the workplace. And if we’re not having fun, what’s the point? We’ve got to sit at that fun table because we’re not laughing. We’re not a baby anymore, I get it. But laughter, for 400 to 4, how do we increase that laugh factor every day? And I loved that study.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, that is intriguing and I have thought that to myself, it’s like, “I would like to have some more laughs.” And, from time to time, I make a discovery, like, “Oh, my gosh, the TV show A.P. Bio is hysterical.”

Judi Holler
So good, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And then I binge all of those, it’s like, “Okay, now what do I do?” So, what do you do to bring in more laughs every day? I mean, you got your whole improv posse but outside that, yeah.

Judi Holler
You know what I do? I tell you this is brand new and I love this idea. I actually need to put it in my newsletter because it’s such a fun little hack. Because of this study, I have started watching on Netflix Stand-Up Comedy Specials, and I’ve been watching a lot of like “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” with Jerry Seinfeld, and those were like 15-20 minutes long. And I’m telling you, I watch about five of those “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” the other night while I was eating and making dinner because it’s all kind of in the same room. And I didn’t look at my phone once. I even forgot about my email. I forgot about the book launch. It was just so lovely to just sit there and laugh.

And so, that’s an easy thing someone could do. Just start like watching comedy specials and just let yourself laugh at the world because there is a lot of serious stuff going on, but if we’re not having fun, what’s the point? So, that’s a way to start laughing more.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that is fun and I’ve turned on the Spotify Comedy originals in there as I’m like taking a walk or whatever. And that’s great, yeah, because you don’t really need to look at it, you know. You can mostly listen to the Netflix Comedy Special, maybe you pop on some Bluetooth headphones.

Judi Holler
Correct. In your car, yup. Or, your, not car, your iPhone.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you just mix your ingredients.

Judi Holler
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. So, how about a favorite book?

Judi Holler
Favorite book, oh, my gosh. That’s a hard question. I have so many, but what I would say for this audience, I think what shifted me in a professional way, from a professional perspective, which really just changed the way I work, it’s a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we interviewed Greg.

Judi Holler
Oh, God, that book changed the way—you know that client I was telling you about, the first 60 minutes of her day, those ideas inspired a lot of those changes that she made and I made, and we just really all started working together to get in front of it and living like essentialists. So, that book is a game-changer. If you haven’t read it, go get you some.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about favorite habits.

Judi Holler
That’s definitely it, but I would say I use a goal-focused planner. I use a planner called the Volt Planner by a company called Ink and Volt. It is the number one tool in my business from a productivity standpoint that helps me living work like an essentialist, so I couldn’t live without it.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners?

Judi Holler
Yeah, I think my book comes out May 28, but there are a lot of folks that have had advanced copies, and one of the retailers are shipping early, and I think the quote that’s kind of getting tweeted a lot, and shared a lot, and have come up a lot even on podcasts is this one, “You can be a victim or you can be a badass. The choice is yours.”

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

Judi Holler
I would point them to, first and foremost, my website which is JudiHoller.com from a social media perspective. I am most active on Instagram, so @judiholler on Instagram, certainly on Facebook. And then I think those are the best ways to get in touch with me. And we’re doing a little freebie. I’ve got a little gift for your listeners. Do you want to share it or do you want me to share it?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yup, tell us.

Judi Holler
Okay. So, if you want to get to know a little bit more about me and kind of test drive my book without buying the book, we’re going to give you chapter one, in the beginning of the entire book, for free. And I’ve also included a couple of downloadable freebies. Most importantly, most specifically, my secret weapon which is my morning planner page.

And the way you get it is you text the word BRAVE to the number 474747, and you’ll get texted a little link, you click it, and then all of the downloadable freebies will be sent to your email once you enter your email.

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

Judi Holler
Just trust yourself. Trust yourself. What you have is good enough. And in the improv theater, we’re not trying to find the best thing, but we are always looking for the next thing. So, it’s all about momentum and moving the scenes forward on stage, you’ve got to do that for yourself. It’s about doing small things every day that are going to move your life forward. This is how you achieve results, fear less, and, of course, make fear your homeboy.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Judi, thanks for this. Good luck with the book and all your adventures.

Judi Holler
Oh, my gosh, thanks for listening.

443: Beating Procrastination with Petr Ludwig

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Petr Ludwig says: "It's much more important to find the right motivation than to boost willpower."

Petr Ludwig shares his research-based strategies and tactics for overcoming procrastination.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Petr’s recipe for finding willpower in the moment
  2. How to find your ongoing motivation
  3. Why you should rest before you get tired

About Petr

Petr Ludwig is a science popularizer, entrepreneur, and consultant for Fortune 500 companies. He is the author of the bestselling book The End of Procrastination, a book dedicated to overcoming the habit of putting off tasks and responsibilities. His book has been translated into more than 10 languages and sold hundreds of thousands of copies globally.

Petr is the founder and CEO of the company Procrastination.com, which applies the latest scientific findings in neuroscience and behavioral economics to help individuals and companies in their sustainable growth. His core fields of interests are a purpose at work, value-based leadership, and critical thinking.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Petr Ludwig Interview Transcript

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

Petr Ludwig
Hi, Pete. Happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m happy to chat with you, and I’m so fascinated by your story. You have studied a whole host of scientific social psychological things, and you decided to pour a lot of your energies into the study of procrastination. Why this topic and is it coming from experience here?

Petr Ludwig
Yeah. For me, to think of procrastination is one of the most important these days because we live in a world full of distractions, social media, and it’s quite challenging to find a way how to stay focused on what is important. So, for me, to pick procrastination is getting more and more important these days. And there’s a lot of good data and a lot of scientific studies about how to really decrease our procrastination. So, my life mission is to just transform what science knows into what people do in their normal lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s an awesome mission and so helpful because there’s so much great knowledge out there and it’s great to make sure that folks actually see it instead of the researcher and the researcher’s mom in the academic journey.

Petr Ludwig
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to know, Petr, what are some things that you procrastinate on?

Petr Ludwig
Oh, I still have some things that I procrastinate. For example, if I have to sign an important contract, for example, I have a lot of contracts for translations of my books, so I have to sign them. I have a good lawyer but, still, I want to read them before. So, those are things I procrastinate, things that are important but quite challenging and difficult to me.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell me, as you’ve done your research associated with procrastination and your book in particular, The End of Procrastination, which is now available in English. Thank you, translators and lawyer and contract all coming together. What’s maybe the most surprising or fascinating thing that you discovered in digging into some of the research and studies behind this?

Petr Ludwig
Right. There’s a huge meta-analysis about all the research on procrastination, and the outcome is…

Yeah, that’s a good beginning where to start when you do any kind of research to read meta-analysis because someone did a good job before. So, for example, if you want to know some research about longevity, you can use Google Scholar and just try to find longevity and meta-analysis and you will find very good sources. So, that’s my hack, to start to read a meta-analysis.

And the biggest meta-analysis about procrastination shows us that the main cause of procrastination is a lack of self-regulation. Self-regulation means that you have your emotional part and then you have your rational part. And if you are unable to resist temptation, your emotional part is going to win. And it means that you go to check your Facebook. You want to, I don’t know, overeat. You want to watch Netflix and so on.

But if you have good willpower and your rational brain is stronger, your willpower is stronger, then you can self-regulate, even if you have a temptation to do something, you are able to resist. So, that’s the core of procrastination, to really train your willpower part of the brain.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so that sounds sensible. How do we go about doing that?

Petr Ludwig
Well, there are a lot of techniques for that. My favorite one is when you do a daily habit. For example, if you do 20 pushups daily, not even your muscles grow, but even your part of the brain that is called prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is for willpower, it grows too. So, that’s very good news that procrastination is not something that is inborn but you can really train your willpower as a muscle. So, by doing 20 pushups daily, you really can train your willpower.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really cool. And so, then I’m curious, is it pushups, is it sort of strict training in particular that boost the willpower, or we can maybe do the same thing?

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, all exercises do the same, but what is important is to do something daily. You can have your favorite, like five-minute routine of, I don’t know, that doesn’t need to be pushups. But five minutes daily can really boost your willpower. And we have one willpower for all domains, so you can train your willpower by exercise, and then you have stronger willpower even in your work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Great. So, exercise is the key way to increase your ability to have willpower. What are some of the other means of increasing it?

Petr Ludwig
Another one is mindfulness. Like, to do a simple 5- to 10-minute meditations. There’s a great app for that. You probably heard about Headspace or there’s another app that is called Simple Habit. Headspace is for 10 minutes. Simple Habit, they have five-minute meditations. And those 5 to 10 minutes of really focusing on doing nothing, that is mindfulness, focusing on your breath or counting something, that can really increase your willpower too.

So, my advice is to do, I don’t know, 5-minute exercise in the morning, and then to do mindfulness meditation in the afternoon, and all those exercises together, they took only a few minutes but can really improve your everyday willpower and productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m curious, since you’re a science popularizer and lover, I might be able to get into some of the depth with you because sometimes I’m fascinated too by research studies and I pull up academic journals. And sometimes the thing that gets me is, like, okay, you’ve shown us sure enough that there’s this statistically significant difference with intervention. So, nice job researchers. That’s something.

But I also want to know, how big is this difference? Like, am I going to be 1% better at willpower if I do my pushups and my mindfulness? Or is it like double, triple? Like, do you have a sense for how much quantitatively of an improvement we’d see with these interventions?

Petr Ludwig
Well, that’s the great question. My experience is that I have only some anecdotal evidences of my clients because it’s very difficult too if you read those meta-analyses to see how big was the difference at the end, so that’s a very good question. But with my clients, I can see the huge difference. Like, if they really started training their willpower, let’s say in three, four weeks, they are much, much better in their productivity. So, it’s quite difficult to measure it but if I ask them what is their improvement, they feel significant improvement. They are telling me that they can do like, I don’t know, two times more tasks daily, or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. Two times more tasks daily sounds enticing. All right. So, there’s a measure of doing some physical exercise as well as some mindfulness. So, any other key ways to go about building willpower?

Petr Ludwig
There is a beautiful study that our willpower is also dependent on simple sugars in our blood. So, eat fruits and vegetables daily can really boost your willpower too. So, to drink, for example, a glass of fresh juice, or to eat, I don’t know, two, three apples can really boost your willpower too. Another example is to go for a walk, because if you are sitting the whole day then your brain is stuck and you need to boost your cardiovascular system. So, five minutes or 10 minutes of walk can really improve the willpower too.

So, my advice is to do a simple short exercise in the morning, then to eat fruits and vegetables during the day, then to have walks. Regular work for two hours, then have a walk and then work another two hours and then have another walk. And then do simple meditation in the evening and you can really double your performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s really cool. So these are great things to do on an ongoing basis to keep your willpower strong and in great shape. What are some of your pro tips for when you’re in the heat of battle, if you will, and there’s this thing, you know you should do it but you sure don’t want to do it. You’re right there, right now. How do you find the power?

Petr Ludwig
Oh, right. For me, I go somewhere without internet connection. For example, I have my favorite tea room that I was writing my book, and they simply don’t have internet connection there so it helped me to really start something. And what is really good is to set a proper time for starting. For example, if you are postponing to send, I don’t know, an important email, you should set an appropriate time, like, “Okay, I will start at 8:00 a.m.” And you can use apps that can block your internet connection for Apple, the name is Freedom, so you can really block your internet connection. And for Windows, it is called Cold Turkey. And those apps can help you a lot if you block your internet connection.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s handy. So, you set a time, you block the internet connection. You’ve got a tool called the heroism tool in your book.

Petr Ludwig
Oh, right. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s this about?

Petr Ludwig
This tool is from Professor Philip Zimbardo, who’s famous about his Stanford Prison Experiment, still slightly a controversial one. And when I met Zimbardo for the first time, I asked him what is his personal tip for fighting procrastination. And he did something that was quite strange to me. He took my black marker and he put a big black dot on his forehead, and I was like, “What?” And Zimbardo told me that if you put a black big dot on your forehead and you go, for example, shopping, or you go by bus somewhere, you start to get used to strange feelings that you have that you are different. And you are then able to overcome your social comfort zone. And he really described to me that we have two kinds of comfort zones. First is physical one, it’s much more obvious. It’s, for example, the bath in the morning is a physical comfort zone. Or the situation when you are, for example, sitting in your car.

But then we have a social comfort zone, and that means that you are part of the crowd, you are in a herd. And to overcome that is very important even for fighting procrastination because often we are unable to act in the right moment. So, Zimbardo told me that if you do this, a little training with the black dot on your forehead, then you are capable of overcoming the comfort zone even in different scenarios. For example, if you go next to accident, you are then much more able to stop and help. Or you are able to say your opinion if someone else is quiet and so on.

Zimbardo calls this little heroism, those little heroic acts can really boost your ability to be the one who really do something when the situation is important. So, for me, this tool is one of the cores of my book. And Japanese samurais, they had a rule that if you are in a situation that you really need to act, you probably heard about that, it’s the rule of three heartbeats. You really have to act in three heartbeats, like, three, two, one, and then act.

Because, for example, if you are driving and you see an accident, you really have, in those three seconds, to stop and help there. If you don’t do that, you probably just go and it’s much easier to find excuses to not to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I think I heard about this except it was on a reality TV show about pickup artists, the three-second rule in terms of, in this context, it was guys who are going to approach a lady and like, talking to them.

Petr Ludwig
Okay. I think this concept of stopping next to an accident is maybe a little bit more important.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely, yes. But it gets to the same notion that the hesitation, fear, sort of overthinking it.

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, overthinking is a real problem. Like, we have a data that the more you overthink the more you procrastinate. So, fighting overthinking, and we have a beautiful data that the more you are intelligent and the more you are creative, then you procrastinate even more.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s my problem, Petr.

Petr Ludwig
Because you are capable of coming up with very good excuses, and excuses in front of yourself, so you use your creativity and your intelligence against yourself. And that’s the problem, like, overthinking is very, very, like the usual problem of intelligent people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. So, I’m curious then, if we can talk about maybe some of the fear elements, and it’s sometimes like a very quick short time that you can respond to something, and other times, it’s maybe not so urgent, but you’re maybe… I think about salespeople right now, it’s like, “Oh, you know what, I’ve got make some calls but I’m resistant because I think they’re going to be angry at me and that’s not pleasant.” It’s not like you’re terrified of it, but it’s not fun and so there’s maybe some anxiety or fear or trepidation associated with it. So, I guess, not overthinking it and just jumping in is good strategy.

Petr Ludwig
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
Are there any other things you’d recommend in these contexts?

Petr Ludwig
I do trainings for salespeople, and what works very well for them are daily routines. Like, for example, if you have to do some cold calls, you should set a very low bar, for example, to do three calls but do them daily. And if you set up a routine and you do those three calls daily, then it’s much easier to do more. So, science calls this micro-habit. What is important is not the quantity but what is important is that you really stick to the habit daily. And if you do that and you repeat it like five to 10 times, then it’s much easier to start.

So, my advice to salespeople is to set a proper time, for example, as I said, like 8:00 a.m., “I will start calls. I do three calls.” And then what is very good, we have a tool that is called Habit List. You have a table and you fill them each day, the table, and you see that you really pass the goal. So, set the bar to the lowest and repeat it, and after you have that habit, you can increase the quantity. And at the end you can do, I don’t know, 15 calls daily.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, with this Habit List table, I guess the rows would be habits and then the columns would be sort of days.

Petr Ludwig
Right. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And you want to fill it up kind of bit style, to say, “Hey, keep the chain going day after day after day.”

Petr Ludwig
Yup, this tool is one of my favorite ones. I use it every day. And, for example, I have a row that is called cold shower, another row is, I don’t know, to do those morning exercise, another row can be, I don’t know, read or write a few pages and so on. But the core of this tool is that if you visualize the outcomes, like you put a green dot if you passed it, and a red dot if you don’t, you see the visual thing about it.

So, you have a table, and at the end you see how good you are in those habits. And if you see that you are failing, you have many days red in a row, it means that your bar is too high, or you don’t have intrinsic motivation to do those things. So, those are only two situations, like you have lack of motivation, or the bar is too high. So, you can fix both. Like, you can ask why you want to do that habit, and you can increase your motivation, or you can decrease the bar. For example, if you are unable to write five pages daily as an author, then you should start with two paragraphs. There’s always a lower bar.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, it’s funny that app is kind of inspiring even though you’re talking about lowering the bar, there’s always a lower bar is kind of inspiring to me.

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, I did it. When I was writing the book The End of Procrastination it’s funny because I was procrastinating writing the book about procrastination. And the final solution was really to write two paragraphs daily. And everyone can write two paragraphs daily. And if you do that, then you are able to write even more paragraphs. And to really start with a lower bar is the key of fighting procrastination to me.

Pete Mockaitis
I really appreciated that perspective. And we had Dr. BJ Fogg on the show earlier talking about tiny habits and motivation and making it small is huge. Making it small is very helpful in terms of making that happen. So, let’s talk about the motivation piece for a moment. How do we get more of that?

Petr Ludwig
The first part of the book is about motivation because I think that if you have the right motivation then you don’t need willpower at all. So, it’s much more important to find the right motivation than to boost willpower.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, just right there.

Petr Ludwig
For example, yeah, I don’t need to push myself to do talks because I really love to do talks, so it’s much, much more important to me to do things that I don’t need to push myself to. And the core of motivation that I’m trying to cover in my book is that basically we have three kinds of motivation. The first one is extrinsic motivation. And there’s another huge meta-analysis about motivation. It seems that extrinsic motivation doesn’t work at all. It worked for manual activities but it doesn’t work for activities that you need your brain. So, it’s doesn’t work for creative and cognitive tasks.

Then we have intrinsic motivation. But I cover two kinds of intrinsic motivation. One is focusing on goals, like intrinsic motivation by goals. And that’s the thing that people are setting goals in their private life. And this can really backfire because I had a client, and he had that kind of goal board, and he had there his car he wants to buy, the ideal flat he wants to have. And he got depressed because he didn’t have any of that.

So, the problem with goals is that if you are focusing on something in the future, you are less happy in the present because you are still missing the goal. And the second backfire moment is if you reach the goal, the happiness is very short term. Psychology calls this hedonic adaptation. So, even if you reached the highest goal, like you win a Nobel Prize, or you win an Olympic Gold Medal, you are happy just a few days, maybe one week, not more. So, focusing on goals can make you addictive because we call those people goal junkies. Those are people that they are setting higher and higher goals, but they are not happy in the present moment. And if they reached the goal, they experience only short-term happiness, but then they need another goal.

It’s quite similar these days on social media. Like, for example, if you have 10,000 followers, you feel, “Okay, I need 100,000.” Then you have 100,000 followers, well, then you need one million followers and so on. So, the more you have, the more you want. And it leads not to happiness but to addiction.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s a bummer. So, what’s the superior alternative?

Petr Ludwig
Okay. We call it journey-based intrinsic motivation, and it’s based on very old but very important saying that “the path is the destination.” So, what is much more important than to focus in on goals is to focus in on activities that are enjoyable for you and you see purpose of them. And how to find those activities, I have a simple tool for that, and it’s based on a Japanese concept of Ikigai. Ikigai is a Japanese word from the island of Okinawa, it’s my favorite island. And Okinawa is famous for the fact that they have the longest lifespan around the globe. So, they really live to their hundred.

And they made a long-term study, what is the reason of longevity in Okinawa? And the outcome was really the concept of Ikigai. And it can be translated as “a strong sense of purpose.” And the Japanese, they describe Ikigai as a connection between four parts.

The first part is to do things that you are good at. So, strengths are very important. Second part of Ikigai is doing things that you really enjoy. So, positive emotions are very important. Psychology calls this state of flow. You do something, and time stops for you, and you are in the present moment. And the third part of Ikigai is the most important to me, and it’s doing something that is greater than you, doing something that helps the society, helps the others. So, selfless acts are important too, not to be just selfish. And the fourth part is to do things that you can get paid for. So, money is important but not that much. What is much more important is to use your strengths daily and to focus on meaning and purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the premise was that they’re living so long because a large proportion of their activities check one or more of these four boxes?

Petr Ludwig
Right. And if you find something that is interconnected like, for example, for me, if I do a talk, it’s very important to me in terms of, it has purpose because it can help a lot of people, then I really enjoy doing that. I can improve it so I can improve my skills, so the better I am with my presentation skills, the happier I am with the process. And, of course, I can get paid for that.

So, if you find something that is interconnected, you have less stress hormone cortisol that is killing us slowly. So, that’s maybe one of the reasons why people, if they have more purpose, they live much longer. And the data shows us that people with more purpose, they have less risk of cardiovascular diseases, less risk of strokes, and so on. So, it can really prolong your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you.

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, very cool.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I want to make sure we also cover, when it comes to just sort of the organization of tasks and time in the day in, day out, I understand you’ve got some perspectives on how we can do that better so we can achieve more before we get tired.

Petr Ludwig
Right. The key for the activity is to have regular rests. So, for example, workaholics are procrastinators too but they are procrastinators of having a rest. So, it means that if you are working like 12 hours in a row without rest, the quality of your work is very low. But if you work one hour and then you have a rest, and then you work another hour, your productivity is much, much higher.

So, regular rest is important, and to have a rest even before you are tired is very important. Because if you are tired, you don’t have willpower to go for a walk. So, you should go for a walk before you are tired, and you should drink that fresh juice before you are exhausted and so on. So, it’s like a preventive matter to have a rest, preventive matter is important.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s good thought. You rest before you’re tired so that you can rest more proactively or productively. And so, I guess it varies person by person, but you use the time roughly as an example of an hour and then a rest. Is that the right recipe?

Petr Ludwig
Well, it really depends on what you want. For me, one hour is just enough. It can be 45 minutes, it can be 30 minutes, it can be two hours. It really depends. So, for me, one hour is just enough to focus on something and then to have a rest.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to resting, you mentioned taking a walk or some of these other things. Are there any other key means of recuperating that are highly effective and efficient?

Petr Ludwig
I love those walks, yeah. Walks are very, very good because it really can boost your cardiovascular system. So, walks, then naps, of course. You can have like 15 to 20 naps. And naps are also very good in terms of productivity. It seems crazy that napping can boost your productivity, but it’s true. There’s a lot of scientific data about the fact that if you do one or two naps daily, your productivity is much higher than if you just do work for 12 hours in a row.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m a big believer in napping, Petr. The weirdo. When I worked in an office, I did, in fact, take naps and I was like, “Yeah, I’ve got scientific data on my side. This is enabling me to work better for you. You should be thanking me.” Cool. Well, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Petr Ludwig
For me, the core was to really find purpose of what you do. I want to write another book about purpose at work because like 80% of my clients I do one-on-one consulting, and 80% of my clients, they have struggles of finding purpose of what they do. Sometimes I call this corporate depression because it’s a problem of people that are working in big corporations, but they don’t see purpose of what they do. So, find purpose at work. It’s very important, and it’s a very important part of leadership to help people in your team to see purpose of what do they do. So, purpose, to me, is the key topics. Find purpose for yourself and to ask yourself what is meaningful to you, how you can improve the world a bit, and so on. Those are key questions.

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

Petr Ludwig
Well, I really love the quote, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” So, I love simplicity. I love minimalism. I loved it even before it was cool. And to really explain things simply, it’s my favorite, favorite thing because we live in a very chaotic and very complex world, and simplicity is very good for decreasing our stress and stress hormone cortisol too.

So, that’s why I love Japan. I go to Japan every year for one month. And, for me, when I’m sitting in temples in Kyoto that are very simple, it makes me much more relaxed and without stress. So, simplicity is very good, too, how to fight stress in this complex world.

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

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, it’s maybe the one about self-forgiveness. It’s quite a new study that it shows that if you can forgive yourself, then you procrastinate less. Because, people, if they can’t forgive themselves, they have more regrets, and they have much more negative feelings, and it can backfire again. So, self-forgiveness is very good. For example, if you fail at something, just forgive yourself and start again, and don’t blame yourself that much.

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

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, I love the book from Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow. It’s a great book, and it was a very good source even for my book. But the problem is that the book is very complex and sometimes difficult to read, but the quality of the book is amazing. I saw Daniel Kahneman, I don’t know, one month ago here in New York, and he’s an incredible person. He’s the founder of the modern decision-making science. So, I love his book.

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

Petr Ludwig
My favorite tool, it’s a great question too. I think that it’s the Habit List, the one that I covered in the discussion with you, because I use this tool for maybe, now, five, six years, and it really changed my life. It really changed my life because, now, I’m able to really change my habits, and I have a tool that I believe in, and it’s really worked for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, I’m going to ask about a favorite habit, but maybe since you’ve got a whole list of habits, can you give us the rundown of what all is in your Habit List right now?

Petr Ludwig
I can open my Habit List and I can read it to you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, you’ve got it digitally.

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, I have a digital one in my Excel table. And the first is cold shower, the second is exercise. Then I have one that is about overcoming my bad habit, and it’s drinking tea, because I don’t drink coffee, I only drink tea, so my limit is only one tea daily. And I used to drink like three, four teas, and there’s a lot of caffeine there. So, I want to get rid of this bad habit so my limit is one green tea daily. And then I have alcohol. My limit is less than a half liter of wine.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re from Czech Republic, right?

Petr Ludwig
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
We don’t have Praha Drinking Team, Petr. When I visited it, I saw tons of merch that said Praha Drinking Team. And I thought that was great.

Petr Ludwig
Yeah, in Prague, people usually drink a lot of beers. I like beer too but, for me, the wine is the issue. So, my limit is two glasses of wine daily. So, then I have gym. It’s a special column because the exercise column was the short morning exercise, and the gym is the longer one, one hour in the gym or to go running. And then I have a low carb diet, it means not to eat pizza. And the last column is to fill in my gratitude journal, to fill in three things that I’m grateful for daily. That’s also very cool habits to have.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, now, all of these are daily habits?

Petr Ludwig
Yup. Oh, no, no, no, the gym is not a daily habit. All my habits are daily habits except gym. I want to go gym three times weekly.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I was going to ask, does the game change at all when both in terms of the Habit List and how you’re tracking it, with the red or the green, and the contiguous walks, and in terms of behaviorally? Like, what do you do to install a habit that’s not every day?

Petr Ludwig
Well, then, you really can mark those days that you don’t have to do that, for example, with a blue dot. So, if you, I don’t know, want to do gym three times weekly, you put a green if you do that. If you don’t have to, you put a blue one. And if you don’t do it in a row for one week, then you put the red one.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Petr Ludwig
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you’re actually doing a habit that’s not every day, it seems like those can be harder to build and to take.

Petr Ludwig
Exactly. Exactly. That’s why I teach my clients to have daily habits. But sometimes, of course, you are unable to do it daily. For example, I play squash, and I have my friend that is playing the squash with me, and we do squash only once a week. So, with this habit it’s very good to find a partner. Like, it’s much easier to you to do that because you don’t want to cancel it in advance. So, if you have your buddy for sports, for exercise, it can really increase the chance that you really do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. I guess I’m just wondering, so if you know that you don’t intend to go to the gym every day, but you want to make sure that that is a habit, how do you behaviorally lock that in?

Petr Ludwig
Well, yeah, I love those apps that you really book the gym, and if you want to cancel that you pay some money for that, so it’s also good motivation. So, I use an app ClassPass, and if you don’t go for a class, I think you pay, I don’t know, 20 bucks or something. It means that it can really force you to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your readers and listeners?

Petr Ludwig
Okay. What I really like is those random small acts of kindness, and it really resonates with my clients. Because if you do one or two or three small random acts of kindness daily, it makes you much happier than if you buy a new iPhone or things like that. Because we have data that we have a specific part of the brain that is activated when you do something for the others. So, doing something selflessly, in terms of happiness, can be much long term than if you do something just selfish.

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

Petr Ludwig
Okay. Well, part of my book is about this, and another good book is a book from Adam Grant that is called Give and Take. It’s a great book even for leadership. And Adam made a lot of research on the fact that in these days, if you are not a taker but the giver, you can be much more successful.

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

Petr Ludwig
Okay. I think the final advice will be, again, about finding the purpose. Ask yourself what is important to you and how you can really help more your client, how you can really help more your colleagues, or what you can do to really be proud of yourself during the work day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Petr, this has been lots of fun. I wish you and the book The End of Procrastination tons of luck, and keep doing the good work.

Petr Ludwig
Thank you, Pete. It was a great discussion and you had great questions. Thank you very much.

441: Understanding Fear to Overcome It with Ruth Soukup

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Ruth Soukup says: "Action is the antidote to fear"

 

Ruth Soukup shares the seven Fear Archetypes so you can better understand and conquer your particular fear.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to identify your Fear Archetype™️ and use that knowledge to conquer your fear
  2. How to seek out honest feedback
  3. How to develop courage to take the first step past fear

About Ruth

New York Times bestselling author Ruth Soukup is dedicated to helping people overcome fear and create a life they love. Through her blog, Living Well Spending Less, which reaches more than 1 million people each month, she encourages her readers to follow their dreams and reach their goals. She is also the founder of the Living Well Planner® and Elite Blog Academy®, as well as the author of five bestselling books. Her practical advice has been featured in numerous publications and news programs, including Women’s Day, Redbook, Family Circle and Fox News. Her Do It Scared® podcast launched on April 30, 2018 and her next book, Do It Scared®: Finding the Courage to Face Your Fears, Overcome Obstacles, and Create a Life You Love (Harper Collins) will be available in May 2019.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ruth Soukup Interview Transcript

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

Ruth Soukup
Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom and in particular, I understand that you identify as a Harry Potter nerd. What’s the story here?

Ruth Soukup
That I do. I am a Harry Potter enthusiast I have to say, that probably does make me a huge super nerd, but I’m going to own it. I’m going to own it. I have read all of the books probably at least ten times each and that last one, number seven, which is my favorite, I’ve probably read at least 30 times. I just could read them over and over again from start to finish without stopping.

So thankfully, my 12-year-old daughter has actually inherited my love of all things Harry Potter. We get to now nerd out together. This summer we were in London and we went to the Warner Brothers’ studios, where they filmed all of the movies. My poor husband and my younger daughter had to bear with us as we nerded out to an epic proportion, but it was really, really great.

If you ever have a chance to go, I would highly recommend it. To see just the level of detail that they put into every movie and the sets and everything was so worth it, whether or not you’re a Harry Potter fan.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s impressive. Now you called yourself a Harry Potter enthusiast. I’ve heard the term, which I hadn’t heard before, a Potterhead. Is that common nomenclature?

Ruth Soukup
I’ve never got into the communities online. I kind of I guess maybe that’s my inner outcast coming out. I’ve also sort of just been independently nerdy, so I don’t know what the correct terminology is for that. But I would say Harry Potter super nerd would be an accurate description.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Understood. Cool beans. I’d also love to hear how you’ve applied some of your nerd-like enthusiasm for researching and getting some intriguing insights in your book, Do It Scared. Could you kick us off with what would you say is the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made while doing the work on this?

Ruth Soukup
That’s a great question. With Do It Scared I was really wanting to look into this question of why does fear hold us back. In my communities I see so many people, and women especially, who feel like they’re sitting on the sidelines of their own life, who are just afraid to jump in and there’s all these things holding them back from going after their goals and dreams wholeheartedly. It was a real problem.

I had so many people coming to me and saying, “I wish I could do this, but I just can’t.” I wanted to know why. I wanted to know why fear was holding us back and, more importantly, if there was anything that we could do about it. We ended up doing this gigantic research study surveying more than 4,000 people. I hired a whole team of researchers and psychologists to help me dive into the data.

But one of the most surprising things that we discovered was that all fear is not created equal. By that I mean there’s seven very, very unique and distinct ways that fear plays out in our lives because it’s a little bit different for everyone. We call these the seven fear archetypes.

Basically, what that means is that some people are afraid of making a mistake, while other people are afraid of rejection. Some people are afraid of authority or have an unhealthy fear of authority. Other people are afraid of being judged or letting people down.

How that fear plays out in your life really makes a huge difference in how it’s holding you back, but it also makes a huge difference because once you can identify how fear is holding you back, you can also start to do something about it and to overcome it. It was really, really fun research to do, but also really exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
So you’ve already listed out some of these archetypes here, so fear of making mistake, fear of rejection, fear of authority, fear of being judged, fear of letting folks down. Is that five of seven? What are the other two?

Ruth Soukup
Let’s see. There’s the fear of not being capable and the fear of adversity. I believe that would bring all of them. They each have a name. The fear of making a mistake is the procrastinator archetype and that’s really another name for perfectionism. That one is actually the most common of all the archetypes.

Then there’s the people pleaser, which is the fear of being judged or the fear of what other people will say and letting down people. That is the second most common one. They go on from there. If you want me to keep going, I can keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it. Yeah.

Ruth Soukup
Yeah, so the next one after that is the rule follower. The rule follower is an unhealthy fear of authority. It’s just sort of this deep-seated fear of ever coloring outside of the lines or doing anything that you’re not supposed to do even though you don’t always know who’s telling that you’re supposed to do it a certain way.

You just sort of have this feeling all the time that there’s certain things are supposed to be done a certain way and if you don’t do it right, you’re going to get in trouble, whether that’s accurate or not.

The fourth fear archetype is the outcast. That is the fear of rejection. The funny thing with outcasts is that they tend to reject other people before they can be rejected. They’re so afraid of rejection that they reject others first as almost like a proactive way of not being rejected.

A lot of times outcasts will appear on the surface to be fearless, but the truth is that they’re very afraid of being rejected by other people, so they sort of put up this armor to protect themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
You say outcasts, I just can’t stop thinking, Hey ya.

Ruth Soukup
That’s true. Different kind of outcast. Different kind of outcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let’s hear the rest. Let’s hear the rest.

Ruth Soukup
Yeah. Then there is the excuse maker. The excuse maker is afraid of taking responsibility, also known as the blame shifter. The excuse maker is the one who never wants to have anything pinned on them. We can probably all think of somebody in our life who is like that, where just cannot be pinned down, won’t take responsibility for their actions. But where that comes from is just a deep fear of taking responsibility. They don’t want to be held responsible.

There’s also the self-doubter, which is the fear of not being capable. A lot of times for the self-doubter that will play out in hyper criticism towards themselves and others. If you’ve ever known anyone who just seems like they are never happy, never satisfied, always nitpicking people that might be a sign of a self-doubter in your life, somebody that’s a self-doubter. Or if you find yourself doing that a lot, that might be your main fear archetype.

Then the final one is the pessimist. The pessimist is usually someone who has had a lot of adversity or hard things happen in their life and they’re therefore most afraid of pain or adversity or of hard things happening again. That makes them just sort of stuck and not want to try.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. That’s a nice run down there. Your assertion is that we tend to have one of these that is the most dominant for us.

Ruth Soukup
Yes. Most people have one that is more dominant than others. You might have two or three that are all fairly dominant and they sort of interact and play together. But there’s usually at least one or two. We all have traits of all seven of the fear archetypes, but sometimes some are far less prevalent than others.

But the way that they play out in our lives is really relevant because if you don’t know the way that – what your underlying fear is, you don’t know how it’s affecting you. But once you do know, once you’re able to identify that fear in your life and start to see those patterns of behavior and to start recognize the negative self-talk that happens in our heads without us even really realizing it.

So much of this stuff happens subconsciously. As soon as you shine a light on it and start to see it in your life, that’s when you’re able to start overcoming it and start creating solutions that will allow you to move past it and not be held stuck anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you maybe illuminate, what is some self-talk that shows up and that we might not even recognize because it’s just there in the background all the time? Any key words and phrases that pop up a lot?

Ruth Soukup
Sure. Well, again, that is different for everyone, but I’ll give myself as an example for this one because I actually had this happen to me fairly recently. Like I said at the beginning, I’m the outcast archetype. My deepest fear is rejection.

That has been something that really, I’ve started to recognize recently, probably in lieu of all of this fear studies that I’ve been doing. But I’ve started to really see how the outcast fear archetype is playing out in my life and how that fear of rejection holds me back in certain areas of my life and of my business.

Specifically I have an online business. I have an online company. I have always sort of approached my business from a I-don’t-need-anybody-else standpoint of “I’m going to grow this by myself. I don’t want to ask for help. I don’t want to ever be dependent on anyone else.” Yet, as my business has grown, I’ve really seen ways in which that – being unwilling to reach out to people and to ask for help or to ask for favors or to ask people for things has held me back.

Even to pitch someone to say, “Hey, I see you have this podcast. Can I be a guest on your podcast?” or to promote myself in that way. That’s always been really, really hard for me. What that really is is a deep, deep-seated fear of rejection. I reject everyone before they can reject me.

And it was funny I was with – I have a mastermind group that I call my truth club. I was with them maybe a few weeks ago. They, of course, know that my archetype is the outcast, so as good friends should do, they definitely called me out on it and were really pushing me and really challenged me to stop hiding basically behind this fear of rejection.

They challenged me to – we were specifically talking about media and PR and pitching yourself to different media outlets – so they challenged me in 24 hours I had to pitch myself to 20 people and that I knew were going to reject me just to get used to the idea of being rejected. It was terrifying to me, absolutely terrifying and yet, because they are my friends, because I believe in accountability, I took their advice and I did it and I did the challenge.

You know what? It was so incredibly freeing to finally sort of break through this fear that rejection was the worst thing that could ever happen to me because as it turned out it wasn’t that bad and as it turned out several of these people that I reached out to actually said yes and not no even though I had been sure that every single one of them was going to say no. It was just a really good lesson for me.

This is something I work with on a daily basis, but it was still a great lesson for me that when you know what your fear is, then that’s when you can start to create solutions to overcome it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve got me thinking now. It’s like well, here you are on my media outlet. It’s like how did this happen. I guess your publicist, Ashley, at NardiMedia.com was the emailer. I guess that’s another strategy. You can do a little bit out outsourcing.

Ruth Soukup
That has been the strategy that I’ve used is to hire a publicist to do it for me so that I don’t have to personally be rejected, but that’s where my friends were calling me on it. They said, “No, it’s better if you start making connections yourself. You have to start doing it yourself.” I’m like, “Oh, I don’t want to,” but I did.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for sharing that. It’s really resonating as I’m thinking – this is always sort of my game as a podcaster it’s like it’s for the listeners, but it’s also for me. It’s like which follow up question am I going to ask? Is it the one that serves me or the one that I think is going to serve the most listeners? Usually I give it to the listeners, but for now I’m trying to zero in on mine.

I think about when I’m not reaching out – because I’ve done the same thing. It’s like I would like to be on more podcasts. I’ve seen it results in great growth for my show and it’s fun. I haven’t made a lot of requests and I think it’s part of the procrastinator perfection thing.

Ruth Soukup
Well, that makes sense because that’s a very common fear archetype.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I say things to myself like, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe after my show is at six million downloads that will sound more impressive than five million downloads when I make this request.” It probably is already fine in terms of packing a punch, like “Oh five million downloads, Forbes, New York Times, blah, blah, blah.” That will probably pack enough credibility/authority/power to get over that hump.

And yet, I sort of wonder. It’s like, “Well, I don’t know. I should probably research their show more because I don’t like getting irrelevant pitches, so I should really know it intimately, but how intimately. Is listening to five episodes enough or is that not nearly enough?” So yeah. Well, hey, it’s the most common archetype. I’ve maybe got it, so hey, double win.

Ruth Soukup
Well, yours could be like maybe a combination of a little bit procrastinator and a little bit outcast in the same thing. Those two can really interplay together because the procrastinator is most afraid of getting it wrong, making a mistake and not having things be perfect. You always feel like there’s a little bit more that you could be doing.

Procrastinators a lot of times, in fact a lot of times people will realize that that’s their archetype but they’ll think, “I never thought of myself as a procrastinator. I definitely have thought of myself as a perfectionist.”

But what perfectionists will do is they will try to get so far ahead of things and so far out ahead of a deadline so that they can be tweaking up until the very last minute because it’s never quite right or they’ll avoid doing things at all because they don’t want to make a mistake or because it won’t be perfect.

[15:00]

It sounds like you’ve got a little bit of that going on, but also a little bit of “Hm, I don’t want to take the chance of putting myself out there because they might say no because I’m not good enough.” That’s a little bit of your inner outcast coming out too.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. I think when it comes to rejection in this realm, I don’t think it would hurt my feelings too much, like “Aw,” but from a business opportunity, it would be like, “Oh, dang it! Did I blow it? If I worked it a little bit better or differently, could I have nailed this and now this door is closed to me and I’m bummed because I did it wrong and if I had done it right, then this door wouldn’t be closed to me.” I guess I don’t feel like a loser.

I’ll tell you, it is great therapy to be rejected. I remember my first book collecting dozens of rejection letters, just, was very nourishing to the soul. It’s like, “Oh hey, this doesn’t hurt so bad after all.”

Ruth Soukup
After a while you start to get used to it, but yeah, it takes a little while. Well, we do have an assessment that you can actually go and take the assessment and discover what your archetype is.

You can find that at DoItScared.com if you’re interested in figuring out what exactly – because sometimes it can be a little hard to nail down and that’s where the assessment comes in and helps you really hone in on what your top one is and the premium assessment will actually show you where you rank on all seven of them so you can really see what your top ones are and how they interplay together.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You are bringing back some memories in terms of fear. I remember at Bain & Company that was sort of an expectation. They called Zero Defect Analysis, which means you’re not allowed to make mistakes, which is terrifying, like that’s in your review.

Ruth Soukup
That would make things really terrifying for a procrastinator slash perfectionist.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, what, we’re not allowed to make mistakes. I guess, over time it became clear, you’re not allowed to make a mathematical or factual error that the client catches. It’s sort of like, take a moment to double check your stuff and don’t get caught being wrong, which is still a high bar, but not as terrifying as it originally felt when I said, “Excuse me, what is the standard here exactly?”

But it was good lessons in terms of sharpening some skills. But yeah, it was spooky for a little while as young associate consultants are getting up to speed on that skill set.

Ruth Soukup
Yeah, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, well memories. Now, let’s see. We’ve got some of these particular archetypes mapped out, the lay of the land, the diagnosis, and so I’d love to hear – I’m sure that there are sort of particular prescriptions for each of these, but because that may take a while, could you maybe share with us some of the universal prescriptions, like-

Ruth Soukup
Universal prescriptions.

Pete Mockaitis
That help everybody.

Ruth Soukup
Yes, yeah. Well, one of the most important things that you can keep in mind when you’re talking about fear is first of all that figuring out what your fear is matters so much because that’s where you can start to identify it and start to see where it might be holding you back. But when it comes to overcoming it, the most important thing that you need to know is that action is the antidote to fear.

If you want to start to overcome your fear, the first thing that you need to do is take any step, any step at all in the right direction towards whatever it is that you want to go after, towards facing your fears.

Back to the example that I gave you, the action that I took was my friends said, “Hey, your outcast fear is holding you back. You are afraid of rejection and you’re not putting yourself out there, so what you need to do is go pitch yourself to 20 people in the next 24 hours even through you know you’ll be rejected.”

My choice at that point was to say, “Whatever, you guys are full of it and I don’t care because I’m not going to do it,” because literally it was terrifying to me. It was panic-inducing fear of just the thought of that. As they were confronting me, I was standing up. I was pacing around the room. My arms were crossed. There was yelling going on. I did not want to do this.

My choice then was to ignore them completely and to not do it and to sit in my fear or my choice was to take action and to actually do that thing that they were challenging me to do. I took the action. What I realized is that once again, action is the antidote to fear. As I took the action, that was the cure, taking a step, doing the thing that you’re afraid of.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” That is it. That’s the answer most of the time to fear is to just – sometimes it just has to be the tiniest step in the right direction. Sometimes that’s all you can do is the tiniest step in the right direction, but just taking that step will give you the courage to take the next step and then the next step. Courage is like a muscle, so the more you exercise it, the stronger it’s going to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and that’s interesting when you talk about fear and how it manifests you said that you were terrifying and panic inducing. I guess – I don’t experience that much when it comes to stuff, but I think my fear can show up as kind of discomfort and resistance. It’s like, “Eh, I don’t really know about that just yet. There’s probably something better/different/alternative a little later.” That’s interesting.

Could you maybe talk about sort of the flavors by which fear is being experienced because I think maybe if some folks are saying, “Hm, I don’t really experience that panic-inducing thing much. I guess I don’t have fear.” What would you say to them?

Ruth Soukup
Well, fear happens on different levels for different people too. It’s important to realize that too, which is one really cool thing about our fear assessment is that it will actually give you a measure of your overall level of fear and how much it might be impacting you. Some people score off the charts in certain archetypes, some people are fairly low in all of them and there’s one that’s a little more prevalent, but it’s still fairly low. In that case, you might not be experiencing fear in that way.

Now, for me, my outcast is off the charts and everything else for me is fairly low. It really, really depends on where you’re scoring for that. Like you said, it might just be a resistance or something where you avoid things because you don’t want to do them and you just think, “Hm, I don’t really want to do them,” and you’re not even necessarily identifying it as a specific fear in your life and yet it’s holding you back because you’re not doing it. You’re not taking that action. You’re not taking that step.

In that case, you’re probably a little bit luckier because if you’re not having that panic-inducing fear that’s really holding you back, then that’s a little bit easier to say, “Okay, I’m going to take this step. I’m going to take this action and see how it goes.” The more you’re willing to do that, the more you’re willing to take that action, the better the results are and the more you realize, “Oh, I don’t have to let this fear hold me back,” or “Oh, this really isn’t as bad as I thought it’s going to be.”

For you, as being a procrastinator slash perfectionist, the best thing that you could possibly do is to push yourself to make some mistakes and to be okay with making mistakes because every time you do something and make a mistake and it’s not the end of the world, it helps you develop that capacity and the ability to next time realize, “Okay, I can do this and if I make a mistake, it’s not going to be the end of the world.

If I put myself out there before I have six million or seven million listeners to my podcast, and they say no, that’s not the end of the world. I can always ask again and I can always ask again. It’s not that big of a deal. Depending on where you fall within your archetype and the level, it really depends on then what the solution and the cure is.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny, Ruth, when you say I can always ask again, that strikes me as a profound revelation.

Ruth Soukup
Really?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It was like, “Oh yeah, I guess you can,” which is interesting. That kind of gets me thinking that another potential antidote here is just some of the conversation. You’ve mentioned you’ve got your accountability or mastermind posse, The Truth Seekers, The Truth Club?

Ruth Soukup
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And that helped out right there.

Ruth Soukup
And that is actually one of the universal recommendations also is to create accountability in your life, to put people in your life who will speak truth to you. That’s not always easy because there’s a lot of people who don’t want to tell us the truth, who don’t want to be confrontational and a lot of times we surround ourselves intentionally with people who will tell us what we want to hear.

Intentionally putting people in your life who will push back, who will give you the honest truth, who won’t always just tell you what you want to hear, but will actually push to make you better, that is so, so important.

It is one of the best things that you can ever do for yourself is to create accountability partners in your life or to find those people that you can really trust to say the things that nobody else will say to you because those are the people that are going to push you to be your best self and to push past your comfort zone into the place where you’re pushing past fear.

That’s also the place where all the good stuff happens, where you get to go after your biggest goals and dreams and actually create the life that you love.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, well, I’m all about doing just that, so great perspective there. Hugely transformative. I want to talk a bit more about the tiny step business. If folks are – I think that’s one great tactic right there. It’s like, identifying what’s the tiniest possible step. Then if folks are even scared to take that tiny possible step, what do you do? Is there any particular mantras or mottos or kind of power up tips?

Ruth Soukup
My mantra is definitely ‘Do it scared.’ Honestly, that sounds so simple and obviously that’s the title of the book. That’s the title of my podcast. But truly that mantra works whether you’re 10 years old or 100 years old. It really does.

I see it all the time because ‘Do it scared’ has been my own personal motto for so long. It’s been one of the core values of my company since I started my company and then it’s something that I really seen be embraced by the members in my community.

I see all the time in our Facebook groups, people say, “Oh, Ruth says ‘Do it scared.’ I’m doing it scared. This is my do it scared moment.” Even my daughter, we went a few weeks ago to one of those high ropes course things. She’s like, “Mommy, I was so scared, but I just kept saying ‘Do it scared, do it scared, do it scared’ the whole time. ‘Do it scared’ that’s all I could think. ‘Do it scared’ and then I was brave enough to do it.”

Sometimes you just need to chant that in your head. Really what that means is that courage doesn’t mean that you’re never afraid. Courage is taking action despite your fear. It’s doing the one thing and then doing the next thing. Sometimes you just have to tell yourself that over and over, “I just have to take this one step. If I can take this one step, then I can take the next one.”

I think sometimes also we think that we have to have everything all figured out. That is especially true when it comes to these creating goals and dreams for our lives or having these goals and dreams in our head that we were too afraid to pursue.

We don’t pursue them because we think we’re supposed to know every step along the way and that we have to have it perfect and that we have to – we’re afraid of what people are going to say about us or say to us or that they won’t understand or they won’t get it or that we’ll get it wrong. There’s all of these fears that come into play sometimes all at the same time, sometimes one more prevalently than others.

But really, we don’t have to have it all figured out all at once. We just have to take one step. Sometimes when you take that one step, the next step becomes more clear and then the next step becomes more clear after that. Before you know it, you look back and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I did all of that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. You also talk about developing core beliefs that help us overcome fear. I imagine some beliefs get shaped just by taking those actions over time repeatedly. Do you have any other approaches to go about forming and strengthening these core beliefs?

Ruth Soukup
Well, yeah, so in the book, Do it Scared, I talk about the principles of courage. There’s several that are really important. Some we’ve sort of touched on a little bit. One is there are no mistakes, only lessons.

That one is – for somebody like yourself, that’s a really important one. In fact, it sort of came out when I said, “What’s the worst that can happen? You can always just ask again.” That was a revelation to you to realize if it goes wrong the first time, you can always try it again. You can always try something else. There’s no time and there’s no mistake that’s so big that you can’t recover from. I feel like I’m living proof of that.

I actually talk about this quite extensively in the book, but when I was in my early 20s, I went through a terrible depression, really, really bad. It was my senior year of college. I ended up attempting suicide multiple times, ended up hospitalized for almost two and a half years, had multiple suicide attempts in that time. It was just really, really, really bad. As bad as you can imagine a depression would be, that was it.

At the end of it, found myself divorced, bankrupt, completely alone. All the people who had tried to be my friends along the way, I had either made them so mad or so frustrated that they had pretty much abandoned me, had nothing left. I had no money. I had no education because I had dropped out of school.

I literally had nothing and somehow from that managed by taking one step and then the next step and then the next step after that over a course of several years, ended up finding my way back to having, first of all, a normal life and then finishing school and getting married and having two beautiful kids and then starting a business that has now grown to be this seven-figure empire.

I really look at that as kind of the proof that if you think that – as badly as you think that you’ve screwed up in your life, I promise you it’s probably not as bad as I screwed up. And if I can go from that hot mess that I was 15 years ago to where I am today, then there really is hope for anyone on the planet. And that’s where it’s so important to just take one step and the next step and the next step after that.

I truly believe in my heart of hearts that there are no mistakes, only lessons and if you can start to adapt that mentality, then you stop fearing that you were going to make a mistake. That’s such a big fear for so many people is this fear of making a mistake, but realizing that every mistake you make brings you to the next point in your life and you can look back and go, “Oh, that was amazing. I learned from that. Now I can take it and do my next thing.”

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

Ruth Soukup
Well, I want to make sure that you know that Do It Scared is available wherever books are sold.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, we got it. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ruth Soukup
Favorite quote. I think I already shared it, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

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

Ruth Soukup
I’ve got to say – well, aside from this fear research that we’ve done recently, I really love the research that Jim Collins does in all of his books, but especially in Good to Great and Built to Last. Those are two of my favorite business books. I read them all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Ruth Soukup
Favorite tool. Oh my goodness, I think the Freedom app is pretty amazing. It keeps me focused on a daily basis. I don’t know if you’ve used that before. You can connect it on to all of your devices and then set the timer and it locks you out of all distractions while you try to focus.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Ruth Soukup
Getting up at four AM every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I have to ask about this in more detail. When do you go to sleep at night?

Ruth Soukup
Usually by nine.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, okay. That works out. Any naps in the day?

Ruth Soukup
Nope, no naps. I am not a napper. The only time I ever nap is if I’m sick.

But yes, I am a morning person to the core. Sometimes I even get up at three just because I feel like it. I really do like getting up early. I love having the time in the morning when nobody else is up and the whole world is just yours. I find that that’s my time to get my best work done and just have the quiet where no one else on the planet is crazy enough to get up that early, so it’s all mine.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you wake up without an alarm, just naturally at about that time?

Ruth Soukup
I use the Sleep Cycle app, which is another one of my favorite tools, but, honestly, I don’t usually set my alarm on the weekends and I still wake up that early.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, cool. Well, nice work. Now could you share with us a favorite nugget, something you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get retweeted frequently?

Ruth Soukup
My favorite nugget is “Action is the antidote to fear.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was totally already planning on using it as the pulled quote for our episode, so it’s a good one.

Ruth Soukup
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
You have great taste. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Ruth Soukup
Absolutely. Definitely go to DoItScared.com. That’s where you can find out more about the book. You can find the podcast and you can take the assessment and find out your fear archetype.

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

Ruth Soukup
I think that it’s really important to find out where fear is impacting your life so that you can be more awesome at your job. It truly is – it’s amazing once you start to identify those patterns in your life, how it sort of changes everything and can help you break through any of the resistance that you’ve been facing.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Ruth this has been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck and adventures as you do things scared and come out the other side. It’s been a treat.

Ruth Soukup
Thanks so much for having me. It was great to be here.