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687: How to Combat Stress and Prioritize Your Wellbeing with Naz Beheshti

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Executive wellness coach Naz Beheshti offers her top tips on how to take your well-being into your own hands.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to nourish your inner coach while silencing your inner critic 
  2. The ACE method to combat stress
  3. An easy trick to boost your energy 

 

About Naz

Naz Beheshti is the author of Pause. Breathe.Choose.: Become the CEO of Your Well-Being. She is an executive wellness coach, speaker, Forbes contributor, CEO, and founder of Prananaz, a corporate wellness company improving leadership effectiveness, employee well-being and engagement, and company culture. Clients include Nike, JPMorgan Chase, First Republic Bank, Skadden, UCSC, and Columbia University.  

Her work has been widely featured in the media, including CNBC, Forbes, BBC, Yahoo, Entrepreneur, Inc., Fast Company, and many more. Naz also cofounded Rise2Shine, a nonprofit helping to alleviate the suffering of young children in Haiti. Visit her online at http://www.NazBeheshti.com. 

Resources Mentioned

Naz Beheshti Interview Transcript

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

Naz Beheshti
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to hear what you have to say. And I’d love to start by talking about Steve Jobs, your first boss and mentor. Can you tell us a bit about how he’s shaped your views on work and life?

Naz Beheshti
Steve was my first boss and mentor so he had a highly influential role in my life. I mean, right out of college at the young age of 21, he influenced the most profound lesson that I had learned, and it was through him, which is “Wellbeing drives success.” And at that age and at that time, that wasn’t at the forefront by any means, but through example, he really led a holistic approach to wellbeing, and that wellbeing is what drove his success. So, I really learned the most profound lesson from him, so it was really influential and impactful for me to have crossed paths with Steve.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And while we’re reminiscing a bit, any particular memories, anecdotes, things that were strikingly pleasant, or unpleasant yet helpful, as you think about your time with Steve?

Naz Beheshti
Well, I remember the time when I was working for him, and I discovered that my version of healthy was Steve’s version of garbage, quite literally, and I shared this in my book. One day, I thought I would surprise him with an oatmeal-raisin cookie as a healthy option for dessert, and later that day, I noticed the entire cookie, not a bite taken out, but the entire cookie in his trash can. So, that was a first red flag that I actually wasn’t as healthy as I thought, and that my version of healthy was, quite literally, Steve’s version of garbage.

Pete Mockaitis
Did you discuss it at all?

Naz Beheshti
No, I was quite embarrassed actually, and I just made a mental note never to give him an oatmeal-raisin cookie ever again. He was extremely health-conscious and that healthy version of that cookie was just like, I guess, too much sugar and not-so healthy for him.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what it also makes me think about is just how decisive that is in terms of, like, “This cookie going directly to the garbage.”

Naz Beheshti
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“No need to think about it. No need to take a bite out of it.” Sometimes I feel that way about, like I get gifts that I don’t want, so apologies to family and friends who are listening to this, and so it’s like I almost feel sort of like obligated to not get rid of it immediately, it’s like, “Well, you know, it was nice of them to think about it.” But there are times, I know that this has no place in my life or my home. The proper decision would be to remove it immediately via donation or whatever.

Naz Beheshti
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And he did it.

Naz Beheshti
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, let’s talk about your book Pause. Breathe. Choose. This is a great message. I’m intrigued. And so, what is the core idea or thesis here within “Pause. Breathe. Choose.”?

Naz Beheshti
Well, the key to thriving in today’s high-pressure culture is to cultivate deep self-awareness and strong emotional intelligence, which really facilitates making mindful choices that transform your life. So, one conscious choice begets another. So, Pause. Breathe. Choose. is a roadmap for authentic self-discovery, better choices, and purposeful growth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so tell us, how do we go about doing some of that good stuff?

Naz Beheshti
It’s a holistic approach to wellbeing. And the MAP method is really a holistic approach to living your best life. So, I’ll start with the MAP being an acronym. For M, M is for master mindfulness, and really, mastering mindfulness is fundamental to the method because when you’re more mindful, you’re able to make better choices. That leads you to the A, which is applying better choices to manage stress and build resilience and the seven As. And then the P is for promoting yourself to the CEO of your wellbeing, and the three Ps. So, when you combine those three parts of the MAP method and implement them, you’re really going to be thriving in all aspects of your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, let’s talk about mastering mindfulness. I guess maybe, first, can you define mindfulness? How do you know if you got it, if you don’t, and how to get more of it?

Naz Beheshti
Yeah. So, mindfulness really, in a nutshell, is presence of heart. It’s really about awakening your mind and your heart from autopilot, and that enables you to experience life unfolding in the present moment. So, the mindfulness unlocks your ability to tap into your intuition and creativity so that you can receive new information and develop new perspectives with a beginner’s mind. And that’s really what mindfulness is all about.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that sounds great. If I want to do that, where should I start?

Naz Beheshti
I always say to start small, so start with two minutes of a seated meditation which there are so many different types of meditations out there, and I would say experiment with the different types. Maybe start with an app like Calm or Headspace. But, also, if you don’t want to do that, an alternative would be to just sit quietly and focus on your breath, and just allow whatever thoughts that come and go to just do that exactly – come and go. Just acknowledge them and, without any judgment, without labeling them, without any continued thought about it, just acknowledging that thought and then releasing it and then coming back to your breath.

So, in my sessions with my clients, we always start with a two-minute guided meditation, and I guide them through this process. And one of the visualizations I use that’s really helpful for my clients is that we get in a comfortable seated position, and then I ask them to take a few deep breaths, inhale, exhale, and then imagine a balloon in the sky, putting any of those thoughts or any sounds that may disrupt the pattern of the breath into the balloon, and then just allowing it to float away. So, the point is to acknowledge your thoughts and then put them into that balloon, and let them go, and then return back to your breath.

So, acknowledge, let go, return, and the focus will be on your breath. So, even that tiny visualization of the balloon could help because so many people think, “Oh, I can’t meditate. I think too much. I can’t sit still for that long.” So, starting small and having a visualization of that balloon, or whatever it is that works for you, to actually contain those thoughts and allow them to let them go, and just float away and come back to your breath.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now, when one does this with regularity, what is the difference it makes, I guess, in terms of mental ability, capacity? If you think about it as an exercise, like if I’m strengthening biceps with a bicep curl, if I’m strengthening my mind by using this sort of approach, what does that mean for me, practically speaking?

Naz Beheshti
Well, mindfulness can literally reshape and rewire the brain through neuroplasticity in which new habits reorganize or rewire neural connections. So, a consistent meditation practice pretty much gives us the opportunity to be proactive in changing our brain and increasing our wellbeing and quality of life, and there’s research that supports that as well.

And in terms of your health, your creativity, decision-making, being less risk-reactive, these are all many ways that mindfulness can help. Consistent practice in mindfulness is key, not just practicing once a week or twice a week, but daily or at least six days a week is key.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some examples in terms of perhaps it’s the decision-making and the reactivity? Like, what would life and your brain look and feel and sound like pre-meditation practice versus post-meditation practice if it’s doing its job? Like, how do we know it’s working?

Naz Beheshti
Well, I can give you the example of myself which was more reactive back years ago. I started meditation back in 2010, and prior to that, I was doing a bunch of yoga, daily yoga, so that really helped. But, before that, I tended to be…I’m very type A, and on the go, and perfectionist, and very fast-paced life, and I was very reactive when I was younger. And so, when someone would…I had very little patience.

So, if someone wasn’t doing their job or doing what they said they were going to do, I would be more irritable and reactive, and kind of tell them what I thought rather than taking a breath, and just pausing, and responding in a more compassionate way rather than reacting with a negative tone or with negative words, and not understanding and having compassion for that person. I’m much more, or less reactive, and more compassionate since then.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, reactive might sound like, “Hey, you idiot, why did you screw that up again?” And then the post-meditative response can be like, “Hey, I noticed this. What’s going on?”

Naz Beheshti
Yes. Yes. Or, “I’m just curious how this outcome turned out this way,” “I’m curious,” or, “Yes, could you please explain?” rather than, “I can’t believe you did this,” or, “That’s shocking,” or something like that, yes. So, it’s definitely a help in that respect. As far as decision-making, meditation brings extreme clarity. So, when you are able to quiet the chatter of the mind and kind of, like I was saying earlier, my definition of mindfulness is aligning your mind with your heart.

So, a lot of us work, operate, and speak, and think only from the mind without that connection to the heart. So, we are able to quiet our mind and go deeper into our authentic selves. So, the reason mastering mindfulness really is about discovering your authentic self, because you’re quieting all the chatter of the mind and the external stuff that’s just really loud and keeps echoing in your mind, it’s not necessarily your true essence, your true self because it’s too loud to get deeper to who you truly are. But mindfulness and meditation quiets that and then allows you to tap into your truest desire, your authentic self.

And so then, that also brings a lot of clarity, and then you’re able to make decisions with confidence, and you’re very tapped into your gut, your intuition, whatever you want to call it, and so decision-making becomes stronger and just faster and better and with more confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then you talked about your true self and essence and such, and you’ve got some terms – the inner coach and the inner critic. Can you expand upon these, and tell us to have some more good inner coach conversations and fewer not-so-great inner critic conversations?

Naz Beheshti
Right. So, like two dogs inside you competing for attention, you have an inner coach, the good dog, and an inner critic, the bad dog. The inner coach represents positivity and eustress, the good stress, and the growth mindset, while the inner critic represents negativity, distress and limiting beliefs. And what’s crucial is, it’s crucial to remember that the dog you feed determines the kind of life you lead.

When we choose to feed the good dog and view the world through the eyes of the inner coach, we feel more in control of our life, and we tend to view challenges as opportunities, not threats. So, we essentially harness the positive energy of acute stress and eustress, and can avoid chronic stress, and then we eventually see ourselves as continually evolving and focused on improving ourselves when we are in tuned with that inner coach more. And it all stems from mindfulness.

So, if we’re not mindful, the inner critic, the bad dog, might be barking and telling us, “You suck. You did that wrong. You’re going to blow this,” and that’s the default voice that we hear in our head if we’re not mindful to catch that, and be like, “Oh, that’s the bad dog. That’s the inner critic. I’m going to stop feeding that dog and awaken the inner coach, and start listening to the inner coach,” which is coaching you through it and saying not focusing on the bad, but saying, “You’ll learn from whatever you did last time and not do it again next time. You’ve got this. You’re awesome. What lesson could you learn from this, from many negative experiences that happened?” And it’s really talking to you with a growth mindset rather than through limiting beliefs which is the inner critic.

Pete Mockaitis
So, mindfulness enables you to sort of see it and catch it in the moment and make a shift. And any other pro tips for identifying and catching yourself as it happens? Or, any sort of telltale signs, like, “Oh, wait a second, I’m doing that thing again. I’m going to choose to not do that”?

Naz Beheshti
Well, so when you find yourself kind of spiraling or ruminating, and you’re just kind of stuck with the same kind of negative thought pattern, and you just keep replaying something that happened at work or a conversation you had that wasn’t very positive, or maybe you had like a great meeting, and then one negative thing happened, maybe you said something wrong, like you identified something that wasn’t accurate, or like you’re giving a presentation and you said the wrong numbers by mistake, but everything else went really well, but then your inner critic is going to only focused on that one part that was like five seconds versus the rest of the hour that went really well, and you’re going to just continue to ruminate over that, so then you start realizing, you start feeling bad.

And so, just checking in with how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. So, I have these…one of the things I do throughout the day is I do mindful self-check ins, what I call mindful self-check in, which really is just asking myself rapid-fire questions throughout the day. And this could help catch you when you’re ruminating or stressed or spending too much time in one area. And you just ask yourself, “How am I feeling? What am I thinking? Am I breathing? Am I thirsty?” and just check in with yourself, and just rapid-fire questions and address however you’re feeling in that time, and that will give you an opportunity to shift and shift out of that negative state.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Thank you. And you’ve got an approach to reframe stress. How do we make stress our friend?

Naz Beheshti
Yes, that’s the ACE method. It’s the new way of reframing stress which is very effective to upgrade both your mindset and your behavior. So, the ability to distinguish between different kinds of stress – being acute, chronic, and eustress, also stands for ACE – allows you to perceive stress as a challenge rather than an obstacle.

So, once you understand the type of stress you’re facing, then you can identify the actual stressors and their source and take empowered actions. So, it’s a three-step process. You can ace stress using the three-step ACE method through awareness, change, and empowerment. So, one is be aware of the signs and the symptoms, so the stressor, and identify the type, as I mentioned, and the source of stress.

Step two would be to change your mindset. Choose to reframe the stress using an upgraded mindset so that you can identify your options or opportunities both in mindset and behavior. And then, lastly, step three is to take empowered and effective action. And sometimes that’s just about shifting your mindset. It’s about choosing to shift your mindset if you can’t actually change a situation or the circumstance. There are just some things that are out of our control that we cannot change but we can always change our mindset around it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you walk us through an example of it’s a stressor and then the shift in mindset and the impact that makes?

Naz Beheshti
Right. So, I share a story in the book about how I was on my way to one of my clients to teach a stress management workshop, and I was so stressed, I found myself so stressed on my way to teach a stress management workshop, but I applied my own methods en route to this workshop that I was doing. What happened was that the subway system, I was in New York City and the subways were really delayed, and then they skipped a stop that I was supposed to get off of, and it wasn’t an express train so I didn’t understand. It was very surprising and it wasn’t accounted for in the time that I needed to get there so I found myself very late, and I was really stressing out.

And while I was stressing out in the subway as it flew by my stop, I decided that there was nothing I could do. I was literally stuck in the subway. I couldn’t jump out. I couldn’t change the time and go back in time, and I just accepted that I was going to be late to my workshop that I was teaching. So, what I did was I shifted my mindset by actually sitting quietly. I closed my eyes and I used the pause-breathe-choose method. And I literally took a pause, closed my eyes, focused on my breath, and just continued breathing. And I did a little mini-meditation in the subway until the next stop and that really calmed me down. And I was able to shift that stressor to really understand that, again, there are some things out of my control.

It was in my control earlier. I can’t go back. I can’t redo that. So, I can only show up as my best self, so I was preparing myself to show up grounded, calm, not frazzled. And so, I just applied pause-breathe-choose, and I did that in the subway, and I actually showed up after some time and I made a joke out of it, like, “I found myself really stressed out. Here, I am, teaching stress management, but the pause-choose-breathe method did work, and it can work for anyone at any time, and it’s there with you.”

You always have your breath. It’s there. It’s just about being conscious about it and choosing to be mindful to know, “I’m going to take a pause right now and I’m going to breathe consciously, and then I’m going to choose how I want to move forward.” And I chose to move forward with acceptance of the situation, I chose to move forward with peace, and just to make the best of the situation.

Pete Mockaitis
And in terms of sort of the effective choice behavior piece of things, with the ACE, I imagine within that realm there’s like, “Hey, no, I’m going to be late,” and so they’ve got their heads up.” I found my own experience of being late, like that makes all the difference. It’s just like I keep stewing up, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going to be late.” They’ll be like, “What’s up with this guy? He’s so unprofessional.” And then I just sort of change the expectation, like, “Hey, guys, unfortunately this is what’s up. I got caught in a bunch of snow, whatever.”

And then they’re like, “Okay.” And now they know and I’m not worried about how I’m about to…it’s like, “I’m going to disappoint them, I’m going to disappoint them, I’m in the process of disappointing them. They’re going to be furtherly disappointed that I thought they were going to be one minute ago based on this delay,” versus, “Oh, well, now there’s a new expectation set, so we’re all good.”

Naz Beheshti
Right. And I, of course, immediately, when I had reception, texted them and let them know that I’m running late. But, yeah, that inner critic could be like, “Gosh, you’re so unprofessional. You’re late. You’re going to be stressed at your own stress management workshop. You should’ve left earlier. This is your fault.” And then it started pouring rain out of nowhere, and I didn’t have an umbrella. So, not only was I late, I was drenched when I showed up, so I had to regroup in the elevator, I just had a couple floors to regroup and I did. I made it work and I always remember that.

And now I try not to be late, but it’s not even about that. It’s about when you do find yourself in that situation, because no one’s perfect, and it may not be about being late, it might be something else, you have the tools. When you have the tools and you’re mindful to use those tools, then you could show up as your best self, not frazzled or upset.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m also curious to get your take about some energy management. What are your top tips for experiencing a boatload of energy?

Naz Beheshti
Okay. So, I would say that, first of all, getting seven to nine hours of sleep, average of eight hours of sleep a night does wonders. Sleep is the way to reboot your mind, body, and creativity, so sleep is essential. But, also, finding your energy sweet spot. So, everyone has their own energy sweet spot, and that is when you feel most energized. Some people feel most energized in the morning, some in the afternoon, some in the evening. So, learning, “I already know when that is.” If not, just kind of take note throughout the day when you feel most energized. Sometimes there’s peaks and valleys of your energy.

But when you are most energized, that’s when I always encourage listeners, people, my clients, to do their tasks that are least desirable for them. Or the things that they procrastinate the most, do it when they’re most energized because, then, procrastination is limited. Because when you’re not energized and you still have a bunch of things to do, especially if there are things you don’t want to do, you’re going to push them out and have more reason to procrastinate because you’re just tired. So, finding your energy sweet spot and doing those things during that time is really beneficial to being productive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Naz Beheshti
Well, I would say that my book offers over 80 proven tools and strategies to improve yourself and your workplace to achieve a sustainable success, so I highly encourage listeners to check it out so that you can become the CEO of your wellbeing and be awesome at your job.

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

Naz Beheshti
My favorite quote is, “Live well. Laugh often. Love much.”

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

Naz Beheshti
My favorite study is a study that shows how critical connection to others are, our relationships, how critical it is to our health. So, the world’s longest longitudinal study on happiness began in 1938 and it’s still running strong, which I find fascinating. It’s done by Robert J. Waldinger, a psychiatrist and Harvard professor. And he sums up the biggest lessons in his popular TED Talk by saying, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. And loneliness is toxic.” And I just find that really so true.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Naz Beheshti
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which was also published by New World Library.

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

Naz Beheshti
I would have to say my PBC method, my pause-breathe-choose. It’s a powerful method for translating mindfulness into action, and really taking ownership of your wellbeing so that you could be present and make better choices.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect with your audience; they retweet it; they quote it back to you frequently?

Naz Beheshti
Yeah, so since my book has come out, I get a lot of retweets for “We prioritize doing well over being well, but the truth is we can have both, success and wellbeing.”

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

Naz Beheshti
My website, my corporate website for my corporate wellness company, Prananaz.com, or you can learn more about me and my book at NazBeheshti.com. I’m also on all social media as NazBeheshti, or I think Facebook it’s NazBeheshtiSpeaker, but everywhere else it’s NazBeheshti.

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

Naz Beheshti
I would say tell the listeners commit to your self-care and wellbeing as a non-negotiable. So, you have the power and the choice to be the CEO of your wellbeing and take charge of all areas of your life so that you can truly live your best life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Naz, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck with your pausing, breathing, and choosing.

Naz Beheshti
Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

683: How to Break Free from Negative Self-talk and Chatter with Ethan Kross

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Ethan Kross breaks down the science behind negative self-talk and how to change the way you engage with your inner voice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How chatter takes over and undermines us 
  2. Four simple ways to put a stop to chatter
  3. Why venting hurts more than helps

About Ethan

Ethan Kross is one of the world’s leading experts on controlling the conscious mind. An award-winning professor and bestselling author in the University of Michigan’s top ranked Psychology Department and its Ross School of Business, he studies how the conversations people have with themselves impact their health, performance, decisions and relationships. 

Ethan’s research has been published in ScienceThe New England Journal of Medicine, and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, among other peer-reviewed journals. He has participated in policy discussion at the White House and has been interviewed on CBS Evening NewsGood Morning AmericaAnderson Cooper Full Circle, and NPR’s Morning Edition. His pioneering research has been featured in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe New Yorker, Harvard Business ReviewUSA TodayThe Economist, The AtlanticForbes, and Time. 

Ethan lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two daughters. 

Resources Mentioned

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Ethan Kross Interview Transcript

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

Ethan Kross
Thanks for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. I’ve been listening to your book and I think maybe the place we need to start is with you sharing a bit of the backstory behind why you did a Google search for bodyguards for professors.

Ethan Kross
Well, I think I need to add the clarification that I considered the Google search. There was that word in the book. I did type it out and did not hit send because, in the moment, I thought that might lead to some negative consequences. So, the backstory here, the very quick version of this story is about 10 years ago, my colleagues and I published a paper that ended up getting a lot of attention.

It was a neuroscience experiment in which we showed that the overlap between the experience of emotional pain, so the pain you might feel when you’re socially rejected or, to use the more technical term, you’re dumped, that that emotional experience resembled, to some degree, the experience of physical pain when you look at underlying neural activity in the brain.

And so, I did a bunch of interviews on this. One of them, or a few of them, were on TV, and life was really exciting for a couple of days. And then, about a week after, all of the press surrounding this study subsided, I walked into my department, checked my mailbox, and there was a letter hand-addressed to me that, when I opened it, I discovered it was a pretty ugly threatening message – letter – directed at me. The kind of letter that I showed to a few colleagues and the recommendation was to go to the police and ask them what to do.

So, it was a pretty significant event that really got my inner monologue or the negative side of it, the chatter, brewing. And I’ll never forget, I think I mentioned this in the book, that when I spoke to the police officer after showing them the letter, the first thing they said to me was, “Well, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about this. This happens every now and again when someone gets in the spotlight but, just to be safe, you might want to make sure you drive home from work a different way each day for the next two weeks.”

And the irony there is that, at the time, I lived about four or five blocks away from my office, so there weren’t that many routes that I could actually take home. So, for the next two or three nights I spent the early morning hours not sleeping and, instead, pacing the house with a baseball bat. My wife and I just had our first child, and I was on protector duty, and really concerned about their welfare.

And, at a moment of real anxiety at two or three in the morning, I had this epiphany that, “Hey, maybe I should do a little Google search for bodyguards for academics.” And as soon as I typed that out, there was actually a turning point, I realized, I actually said, “Ethan, what are you doing? This is lunacy.” And I thought through the situation in my head that way. And that helped snap me out of it, for reasons we’ll maybe talk about a little bit later.

I had stumbled on a tool, in that moment, for managing my chatter that ended up being quite effective and led me to put the baseball bat away. Though, you should know, it still resides beneath our bed in our bedroom, just in case.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s a lot there and, yeah, it does tee up a great tool that we’ll talk about, that third person, and using your own name there, and how that helps gain distance, but I would love to zoom out a little bit. So, when you say chatter, how precisely do you define it? And just what’s at stake here when it comes to our internal monologues going well or not so well? How much of a big deal is that for folks?

Ethan Kross
Quite precisely, chatter is the dark side of the inner voice. And, specifically, what I mean when I use the term chatter, I use that term to describe getting stuck in a negative thought loop. So, you’re experiencing some kind of adversity in your life, whether it be in your personal life, your relationships, work, and many people, when they experience problems, they reflexively turn their attention inward to make sense of the situation, to come up with a solution for how to respond.

But rather than come up with a solution, rather than use this brain that we have to problem-solve, we end up getting stuck, thinking about the problem over and over again in ways that don’t make it better but actually just keep us where we were. That’s what chatter is. If it’s about the future, sometimes you can call that worry, if you’re perhaps worrying about the future and what might happen. If it’s about the past, people tend to call that rumination. The common theme is you’re looping over and over again, and you can’t stop thinking about it.

In terms of what is at stake here, I think this is one of the big problems that we face as a species, human beings. I think it’s one of our big problems. In the book, I talk about the three domains that chatter targets and really sinks us. So, first, it undermines our ability to think and perform at work, on the ballfield. We’ve got a limited amount of attention that we can devote to thinking through things at any given moment in time. When all of that attention is focused on our worries, guess what, there’s not a whole lot left over to do our jobs.

The real-world example I like to give people to really drive that point home is to ask people, ask listeners, to think about a time when they tried to read a few pages in a book when they were experiencing chatter. You’re sure you’ve read those pages, the words have crossed through your eye gaze, but you get to the end and you don’t remember anything you’ve read. The reason that happens is an incredibly common experience. It’s because chatter was consuming our attention. We’re not actually focusing on what we were doing. So, it could be a huge problem at work.

We also know that chatter can undermine our relationships with other people, and it can do so through a few different pathways. One issue that we see happening is when people are experiencing chatter, they’re intensely motivated to talk about it with other people to get help from them. But one of the problems is, once you find a person to talk to, you keep talking about the problem over and over and over again, and that can, unfortunately, push away other people, even those people who really want to help. There’s often just so much that another person can endure.

There’s also the related situation of listening to another person tell something to you but your mind is somewhere else. So, you’re sitting at the dinner table with your family, your kids are telling you about all the fun they had during the day, and they get to the end of the story and you, then, would say, “Hey, so what happened today?” They’ve told you about what was happening in their life, you were there, but you really weren’t engaged and you really weren’t listening. We know chatter can create friction in social relationships as a result.

Then the final domain that it impacts is our physical health and, here, the effects can be quite profound. So, we often hear that stress kills, I’d like to say that that’s a bit of a misnomer. Stress can actually be really helpful in small doses. Our stress response mobilizes us to deal with a threat in our environment. When stress becomes toxic is when it becomes chronic, so when our stress response goes up and then it remains chronically elevated over time.

And that’s what chatter does because we experience something stressful in our life or we imagine something stressful, and then we keep on harping on it over and over and over again. The chatter in that situation, what it’s doing, is it is maintaining our stress response, and that’s how you get things, get to situations where you get links between chronic stress and disorders of the body, like problems of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and certain kinds of inflammation.

So, if we zoom out, you asked me, “What’s at stake here?” Our ability to think and perform, our relationships, and our health. I think these are three of the domains that really make life worth living for many of us and chatter exerts its tentacles around all of them, which is a big part of why I’ve devoted my career towards trying to figure out what you can do to regain control of your inner voice, your inner monologue when chatter strikes. And the good news is that there are, in fact, lots of things you can do, lots of science-based tools people can implement.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Pete Mockaitis wants to understand these tools. And how about we start with the third person or talking to yourself with “you”? What’s the story here? And how does it work?

Ethan Kross
Well, so just to give listeners a framework, because I think these frameworks help organize these tools so there are lots and lots of tools that exists, that scientists have discovered. And I like to organize and it’s thrown into three buckets – things you can do on your own, ways of harnessing your relationships, and ways of interacting with physical spaces.

The tool that you just mentioned, what we call distance self-talk, what that involves is trying to coach yourself through a problem using your name and the second-person pronoun “you” rather than thinking through your problems as we normally do in the first person. So, “Alright, Ethan, how are you going to manage a situation?” rather than thinking, “What am I going to do? How am I going to manage a situation?”

One of the things we know from lots of research is that it is much easier for us to advise other people, to give wise advice to other people, than it is for us to follow our own advice. And what this tool does is it harnesses the structure of language to shift our perspective, to get us to, in a certain sense, communicate with ourselves like we were communicating with another person, like a friend who we’re trying to advise.

We did lots of experiments on this over the years, and there’s a finding that really sticks out to me, which is we’ll often have people think about really painful events in their lives, things that have happened in the past that they’ve really struggled to resolve, or future events that they’re really worried about. And, in certain conditions or studies, we’ll ask people to just report what’s going through their head when they’re thinking about the problems in the first person.

And when you look at what people report, it’s astounding. People are thinking things about themselves that they would never say to another human being. Some of the thoughts, they’re really dark, they’re really ugly thoughts, and I’m not talking about vulnerable populations per se. I’m talking about everyday just people living their lives that we recruit off the street to participate in this study. Sometimes, people don’t actually feel comfortable articulating what they’re thinking about their situation because it’s so embarrassing. They don’t want to admit what they’re actually thinking to themselves.

And then we looked at how people talk to themselves when they use their own name, and we see the tenor of those conversations really shift. Now they’re giving themselves advice like they would give to their best friend. Now that doesn’t mean that they’re being very warm and jovial with themselves all the time. Sometimes they are, “It’s going to be fine. You’re a good person,” but, in many situations, the advice takes the form of, “Would you stop this silliness? Get your act together. Do it and then move on,” like a stern authority figure.

And we find that that linguistic shift, going from “I” to using your name to coach yourself through the problem, it’s an easy-to-use tool and it’s something that helps people perform well under stress and regulate their emotions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that so much because, yes, it is easy, it is well within everyone’s grasp to do so, and it makes a big impact. So, that’s gold. Lay some more on us. You’ve got three categories – things you could by yourself, and then relationships, then the environment. Can we have a couple more of things that we can just do in our own brains?

Ethan Kross
So, another thing you can do is something called temporal distancing or you could think about this as mental time travel. And this is a tool that’s often really useful for dealing with an acute stressor. What it involves doing is thinking about how you’re going to feel about the situation you’re grappling with down the road a day from now, a week from now, a year from now.

This is a tool that I relied on to help me manage the threat of COVID and the misery it brought upon me and my family, like, “Not fun. Not fun.” I mean, there were some moments of fun with COVID but, for the most part, much better to be vaccinated and have it behind us or moving in that direction.

One thing that’s important to point out about chatter is when we experience chatter, we tend to zoom in on the problem at hand, tunnel vision about what it is that’s driving us nuts. Being at home, in the case of COVID, my kids doing their homework at my ankles while I’m doing a podcast interview, sometimes flicking me at the same time.

And so, when you’re experiencing chatter, you zoom in on that situation. What can often be really useful is to do the opposite. Zoom out. Take a step back. And mental time travel provides us with one tool to do that. So, what often happens when you think about, “Well, all right. Dealing with COVID right now stinks, but how am I going to feel six months from now when my family is vaccinated and we’re traveling again and seeing family?”

What engaging in that mental simulation does, that mental time travel, it makes it clear that, as awful as the current situation is right now, it’s temporary. It will get better. And once we have that recognition, that often gives us hope, and we know that hope can be a powerful tool for helping us manage chatter. Now you can travel into the future, you can also travel into the past. So, I often also thought about like the pandemic of 1918, which was worse in terms of its public health impact and our ability to grapple with it.

And what I would remind myself is, “Yeah, things stink now but let me think. How did we deal with it back then? Hey, we got through it and we actually really persevered. Roaring ‘20s, we came back.” And so, those mental shifts, easy things to do, break you out of the immediacy of the situation, and give you access to the bigger picture. Oftentimes, when we step back and think about the bigger picture, we can find solutions to help us through our current adversity. So, that’s another quick thing you could do. And you could do both of those things interchangeably.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so when you talk about zooming out, that’s cool. We’ve got the time travel approach. What are some other ways we can get that distance and zoom out?

Ethan Kross
Well, distant self-talk would be another way of doing that. Writing expressively about what you’re going through. So, sitting down for 15 to 20 minutes to write a story that explains your predicament, that’s another zoom out technique. When you’re writing a story, when you’re journaling about your experience, the interesting thing is that stories have a character when you’re writing about yourself. You become that character so you’re put into the mode of a narrator when you’re writing expressively. That’s another zoom out technique.

A fourth would be something called adopting a fly-on-the-wall perspective. So,
Sometimes we think visually in terms of images. And when you think about painful experiences, rather than replay them happening through your own eyes, which we tend to do for any intense emotional events, you could distance in your imagination, and actually see yourself in the experience interacting with another person, let’s say it was an argument. Adopt the fly-on-the-wall perspective and then try to sort through, “Hey, why did I react the way I did? Was it appropriate? Why did my distant-self person over there do what he or she did?” That’s another way of getting distance. So, there are lots of tools that can help you do it.

Another way of doing it, which is a good segue to the second bucket of tools, is to talk to other people who are particularly adept at helping to broaden your perspective, people who can help you zoom out, so to speak. And, interestingly enough, many people don’t reflexively look to have those kinds of conversations when they’re dealing with chatter, even though science would suggest that they can be really, really helpful.

Many people think that when they’re experiencing chatter, the thing you want to do is find someone to just vent your emotions, to just find someone who’s willing to listen and then unload, let it out. There’s been a lot of research on this over the years, and what we’ve learned is that venting can be really good for strengthening the friendship bonds between two people. It can be comforting to know that there’s someone out there who’s willing to take the time to listen, to validate what we’re experiencing, to empathically connect.

But if all you do is vent in a conversation, that leads to something that we call co-rumination. It’s like throwing fuel on a burning fire. You’re just getting people to rehash all the aversive futures of that experience, so what ends up happening is you leave those conversations feeling really good about your relationship with the person you just vented to, but you haven’t done anything in that conversation to reframe how you’re thinking about the problem.

So, the best kinds of conversations do actually do two things when it comes to chatter. First, the person you’re talking to does allow you to express your feelings to a certain degree. But, at a certain point of the conversation, they try to help broaden your perspective, they try to help you zoom out, “So, Pete, you had a really inarticulate obnoxious guest on the show the other day. I mean, I get that that was really challenging, but let’s put things in perspective. You’ve done 500 plus interviews and the overall majority of them have been great, and so let’s chop this one up to a bad day.”

Or, “Here’s what I do when I interview someone and it’s not going well…” and so forth and so on. You want, at some point, shift from just listening to trying to help that person zoom out so they can ultimately work through the problem effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I’m thinking here, I’m thinking about Michael Sorensen, we got to get him on the show – validation – that you want to start with the listening and not go too quickly, I imagine, to the brainstorming, problem-solving, distance-making.

Ethan Kross
That’s right. There’s an art to doing this. And, it’s funny, as a scientist talking about art, because we scientists like to be able to timestamp things down with millisecond precision. So, I wish I could tell you that, “Here is the magic formula for being an amazing chatter advisor to someone else. Listen for one minute and 36 seconds, and then transition to helping reframe.” It’s not that simple. Depending on the person and the situation, some people are going to need more time expressing their emotions before they are ready, before they are receptive to having their perspective be broadened by you, and so you want to feel this out during the situation.

Sometimes a person will say, “Please, just help me. How can I think differently about it?” Like, that’s happened to me on many occasions, people call me with that kind of request for help. Those people are ready to launch right into the perspective broadening. In other situations, people want to talk for a while, and I’ll ask them, “Hey, do you want to just keep going or do you want me to, also, could I give you my take on this? Or do you want to keep going? Either way is fine. Just tell me what you want.” And I think people appreciate you asking them what they need, and then trying to satisfy those needs in the context of the conversation. So, there is an art to doing this well.

But let me just say, I think there’s real value in knowing about these two elements that describe what makes conversations about chatter really productive. Because what they allow you to do with someone who is experiencing chatter is they allow you to think really carefully about, “Hey, who should I go to for support? Who’s really good at both listening and they’re good at helping me broaden my perspective?”

Sometimes, the people we reflexively turn to, the people that we love and that love us, don’t fit that mold. So, I think it allows us to think carefully about who we should talk to. And, on the flipside, it gives us a rubric for how to help others when they seek out our support and how to be better advisors to others that we care about.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, any other thoughts when it comes to relationships and engaging in these conversations?

Ethan Kross
The other quick thought is that there is a caveat that I like to attach to everything I just told you about how to talk to other people about their chatter. Those principles apply to instances in which another person comes to you and explicitly asks you for support. They want to talk about their chatter. There are going to be many instances in which you and listeners see other people in your lives, whether they be colleagues or friends, loved ones, and so forth, you know they’re experiencing chatter, they’re struggling, but they don’t actually ask you explicitly for support.

Research shows that in those situations, you want to be careful about volunteering advice. Unsolicited advice in those circumstances can often backfire quite dramatically. And the reason for that is when you volunteer support and someone else doesn’t ask for it, you’re essentially, the message you’re conveying to the person you’re talking to is, “You don’t have your stuff together, so here’s what you could do.” And that can threaten a person’s sense of autonomy and what we call self-efficacy, the idea that a person is capable, they have agency to succeed in life on their own.

So, this happens a lot to parents. There’s an anecdote in the book I described which is highly relevant in my own life. I’ll see one of my daughters struggling with their homework, I’ll go, “Hey, sweetie, can I help with that problem? You know, I teach for a living. I do this stuff. Here’s another way to think about it.” And, instantly, they give me the death stare.

So, they look at me, and then it’s, “Did I ask you for help? Do you think I can’t do this myself?” Then they call my wife to get involved, and then I’m in deep trouble. So, that’s an instance where a well-intentioned act has backfired because of my misunderstanding of the social calculus about how to calibrate the way I’m interacting with this person.

So, in those instances where you see someone struggling but they don’t ask you for help, the good news is there are still things you can do to help them. We call this invisible support. And what it involves is providing those individuals with help but without making it clear that you’re doing it because they’re struggling.

So, here are a couple of concrete examples. If I see my wife just really stressed out about something happening at work, lots of chatter, I can do things like just volunteer to take care of the dry cleaning or pick up the groceries, do things to make her life easier to ease her burden. That’s one way of helping invisibly. I’m not saying, “Hey, do you want me to do stuff? I see you’re stressed out.” I’m just doing it. And by doing it, I’m taking one or two things off of her work plate that makes life easier for her.

Another concrete thing you can do is let’s say someone on your team is really struggling with a skill. So, let’s say it’s someone in my lab group their presentations, they’re not nailing it in a variety of ways. Their presentation skills are off. Rather than pulling them aside and saying, “Hey, we have to help you improve in this regard because you need to do yourself and the science…the research isn’t being communicated in a way that does it justice,” blah, blah, blah. Rather than doing something like that, which is a pretty heavy-handed intervention, I can do things like email the group and say, “Hey, I just came across these resources. I found them really useful, in case anyone wants to take a look.”

Or, if I see someone is giving a presentation on how to talk about science more effectively, I’ll send a message to the group, say, “Hey, why don’t we all go as a group? That’s really interesting. It can help us all.” I’m getting that person the information but I’m not shining a spotlight on them, and saying, “Hey, you’re not performing well in this context.” So, those are a couple kinds of invisible support.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, then let’s hear a little bit about the environment then.

Ethan Kross
So, the environments are really fun, and I just think I had so much fun researching this for the book. It was really eye-opening in many ways. In short, there are many tools that exist in the physical world around us that I was certainly blind to before doing some of this research and writing the book, and freely available things you could do to manage conversations you’re having with yourself when it becomes chatter-ific, to invent a new word.

So, one thing you can do is, well, organize a space. So, one thing that often characterizes chatter is we often feel like we’re not in control of our minds. Our minds are in control of us and our thoughts are chaotic and disordered. And what we’ve learned is you can compensate for that experience, that feeling of a lack of control and order, by exerting control around you. And one way to do that is to organize your spaces, clean up, tidy up. This is why you have a lot of people who, when they’re stressed out, reflexively turn to cleaning.

This is true, mind you, of not only those individuals who are, by their nature, like to be organized but even folks like myself who tend to be of a more take-your-clothing-off-and-leave-it-wherever-it-drops sort. Yet, when I’m experiencing chatter, I will carefully go through the house and make sure everything is put away and is well organized. Doing that provides me with a sense of control and that compensates for the lack of control that I’ll sometimes feel when I’m experiencing chatter. So, organizing your spaces, that’s one thing you can do.

Another related tool involves performing a ritual. So, ritual is a structured sequence of behaviors that we do the same way every time we engage in it, and that also provides us with a sense of order and control because those rituals are highly structured, they’re highly ordered. Research shows that rituals that are essentially transmitted to us through our culture, so religious rituals and cultural traditions, those can be useful, as can be our own idiosyncratic rituals, the ones we develop on our own.

Many athletes, for example, before they have to do something that is high stakes, like shoot a free throw or a goal kick, will perform a small ritual. And the research would suggest that the reason they do so is to provide them with that sense of control. So, those are two environments.

So, I guess the last one, to just very quickly communicate, involves interacting with nature, green spaces. Interacting with green spaces can be useful in a few different ways. One thing that going for a walk in a natural safe green space can do is restore your attention, which chatter often depletes. We spend so much time thinking about our problems, all our attention is devoted to the chatter. That can be exhausting. And what nature does is, in a very gradual gentle way, it captures our attention.

As we’re walking through the arboretums and the gardens and tree-lined streets, people’s attention tends to drift to the trees, the flowers, the shrubs. We’re not focusing really intently on, “How can I determine the chlorophyll structure of that leaf?” We’re just kind of taking it in in a gentle way and that diverts our attention away from the chatter, giving that limited resource our attention an opportunity to restore. That can be useful.

Nature also provides us with an opportunity to experience awe, an emotion that we experience when we’re in the presence of something vast and indescribable. So, many people have trouble understanding, for example, like, how a tree can exist for hundreds of years, or you stare out at an amazing sunset, or a view, like, “My God, this is remarkable. I can’t understand this natural beauty,” looking at the Grand Canyon or plug in your awe-inspiring scene.

What happens when we have that emotional experience is it leads to something called a shrinking of the self. We feel smaller when we’re contemplating something vast and indescribable. And when we feel smaller so does our chatter. And so, that’s another way that nature can help.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, what’s been on my mind lately, when you talked about nature restoring our attention in a gentle way, I’ve recently been learning about and experimenting with nature restoring my attention, in a not-so gentle way, with cold water. My barber started talking to me about Wim Hoff and I got on a kick researching all about it.

Any thoughts there with regard to just sort of like our physiological situation, I guess, in terms of like breathing and cold and nutrition? It’s almost like if our brain is like a soil and chatter is weeds, it’s like there seems to be certain conditions in our internal environment, that our external environments of course influence, that is super conducive to it and super not-so conducive to it.

Ethan Kross
Well, we know that there are certain kinds of breathing exercises, diaphragmatic breathing, pranayama which is a breathing practice popular in certain meditative traditions, that can be useful for regulating stress and chatter. And there are physiological, we might call the pathway through which those activities work is I would call like a bottom-up, so you’re changing elements of your physiology, you’re sending signals to your brain that are activating the opposite of a stress response, and those can certainly be useful. There’s a lot of data on the value of exercise and nutrition as well, so there’s no question that those are other kinds of behaviors that could be helpful.

The cold water one is a really interesting one. I do not know the literature surrounding cold water. And I think it’s interesting for a variety of reasons. I think, first, the first thing that comes to mind is I’m not aware of an automatic pathway that’s activated when you’re in the presence of something cold that would instantly lead you to feel less chatter.

I suspect that there is some way in which that activity combines with your mindset to help you feel better. Let me give you an example. If my wife, if I were to say, “Go take a cold shower each morning to help you with your chatter,” that would be close to torture for her because she hates being cold, right? So, I think a lot of people who probably use this cold-water technique are doing so with a mindset that, “This is going to improve me in some way.”

In the book, I actually have a chapter. The last chapter of the book is called Mind Magic. And what that chapter focuses on is the power of the mind to heal itself and, in particular, the power of our expectations to help us when it comes to our chatter.

And in that chapter, I tell many stories of mesmerism, going way back in time, to crystals. There are many therapies out there that have some data associated with them suggesting that they do make people feel better. But the question is, “Is it something specific about those therapies or is it that people think that doing these things are going to make them feel better?” And it’s really the thinking process, the expectation that is driving their benefits.

And so, that would be a question that comes up when it comes to hydrotherapy. But I will say this, Pete, if the cold hydrotherapy is working for you and there are no real side effects, then just run with it.

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

Ethan Kross
Well, if listeners found this interesting, they can learn more about the inner voice, what it is. I think what makes it so fascinating is that we all have this inner voice. It’s an experience that, on the one end, is very intimate but we don’t spend a whole lot talking about it with one another so it’s also shrouded in mystery. So, if you want to learn more about what it is and lots of other tools that you can use to manage it, check out my book Chatter. You could find info on it at my website www.EthanKross.com and I hope it helps.

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

Ethan Kross
“He who has a why to live for can deal with almost any how,” which I believe Nietzsche was the first to come up with that phrase but Viktor Frankl, one of my favorite authors, later requoted it.

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

Ethan Kross
I work with my mentor, who was Walter Mischel, the marshmallow man, the scientist who drew out the delayed gratification test. So, those marshmallow studies are among my favorites.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ethan Kross
In this genre, I would say it is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, the book that I took that quote from.

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

Ethan Kross
I really like distance self-talk. I rely on it a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And maybe it’s almost the same thing. And a favorite habit?

Ethan Kross
I would say the most useful habit is that I have some chatter habits, which is the moment I detect chatter brewing, I automatically implement several rituals that I write about in the book, and it really helps me nip that chatter reaction in the bud.

Pete Mockaitis
So, right then and there, you’re saying, “You, Ethan,” doing some temporal distancing, time travel, writing, adopting fly on the wall perspective. Any unique twist or flavor you put into it when you’re doing it personally?

Ethan Kross
Yeah. Well, one interesting thing is there are 26 different tools, they’re summarized in the back of the book that I talk about. I don’t use all of those tools. I use subsets of them, and sometimes I use different combinations but there are some common ones, like distance self-talk, that I use and I do make out my own. Sometimes I’ll refer to myself not using my own name but rather the nickname that my wrestling coach gave to me in high school, which is not a particularly flattering nickname, but I will nonetheless refer to myself using that. And that, I tell you, that does the trick. That lets me muscle through most things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate; it gets highlighted a lot in the book or retweeted frequently?

Ethan Kross
The distance self-talk one gets people connect to because a lot of people do it themselves or have observed other people do it and don’t really understand why, and so that’s certainly one. The bit on venting has been really informative I think to lots of people as well. So, those are two nuggets.

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

Ethan Kross
www.EthanKross.com. They could find lots of information about the book, my lab, and me right there.

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

Ethan Kross
Yeah, my call to action is to read about these tools and then start doing some self-experimentation to figure out which combinations of tools work best for you, given your unique circumstances. I think science has done a fairly good job at identifying individual tools. What we haven’t yet done, what we’re doing right now, is trying to figure out, “What are the specific blends that can be most optimally used to help people?” And while we’re wait for that science to happen, I think there’s an opportunity to start engaging that self-experimentation process on your own.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ethan, thank you. This has been a treat. I’ve been digging your book Chatter and I wish you many chatter-free days ahead.

Ethan Kross
Likewise. Thanks so much for having me on the show.

675: How to Boost Your Brain for Better Happiness & Performance with Eric Karpinski

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Eric Karpinski reveals why investing in your happiness leads to better performance at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to boosting your brain power at work
  2. The one question to jumpstart your happiness habit
  3. How to make stress work for you

About Eric

Eric Karpinski has been on the cutting edge of bringing positive psychology tools to workplaces for over 10 years, with clients that include Intel, Facebook, TIAA, IBM, T-Mobile, Kaiser Permanente, SAP, Deloitte, Eli Lilly, Genentech and many others. 

He is a key member of Shawn Achor’s GoodThink team, and developer of the Orange Frog in-house certification program, where he’s trained more than 100 facilitators to lead positive cultural transformation at their organizations. He was trained as a scientist at Brown University and has an MBA from the Wharton School.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Eric Karpinski Interview Transcript

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

Eric Karpinski
Pete, I’m super excited. I’ve been listening to a bunch of your podcast. You get in deep and I love listening, so I hope I can step up to the quality of everything else you’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, I have no doubts. But I think the first thing we need to cover is beekeeping. What’s the story here?

Eric Karpinski
So, I wanted to be a beekeeper for years and years. They’re fascinating, fascinating little creatures. And so, yeah, it’s something I’ve been doing the last four or five years, and I learned so much about community and teamwork from them, and you get the occasional sting and you get the occasional jar of honey. It’s perfect balance.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I imagine having your work product repeatedly robbed from you might be disengaging in terms of happiness at work.

Eric Karpinski
They just keep working. I’ve got this fun device called a Flow Hive, and so it kind of drains part of the honey out without them even noticing. They still get mad at me when I have to do hive inspections and stuff but, obviously, you need to make sure you leave them plenty for the dry summer here in San Diego but, no, they don’t seem to be bothered by that as much they are about me coming in and looking in trying to find the queen.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Duly noted. And how about the stings? What’s the story there?

Eric Karpinski
It just happens. I wear a suit. I like to use feral bees, which is I save bees from people’s walls and their gardens and the trees where they don’t want bees. I’ll come and sort of capture them and bring them home. Sometimes you get a little more Africanized genetics, and sometimes that really…they get a little ornery when you start looking in instead of the nice European bees that you can buy and manage really easily, but bees are fun. You take stings with the territory, that’s what part of beekeeping is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’m sure this can be a whole podcast episode but I must ask in brief, to what extent is the human species at risk of extinction because of bees not being able to pollinate stuff in the future?

Eric Karpinski
What I love is the Flow Hive that I mentioned. It is making so many people into hobby beekeepers, and for those that are, especially those that are taking local honey, like hives, and local colonies and bringing them, you’re maintaining the genetic diversity of the bees. And so, there’s a huge benefit, so lots of hobbyists, because the commercial ones need to have very predictable bees but the rest of us can just go. We don’t need things really efficient so we can come in and nurture the genetic diversity that I think is really important for countering a lot of the things with the colony collapse issues.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, good to know. Now, we’re going to talk about happiness.

Eric Karpinski
Let’s talk about happiness. Bees make me happy but there’s more direct ways to do it than having to get your own hive.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, you’ve got a book Put Happiness to Work. Can you tell us, what’s one of the most surprising, counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made along the way about happiness and engagement when you were working on this stuff?

[03:12]

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. So, starting at the top, we spent over a third of our waking hours working, so we should invest in our happiness. In our relationships at work and finding meaning at work, we spend so much time, it makes sense that we actually focus on those things, and the ties between happiness at work. I think one of the biggest things is, over the last 10 years, really understanding how much being happy at work actually ties, and specific types of happiness, really ties to being awesome at your job.

So many people think of happiness as that thing that happens once you get what you want. And the most surprising thing and the most important thing is happiness is the way to get a lot of the other things that you want, the way to success. I spent years working on my own, “Look, if I can be as successful as I can be then I’m going to be happy.”

And so, I worked hard, did all the things except that “work hard and success thing” became this loop of, “Hey, all right, I got a degree from Brown University. Awesome. I got this great job. Great. I got an MBA from Wharton. Awesome. Look at all the success I have. I have this incredible job where I’m doing a venture capital job, and I’ve got all these things.” Well, I kept milking at those success and then I would stress so much about the next level of success, the next promotion, the next raise, the next thing, and I never stepped from that success down to the happiness piece.

And I got stuck in this loop and I ended up stress turned into anxiety, anxiety turned to insomnia and then depression, and I’m supposed to be getting happy by the success and instead I’m driving it into the therapist chair and Paxil, not the path. So, when I found positive psychology research though, I realized you can flip that around. There are so many things we can do right now in our lives and in our work. And, actually, when we’re happier, our brain works better. And there’s specific types of happiness, we can talk about, really helps drive engagement at work and all the positive emotions that come with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so I think that’s a huge idea, and I think I first learned this from Shawn Achor and his TED Talk, and I understand you worked with Shawn, which is cool.

Eric Karpinski
Yeah, for almost 10 years we’ve been working together. He’s incredible. He helped shift the world and the boardroom from happiness is one of those little things that you don’t really need to worry about at work to say, “This can be central.” And, obviously, the work is still ongoing in terms of creating that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Well, we love positive psychology stuff over here and we had his wife, Michelle Gielan, on the show and she was great.

Eric Karpinski
Yeah, she’s awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s get into it a little bit. So, what are some of the top things we can do to boost our happiness and engagement at work?

[06:05]

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. If I can take a second to sort of round out sort of the idea behind the book which is there is so much in the positive psychology research, 20 years of positive psychology, neuroscience, organizational psychology research, and I’ve spent 10 years actually implementing that with organizations. And I think 80% of this book is really good for any of us that want to be happier and spread that happiness and be awesome at their jobs. The other 20% is really focused on managers and leaders and how they can help create engagement at work through a specific set of strategies and using positive emotions.

So, with that sort of frame, let’s get into the topics, let’s get into, “How do we apply it?” One of the topics that I think is most important, particularly right now at this moment, as we’re 14 months into the pandemic, so many of us have just lost our ability to socially connect. And maybe we’ve got that ability still with a few people, but we’re out of practice. And as the vaccines get more well-distributed, there are so many opportunities for us to reactivate that and to bring that. And I think that that’s true for our personal lives for sure and I think it’s really true with our work lives.

We’ve gotten so stuck with sort of Zoom fatigue and all these different issues and we just aren’t spending the time. Most of us aren’t spending the time connecting with people as much as we’d like. As Adam Grant says in his recent New York Times article, “We’re all languishing. We’re just sort of sitting in this pause mode, not everybody, but many of us, many more than normal.”

And so, when I think about social connection, and there’s a whole strategy about this about work, and I wanted to bring a couple of the habits that I talk about in the book that I think are really good at retraining us, reopening us to connection, and then helping us actually motivate and start doing things. So, one of them, the first one is a simple one.

Everyone that talks about positive psychology talks about gratitude, and targeting this really for gratitude for others. Sitting down and just spending a couple minutes each day writing down three people that you appreciate in your life and something specific you appreciate about them. So, it can’t just be, “I love my mom because she’s always there for me,” or, “I love my partner because…” something else. Like, not just “Because I love my partner,” but what specifically do you love about your partner or your children?

Like, my son is 16. He’s just got his driver’s license, he’s driving around the world now, but he also is always willing to give me a hug. He’s always wanting to just stop his day and hug me.

Pete Mockaitis
At 16 years old.

Eric Karpinski
Touch being one of my love languages, it’s really huge. So, that’s one of my gratitude that pops up from time to time. And this idea just opens you. And make sure you include one person from work, a work-related person each day. So, that’s one. Another one is something Shawn did on the original research on, we call it conscious acts of kindness message. It’s an email or a text.

[09:16]

When you first get to your phone or you first get to your email, just send one two-line, two-sentence email each day to someone appreciating them, sharing some good news, sending some encouragement, just something that’s kind, something that’s thoughtful. It just takes two minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to dig into that a little bit because I’ve heard of that. And so, I like the conscious kindness communication. Is that how you called it?

Eric Karpinski
Yeah, conscious acts of kindness.

Pete Mockaitis
Conscious acts of kinds and its message. And so, that’s broader than only thinking, or sorry, thanking and/or praising. It can have a variety of flavors there, which I like. You’re expanding this for me. So, we can also have encouragement. How about you just give us a few examples of some recent messages you’ve sent out that fall into those categories? It could be thanking, it could be praising, it could be encouraging, it could be any of those.

Eric Karpinski
Sure. Well, I just launched a book so there’s so many people that have helped me and that have encouraged me. Every time I get someone who posts a photo of them with my book, I’ll send them that authentic message of, “I really appreciate that you…it wasn’t just you bought it but you bought it and you’re reading it and you’re sharing with the world that you got it.” So, I sent a couple of those each day just because this is still the time when everyone is still getting the book and sharing it.

Then another good one is my wife helped write the book. She was there. She read it all. She was there to bounce ideas off of, and she’s got a full-time job. She’s a senior executive in a healthcare organization, and she makes the time to do it, so I told her that yesterday. When someone is in person, you can absolutely do it in person. The idea is make sure you do it. And so, the easiest way is to just say, every time you get to your email, every time, when you first get to your phone, send that message. Make it the first thing you do and it’ll happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I love it. Well, hey, keep them coming. Keep them coming. What else can we do?

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. So, the third one that is really awesome. Some people, it’ll strike as kind of hippy dippy woo-woo except I want to say it’s got total backing from researches at Stanford, from the University of North Carolina. It’s something I call connection meditation.

Connection meditation is really what’s known as a loving kindness meditation. And this evolved along with mindfulness meditation for years, for thousands of years, and what’s awesome is it brings…by the way, all three of these are things that bring happiness to us immediately. It’s not just about creating connection. It’s also about it feels good to do these things. And so, that reinforces sort of the need.

So, to describe it then, if you’re talking about connection meditation, you envision someone that is really easy for you to love. Maybe it’s a wonderful niece or nephew, or a grandparent, maybe it’s your partner if you’re not in some kind of conflict with them or have something that’s kind of dragging you down. But bring someone to mind that you love easily, that love comes easily, and then you just bring them to mind and you send them little wishes, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you find peace in your life.”

And while you’re saying those things, just opening yourself to the love and really trying to connect with them and open yourself to those emotions. You do that once or twice. And once you get a good head of steam going, then you bring it to someone else that you love. Maybe this is your partner, or maybe it’s one of your children, or something else, but someone that maybe there’s a little bit of conflict and a little bit of holding back, and you bring the love to them, and you bring the same statements to them.

And then you bring it to someone who’s kind of neutral, someone you don’t know that well. It could be a neighbor, it could be someone at work that you just haven’t spent much time with, or it could be, again, someone who at work that you kind of have a little bit of conflict with but you want to overcome that. And then you bring them to mind and you bring the same wishes to them.

And what’s so cool, Barbara Fredrickson did a lot of research in this space and said, “We feel so good when we do that.” Now, not 100% of the time, not always, but people stick with this connection loving kindness meditation longer than they do mindfulness meditation. She actually did a head-to-head study which was really cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s not surprising. Mindfulness meditation is hard.

Eric Karpinski
It is. It is.

Pete Mockaitis
This feels good.

Eric Karpinski
And we feel so…we get so judge-y about, “Oh, I didn’t stick with it. No, now this,” the same stuff we’re not supposed to do when we’re doing mindfulness meditation but, anyway. Then the Stanford group saw increases in empathy, increased desire to actually reach out to others. It’s a great way to just prepare your mind for connection and it feels really good, so that’s one that I really integrate that and mix it up with my mindfulness meditation from time to time, so highly recommend that.

And not a lot of people talk about that, especially in a work context. I haven’t heard anybody else mention this in kind of a work context but it’s really useful to help build those social connections, build your own preparation for social connections. And then I think I’ve got a couple really good ones that can help you connect with others and help create that connection amongst your teams.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. Well, let’s talk about the loving kindness meditation a bit. So, I think it may feel, I don’t know, woo-woo or hippy dippy for some folks. So, when you mentioned science, it’s awesome. So, we talked the boost in empathy, I think that just makes sense. Can you share any particulars associated with the studies, the results, or the numbers?

I mean, I can sort of imagine or extrapolate, like, “Oh, well, if you have an increased in empathy, you’re more likely to be patient with the people that you work with, and much less likely to be overly critical, and improve your working relationship with them such that they like to…they enjoy being with you and you feel more comfortable sharing feedback, positive and negative, which improves performance.” So, I can just imagine how these turns into improved work results. Can you share any hard-hitting stats?

Eric Karpinski
They haven’t done those studies yet. They measured the increased empathy, so I see all the benefits that could happen but I haven’t seen it actually put into practice in an environment where you’re then looking at downstream benefits. So, that’s a study that’s going to be there but, as you say, I can imagine so many of them, and just the ability to…and I actually recommend this for people that don’t feel like they are that caring or that they care that much about connection. And I try to avoid the should. You shouldn’t be picking things that you should do.

Pete Mockaitis
“Don’t be a selfish jerk.”

Eric Karpinski
Right. So, only if it sounds intriguing. We’ll talk about that in a second. But a big thing is to pick these habits by which ones get you, are drawn towards and that bring you energy, you get excited about. But, at the same time, if you know that caring for others is something that can often derail you, it’s a nice practice to try out for a little while and see if you take to it.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool.

Eric Karpinski
So, anyway. But that increased in empathy and the ability to take someone else’s side. And I remember hearing one of your other podcast, someone was talking about compassion and activated empathy is kind of an important aspect, that you can’t be like, “Oh, yeah, I know what they feel like, and I’m going to utilize it to make myself better.” Like, compassion and action, putting empathy to act is kind of an important step on that. So, it’s not just about increasing that empathy, but then how do we actually then do things for others and help relieve the challenges that they’re facing, or share positive emotions that they’re feeling? Both of them are important.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I think about some people who work within a religious or wisdom tradition could very readily integrate this right into their existing prayer or whatever time since a lot of it feels like kind of morning ritual prep, get a great start to the day type stuff here.

Eric Karpinski
Yup, yup, it integrates with so many different prayers and different types of meditation. It’s nice to just slot in if you’ve already got…and anytime you’re doing a habit, if you can lock it next to a habit that you’ve already got. So, if you’re already sitting and doing a little prayer, maybe this fits as an add-on to that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. What else?

Eric Karpinski
So, let’s talk about when we’re at work and some things we can do because these are habits that we can do individually. One of my favorites that I just learned about because of writing the book, Scott Cabtree is a friend of mine who works, he does happiness talks and things up in the Northwest in Oregon, and he talks about something called a “Pecha Kucha” presentation. Now, the name doesn’t matter. But what it matters is that you ask everyone in the team to collect 10 photos of their life outside of work that they’re willing to share. And you have them put it together in a presentation, and then you ask one person at the weekly meeting to just spend two minutes, because here’s the ticket, you only get 20 seconds per photo, so you can’t tell any kind of long story. You can just mention a couple things.

I’ve done this with several different groups I’ve been with and so when I present it, it’s like all you can say is, “Hey, I’ve lived in these 12 cities,” is one of mine, “I struggled with cancer this year,” and give them a couple facts about that. “I’m a beekeeper.” And those are the things that you show a photo, and you something, you show your family, you show the important people to you too, but then it creates these opportunities. You can’t tell whole stories but it creates all this, “I’ve been curious about beekeeping.” Just like you and I had that conversation at the beginning. Some people are going to be like, “Oh, wow. Don’t you get stung all the time?” and they’re going to come asking me on the side, and that’s going to create a fun conversation even if we didn’t have that connection before.

And, for me, that’s the real thing. We get knowledge about our coworkers and we get a chance to seed some really cool conversations that might create these high-quality connections, these experiences of positivity resonance when we’re like connecting and kid each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s so cool. And I think about managers or teammates, I mean, that can just be fun to have either in your cubicle or somewhere, a home office as the case may be, on display in terms of, “Okay, that’s Eric…”

Eric Karpinski
Visible in the Zoom window, right?

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s Eric and there are these 10 photos,” and that’s helpful just in terms of just continually reminding yourself because it’s obvious, but we forget it, I think, at the emotional experiential level that, “Oh, this is a human being with needs and values and priorities and concerns outside of work. And, oh, yeah, and here they are right on display visually. Okay, cool.”

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. And I envision that usually in a sort of a PowerPoint kind of setup but to then transfer it over is perfect because then it’s always there, it’d be like, “Wait, there was something I wasn’t curious about.” And once we’re, for people that are in their offices, “Oh, wow, right, beekeeping. I wanted to ask you that question. It’s super cool.”

And you mentioned managers, like one of my favorite habits for a supervisor or manager or someone who’s got direct reports is to start those one-on-one meetings, we all have one-on-one meetings with some of our key people, asking, “What’s one awesome thing someone on your team has done today?” or, “What’s one awesome thing that someone at work has done this week?”

And if you just take a minute or two right at the start of your meeting, and ask that question, and you don’t let them off the hook. Some people will be like, “Oh, I can’t think of anything.” That’s all right. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. It can be something small. Just think of something and they’ll come up with one.

And then in the next week, or next Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. when you’ve got your weekly standing meeting, you ask the same question. And then, by the third time, they’re coming with…they’re often coming with answers with, “Oh, here, Eric is going to ask this question. Here’s the thing I’m going to say.” And so, it starts to actually train the people that you’re working with to start noticing the good stuff at work and sharing it with you so that you, now as a supervisor, if you’ve got three or four of this every week, you can create a list of all these great things.

And I love to ask them after they tell me, “Have you shared this with them? Have you told them that you thought this?” And they’re like, “No, but I should,” is often the response you’ll get. Sometimes it’s inappropriate. And then I’ll ask, “Would you mind if I mentioned it to them too?” And now you’ve got three things, three incredible benefits.

First, you’re helping them do, essentially, gratitude for people at work practice. They’re starting to learn. And, hopefully, over the course of you doing this consistently, they’re going to start noticing things as they’re working. They’d be like, “Oh, that’s awesome. I’m going to bring that to Eric, and I’m going to tell them right now.”

And then, I, as the supervisor, I get this long list of all these great things that are happening in the team and for the team. And then you’re also starting the conversation off in a positive way. You talked about Michelle Gielan, she talks about those power leads, those happiness questions that you start with. This is a powerful one because it starts the conversation in a positive way that then makes the rest of your agenda much more productive and much more creative and much more flexible in their thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And then just some good contagious emotional stuff because we’ve got a bit of a natural negativity bias in our thinking to have these things being surfaced again and again and again, just kind of puts you in a better groove in terms of, “You know what, work doesn’t really suck as a matter of fact.”

Eric Karpinski
That’s the hope of all of us. You realize there are so many opportunities for connecting and smiling and laughing. Look, we don’t have to be happy all the time. All we need is, two or three times a day where we just get a nice little pop of positive emotions. And all we’re doing, all these habits are just about planting seeds for that to potentially happen. If we don’t create space for it, it’s not going to happen nearly as often. So, let’s create space. That’s what these habits are for, that’s what these interpersonal sorts of habits do, is create space for potential connection, for potential happiness. That’s the best we can do when we’re going to work, is create space for others to have those experiences and for ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Any other key practices?

Eric Karpinski
There’s lots of things that we can do. I don’t want to pooh-pooh the whole idea of doing a picnic or a happy hour. I think those are important but I think the most important thing is that we find ways to integrate it into our day, just like in these one-on-ones, just like in our weekly team meeting, like we have someone do their Pecha Kucha each week till everyone has done one. Finding ways to make it part of our day, make it part of our routine is the key because if we don’t, then if we only rely on the happy hours and the picnics, it’s just not going to happen very often, and then we’re going to continue sort of languishing and not really creating that positive thing.

So, I want to make sure that we do those things. I’m not saying don’t do picnics. I’m just saying make sure you also pick some things that can create those daily and weekly experiences of one another and of happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think the high frequency makes a world of difference there. Well, let’s talk a little bit about stress here. How do we think about it? How do we use it well?

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. So, there is some really powerful research that’s coming to light and that more people are talking about. But what we know is that most of what we hear about stress is how it’s such a problem, that it’s a problem for our productivity, that it’s a huge problem for our health. And, of course, that’s only been multiplied with all the stress that we have from the pandemic and from COVID.

But the thing is we evolved stress for a reason. When we’re stressed, like our hearts start to beat faster, we also start to breathe faster, our liver releases glucose and fats into the bloodstream. All of this is to help us get ready to act. And recent research has really talked about how we can actually change and put a mindset around stress that can help us actually experience that benefit.

So much of what we think about sort of one stress response is fight or flight. And, actually, there’s a lot more sort of a continuum. There’s what we call the threat response, what researchers call the threat response which is what hear so much about. This is when we initially hear about something that we don’t think we have the resources to respond.

And this response is to really address the issue that’s caused there, and we get this flood of cortisol and it has these negative effects on our performance and on our health. Blood is actually centered away when we have this threat response, away from the evolved parts of the brain so we can’t think clearly and we can’t choose how to react. So, when we’re in this reactive place of avoiding what’s happening and trying to kind of run away or just totally freeze and just forget about it, that’s not good.

And, by the way, we’re also narrowing a lot of the arteries in our whole body that causes the high blood pressure which causes a lot of health problems associated with stress.

The other side of the continuum is something we call the challenge response. The sciences have really understood now this challenge response, and this happens naturally when we see that something difficult is coming but we believe we have the resources to actually address it or at least try to address it and start moving it, moving towards fixing it. And what’s cool here, we still get cortisol and we still get a stress response, but it’s countered by this other stress hormone called DHEA.

And what happens then is actually that combination of the two hormones opens the vascular backup in your brain and in your body. You get access to the full of your brain, so you get access to the prefrontal cortex, which is the home of reason and logic and of choice, and we actually get to choose then how we’ll respond and what we’re going to do. Our hearts are still beating fast but those open vessels drive our blood pressure down, and that’s a much healthier state for us to be experiencing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, challenge response sounds lovely relative to the alternative. So, how do we have more of those?

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. So, I have an acronym called ASPIRE. I’m aspiring to utilize the stress that I feel and so there’s a lot of things. I’ll just hit on a couple. The A of ASPIRE is acknowledge your stress. Notice when you’re stressed and call it out. Now, some of us, we’re so reactive to our stress we don’t even know when we’re in it. And so, there’s work in the book about how do we notice, what are our signal for stress.

And then, “Oh, man, I’m feeling stressed right now,” or, “I’m feeling a little bit of stress right now,” whatever it is. Just by calling it out, we change where we process that stress from the amygdala and the limbic centers of our brain, which are much more primal, to the prefrontal cortex, which is, I said, is a place where once we activated that, we have choice. We can actually decide how to move forward and so it shifts us. Just that alone, acknowledging it can shift us towards the challenge.

The other is S of ASPIRE is shifting your mindset. Simply recognizing that stress can be helpful changes how you respond to it. So, just listening to this podcast, reminding yourself when you’re feeling stressed, “Oh, wait, didn’t Eric say that stress can be good for us?” And they’ve done studies with LinkedIn employees, with investment bankers, with college students at MIT, with high schools, with students preparing for the GREs, again and again, just by teaching a simple, sometimes just a five-minute exercise, reading a couple of articles about how stress can be helpful changes the way that people respond. It moves them to a challenge response.

So, simply remembering this podcast and what we talked about already can change how we respond here.

So, P is purpose. What’s really interesting, and Kelly McGonagal has done a lot of work in this space and shared a lot about this, talks about the stress paradox, that when we are stressed, behind every stress is something that matters to us or we wouldn’t be stressed. We care about the outcome in some way. So, if we can spend the time thinking, “All right, why am I so stressed about this? What’s underneath it? Not that someone said something bad to me but that respect is a value of mine and I don’t feel like they respected me.” Okay. Well, let’s go deeper in that. And what is most important about this?

And if we can find things in that meaning, particular that somebody else, what benefit might there be if we’re successful, to my family, to end users, to patients, to whoever it is? Tapping into the meaning behind why we’re feeling that much stress and just understanding who this is for, what this is for, can help us switch over to the challenge response.

Eric Karpinski
So, I is inventory your resources. When we hear about a stressor, we do this lightning quick, so fast we can’t even have conscious thoughts response, “Oh, my God, I can’t do it. I’m overwhelmed. There’s no way it’s going to happen,” and it throws us into the threat response. If when we notice that, we can just pause, take a breath, step back a little bit, be like, “Okay, this is big. This is going to be hard. But what resources do we have? What strengths can I bring into this? What experiences, when have I had something like this before, and what happened? What skills do I have?”

“Who’s in this with me? Who’s the team that’s going to help us do this? What skills and experiences and knowledge do they have? And can we reach out beyond just our team? Like, who else in the organization has seen this? Or, can we bring in some outside expertise for people that have dealt with this? Is there technology that might be able to address this problem?”

And just by categorizing and inventorying the things that we have, it often brings us into that sort of natural challenge response, like, “Oh, there’s more here than I thought. Maybe we can do it.” And it starts to bring you, it activates you into bringing energy towards the problem rather than stepping away. And then the final one is, the RE is reach out to others.

There’s Shelley Taylor at UCLA has done all this work about the tend and befriend response to stress. A lot of people, when they first feel stress, they want to bake cookies for others, they want to bring them into the office, and they want to reach out to others and just connect and help others. Obviously, you can’t, you’re stressed about your own work, you can’t spend hours and hours helping others. But if there’s some five-minute favors in your inbox, someone asked you for a reference to somebody, or someone asked you for a quick advice, go and do that. And then when you come back, it feeds your courage and your hope to sort of address your own challenges. It helps you move, again, into that challenge response.

So, these are the four. I’ve got a whole worksheet on my website at PutHappinessToWork.com/resources, I’ve got a worksheet that people can just download and it’s great to do when you’re feeling stressed or when you’re doing your planning for the day or the week. Just bring that out and everything that you know is going to stress you, run through the ASPIRE toolset real quick, “How can I shift my mindset? What’s the purpose and the meaning behind this? Let me inventory my resources.” Whichever one works for you, try them out, experiment with it, and then see how you respond and how your stress changes.

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

Eric Karpinski
Yeah, one of the other things I think that is a fun one to do, two of the chapters really need some introspection before you can get value out of them. One of them is really about strengths. And the thing that we need to do there, there’s lots of great strengths assessments. I love CliftonStrengths. It’s a great place to start. The University of Michigan talks about your best self, and you ask 10 people that know you really well for stories of you at your best, and then you harvest that for the things that you’re good at.

But then the important thing that you have to do personally is then think, “Which of these strengths actually energize me when I do them? Which ones give me energy?” And then prioritize those strengths that came out of the assessment, whatever. Feel free to add ones. Like, one of my strengths was, for years, analytical. I’m really good at taking datasets and pulling it out and figuring out what the answer is, but I hate it. It drains me of energy now. I used to love it but now it drains me so I knocked that one off the list and I looked for something else to pop into that top five, and then prioritized those by how much energy they give you when you do them.

And once you’ve got that list, now there’s lots of things you can do with your work, like how you view your work, “How am I actually using this strength that I didn’t even know? Or, what are some things that I can take on that will allow me to use these strengths more?” And that’s magical. That’ll really get you. That provides the energy that really helps us be happier and more engaged all at once.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, thank you. Now, can you share with us a favorite study?

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. So, Harvard Business School, this goes back to the stress stuff I talked about. She did this study where she had a group of students that were going to have to do a last-minute public speaking opportunity. They were going to be recorded and they were going to be evaluated by their peers. And she told one group to say, “I’m calm. I’m calm. I try to calm down this stress and this anxiety. Try to counter it.” So many people think that that’s the right thing to do.

But the other group, she said, “Hey, just tell yourself you’re excited. Yeah, your heart is beating fast, you’re breathing faster. This is excitement, getting ready for it.” And the objective evaluation of that study were incredible, how much better the “I’m excited group” performed. They were more confident, they made their points better, they were fully understood, versus the “I’m calm” group which is kind of going against their biology. They physiology was going, “Ahh, I’m getting up here,” and they’re trying to say, “Calm down. Calm down. I need to calm down,” instead of the excited it goes with what’s happening with the physiology.

And so, that one thing. When you’ve got like an explicit event that’s happening, like you’ve got a difficult conversation coming up, or you’re doing a presentation, or you’ve got something that you’re worried about, hey, when you feel that stress, this is, “I’m excited. I’m excited about this. This is going to help me.” Just that one little switch can change you into that challenge response. So, that’s my favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And how about a favorite tool?

Eric Karpinski
I’m going to go back to the connection meditation, that habit is something that I do regularly, and I want to reinforce that that’s something worth trying even if it sounds a little weird to listeners.

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

Eric Karpinski
So, PutHappinessToWork.com, all one word, is the book website. And so, learn about the book and it’s got all the purchase links there too when you’re ready to buy it. And then my full website is at EricKarpinski.com. And Eric is with a C at the end, and Karpinski starts with a K, K-A-R-P-I-N-S-K-I.com.

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

Eric Karpinski
Pick one thing and do it now. If there was something, I like to refer to this, when I do talks and when I do podcasts and in the book itself, I like to refer to it as an action buffet. There are literally dozens of tools and ideas in there. Don’t wait till you can do multiple of them. As soon as you find one that sounds interesting, take a little helping. Try it out for a day or two, or a week, never just one day, never just one time. You always got to try it two or three times. And any time you do something new, it’s going to be a little awkward and weird. But after three or four times, hey, if it doesn’t take, that’s okay. Go back to the list and pick something else.

But if it does take, now figure how do you really take a full helping, how do you integrate into your day, how do you make a habit of it. Number one is move to action. Stop just reading, stop just listening, and actually pick one thing. And it only has to be a couple minutes a day but do something, move to action.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Eric, this has been a treat. Thanks so much. I wish you much happiness at work.

Eric Karpinski
Thank you so much. This was fun. Yeah, I appreciate it. This was really good. It was really energizing to talk to you and I love your questions. So, thanks for that.

668: Making Work More Meaningful and Fulfilling through Mindfulness and Compassion with Scott Shute

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LinkedIn’s Head of Mindfulness and Compassion Scott Shute discusses how to improve yourself and your work by practicing more mindfulness and compassion.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why mindfulness matters at work 
  2. How to keep your inner critic from hijacking your day 
  3. The four steps to cultivating compassion 

About Scott

Scott was previously the Vice President of LinkedIn’s Customer Operations organization. In his current role as Head of Mindfulness and Compassion at LinkedIn, Scott blends his lifelong practice and passion with his practical leadership and operations experience.  His mission is to change work from the inside out by “mainstreaming mindfulness” and “operationalizing compassion.” He is the author of the book The Full Body Yes, available in May 2021. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Scott Shute Interview Transcript

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

Scott Shute
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom here but, first, I want to hear about your love of motorcycles.

Scott Shute
Well, I grew up on a farm in Kansas and just in the wide-open spaces, so I grew up riding dirt bikes since I was six. And one of my big adventures was a couple of buddies and I, when we graduated from college, we rode from Kansas to the East Coast and up into Canada and back over 5,000 miles in like three weeks camping. And then we didn’t talk to each other for a very long time after that.

Pete Mockaitis
But, eventually, you returned to conversation.

Scott Shute
For sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. Well, let’s hear about your latest book here, The Full Body Yes: Change Your Work and Your World from the Inside Out. Tell us what’s the most maybe surprising or counterintuitive discovery you’ve made along the way as you’ve put this together.

Scott Shute
Wow, interesting. So, these are a lot of stories from my own life but I think they’re the stories about each one of us, and I think it’d be relevant for everybody. And it’s really about, it kind of follows this Rumi quote, I love to quote Rumi, he’s a 13th century master and poet. He says, “Yesterday, I was clever and I tried to change the world, but today I’m wise, and I’m working on changing myself.”

And, for me, that’s kind of what this is. You can open any newspaper, any news app, and think, “Oh, my God, what a mess that we live in.” But, ultimately, for me, it’s about the work that I can change on myself that allows me to then be strong with whatever life brings me and change the world and work as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. Well, so then that sounds wise and sensible. And is that kind of the core thesis or big idea of the book here?

Scott Shute
Yeah. Look, I wanted to write a book about compassion. In my day job, and now we can get into it, but I’m the head of mindfulness and compassion at LinkedIn, and so I wanted to write a book about compassion, and I realized that 99% about being compassionate, or learning how to be compassionate to other people, is getting out of our own way, it’s dealing with our own mess, it’s our own development. And so, I kind of go through this arch in my life of how I’ve learned, how I’ve messed it up, and also how I’ve learned, and how I’ve sometimes gotten it right.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, there’s so much I want to dig into. So, as the head of mindfulness and compassion, do you feel a lot of pressure to be super mindful and compassionate every day?

Scott Shute
Well, what I could tell you is sometimes, sometimes, my wife and I are arguing, and probably usually she’s right, but she’ll throw around, “Hey, aren’t you the head of mindfulness?” Like, that doesn’t sound very ”Aargh!” Look, I never pretend to be perfect. That’s just my title.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. Well, okay, so that’s a really cool title at a world-leading organization. And so, I think some people might say, “Mindfulness, compassion, are those even things that are really important to be at work? It’s called work for a reason, and that’s your job?” What’s the business case associated with these things?

Scott Shute
Sure. Well, I always start with the question, if I’m talking to leaders, like, “Do you care about your employees or not?” Because, let’s face it, work has changed over the years. If we go way back, like think about building the pyramids, we had kings and slaves, and then that evolved into indentured servants, or land owners and not land owners. In the industrial revolution, you had people in factories, and probably, largely, workers were viewed as interchangeable or replaceable.

But, now, in the information age, a company like LinkedIn and many others, we don’t have hard assets. All we have is our people. And so, our number one asset should also be our number one investment. If our people are operating at their best, if they’re happy, if they’re mentally well, they’re going to produce great results.

Now, what we know about mindfulness and practices like that, you can think of it like mental exercise, like physical exercise. So, we know that, look, there are 6,000 peer-reviewed papers that show that mindfulness reduces stress, reduces anxiety, increases creativity, and increases the quality of leadership and connection. Now, what leader doesn’t want that in their organization? So, that’s what we’re up to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Super. Well, then, in practice, how do you go about integrating mainstream mindfulness, operationalizing compassion? These are some terms that come up here. How do you do that?

Scott Shute
Yeah, let’s talk about it in two ways. Let’s talk about mindfulness first. And so, we’re turning it to mainstream, meaning make it just as normal as physical exercise. So, if somebody asked you, “Hey, what are you going to do after work?” “Oh, I’m going to go to the TRX class and then go for a run.” Everybody thinks, “Oh, yeah, cool. That’s totally normal.” But if we said, “Oh, I’m going to go check out the latest meditation class at 4:30 or 5:00,” like, “Ahh, okay.”

And so, here’s how we’re mainstreaming it. We’re trying to make it just as normal as physical exercise. So, every place, we have a gym. LinkedIn is a company that has 15,000 or 16,000 people, so we have offices all over the world. Where we have gyms and where we have classes like yoga or TRX, we also have classes on meditation where people like me are leading them on a regular basis. So, 30, 40, 50 meditation sessions per week.

We give everybody an app. They have access to the Wise@Work app, which is a really cool meditation app, which is designed for people who are working. And then once a year, we do a 30-day challenge where we encourage people, “Hey, if you use the app 20 times within the 30 days, we’ll give you a free T-shirt.” Or, this year, we did a free hoodie. And, look, never underestimate the power of a free hoodie on people’s behavior. And what we find is that, over time, each year that we do this, people are doing it and they’re adopting it and they’re developing a practice, and we’re just making it more and more and more commonplace.

On the compassion side, so I think mindfulness is great. This is how we develop ourselves. But the real juice is in compassion because we don’t work, or live, in isolation. So, compassion is, you know, I have a definition for it but it’s essentially when we’re moving from just thinking about me to thinking about the we. And this shows up in our values, and it can be really simple.

So, as an example, our head of sales will stand on stage in front of 5,000 people at sales kickoff, and say, “Look, don’t just sell something at the end of our quarter that our customers don’t need just so you can hit quota. Like, we are in this for a long-term value.” Now, at the root of that, that is compassion because we move from just selfish needs to the needs of the whole.

Or, product review. A product manager will come to the product execs, pitching their new innovations, and the meeting might start by saying, “Oh, hey, in this latest rev of our product, we’re going to get 12% more clicks by doing, X, Y, and Z.” And the first question, if they don’t answer it themselves, is always, “Yeah, but what about the member experience?” And if they answer, “Well, hey, look, did I mention it was 12% more clicks?” like the meeting just stops and then it becomes an abject lesson on our number one value, which is members first. So, those are some of the ways that we’re trying to integrate it into what we do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s hit mindfulness a little bit in detail. There’s a lot of ways one can go about being mindful. So, when you are working it and working out the brain, like we work out the body, what are some of the top recommended practices or pro tips to do that well?

Scott Shute
Sure. Well, what we’re looking for is to reduce kind of our fight or flight system in our brain, and a lot of people experience this naturally when they go for a walk out at nature, when they spend time with loved ones, or listen to music, talk with a friend, all those things can be helpful. But some of those are not available to us in the workplace or on demand.

And so, mindfulness or breathing or meditating is another way to do that that’s free and always portable. And so, as an example, if I’m headed into a stressful meeting, I have a big presentation or whatever it’s going to be, I can just spend 90 seconds. I can take some deep breaths, activate the rest and digest part of my nervous system, and just kind of let both my mind and my body settle. That’s kind of a micro practice.

I mean, people, of course, go on to have 10-minute, 15-minute, 20-minute a day or even more practices but they can be done in little micro doses. It just starts with awareness of when I’m kind of getting a little “Zzzzsst” in my head and need to calm things down a bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. And so, then I’ve done some stuff in the mindfullness world.

Scott Shute
You’ve done some stuff?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve done things, Scott, in the mindfulness world in terms of like apps and returning to my breath and such. And what’s interesting is, I guess maybe I didn’t have a free hoodie to motivate me, is that I find that I get in the groove and I fall out of the groove, and then I get back in the groove, and I fall out of the groove. What have you discovered are some of the best practices to help people do that with some consistency to really enjoy the benefits that these 6,000 papers are pointing to?

Scott Shute
Sure. I really love the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, and there’s so much goodness in there. One of my favorite quotes from him is, “Our lives do not rise to the level of our intentions. They fall to the level of our systems.” So, in other words, we have these big goals we want to practice but we just fall back into our habits.

And so, thinking about an atomic habit, you start with the smallest thing that I can commit to. So, maybe it’s I set an alarm every day. For some time, that works for me, and when that alarm goes, I’m just going to do a little bit, the least I can commit to. Maybe it’s one breath, maybe it’s three breaths, maybe over time it turns into five minutes or 10 minutes or 20 minutes. That’s one thing is just regularity.

Another one is having an accountability buddy. So, if we were to start a practice, maybe every day we’re going to text each other, “Hey, did you do your minutes today? Did you do your practice?” There’s something really powerful about having an accountability buddy and knowing that there’s someone there on the other end.

Other people use, I like a tick-list. So, I have a little piece of paper that has, right now, I’m trying to learn how to do pushups, three days a week. And so, I have a little Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I have five boxes on a piece of paper, and I know that every week I need to check off those five boxes three times a week.

And so, use a system that fits your life, that fits stuff you already do for work in ways you’ve already built habits doing other things, and use it for mindfulness. That’s one. And then, two, is have a clear goal of why. If we’re going to the gym and we’re going to do pushups or workout or do whatever, if you don’t know why you’re there, it’s really hard to get motivated to go the next time.

So, the same thing with mindfulness, if you have a clear goal, like, “Wow, I know,” like me, personally, I know that when I don’t do it, I can start to get grumpy, or I can start to get a little short, or I can start to get a little irritated. And when I do do it, all those things are much better. And so, I have a clear picture. So, each of us needs a clear intention to go along with our system.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s so dead-on, and we’re talking about the why. I just recently finished listening to Chris Bailey’s How to Train Your Mind which is excellent, by the way. And he shared a case that revealed that for a knowledge worker, you can expect to earn back about nine minutes of good productive time for each one minute you spend in meditation.

And I found that so compelling in terms of like, “Oh, I’m too busy. I don’t feel like it.” It’s like, “Well, no, known fact, you are losing time by not doing this.” And so, that was a powerful why for me. And you’ve observed in your own life some benefits for who you want to be, so that’s huge. Any other huge whys pop up for people as they engage in these practices that really connects?

Scott Shute
The rest of us need you to do it. I get anecdotal emails from people in our program all the time. One young woman during COVID times sent an email, she’s like, “Thank you so much for offering what you offer.” She’s like, “Look, I’m a mom, I have two kids under four. And what I can tell you is I’m screaming at them a lot less.” And that wasn’t it, she went on to say how she was able to be present for them, how she was able to be calm. Look, when we take care of ourselves, we’re better for everybody else around us, including our coworkers and our customers, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then let’s talk a little bit more about the compassion side of things and being for others. When it comes to mindfulness, there’s some particular practices that we’ve heard before, like, “Oh, sit still, focus on your breath, return your thought to your breath when it wanders.” How does one get more compassionate?

Scott Shute
Great question. So, let’s start with self-compassion because a lot of people really struggle with this one. But a good self-compassion exercise, and this goes almost to black belt level so we’ll go there. You and your listeners are ready, right? So, essentially, when you’re getting ready in the morning, when you’re brushing your teeth or shaving or doing makeup, you put your hand on your heart, you look at yourself in the mirror, and you say your name followed by, “I love you.” That’s hard in the beginning because we have all these judgments, we have all these stories.

Like, Arianna Huffington calls it the obnoxious roommate, the inner critic that tells us all the bad things we have wrong. And it’s a lot to get over that. And so, just this constant practice of recognizing that our brains tend towards the negative. This is how we evolved, this is how we stayed alive, but our brains are keeping us alive, not happy. And so, for happiness or contentment or compassion, we actually have to do a little extra work.

So, that hand on your heart “I love you” is one. Another one for self-compassion is to ask myself, “What else is true?” If that obnoxious roommate, that inner critic is really going crazy, it’s like, “Okay, stop. What else is true?” meaning that there’s a lot of good things in my life as well in addition to the things my inner critic is complaining about. And if I list those things off, then I can see things in a balanced way and it makes me more stable. So, that’s for self.

Now, if I want to have compassion for others, it’s first recognizing what’s going on. What’s going on just like we evolved to have a negativity bias in our bodies, we evolve to feel compassion for those who are like us. Now, like us meaning the way we think, the people we identify with. And so, when we see someone as different, we then can only focus on those differences. And it’s kind of fascinating because humans are about 98% the same. But if you look at the news, the polarity we have going, we only see the 2% of the differences between us.

So, the antidote to that is to look someone else and realize, “Look, this person just wants to be happy. They just want to be healthy. They just want to have their plans work out. They’re just trying to get by. They experience pain and joy just like I do. In so many ways, this person is just like me.” There’s a quote that gets attributed to Abraham Lincoln, who was in the middle of polarity during the Civil War, and so all of this kind of same stuff that’s happening. He says, I’ll paraphrase a little bit, he says, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Scott Shute
That’s where it starts.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That is good. Boy, the hand on the heart, looking in the mirror, “I love you,” I think I’ve done that just a couple times ever. And it is, in the first couple times, I guess I’ve done it a couple of times, it’s kind of weird feeling and, yet, it’s good. And I checked this from the book When Sorry Isn’t Enough, it’s about apologies, and they also recommended doing a similar exercise to say, “I forgive you,” to your own self, and that’s powerful as well. So, any pro tips for those who are like, “Yeah, I don’t know about that, Scott. Not my style”?

Scott Shute
You just got to try it. Get over yourself. So, if you can’t say, “I love you” to yourself, then you probably can’t say, “I love you” to anybody else, and that’s a shame. That’s a shame. So, this is something that the rest of us need from you. This is part of the community that we live in. We need you to be at your best, or moving away from kind of those bad days that we all have, towards some of the good days that we all have, so try it for the rest of us. You’ll be a better person.

Pete Mockaitis
And for those who, this is a little deeper here, intrinsically feel, at times or maybe most of the time, unworthy of love, or unlovable, how do we do there?

Scott Shute
It’s the same technique. It’s just harder. This technique, it works on a number of levels, because here’s what going on. When we put our hand on our heart, it has a similar effect as when we give someone a hug. When we give someone a hug, our bodies release oxytocin and we feel soothing, like literally, in our nervous system. We feel a soothing and a calming down.

So, you might imagine a time when you were a child and you were being soothed by your grandmother or mother or aunty or whoever was soothing for you, and go to that place even just with your hand on your heart. And then when you say, when you can look in yourself in the eyes, and say, “I love you,” what you’re doing is you’re letting go of all the stuff. Of course, we have all failed. We all have things that we have judgments about. But at the root of it, we are all are lovable. There’s that part of us which is deeper beyond the body, beyond the mind and emotions, and look at it from that part, that part where we are all equal. That part is, for sure, lovable, and that’s where love comes from.

So, it’s making that connection from that pure part of yourself to yourself and to others in their pure part of themselves. And, look, this is what we’re all looking for. I think that one of the most deeply held needs that each of us has is the need to be seen and heard and acknowledged and gotten, which is really saying loved. And so, it starts with ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. This is powerful stuff. I understand you also have a four-step action plan. What is this fourth?

Scott Shute
Well, this is in the book. So, my COVID project was to write a book, it’s called The Full Body Yes and I kind of go through these four steps. And this was, again, trying to get at the “What’s the recipe to be compassionate?”

So, it starts with knowing ourselves. Each one of us has a story that only we can tell, and every one of us has pain and joy and whatever, but each one of us have a unique story. So, it’s first understanding that story, understanding why we do the things we do, understanding the systems, the internal systems that control our bodies and our minds, but also the external systems, like, “Who are we making these decisions for? What is it, family? Is it society? Is it our friends?” And once we have a clear understanding of that, then we have choices. So, that’s the first step is, knowing ourselves.

The second step is to love ourselves. Now, this is literally to love ourselves, like this thing we were just talking about with our hand on our heart, seeing the goodness in ourselves, but it’s also recognizing that we’re more than just our mind and our body and our emotions, and seeing ourselves at our highest, so love ourselves. Oh, also, in the love of ourselves, is learning to listen to that deeper voice within us. The voice that really just knows, and that’s where The Full Body Yes comes from.

And then the third part, this is the hard part, this is the mastery of ourselves, the mastery of me. When we realize that we are in charge, that life is not happening to us but maybe happening for us, then it’s all on us, then we have to make those choices, we have to do the hard work of whatever it is, the daily practice, or making the right choices with our sleep or our bodies or the way we conduct ourselves in life, and those things are hard.

And when we can do those three things, then we have a better idea then of the fourth thing, which is doing the same three things for another person, having awareness of the other person, loving the other person, and then the courage to take action on their behalf. And that’s how I define compassion – awareness of others, the capacity to have the mindset of wishing the best for them, and then the courage to take action. So, those are the four steps.

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

Scott Shute
Well, I think that we’re at place where every company, every organization can benefit from these. And it’s kind of on an evolution just like physical exercise has been on evolution. What I didn’t know before kind of this role is that 50 years ago, nobody exercised. Like, our grandparents, our great grandparents, they didn’t exercise; they worked hard. But, over that time, we all learned the benefits of physical exercise. It doesn’t mean we all do it but more people are aware of it, and more people are taking it up, and more companies are offering programs around physical exercise.

In the same way, we already know the science is great for mental exercise, like meditation, and we’re on the same journey. And maybe it won’t take 50 years this time until we mainstreamed mindfulness but I think we’re a lot closer. And so, there are some playbooks that I have. You can always reach out to me if you want a playbook on how to bring mindfulness to your organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’ve got the book itself The Full Body Yes: Change Your Work and Your World from the Inside Out. What are some of the key components of the playbook?

Scott Shute
Ahh, so for the playbook, I’d say if you are a leader, these things don’t have to be expensive. It’s, find your volunteers. So, I volunteered before this became my full-time gig. There are lots of people already in your organization, I’m sure, that are excited about this stuff in a broad category. Find out who they are. They would love to volunteer 5%, or 10%, or 20% of their time to help get a program off the ground. So, find your volunteers.

Perhaps, find a partner. Again, this stuff doesn’t have to be expensive. We like the partner WisdmLabs. They have some great stuff that we use. And then find a champion, whoever highest up in the organization that can talk about it, and create an umbrella of safety for everyone else. In our case, I “came out” because our CEO was talking about his own practice at company all-hands, and then I was a VP at the company so, for me, I was the champion, and so it made it a lot easier at LinkedIn. Those are three steps.

If you are an individual and you’re thinking, “Yeah, but I’m not in charge of HR, I’m not in charge of big budget, but I’m excited about meditation,” just start. I started by leading one meditation six years ago. And that first time, there was one person there and the program grew from there. So, just start and your friends will follow you, other people who are interested will come.

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

Scott Shute
Well, I shared my Rumi quote already. I’ll share one from my dad so then we’ll have the clouds and the practicality. One of my dad’s favorite things, and I was so annoyed to hear this when I was 15, but he would say, “Basically, all of your problems can be solved if you have a good attitude,” which is mostly true.

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

Scott Shute
Oh, when I was a kid, I used to light all kinds of things on fire to see what would happen but that’s probably not so productive these days. I love the research that Richard Davidson and team are doing at the University of Wisconsin on meditation. They’ve basically taken the world’s “professional-level meditators,” like these monks from Tibet and other places who have meditated 30,000-40,000 hours to see how it changes their brains, to see if there’s anything that we can learn, for the rest of us who are not going to do all of that. And I think that’s pretty fascinating. There’s lots to learn there. And there’s a book that followed, called Altered Traits by Richard Davidson and Dan Goleman which is really good.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Scott Shute
I mentioned James Clear’s Atomic Habits, so beyond that I’m going to go with the other end of the spectrum which is Hafiz, so Hafiz’ The Gift. Hafiz is another one of those masters from the, I don’t know, 600 or 800 years ago, and he’s a Persian poet. Like Rumi, he finds a way to bring the sublime into this world in a way that is still relevant 700 years later.

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

Scott Shute
I love my phone. I’m trying not to be addicted to my phone but, oh, my goodness, those things are so powerful. My kids are a little older, but every time we have the conversation about what life was like as I grew up in the ‘80s, they cannot believe that I did not have a cellphone, and so it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without my smartphone.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular app that really does it for you?

Scott Shute
I’m probably addicted to email but that’s not that much fun. Bleacher Report, I keep track of the San Francisco Giants and my Kansas state football and basketball teams.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Scott Shute
I got to go with meditation. This whole COVID quarantine thing has actually been really good for my practice because what has happened is I’ve traded commuting time in the morning for meditating time, so it’s the most regular, the most solid my practice has ever been.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so since we’re talking meditation and mindfulness, and that’s your favorite habit, if I can zoom into your practice, how exactly does it go down for Scott?

Scott Shute
Ah, so that’s a great question. Thank you for asking. I usually do a little bit of settling and a little breathing, but I actually…my primary practice is I use a mantra in my own practice. It’s not something I usually do at work but in my own practice at home, I sing the word Hu, H-U, long and drawn out. And, for me, it acts like a tuning fork to that deepest part of me. I love it. It’s cool.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say tuning fork, is there a particular pitch that you’re going for? Or how is it…?

Scott Shute
No, not necessarily a pitch. It’s just like…I mean, this sounds a little weird but it’s like vibration. So, there’s something about the resonance which acts like a tuning fork to soul, to that deepest part of me.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re trying to zoom in on when you’re vibrating.

Scott Shute
I’m trying to get in touch with that deepest part of me. I would call it soul, and letting go of the mind, letting go of emotions, but not letting go of the mind all the way. Like, my goal is not to have no thoughts. My goal is to, I guess, raise myself in consciousness so that the thoughts that I do have are coming from a place that is a little bit deeper and truer.

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

Scott Shute
Yeah, I think I spent 25 years as an operations guy, and so I’m trying to connect these wisdom traditions and really practical, like, how to live. And so, when I connect using this James Clear quote of “Our lives do not rise to the level of our goals. They fall to the level of our systems,” and then give them some really specific things, that seems to resonate with people. Yeah, and also asking the question, “What else is true?” because we tend to be so negative. So, just stopping when you’re feeling in downward spiral. Ask yourself, “What else is true?” In other words, what else is good? Those are some really simple ways to kind of move from where we have been to where we’d like to go.

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

Scott Shute
Yeah, you can go to ScottShute.com or TheFullBodyYes.com, they go to the same place, or follow me on LinkedIn. That’s where all my kind of daily updates are happening.

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

Scott Shute
Oh, to be awesome at your job, first be awesome at your life. And to be awesome at your life, start by loving yourself and the ones around you. So, hand on heart, eyes on yourself in the mirror, and say, “I love you.” And then go do that for someone else that you love as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Scott, this has been a treat. I wish you much love and mindfulness and compassion in your days to come.

Scott Shute
Thanks, Pete. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

663: How to Stop Negative Self-talk, Beat Impostor Syndrome, and Feel Confident with Melody Wilding

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Melody Wilding says: "Confidence isn't a prerequisite for success. It's a byproduct of success."

Melody Wilding shares powerful strategies to stop overthinking and deal with your inner critic.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two behaviors that greatly hinder sensitive professionals
  2. Three tactics for silencing your inner critic
  3. Powerful questions to counter negative thinking

About Melody

Melody Wilding, LMSW is an executive coach, human behavior expert, and author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work. She has coached hundreds of private clients, from CEOs and Fortune 500 executives to leaders from the US Department of Education, the Federal Reserve, and the United Nations. She teaches graduate-level human behavior and psychology at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in New York. Her writing is regularly featured on Medium and in Harvard Business ReviewFast CompanyForbesBusiness Insider, and Quartz. Her advice has been featured in the New York TimesThe CutOprah MagazineNBC NewsUS News and World Report, and more.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Melody Wilding Interview Transcript

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

Melody Wilding
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to talk about your latest work Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work. I do some overthinking and could use some help channeling emotions, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone, so lay it on us. What’s maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made as you’re putting this together?

Melody Wilding
I think the concept that really underbeds the entire book of being a sensitive striver was the biggest lightbulb moment for me. Personally, yeah, I am this personality type and it was the huge discovery for me to put together and put words to something that I had struggled with for most of my life up until that point but also, after coaching people for 10 years, I had just seen this really repetitive and consistent constellation of challenges that I couldn’t put words to.

And so, when I was writing the book and I was really struggling with the proposal, trying to figure out what I was writing about, I just took a whiteboard and wrote down on it all the different challenges my clients had, grouped it into two different categories, and kind of stepped back and had that lightning bulb moment of, “Oh, sensitive and striver,” those two sides together. So, that was the biggest aha for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a great turn of a phrase – a sensitive striver. I think I am one, and I think that’s a resonant term for many of our listeners. But can you unpack it for us? What exactly does that mean to be a sensitive striver?

Melody Wilding
Of course. So, being a sensitive striver means that you are highly sensitive and high-achieving so you are someone who thinks and feels everything more deeply, you process the world around you more intricately, but you’re also very driven, you want to succeed, and you want to advance in your career. So, it’s that combination of sensitivity and striving.
Biologically speaking, this is about 15% to 20% of the population that has a genetic trait difference so we’re actually wired differently to pick up on more of the environment. So, we have a more highly attuned central nervous system, which means that we’re more perceptive, observant. We’re more attuned to our own emotions as well as those of the people around us. We’re deeply caring. We give our 100% to our work but we tend to have an inner world that’s on overdrive. And that’s because we process more deeply than other people that leaves us more susceptible to some of the downsides of stress, emotional overwhelm, overthinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m intrigued and I think that we’ve got plenty of applicability whether you happen to have that genetic switch going for you or not. Well, first of all, tell us, can we get a genetic test? How do we confirm this quickly and easily?

Melody Wilding
Yeah. So, I actually have in my book, there is a quick quiz, and I can run through some of the items in the quiz if that would be helpful. But this quiz is drawn from the research, from what we know about high sensitivity as a trait, and from what we know about high performance in the science. So, some of the signs, you’re someone who experiences emotion to an unusual level of depth and complexity. You have that desire to exceed expectations in everything that you do. You need time to think through decisions before you act, since the hallmark of sensitivity is pausing before acting.

You tend to have an inner critic that never takes a day off. You’re kind, compassionate, empathetic to others. You find it difficult to set boundaries and say yes too much. You struggle to turn your mind off because it’s constantly filled with thoughts. You hold yourself to very high standards and you judge yourself harshly if you make mistakes.

So, those are just a few of the signs but we can actually dive into, I actually have a framework that explains the six key qualities that all sensitive strivers have so we can dive into that if you like.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I’d love to hit the quick version of checking to those six. But, first, I’m thinking, let’s distinguish a bit. Everything you said resonates with me a bundle. I suppose it’s hard to say if we use words like unusually high or more than others, it’s like, “Well, I don’t know what others are experiencing in their interior life.” But I suppose what would be the insensitive striver, for example? So, I guess there are people who are ambitious but don’t have that going on. What is it? Just like, “You can’t make it on without cracking a few eggs. I don’t care who I have to dominate to win.” Is that what the insensitive striver sounds like?

Melody Wilding
The insensitive striver, I love that. No one has said that to me before so I love that. Sensitivity is a spectrum. So, as you were saying, people, you fall on that just like you would any personality trait. So, people who are highly sensitive are much more affected by the world and the environment that they’re in.

So, for example, if you’re someone who is utterly drained at the end of a long day with meetings where your partner is not. So, for example, my partner, the things that drain me and are very taxing to me, my partner, it doesn’t faze him at all. Or, things that I pick up on in a situation where I notice certain subtleties or nuances goes right over his head. And I love him with all my heart, so that is said with kindness.

Pete Mockaitis
And can this also be true about just actual physical stimuli, like sandpaper feels rougher, a loud noise is more jarring and painful?

Melody Wilding
One hundred percent, and that’s actually the first of the strive qualities is actually sensitivity which sounds obvious but it refers to exactly what you’re saying, which is sensory – sensitivity. So, we startle more easily. Yes, we’re more sensitive to smells and fabrics and bright lights, for example, so that’s why Zoom tends to be really fatiguing because it’s just visual stimulation and you’re self-monitoring all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Melody Wilding
And so, sensitive strivers can become really highly overstimulated and operate at that level for a long time, kind of just pushing themselves through it, that’s the striver side, and being burnt out. So, yes, you’re exactly right on.

Pete Mockaitis
And so that’s helpful there in terms of, okay, there is a spectrum and so it’s not necessarily binary, on/off, you got the gene, you’re in the 15% versus you don’t, you’re not. And one thing I think about sensitivity in terms of like when I’m dealing with people, I get the impression that some people I know seem to really feel, I don’t know, I guess, sensitivity, I mean, they feel the pull of like guilt and/or reciprocity significantly, and others seem completely immune to it. Like, there’s just no sense of they owe you.

And, in a way, I envy that. This is like, “Man, you’re such a killer negotiator. Like, you don’t care at all about all the things I’ve done for you. Wow, I just can’t be that heartless,” although I’d probably be more lucrative if I could be. So, does that fit in the mix or is that a totally different construct?

Melody Wilding
No, you’re 100% right. So, actually, you’re kind of leading down this framework, so the way to identify your qualities as a sensitive striver, conceptualize them, it conveniently spells out the acronym STRIVE. So, we first have sensory sensitivity, that’s the heightened nervous system response that we talked about. Then we have the T which is thoughtfulness. So, you’re contemplative, you’re reflective, you’re intuitive but you can overthink situations, worry more, get into indecision and doubt.

Next would be responsibility, which is part of what you were talking about, being dependable always, being counted on to follow through for other people but we also can’t bear to let people down so we will take on actual responsibility even when it means sacrificing our own wellbeing. Then we have inner drive which is that desire to exceed expectations, set a lot of goals. Sometimes we can set our goals so sky high that it’s unrealistic and we fall into perfectionism.

Fifth, we have vigilance, which is also being attentive to other people’s needs, having the keen awareness for those subtleties, a change in your boss’ body language, the general mood of a meeting. So, you’re constantly on high alert, taking on what’s going on around you but you may sometimes read danger where there is none.

And then, last is emotionality, so that’s our E in our STRIVE. And that is having complex more intense emotional responses, so you’re more emotionally reactive, so to speak, both positive and negative. So, we get the joy of experiencing life in full color, of the full emotional spectrum of gratitude, excitement, but we can also get stuck in negative emotions, like anger, fear, anxiety, and stay stuck there longer than most people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, I’m not a hoarder, like, “Where is this going, Pete?”

Melody Wilding
I like that, whenever a sentence starts that way.

Pete Mockaitis
But sometimes I do have a lot of complex emotional relationships associated with objects in terms of, “Are we just going to let that go and what does that mean? Does that mean that I’ve failed, I made a poor decision, that we’re no longer committed to this thing I thought we were committed to when we embarked upon this path and acquired this?” So, it’s like I really do have a lot of complicated emotions associated with several things, like, “Hey, are you going to use it? Well, then get rid of it.” It’s like, “Well, there’s a little more to it than that.” Not every item in my home but there’s like a sliver of things that fall into a weird category.

So, it sounds like, okay, there’s a spectrum. It sounds like I’m on it and I think a lot of our listeners are. And for the insensitive strivers, well, maybe you’ll learn what the rest of us are dealing with and interact with us.

Melody Wilding
That’s right because this is 20% of people, so this is one in five people. So, if you’re not one, you definitely work with one, love one, are friends with one, so it’s good to know about this personality, and in terms of how to get the best out of them, how to communicate with them, so definitely something here for everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then could you maybe share with us an inspiring story of a sensitive striver – I’m really going to put you on the spot here – who was having some stresses, some difficulties, but then, gaining some awareness and some tools about the sensitive striving, was able to open things up and make a positive impact?

Melody Wilding
I do. I do. And this one is timely because this actually happened last year when the pandemic really hit. So, I have one client who is in a senior leadership position at his organization, it was a nonprofit and he characterized himself as a reluctant leader. He actually consulted with the organization before, and the organization was in a transitional period, let’s put it that way. It was really, the leadership was in disarray. They had really been managed by an old-school model, kind of managed by fear and dictating what people should do, and just kind of your old-school management style.

And so, people had left, there was a lot of turnover, there was a lot of upset on the board about the organization not hitting their targets. And so, my client was thrust into a full-time senior leadership role when someone very suddenly exited. And so, all of a sudden, he sort of found himself as this reluctant leader of this broken organization and then the pandemic hit shortly after that, and there was, all of a sudden, a lot of pressure from the board.

This was really a catalyzing moment but, for him, it was also an opening to say, “We can’t do things the way we’ve always done. If we don’t change something, we’re not going to survive,” because, actually, his organization, what they did was in-person teaching. They would bring people to teach in-person classes which, as you can guess during the pandemic, was not possible, so overnight, pretty much their entire revenue stream evaporated.

Now, what my client was able to do and what we worked on together during this time was, first, his confidence of shifting from, in his mind, keeping himself and that identity of the reluctant leader, “This is only temporary and part time, and they didn’t really want me and I got here by luck.” A lot of getting past a lot of his hang-ups around the impostor syndrome and fully stepping into, “I’m the leader of this organization,” and owning that identity.

Second was really starting to leverage how his qualities as a sensitive striver could really uniquely be huge strengths in this situation. And a big one is that sensitive strivers, because we’re processing, we’re taking in a lot of information, we tend to anticipate eventualities, we tend to be able to spot opportunities that others miss, or anticipate roadblocks that may come up.

So, my client, even before the pandemic hit, he had been very vocal about the fact that, “We need to get our online learning up and running. We need to really be going deep on that as a different revenue stream.” And so, when the pandemic hit, he was very well-poised to push that through and very quickly was able to help the organization pivot their entire business model to an online revenue stream because he had seen that opportunity coming.

And then last was using his sensitivity, his empathy, his emotional intelligence, his high value for integrity and diversity, he completely rebuilt the team from the inside out. As I had mentioned before, the culture of the company was very much by fear, by criticism, and he completely changed that to be a very psychologically safe place, to be a place that people were going from a 50% turnover to people saying, “I never want to leave this job. I love working here so much,” and people referring their friends to the organization.

So, really, he completely turned around the inside of the organization and that’s primarily through his skills as a sensitive striver, his problem-solving, complex thinking, his empathy, emotional intelligence. All of those things, combined together, was the perfect combination needed to help the organization get through the pandemic.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s lovely in terms of the reluctance from which we started there, I guess impostor syndrome is huge there with regard to, “I don’t know enough. I’m not worthy of this opportunity. I’m a fraud.” And, yet, it seems like those same kinds of instincts that lead to you thinking you’re a fraud are actually the sorts of instincts that are assets in terms of helping out in terms of the sensitivity and the empathy and whatnot there. So, that’s cool right there in terms of just having that awareness. Okay, this is good.

Melody Wilding
Yeah, those strive qualities I mentioned before, they can all be strengths. You want to think of them almost like dials on the stereo. You can dial them up and you can dial them down. And when your qualities are well-balanced, for example, when your thoughtfulness is well-balanced, you’re able to be reflective and problem-solve and bring creative original ideas to the table. But when your thoughtfulness is not balanced for whatever reason, you’re stressed, you lack the right tools, you lack the awareness, well, then it can turn into impostor syndrome, overthinking. And so, they’re two sides of the same coin.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think I’ve got a good picture for how the strive qualities can be assets, and I’ve got a little bit of a picture for how that could be unpleasant as you’re inside the head of a sensitive striver. Could you paint perhaps a detailed picture in terms of the six strive qualities and how they can be working against you or feeling not so great?

Melody Wilding
Yeah. And I think many people will be familiar with this part. So, let’s take some of the most common examples. We talked about impostor syndrome. So, that is that feeling of being a fake, a fraud, despite your accomplishments, so it’s really just being really hindered by your insecurities. So, a lot of the clients I work with come to me because they say they are playing it safe in their career. They’re running away from more responsibility because of their lack of confidence. They don’t want to put themselves out there or take higher leadership positions, or they do take higher leadership positions and they self-sabotage or flare out early on. So, that is one common thing we see.

Also, something I call the honor roll hangover. And that is a combination of people-pleasing, perfectionism, and over-functioning. So, it’s called the honor roll hangover because many of our habits that many sensitive strivers are grownup A+ gold star students, who bring that same sort of mentality, “Be the best. Do everything right,” they bring that mentality with them into their careers. And while that helps them be successful then, that it’s not necessarily the same skillset it means to be successful particularly as you advance in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say over-functioning, that sounds like a good thing. But over maybe not so much, what do we mean by that?

Melody Wilding
That’s right. So perfectionism, most of us know perfectionism is not really the desire to be perfect, but it’s more the self-recrimination. It’s being highly self-critical, nothing you ever do is good enough, beating yourself up relentlessly for everything that you do, all or nothing thinking, that’s perfectionism.

People-pleasing can also look good, “I want to be helpful to people. I always want to be of value.” We hear that constantly from people in the workplace. But people-pleasing can look like agreeing to someone’s not-so-great idea when you don’t actually agree with it; morphing your opinion so someone likes you; or, a lot of folks I worked with who are managers and leaders will sort of downplay their opinions because they want their team to like them, or not give feedback. So, that’s people-pleasing.

And then over-functioning can look like a few things. It can look like swooping in to fix situations. You always have to be the one putting out fires. If others around you are very dependent on you, so if everybody comes to you for answers to the point where people don’t know how to do the work themselves, so you are basically an enabler. So, when you’re over-functioning, you tend to overwork as well. You tend to take on more than your share of responsibility.

So, if you take on emotional and mental responsibility for situations when it’s really not yours, an outcome of a meeting or a project and you are just beating yourself up and feeling horrible because it went sideways when, really, there was so much out of your control, then you’re over-functioning. And the problem with over-functioning is it causes other people under-function.

So, you can actually create this cycle where other people don’t take responsibility, they don’t step up, they’re not empowered, which only reinforces it because you feel more resentful, you feel like the kid in the group project who does everything by yourself and nobody else steps up, and it might be because you’re not giving them a chance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, let’s zoom in on some solutions here. When it comes to your inner critic, when it comes to second-guessing or rumination, when we’re in the heat of that battle in our brains, what do we do?

Melody Wilding
So, one of my favorite strategies and one my clients love is naming your inner critic, personifying it, giving it an identity that is separate from you. And this is simple but powerful because so many of us over-identify with that inner critic. It is the loudest voice in our head. It drowns out our intuition or our wiser self, the more balanced and calm self. And so, it’s so automatic and what we need to do is be able to gain distance from it so that we can hear what it’s saying but not necessarily buy into and act on what it’s telling us.

So, when you personify your inner critic, I recommend giving it a silly name or imagining it as a character from a movie. So, one of my clients named his Darth Vader, and actually got a Darth Vader Lego figure, put it on his desk so that every time his inner critic was acting up, he was able to look at it, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Darth Vader is uniquely perfect because he’s so critical and so overreacts, like he’s going to choke you if you make a mistake, and so that is perfection. What are some other examples?

Melody Wilding
Well, I’ve had a lot of people call theirs the little monster or Gremlin. Some folks, a lot of Karens this year with the rise of…

Pete Mockaitis
Poor Karens in real life.

Melody Wilding
I know. I feel very bad for real Karens.

Pete Mockaitis
All listeners named Karen, we love you.

Melody Wilding
I know. Yes, that is very true. So, yeah, that’s a few of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. Okay, so we give it a name. That’s a great tip. And then what?

Melody Wilding
And so, once you are able to gain distance from it, that’s half the battle. Half the battle is even recognizing when it comes up so that’s not so automatic. But where the greater power is starting to change your thoughts, starting to reframe the impostor syndrome dialogue that’s going on in your head. And so, this is really a process of self-coaching, and so much of my job as a coach is to put myself out of a job because I want to give my clients the ability to have a Melody in their head so they can coach themselves to better thoughts and better solutions.

And so, for example, if your impostor syndrome is saying…well, what are some critical thoughts that you struggle with?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s see. I don’t know if, you call it negative self-talk but I don’t know if it’s so much of a criticism, it’s not like, “You screwed up. You’re bad. You suck. You’re unworthy of love.” I don’t have much of that going on but I can sort of dwell on the, “Ugh, I’m tired. I’m exhausted. This is too much. I don’t know if I can handle all of this.” Some sort of like, “Woe is me. Tired. Overwhelmed.” So, does that count as an inner critic? It’s not helpful.

Melody Wilding
Well, that’s what I would say, yeah. And so, one kind of coaching question, or coaching questions I come back to again and again and again, one of them is, “How is this thought serving you? How is that thought helping you reach your goals?”

Pete Mockaitis
Fantastic question. Usually, it’s not at all. Occasionally, it might help me anticipate something, like, “Hey, yeah, good point. That’s probably going to pop up so let’s prepare.” But more often than not, it’s just bellyaching in the moment which does nothing for me.

Melody Wilding
Yeah, exactly. And negative or critical thoughts stick around because there’s always a kernel of truth and usefulness. As you said, it helps us anticipate or prepare whatever it is but they become so outsized that it’s not helpful. So, that’s one question is, “How is this thought serving me?”

Another one that really stops people in their tracks is, “What am I making this mean about me?” That’s my golden coaching question that I come back to again and again, because, so often, we are personalizing other people’s actions and behaviors to mean something. We interpret it as something negative about us, “My boss used a period instead of an exclamation point. Well, that must mean they’re mad at me, they’re going to fire me. I knew he thought I did a bad job on that,” instead of looking at the facts of the situation, which is, “He used a period instead of an exclamation point.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s so good.

Melody Wilding
And we go down this narrative, right?

Pete Mockaitis
And the stimuli doesn’t even need to be external. Like, in terms of me saying, “I feel tired,” I could say, “What does that mean about me?” I could leap to conclusions, it’s like, “Well, yeah, I’m out of shape. I haven’t been doing much working out. I’ve been neglecting my health and vitality. I’m getting older. I’m not as motivated as I used to be. I’m losing the fire. I used to be such a go-getter, and now I’m getting weak and soft.” Whereas, it could really just mean, “Yeah, you didn’t get enough sleep last night,” or, “Yeah, it’s been about seven hours since you had a meal. That’ll do it.”

So, that’s awesome whether it’s coming from the external or the internal. We could personalize and make it mean something about us that’s not so handy.

Melody Wilding
Yeah. And two other helpful tools to get past that then when you do find yourself personalizing or getting hooked by those stories, one is another acronym, that is THINK. So, you’re going to be thinking anyway, but THINK stands for, “Is this thought true?” Do I have factual evidence? Or is this an interpretation or an opinion? A fact is, “I made a typo in an email,” whereas an opinion is, “I’m horrible at my job.”

Is it helpful? “Is it serving me or others?” Is it inspiring? “Does it help me move closer or away from my goals?” Is it necessary? “Is it necessary that I focus on this thought now, that I act on it, or even pay attention to it or can I let it go?” And then last is kind. “Is it compassionate? Is it caring towards myself or to others?” And even just that, I’ve a lot of clients who just keep a sticky note on their computer with THINK. And whenever they find themselves going down that spiral, it’s an instant reset to help you access some of that more balanced, calmer, compassionate thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that so much. Boy, this reminds me of, every once in a while, something reminds me of a verse, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, and if there’s anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” If there’s any Christian in the house, that might resonate, like those are similar things and themes to think in terms of those are the kinds of things that are going to serve you and help get you where you want to be.

Melody Wilding
Yeah, that’s beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Okay, so we catch ourselves, I guess, in the moment. We go through the THINK acronym. And then what if we say, “Hey, you know what? No, it’s not true or it’s not helpful,” how do we kind of shimmy from there?

Melody Wilding
Yeah, part of it is even practicing on, practicing new thoughts, because new thoughts then lead to different actions. Because if your thinking is, “I’m not worthy. I’m not capable. I’m inadequate,” well, your actions are going to be congruent with that. You’re not going to put yourself out there. You’re going to diminish your successes. But if your thinking is more constructive, well, then you are going to put yourself out there, you are going to feel more confident.

And so, so much of overcoming impostor syndrome comes down to changing your thoughts, yes, but then taking a leap to act differently so that you get evidence to build your credibility with yourself. And so, when I have clients in my group coaching program, the first thing I say in our initial session to them is that, “You build confidence and credibility with yourself in proportion to the number of promises you keep to yourself.”

And so, if so many of us put other people first in our careers and in our lives, and we are the last person on the list that we say, “Well, I’ll take my lunch break today,” “I’ll finally take that course that I’ve been wanting to take,” that always falls to the wayside, or, “I’ll speak up in that meeting and I’ll share my idea this time,” “I’ll give feedback or I’ll ask feedback from my boss,” and we don’t hold ourselves accountable. And that only reinforces the negative thinking, the inner critic, the impostor syndrome thoughts, because, look, you are such a scaredy cat. You can’t even ask your boss for feedback? Who does that? No wonder you’re not successful at this job.

But if you take a leap and you keep that promise to yourself, well, you start changing. You have evidence to back up that new story that you’re telling yourself. You’re depositing in your confidence bank, so to speak.

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

Melody Wilding
I think the last thing I wanted to mention around impostor syndrome is really internalizing your achievements because so many times, sensitive strivers, again, we place all of our attention externally on other people versus channeling it internally. Most of the time, when we channel our energy internally, it’s to be critical, it’s about how we’re not measuring up, or we need to be stronger, our weaknesses.

So, I have my clients keep a brag file, which is an ongoing place of work journal, essentially, where, on a daily basis or on Monday and Friday, they are talking about their biggest achievements, their biggest wins. And what’s important about this is it’s not to think of wins in the glorified sense of, “I made the company a million dollars,” but in the, “What moments of strength did I have? Did I overcome resistance? Did I do something that was hard?” It can be wins, like positive phrase and feedback, but it is important to do this because, if we don’t, the negativity bias will take over. It’s very easy to get to the end of a day or week, and feel like, “I did nothing productive or worthwhile today.”

And so, your brag file is a force point of reflection for you to do that and to help you really take in, internalize and appreciate how far you are coming. And through that, you can see your strengths, your talents, what type of work you are good at, so it can be useful in a number of different levels.

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

Melody Wilding
Mine would be a quote from Charles Dickens that says, “Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” A very sensitive striver.

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

Melody Wilding
Lately, I have been reading a lot of future of jobs reports from the World Economic Forum, for example, about what are the skills, workplace skills that are going to be most valuable in the future, and it’s all things sensitive strivers are strong in – emotional intelligence, empathy, complex thinking, problem-solving. So, I have really just been fascinated by where the future of work is going and how much those skills are in demand.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Melody Wilding
Thanks for the Feedback by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone. Fantastic book. If you have ever struggled with taking feedback or criticism personally, you need to read it. It completely changed the way I see communication and conversations in general.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool?

Melody Wilding
With this, I’m going to go with the Oura Ring. Not sure if you’ve heard of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, it’s like a Fitbit except it’s a ring.

Melody Wilding
Yes, and I have mine on right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good.

Melody Wilding
And it’s fantastic. It tracks your sleep so it’s been really helpful to help me spot patterns in my sleep. It tracks your heart rate so it has really been helpful for helping me manage stress and build more healthier, productive habits.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, if I can dork out here for a moment.

Melody Wilding
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Does it do stuff above and beyond what a Fitbit does or is it just more a form factor thing?

Melody Wilding
I think the sleep might be superior and deeper to what you can get with a Fitbit but I think beyond that, most of it is the same and it’s, yeah, it’s a fit and form thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it looks cool. All right. And how about a favorite habit?

Melody Wilding
For this, I’m going to go with every Saturday I do a weekly reflection. I call it my CEO report, and it’s a time for me to sit down, quiet, no other distractions, and really log different metrics for my business, but also ask myself big questions about, “What is going well? What needs to be improved? What’s on the horizon?” So, it just really helps me feel grounded.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share with your clients, something that really connects and resonates, they quote it back to you frequently?

Melody Wilding
Yes, “Confidence isn’t a prerequisite for success. It’s a byproduct of success.”

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

Melody Wilding
You can head to MelodyWilding.com/book. That’s where you can find more information about me, my website, but also get your copy of my new book Trust Yourself.

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

Melody Wilding
Start viewing your sensitivity as a strength and the world will change.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Melody, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your sensitive striving.

Melody Wilding
Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.