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959: Daniel Goleman on How to Master Your Attention, Stop Negativity, and Work Optimally

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Famed emotional intelligence researcher Daniel Goleman shares tools for more productive and fulfilling work days.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five-minute technique for mastering your attention
  2. The technique Special Forces use to stay cool and calm 
  3. How to quiet the negative voice inside your head 

About Daniel

Psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman has transformed the way the world educates children, relates to family and friends, leads, and conducts business. A frequent speaker on campuses and to businesses of all kinds and sizes, he has worked with organizations around the globe, examining the way social and emotional competencies impact the bottom-line.  

Ranked one of the 10 most influential business thinkers by the Wall Street Journal, Goleman’s articles in the Harvard Business Review are among the most frequently requested reprints. He has won many awards, including the HBR McKinsey Award for best article of the year. Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences awarded him its Centennial Medallion. Apart from his writing on emotional intelligence, Goleman has written books on topics including self-deception, creativity, transparency, meditation, social and emotional learning, eco-literacy and the ecological crisis.  

His latest book, Optimal, shows why emotional intelligence can help each of us have rewarding and productive days. Daniel Goleman’s online Emotional Intelligence Program found at danielgolemanemotionalintelligence.com, offers anyone a deep understanding of the competencies of self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skill.  

Resources Mentioned

Daniel Goleman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Dan, welcome.

Daniel Goleman

Thank you, Pete. Pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about some insights from your book, “Optimal: How to Sustain Personal and Organizational Excellence Every Day” but first I think, when people hear and see your name, they think, “Oh! Emotional intelligence!” So, you’ve been pursuing this stuff for, well, how long has it been?

Daniel Goleman

The first book was in ’95.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, there you go.

Daniel Goleman

When you were probably in nursery school, I would guess. I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis

I was 12 years old.

Daniel Goleman

Twelve years old, there you go. So, I’ve been doing it a long time and it’s really interesting. The research has gotten better, that’s why I did this book. And when I did the first book, it was really kind of hypothetical, anecdotal. Now I wrote “Optimal” with Cary Cherniss, who was my fellow co-director of a consortium for research on emotional intelligence, and we’re just basically harvesting lots of research.

But in terms of how to be awesome at work, I think the most interesting research comes out of Harvard Business School. It’s what we start the book with. It’s a profile of a good day, and it comes from a study where they had hundreds of men and women keep a journal about what it was like today at work and what happened and how they felt. And from that there’s a kind of composite of a perfect day at work and it goes like this.

You’re very engrossed and engaged in what you’re doing. You’re totally focused. You’re not distracted. You like what you’re doing. You feel good. You’re in upstate, and you feel very connected with the people you’re working with. That turns out to be a high productivity state. And leadership is the art of getting work done well through other people. So, when you’re in that state, you’re helping your boss, and your boss knows it, but you’re also being at your best.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, yeah, that sounds like a fantastic place to be. So, tell us, how often do we tend to get there as professionals? Like what proportion of our days fall into this good-day zone?

Daniel Goleman

That’s a question that we don’t have an empirical answer for, but I would say it also varies a huge amount from person to person. And the lovely thing about this particular zone of high productivity is it’s different from the famous flow state. The flow state is that one time you were absolutely at your best, you know, you can’t believe how well you did. The problem with flow is that it just happens to you. You can’t make it happen. You can’t produce it.

The optimal state, on the contrary, is on the same spectrum, a little lower than flow I would say, but your attention is very important. And, in fact, attention is a way to get into that optimal state. Paying full attention to what you’re doing now or what’s most important to you right now as a doorway into the optimal state.

And the nice thing about attention is it’s a muscle. It’s a muscle of the mind. It’s like, you know, when you go to the gym and you lift weights, every rep makes that muscle that much stronger. It’s the same thing with the brain circuitry for attention. If you do an attention training or attention development exercise, you get better and better at it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Cool. Well, so I’d love to hear, could you tell us perhaps a story of someone who wasn’t having such a good proportion of these optimal days, and they were able to do some cool brain training in order to turn that around, and what happened for them?

Daniel Goleman

Well, the brain training I’ll share with your listeners, it’s very simple. Sometimes it’s called mindfulness of the breath. It’s just if you take any meditation method and you strip away the belief system from a cognitive science point of view, they’re all developing attention. They’re all helping you ignore distraction, which today is worse than ever for people. We all have these little phones with us that carry the things that interests us the most, which are our biggest distractions.

So, by bringing your attention to your breath, the in-breath and the out-breath, and then the next breath, the in-breath and the out-breath, doing that systematically as a training, the same way you go to a gym, for example. It turns out that the research shows that this makes people better and better at bringing their focus to what they need to do right now, and that is how that state blossoms, the optimal state.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s lovely. Could you share with us any particular studies or quantification of just how much better we get at that and how much of a dose I need to do of this sort of a practice in order to reach those benefits?

Daniel Goleman

Well, I did another book called “Altered Traits” which reviewed all of the hard science about all this, and it shows there’s basically a dose-response relationship that is the more you do it, the better you get, the better the benefits. I would recommend people who’ve never done this starting with just five minutes a day and then building up from there. The longer you do it the better it is, and that means that the stronger the circuitry for paying attention gets.

There was a study done at Harvard that shows people are distracted about 50% of the time, generally, in life. More so at work, it turns out. And so, if you want to be in a better state, if you want to be at your best at work, this is the kind of thing that will help you do that because it helps you ignore distractions.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And with regard to this dose-response curve, I’m wondering, is there a point of diminishing returns, like after you’re doing six hours, it’s not doing much more for you than when you’re doing five hours? Where would we put that?

Daniel Goleman

Well, frankly, very few people are going to do it five or six hours. You’d rather be like a monk or a nun or something to do it that much. But if you do it over years, if you do it maybe a half hour a day every day for a long time, you start to see, we’ve seen in our research, many more benefits from this.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And can you tell us about the particulars for how that’s done excellently? So, if we’re, for example, I’ve heard it said that it is ideal to have a posture that is alert yet relaxed, like you’re not lying down, and if you’re sitting, you’re not hunched over and you’re not standing at an attention, can you talk to us a little bit about the nuances or the particulars that make a practice optimal?

Daniel Goleman

Definitely. Well, first of all, before you get to your posture, let’s get to where you’re going to do this and when. You’ve got to find a time in your day when you can be someplace where no one’s going to disturb you. You don’t have to answer the phone, kids aren’t going to come in, or the dog is not going to jump on your lap, whatever it is, and you need a space you can control or can be controlled for you.

And then the basic instruction, as you said, is just to sit up straight. Not tense, relaxed, with your spine straight. You can do it in a chair easily, and then bring your attention to your breath, the in-breath and the out-breath, and then the next breath, the in-breath and the out-breath. Then your mind is going to wander at some point, and when you notice it wandered, you bring it back to the next breath. That’s the critical moment. That’s the strengthener because that’s a moment of mindfulness. It’s when you bring your mind back from distraction to the point of focus, where you get the payoff from this.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And if I can maybe vocalize a concern or response, “But, Dan, that sounds so boring!”

Daniel Goleman

People actually often say the opposite.

Pete Mockaitis

Pray tell.

Daniel Goleman

They say, “My mind is…I can’t control my mind.” Rather than nothing happening, too much is happening. And the answer is good for you. That means you’re finally paying attention to how your mind actually is.

That’s a normal beginning response. You start to see how active your mind actually is. Usually, we don’t notice it. We get carried away. We pay attention to this and to that and to this and that. We go wherever our mind does, but then you realize you don’t have to do that. You can start to control your mind. So, that’s a normal response. People rarely say they’re bored.

Here’s what you need to understand, Pete. The body is designed to have a fight or flight response, technically sympathetic nervous system arousal, to an emergency, to stress. The problem for so many of us at work is that it’s unremitting. It’s relentless. You’re stressed all the time. You never have a chance to do what the body needs, which is a recovery period. It’s called parasympathetic arousal, and it’s the downtime when the body rests and recovers. And if you never get that, you’re going to become emotionally exhausted that leads to burnout.

The antidote is something I really urge people to do, which is to schedule something that’s recovery for you, that’s relaxing, you know, playing with a pet or a kid, or being with a loved one, or meditation, yoga, walk in nature, whatever does it for you, but schedule it every day because it seems like it’s irrelevant. Like you were saying, “Well, isn’t this going to sound boring to people?” No, this is important. This is your time to yourself to help yourself be ready for the next period of stress, which is so-called work.

Pete Mockaitis

And, Dan, tell me, if some say, “You know, the way I really like to unwind is by watching movies or playing video games or being on social media,” does that count, Dan? Or, what do you think about that?

Daniel Goleman

Well, I would say that those are other forms of distraction. Sorry, I don’t think they count as recovery. Recovery is a time when you don’t think about those things you otherwise ruminate about and worry about. So, it needs to be something where you break the flow, maybe it’s a video game for you, but if you get really, like, into the game and I’m very excited by the game, it’s not recovery. Sorry. It’s what we call eustress. It’s a form of stress. It might be enjoyable, but still, it’s not that total rest and relaxation and recovery. That’s what you need.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that’s well said, because I guess, whether it’s a movie or a game or whatever, some of them are intense, like, “I’m shooting down 99 other people,” and others are more chill, like, “Okay, we’re making some lines in Tetris. All right. Here we go, doo-doo-doo-doo, in the groove.”

Daniel Goleman

But if you were to be measuring the physiology, your physiology, while you do that, it’s just as bad when you’re stressed.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, here we go, we got one key principle, is that great days consist of doing stuff with uninterrupted focused attention on a thing, and one way we can get better at that is by doing a mindfulness practice and making sure that we have some restorative breaks built into our world. Tell us, what are some of the other master keys to being optimal?

Daniel Goleman

One of them goes back to Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer.” You know that prayer that’s used in AA?

Pete Mockaitis

That’s right, yeah.

Daniel Goleman

“Give me the wisdom to know the difference between the things I can change and the things I can’t.” And implicit in that is the ability to adjust to things we can’t. So, think about your boss at work, some people are lucky and they have a great boss and some people aren’t so lucky. I’ve gone around the world asking different business groups, “Tell me about a boss you hated and a boss you loved, and a quality that made that boss so awful or so good.”

And the bad boss is invariably kind of an emotional Neanderthal, and the good boss is, frankly, emotionally intelligent. It’s someone who’s available, who’s empathetic, who’s supportive, who gives you clear direction, things like that. So, if you have a bad boss, day in and day out, or bad working circumstance, the question is, “What can you do in that situation that you can’t change, you have to live with, to make it more manageable for you?” And what I would say is manage your internal state.

I once had a boss that I hated and I became kind of avid meditator in the morning, so that when I went to work, I’d be at my best. So I could stand him, basically, and do my best work. And I would say that managing your internal state is something you have control over. I don’t know if you, Pete, you’re familiar with the book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

It’s a great book, and Frankl survived four years in Nazi concentration camps. And he said the way he did it was by managing his internal reaction to what was going on, and that’s what saved him. And I think it’s very profound because it implies any of us can have more control over our inner world. And it’s our inner world, bottom line, that makes the difference for how we feel at the end of the day.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I love that. So, let’s talk about some of the practices by which we can manage our inner world and our emotional states. So, you have a scenario for there’s a bad boss, someone you dread interacting with, seeing, experiencing, and one approach is doing some mindfulness meditation practice in preparation for that. What are some of the other super effective tools you suggest we can use for managing our own internal emotional states?

Daniel Goleman

So, the mindfulness, the breath, the attention training that I mentioned, the payoff from that is gradual. It’s not like you’re going to do that at work. You’re going to do it every day or a few days a week, and the benefits come slowly. I would say if you know you’re going into a stressful encounter, you’re going to be with that person you can’t stand, for example, whoever that is, there’s something that’s used by Special Forces that I recommend. It’s a controlled breathing method. It’s called box breath, and it has a very powerful effect on your physiology.

The box breath is sometimes called four by four by four. You breathe in deeply so your belly expands. You hold your breath for as long as it’s comfortable, and then you exhale for as long as it’s comfortable. And if you do that, six to nine times, it actually changes your physiology, your body state, from being tensed, fight or flight, sympathetic nervous arousal, to that recovery mode, to parasympathetic.

It lowers heart rate. It lowers blood pressure, and it does it on the spot. And you can you can do it at work, it’s not that obvious what you’re doing. And it’s used by Special Forces, for example, before they’re going to go into a big whatever that they know they’ve got to prepare for. And I say why not use it at work?

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. Now, Dan, I’m loving this. So, I’ve heard of box breathing, and I’ve done it, and you’ve got some nuances there that I just delight in there. So, now I had heard it suggested that you do, it’s a box, like your inhale time, your hold while inhaled, your exhale time, and your hold while exhaled are the same. So, it’s like you could draw a box with four completely equal sides. And so, I had heard like, “Oh, do for, like, four seconds.” And so, you’re saying, “Ah, instead of doing four seconds, do it as long as you comfortably can on each of the four steps of the way.”

Daniel Goleman

Yeah, and it might be six seconds for someone. Who knows? I don’t think counting the seconds is the point. I think tuning into what’s comfortable for you is more to the point, and if you can hold it longer than the count of four, do it. If you can hold your breath for longer than that, if you can exhale for longer than that. In other words, find what works for you in this.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And also, you said six to nine times. I love the specificity. And so, that has been shown in the research to get the job done, that that amount of breathing will have a noticeable difference, just six to nine of those loops?

Daniel Goleman

That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. So, like three-ish minutes and you’ve got a transformation. That’s what I’m talking about, Dan. Thank you. All right. Well, hey, lay it on us. What else we got? We got the mindfulness meditation. We’ve got the box breathing. What are some of your other faves for the emotional state management?

Daniel Goleman

If you’d like a third approach, one thing that some people find very useful is monitoring that voice inside our head that gets us out of bed in the morning, it has us propelled through our day, and then puts us to sleep at night. That’s self-talk, it’s called, technically. And monitoring self-talk, you may find, for example, that you’re being too critical of yourself, many people are. You may fixate on the things you did wrong and not encourage the things or celebrate the things that you do well. That is a way that we make things even more stressful for ourselves.

And so, there’s a wonderful book called “Learned Optimism” by a guy named Martin Seligman, a psychologist at Penn. And what he says is that you can talk back. You don’t have to believe your thoughts. And you can, if you find that you’re being overly critical, that you ruminate about the things you got wrong, he’d say, “You know, remember the things that you do right, the things that you do well.” In other words, look at your strengths, not just at your weaknesses.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, monitoring the self-talk, I hear you there in terms of our self-talk may be like, “Oh, you always screw this up. You’re such a loser. This is rubbish. Oh, this is not going to work out. It never works out. This is too stressful. Why do I… How did I commit to this? How did I get myself into this?” Okay, so we got that groove. Not so encouraging. So, when it comes to the monitoring, I mean, I can maybe notice, “Oh, I got some negative self-talk going on here.” When it comes to monitoring, what is the practice or protocol or approach?

Daniel Goleman

In cognitive therapy, which uses this approach, they often will tell someone, “Notice what you keep telling yourself.” Very often, the critiques are repetitive. It’s like the same thing in various forms over and over and over again. And prepare yourself, rehearse something you could say back to those thoughts. Like, “I screwed that thing up at work, and that proves to me because of my negative self-talk that I’m an idiot.”

But what could you say to yourself when you notice you’re doing that negativity thing? You could say, “Actually, you know, usually I don’t mess up. Usually, I do pretty well. And I remember this time and that time and that time that I actually did just fine.” And so, you purposely bring that to mind to counteract the negative thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, we’ve got some rehearsal in advance. Lay it on us in terms of, if I’ve got some self-talk that says, “Ugh, I’m so tired. I really just don’t feel like dealing with this. This is so overwhelming,” what are some good responses?

Daniel Goleman

So, it sounds to me, Pete, that you’re evoking a situation where it’s kind of relentless and you’re feeling burned out. Is that right?

Pete Mockaitis

It could be burnout. It could just be dread or reluctance or procrastination, in general. It’s like, “Oh, this is a task I don’t feel like dealing with, and here it is. Ugh.”

Daniel Goleman

Okay. So, maybe you remind yourself, “Why do I need to do this? Why is this important? This is part of my job,” maybe. “And what is my state right now?” you might ask yourself. “And what can I do to upgrade it so that I can be up to the task?” I think one thing you can do is pay more attention to what you’re doing right now. One of the things that you’re letting happen, I suppose, is that your attention is just wandering, “Oh, I don’t want to think about this. I don’t want to do this.” You’re just basically letting yourself be distracted. And so, you could intentionally up your focus right then, “You know, I don’t love this thing that I have to do, but I have to do it for this reason, and so I’m going to really do it. I’m going to pay full attention to what I need to do.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, Dan, tell us, when it comes to having optimal days, we’ve covered a few things here. Where should we go next?

Daniel Goleman

Well, it turns out that emotional intelligence allows this more often. Emotional intelligence is four parts: self-awareness, managing your emotions, empathy, and relationship management. That’s the whole package, and some of us are better at some parts and less good at others. So, I’ve been talking about the first two parts, self-awareness and self-management; tuning into what you’re feeling and then managing those feelings. But there are other aspects of self-management. It’s not just about reducing the negative emotions, like, “I can’t stand this. I hate my boss,” whatever it may be. That’s part of it.

But another part is marshaling positive emotions, being optimistic, being positive about what’s happening, keeping your eye on goals that matter to you. Maybe you don’t like this particular part of your job, but you know that you want to advance at work. Maybe that’s a long-term goal. So, you remember that at that time, and you tell yourself, “This is part of the job I really don’t like, but I have to do a good job because I’m going up the ladder,” perhaps. That’s one way of doing it.

Then there’s empathy. Empathy is really interesting, Pete. There are three kinds of empathy. One is cognitive empathy, “I understand how you think about things. I see your perspective.” AI is very good at cognitive empathy. But then there’s emotional empathy, “I know how the person in front of me feels because I get a sense of it in my body.” There are actually, when you have eye contact in a real interaction, face-to-face, you establish a kind of invisible, instantaneous, unconscious bridge, brain-to-brain, and emotions pass very effectively on that bridge, so you tune in to what’s going on, and you pick it up. That’s emotional empathy.

The third kind of empathy is actually the one that we want in our boss. It’s called empathic concern, “I not only know how you think and feel, I care about you.” And these are each based in different parts of the brain. So, if you have a boss who has this third kind of empathy, you feel you can trust that person, you feel rapport with them. If you are a boss, if you have direct reports, and you’re that kind of person, then the people who work for you are more likely to give their best effort because they like you as a person.

They feel that you support them. You might even inspire them. You might articulate some meaning or purpose to what we’re doing that is even greater than the job itself. And that turns out to get the best efforts out of people. But at the very least, you can guide them, you can coach them, you can help them get better at what they’re doing. All of that makes people feel really good about their boss. So, that’s the third part. And then there’s putting that all together to have effective relationships.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, I’m curious, Dan. Let’s say, folks, their hearts are in the right place. They would like to demonstrate this and provide this for the people they care about in their lives, their colleagues, their friends and family. Assuming that’s there, what are some ways folks fall short in terms of, like, maybe they’re unconscious, that there are things that they’re doing or not doing that are just sabotaging their ability to effectively be empathetic, empathic, in a way that that folks can receive and appreciate?

Daniel Goleman

Well, one of the common colds of this is having relationships that are purely transactional where you only talk about what needs to be done. You never talk about the person, “How are you doing? What’s your life like?” In fact, one thing that I advise, I’m often asked, “What can we do when we work only by Zoom? We never meet each other.”

You know in the old days, or maybe still in some workplaces, you have a nine-to-five situation where you’re with someone five days a week for all those hours and it’s just natural that you find out about them as a person. You get to know them. It’s the, “Let’s have lunch together,” or, “Let’s have a beer after work,” or just around the cooler, water cooler, whatever it is.

But casual conversation matters because it knits people together. And if you don’t have that, if you’re working by Zoom, I think it’s important, particularly if you’re a leader, say, of a team, to replace that with a one-on-one, with the individuals on that team, for example, where you talk about the person, not the job, “But what do you want from life, from your career?” for example, or, “How can I help you?” That starts a very different kind of connection.

Pete Mockaitis

Alrighty.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, now could you tell us about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Daniel Goleman

The first person to benefit from compassion or caring about other people is the person who feels it.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Daniel Goleman

Well, one thing I like talking about are the studies that established the social brain circuitry, which are relatively new in neuroscience, and one of them had to do with a neuron in a monkey’s brain that only fired when that monkey lifted its arm. This was a lab in Italy. One day, the neuron was firing, the brain cell was firing, and the monkey wasn’t moving, and they didn’t know why.

Then they realized it was a hot day in Italy. A lab assistant had gone out for a gelato. He’s standing in front of the monkey, and every time he raises his arm to take a lick of the gelato, the monkey’s brain cell for that same movement fired. That was the discovery of mirror neurons. And it turns out that the human brain is peppered with mirror neurons, and they tell us what the person in front of us is not just doing and intending, but what they’re feeling. Mirror neurons are a very important aspect of the social brain and of empathy.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite book?

Daniel Goleman

I’ll say “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Daniel Goleman

Listening.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Daniel Goleman

I’d point them to my website, DanielGoleman.info.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Daniel Goleman

Pay attention.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, Dan, this is fun. I wish you many optimal days.

Daniel Goleman

Thank you. Likewise, Pete. Great.

954: Rewriting Your Source Code: How to Identify and Cure the 12 Patterns Holding You Back with Dr. Sam Rader

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

Dr. Sam Rader discusses a fresh approach to identify and cure the unconscious patterns that keep us from living fully.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising origins of many work dysfunctions
  2. The 12 coping styles and their antidotes
  3. How to build your patience for annoying co-workers 

About Sam

Dr. Sam Rader is a former psychologist who took what she learned about childhood development, personality, and growth and turned it into a new quantum healing  modality called Source Code.

She is the author of SOURCE CODE, a forthcoming book about the 12 Coping Styles we adopt in childhood, which helped us then and hurt us now, and how we can heal. Dr. Sam believes that our early childhood experience writes a source code within us, which determines the rest of the way that our story unfolds. She helps people rewrite their code for a healthier, more beautiful life. 

Resources Mentioned

Dr. Sam Rader Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Dr. Sam, welcome.

Dr. Sam Rader

Hi, Pete. I’m so happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I’m happy to be here as well. Mawi sang your praises so strongly, I was like, “Well, I’ve got to hear what all this is about.” So, let’s jump right in and tell us, what is Source Code in your parlance and lingo?

Dr. Sam Rader

Sure. So, Source Code is a new technique and theory that I’ve developed over the last 13 years. I was a psychologist for 18 years, and during that time, I started seeing all these patterns in all of my clients across everyone, no matter their walk of life, where they’re from, who they are. They all seem to have the same 12 problems. And once I saw these patterns, I started working with those instead of any other old ways of diagnosing things. I just saw them as these patterns.

And over time, I found that the ways to heal them are quicker when we bypass the mind and just work with the patterns themselves as sort of symbolic energies, and I can speak more about that later. But as we’ve done this, I’ve developed this new way of healing. It’s an alternative to coaching and therapy, and I call it Source Code. And Source Code is based on the premise that in our first five years of life, our early experience writes a code deep within us. And that coding kind of becomes the algorithm that runs our matrix of reality for as long as we live.

So, we keep reliving the same patterns and problems that we had from our family system when we were little, keep attracting and reenacting it, and we’re not even aware of it. It’s kind of like living in an invisible prison. And what I do is I help people jailbreak. We kind of liberate ourselves from these life-long unconscious patterns so that we can finally feel truly free and feel more connected to our essence of love and joy and peace.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, boy, intriguing stuff. Okay. So, more love, joy, peace. Sounds great. I mean, I think we could all sign up for that, but I got to be true to the ethos of the show, “But, Sam, how’s that going to make me more awesome at my job?”

Dr. Sam Rader

I know, it’s so good. It’s such a good one. Well, so, Source Code is based on the premise that we live in a fractal universe, and let me explain what I mean by that. Fractals are, probably, your audience has seen 3D renderings of them online. They look kind of trippy and psychedelic and beautiful, but it’s really a mathematical equation representing how there’s a pattern that repeats at scale.

So, when you look at a fractal image, it’s got a certain amount of squigglies and doodly dots, and if you were to zoom all the way in microscopically, it’s that same exact pattern. Zoom all the way out, same pattern, all the way to the left, all the way to the right. It’s the same exact pattern that keeps repeating. So, when we’re encoded in our first five years of life with these patterns, these what I call our coping styles or the glitches in our matrix, they keep repeating at scale in every area of our lives, including our work life.

So, if we’re always a pushover because we had a parent that was highly dominating, we are going to attract best friends who dominate us. We’re going to attract lovers who dominate us. We’re also going to attract bosses at work who dominate us, and we’re going to keep doing that pushover people-pleaser thing and feel like we can never say no and never hold a boundary. This is just one of the 12 potential glitches that I’m outlining now, and it deeply affects our work life. It deeply affects our finances, how we show up at work, the circumstances we attract at work, what we’re capable of, and the money we’re able to make is all determined by our coping styles.

Pete Mockaitis

Intriguing. So, that, in essence, it sounds like I could have one or maybe multiple. Or, what’s your take?

Dr. Sam Rader

We all have several of the coping styles because none of our parents were able to get it right so many times because they were working with their own coping styles. So, I personally had all 12, which is what allowed me to be the conduit for the work. Most people have like a dominant, maybe five or eight of them. But, yeah, we all have a combination of them.

And another cool thing about the fractal is like that whole thing, “as within and so without,” that, let’s say, you’re a business owner. If you have a certain holding pattern in your energetic system that repeats in your life, your business is going to be an exact reflection of that same holding pattern inside of you. So, when I do coding work with CEOs and business leaders, when we code out all the glitches inside of them, lo and behold, all their clients start acting differently, their employees start acting differently, the money starts flowing, the whole organization feels completely different because the organization is just an extension of them.

So, whatever we’re embodying, whatever patterns we have, those patterns are going to show up exactly reflected in our work and in our businesses.

Pete Mockaitis

Could you give us a cool example of someone who identified one of these patterns, took some actions, and then saw some cool transformation unfold in their career life?

Dr. Sam Rader

Absolutely, yeah. I was recently working with this CEO and founder of a consumer product company, and what we discovered was that his core wound was what I call the “withstanding subtype of the frustrated coping style.” So, let me break that down for you.

When we’re little, around 10 months of age to 4 years old, we’re developing our will. We’re developing our sense of what we can and can’t control with our will. If we are overly frustrated, during that time and our will doesn’t get to matter, we won’t be heard, things are really hard around us, we become frustrated. We develop the frustrated coping style and it haunts us through life. But there’s four subtypes to frustrated, and the one this man was working with is called withstanding.

Withstanding is when we grew up in a family that was kind of extremely harsh, things were really hard. Maybe we were abused literally or emotionally. It was like high neglect or high abuse, just like really painful stuff, right? And so what we do on the inside to cope with that is that we become withstanding, resilient, durable, unbreakable, unbeatable, “I’m going to be so firm that none of that pummeling from the outside is going to break me or destroy me,” right?

And so, for this client, as we started processing it for him, he said he identified with the Man of Steel, like Superman, right, who can withstand anything. But the thing is, when you’re in the Man of Steel embodiment, because you’ve had to withstand so much abuse from the outside, that Man of Steel embodiment is paired together with a villain on the outside. There’s no superhero without a villain. He’d just be Clark Kent, otherwise, right?

So, what would happen in this man’s business is he’d be going along, thinking he was doing the right thing, and then, all of a sudden, the other businesses he was doing deals with, they would do these sinister, villainous, damaging things to him, and he would have to be that resilient, durable, withstanding Man of Steel because that’s the fractal pattern he was living inside of. So, he kept attracting and reenacting these circumstances where he’d be beat down, and disappointed, and the rug pulled out, and pummeled, and he’d have to just keep withstanding it.

So, once we were able to do the work and soften all that need to withstand, and realize that there can be an entirely new reality beyond the harsh, beyond the hard, where things actually get to be easy, which is the antidote to withstanding. Each coping style has a corresponding antidote. When things get to be easy, all of a sudden, the business starts taking off in a more effortless way and business partners and associates are coming in with kindness, fairness, gentleness, collaboration, playfulness, warmth, instead of that pummeling from the outside that was so familiar.

So, we were able to switch the story he was living in, and recode his matrix so that now he’s living in a world that’s easy and in flow instead of hard and challenging and “Aargh!”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Thank you. I dig that story. And it was funny, as you were talking, I was thinking a little bit about David Goggins’ book, Can’t Hurt Me, in terms of that’s very much the story. We had some abuse and then he became the hardest mother-fer alive, is kind of his tagline, and I don’t know the particulars as to his business partners or what has gone down there. But, yeah, I can sort of see how, indeed, certain experiences could form us to cope, have a coping style in a certain way.

I guess what I’m wrestling with a little bit is, talk to me about this word “attracting” in terms of what is the pathway or mechanism by which that unfolds in reality?

Dr. Sam Rader

Yeah, so if someone is showing up in meetings and in life as the Man of Steel, or whatever that guy’s book was, “I’m a badass mother-fer,” right? If you’re showing up into meetings and in that embodiment, “Come on, bring it on,” what is that going to elicit from the outside? A fight. A struggle. It’s just natural. It’s just instinct. You’re showing up ready for a fight, “Come on, try to break me,” and then that’ll happen.

And if you show up soft and present, and in a different kind of power, a power that’s not like, “Try me!” but a power that’s like, “Let’s try this. Let’s work together. This is my power.” It’s an invitation for the other to be collaborative, to be gentle, to be harmonious and synergistic in how our powers can work together. So, you can just think about, “Man, how I show up in my body and my energy really does impact what happens next in my story.”

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. So, let’s hear the rundown, perhaps, just the couple-minute version of what are the 12 coping styles, just like the listing, and then the alternative, just so we could hear the definition and perhaps see ourselves, or start to a little bit, like, “Oh yeah, that does feel kind of familiar to my experience”?

Dr. Sam Rader

The first coping style I call “disconnected,” and the disconnected coping style is when we essentially learned that we wouldn’t be understood by our caregivers, and so we figured that maybe we don’t belong in this world. So, we feel separate in some indefinable way than the rest of society. We feel like an outcast, we feel like an alien or a weirdo, we feel like we don’t belong in this time and space and place and planet.

And so, we found ways to disconnect, and we really struggle with feeling misunderstood a lot, feeling like an outsider, feeling like there’s no point in even trying to explain ourselves because no one could fully understand. And that causes a lot of ruptures, and it’s really not easy to maintain connection because connection feels really confusing and bad, and disconnecting is the only thing that feels safe.

So, if we’re disconnected the antidote is to become connected. And to do that we learn how to feel our feelings, share our feelings, repair the ruptures, take the risk to let people know what’s going on for us, let them know what we need so that we can actually get in that loop of connection and communication where things get to be a fit.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Dr. Sam Rader

The next coping style I call frictive and it’s when there’s a lot of intensity and energy in the body. We feel like we can never stop going, and moving, and doing, and thinking, and it’s because, subconsciously, we’re quite afraid of disappearing. This comes from not having enough physical containment as a little one. And so, the physical containment being squeezed and held from all sides, especially as newborns, is what allows us to feel like we have a body and have a self and we’re not disappearing.

And so, without that kind of physical containment, we feel like we’re always at risk of coming apart and fragmenting, and so we have to create a friction that keeps us tethered to this world so that we don’t essentially fall off the edge of the earth and die. So, that friction means we never get to rest or pause because, in the silence and stillness, it feels like there’s a void that could swallow us up. It’s a very existential wound.

So, what it looks like as adults is you’re just kind of anxious, and manic, and talking fast, and doing a lot, and really can’t slow the self down and rest. And if you’re frictive, you think about at work, you know, it’s like work always has to be some drama. There’s always a rush. There’s always a drama. There’s always a challenge and the friction and this, because it’s the friction that makes us feel alive and feel connected to something. So, the antidote to frictive is to be spacious where things can be really easy and gentle and quiet and kind of effortless and things don’t have to be so high drama anymore.

The third coping style I call omnipotent. And this is when, well, the word, let’s break down the word. Omni, all; potent, powerful. So, when we’re omnipotent, we actually feel so out of control because everything affects us so deeply, we’re hypersensitive, everything in our environment impacts us so deeply, we need everything just so, or else we feel very, very reactive and very frightened and get very angry very fast. And so, we feel we need to try to have complete control over everything and everyone around us. That’s omnipotent, all-powerful.

And that’s actually secretly because we don’t know how to self-soothe. We don’t know that, instead of controlling everything out there, we could actually just take care of ourselves in here and start to feel safe. So, instead we become very bossy and demanding. And at work, we might find that our employees are scared of us, they perceive us as bullies or dominating, and, really, we’re just trying to prevent the chaos. Like, as omnipotence, it feels like, “If I don’t have everything just so, it will devolve into total chaos.”

And so, the antidote to omnipotence is to feel safe. And we do this by kind of creating a psychic skin that we didn’t get to develop as little ones, where we know that something outside isn’t actually us. We don’t have to control it and we don’t have to change it. We can actually just relax and calm ourselves down inside, and know that that thing out there that’s out of place isn’t going to kill us and isn’t us, and that we’re okay even when it doesn’t feel okay.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Dr. Sam Rader

The next coping style I call deprived. This is a big one for people in their careers, but deprived is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when we don’t feel connected to the good stuff. So, it really feels like, “Other people can get the good stuff, but not me. I’m the unlucky one. I’m the one that experiences a lot of limits and lack, and I don’t ever get to be fully resourced. I’m always grabbing and grasping and wanting and longing for the good stuff, but it always stays just out of reach.”

And the antidote to deprived is to become resourced. So, when we’re deprived, it’s often really hard to get ahead financially, because no matter how much money we get, it doesn’t seem to stick around. For some weird reason, we always hover around that zero balance because we’re so used to feeling empty inside. But when we come out of deprived, and we become resourced, we learn how to drink in the infinite well of goodness that’s inside and outside because this universe is so abundant and benevolent.

And when we start to experience ourselves as living in that buoyant state of fulfillment from all that resource that we’re resourcing on, lo and behold, the world starts to reflect that by giving us more income, when we feel more valuable and good inside instead of feeling broken, bad, or empty inside. When we feel good inside and feel full inside, the outside starts to reflect that by us making a lot more money, having a lot more opportunities, and being fulfilled in life.

Pete Mockaitis

All right.

Dr. Sam Rader

So, the next coping style I call symbiotic, and this was the one I was kind of bringing up at the top of the hour where we become pushovers and people-pleasers. We’re really afraid of conflict. We’re afraid of ever saying no, firming up, taking shape, disagreeing, having our own point of view, being separate.

So, we tend to attract a lot of people who are dominating and we become kind of their sidekick, and their yes-person, and we kind of give up ourselves to have them, and we pretend like we have all the same preferences but actually we’re betraying ourselves to do that and to be in that twinship with them. And then after a time, it gets really annoying, and so we bail, and we cut and run, and we’re like, “I got to get rid of you to have me.”

And then the pattern just continues because we find the next dominating person, and we do the same exact thing over and over and over. It’s absolutely exhausting, and you can imagine what happens at work. It’s just, we get totally emptied out, totally used feeling, and then we have to quit and leave and go to the next place and do it all over again.

And we often don’t feel totally respected because we don’t respect ourselves. We often don’t find a lot of value monetarily because we always are in that kind of assistant mentality and embodiment where we can’t really get ahead because we don’t know how to firm up and take aim and be kind of potent because we just have to stay limp and malleable in order to stay in those fused connections with people.

So, the antidote to coming out of symbiotic is to become truly solid. And when we’re solid, we know that we have all the resources and all the capability inside to be able to feed ourselves, and trust ourselves, and have our own compass, and have our own agency. And when we can do that, then we can be more honest with people. We can say no, we can set boundaries, we can become in healthy relationships that are a two-way street, where there’s room for two people negotiating and collaborating rather than losing ourselves in the connection with others.

The next coping style I call premature, and this is when we had to sort of grow up too fast as little ones and take care of other people in the families when we were still kind of babies on our own, kind of toddler times. And so, what we do when we’re premature is we’re over-givers, we’re overachievers, over-doers. So, we’re the ones always planning, contributing, giving, volunteering, nurturing, cooking, caring.

We’re the ones always providing, and so all of our energy goes out to feeding others, and we go hungry. Our needs are always last on the list, and eventually it leads to a lot of burn out, so we can feel very, very drained. Even though it feels really good giving to others, because it generally does feel good giving, if we just keep depleting ourselves and we never nourish ourselves, we never take in any of the goodness that we’re giving to others, it’s an equation that doesn’t really work and it leads to burnout.

So, the antidote to coming out of premature is to become nourished, where we learn that it’s actually okay for us to need and feed. When we’re premature, we worry that our needs are too much and they make us needy, and so we wouldn’t want to ask anyone for help or be a burden. But when we come out of premature, we know that it feels just as good to other people to feed us as it does for us to feed them, and then it becomes a loop of nourishment, and it’s sustainable and very fulfilling.

And this definitely plays out at work if you’re the one picking up the slack for everybody, staying overtime, doing everything for everybody, and you’re starting to feel really drained and depleted, you may have the premature coping style, and it’s time for you to be nourished.

Pete Mockaitis

All right.

Dr. Sam Rader

Okay, the next coping style I call idealizing. And this is a wound about identity, really. But it’s when we’re really hyper-focused on our outsides, meaning anything we could measure or write down on a paper about ourselves, like our looks, our achievements, our status, our level of intelligence, our level of success, and we are constantly caught up in this rat race of comparing ourselves to people who are above us or people who are below us.

And what we never get to do is just stand eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart with people and get to be human, which is the antidote to idealizing. So, when we’re human, we’re more in touch with our sentience, the fact that we’re living beings with thoughts and needs and feelings and values and our essence energy inside of us, which is so much more who we really are than any of those outside things you could measure, which always do, by the way, go up and down, “Maybe today I got the best score on the quiz, and maybe tomorrow I don’t.”

And that ping-ponging up and down between “I’m the best, I’m the worst, I’m the best, I’m the worst” is so painful. When you’re more connected to your humanity and your insides, there’s no ping-ponging because you can’t compare essences. And there could be a lot of freedom in that in the workplace if you’re no longer the one always trying to beat everybody, beat your opponents, get the gold star, be the best, and it really starts to become about your own humanity and your needs, it could really change the game for how work starts to work for you.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Dr. Sam Rader

All right. The next coping style I call frustrated. And I started to speak to this a little bit when I was giving the story of the CEO who had the withstanding subtype of frustrated. But frustrated is a will injury, where, as we’re developing our sense of will, of what we can and can’t control as little ones, we need to feel that we can control some things, that we’re not always crushed and thwarted and blocked by our parents, but we’re allowed to have a say, we’re allowed to make choices, we’re allowed to have a will.

And if for whatever reason our will is blocked, we become frustrated, and there’s nowhere for our power or our anger to go, and so it gets turned inwards, and it actually turns into self-sabotage. This is major for the workplace. If we’re always feeling like “Life is hard, I’m stuck, I can’t,” can’t is such a key word for frustrated, “Things are hard,” “I can’t,” all of that, that is a frustrated experience. And the truth is, that’s how it was when we were little, we couldn’t. Like, the thing outside, the parents were so much bigger than us. Of course, we couldn’t, right?

But we’ve been carrying that baggage with us and calling it true now as adults, which is what was happening with this man who felt he had to be the Man of Steel, and life is hard, and all these challenges. And it’s like once we melted that and we brought him into a state of ease, he was able to get in flow, which is the antidote to frustrated. Coming out of frustrated means owning our no and saying no to things we don’t want to do, and saying yes to things we do want to do.

And so, I say, we’ve got to say no to get in flow. So, if you find yourself at work feeling frustrated, like things are not going the way you want them to go, things aren’t fair, things are unjust, things are such a struggle, think of the places that you haven’t yet said, “You know what? No, I have a boundary here and I don’t want to do X, Y, and Z.” Once you hold that no with your universe, boom, things get in flow and you start to get what you do want, instead of always getting what you don’t want, which is the frustrated coping style.

Pete Mockaitis

Alrighty.

Dr. Sam Rader

And the next coping style is kind of a pair to frustrated. It’s another will injury, but it’s the opposite, which is when our will is actually overindulged. Instead of overly frustrated, it can also be overly indulged. I call this the indulged coping style. This happens when we’re either neglected so no one’s there to block our will, or we’re overindulged by our parents, but basically, whatever we want, we get. And these are kids who kind of would fail the Stanford marshmallow experiment of the “If you don’t eat one now, you can have two later,” right?

We never developed that capacity in our frontal lobes to have any self-restraint. We just want what we want when we want it, and we want to get it, and we want to get it now, and we want to get it at any cost, and we’re not aware at all of how we impact others. And so, that entitlement, that indulgence, that impatience, that “Me, me, me,” it’s really, really rough. And if you find yourself at work, feeling like other people don’t trust you, or they’re kind of shunning you, or they’re kind of like, “This one’s not a team player,” you might be struggling with the indulged coping style. In some ways, it’s one of the most shameful coping styles to have. I had it.

This is how I’ve discovered all 12 is because I have found them in myself. It’s a hard one to reckon with, but if we find the courage to reckon with it, it is a revelation because, really, when we’re indulged, we were just lacking a village. We were lacking a sense of belonging because when you know you belong to a tribe, then you know how you impact others, because you all impact one another. And so, we’ve been living in solitary confinement as empty, lonely consumers, so, of course, we just want to fill that hole. It makes so much sense.

But coming out of indulged is to enter the antidote of interbeing. Interbeing is a term coined by the late Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and it means that within every being is every other being that, in this computer that we’re talking through, the silicon parts were mined by miners, and it was part of the dirt and the earth where trees were growing, and all of those things are inside of this computer that we’re looking at each other through. Like, everything that is, is interwoven, inextricably interwoven with everything else. We’re all interconnected.

And so, coming out of indulged is realizing, “Hey, it’s not just me here. I’m part of a larger whole.” And when we do that, we work so much better with our teams, and we actually end up getting what we want, truly want, in a more holistic way than when we’re just grabbing in the moment in that impulsive, entitled way.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And number 10.

Dr. Sam Rader

So, the next one I call the squashed coping style. This one could really be at work, too. So, this is one, as we were developing our sense of power and beauty and magnetism as little ones, somebody was jealous, and so they actually squashed us. They didn’t want us to have that beauty and that power and that shine, and so we now inadvertently squash ourselves.

We keep ourselves small. We dim our light. We hide our shine. We play small. We’re always being the nice one or the invisible one or the one who doesn’t want to step on toes or threaten anyone. And it’s kind of like the archetypes of Cinderella or Harry Potter, and when we’re squashed, we’re usually not aware at all that we have this special sauce, that we’re a Cinderella or a Harry Potter. We don’t realize that we’re actually so beautiful and so powerful and so radiant and so potent that it makes other people envious. We’re not aware of that, but we do keep ourselves small unconsciously.

And so, coming out of squashed is to finally be erect, is to stand up into our full height, and be as radiant and potent and beautiful and powerful as we really are so that we start to become a true leader and an inspiration rather than this fear that we’d be a threat.

So, when we own that we are the radiant, beautiful bell of the ball, things really start to work for us in a new way and other people start to respond to us in a new way, and we’re no longer bullied and we’re no longer shunned, and we actually become a real leader and inspiration. So, this could be huge for people at work. If you’re like, “Why does everyone else seem to get ahead and I always have to play the nice guy?” you may be squashed and your story is not over. You can play in the big leagues. You can go to the ball. It’s time to go to the ball.

Pete Mockaitis

All right.

Dr. Sam Rader

The next coping style I call provocative. If we’re provocative, unfortunately, our parents play out a love triangle with us, where one of them was our object of desire and they kind of overindulged that and played into that with us of like, “Yes, you are my special one and I wish mommy would go away,” or whatever the vibe is, and then the other parent was jealous.

And there is a way to come out of provocative and become clear. That’s the antidote to provocative. So, when we are clear, we understand where the boundaries are “Okay, this person’s my business associate, this person is my secretary, and this person is my lover, and those things are very different, and I’m going to act very differently with those different people because I’m clear.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right.

Dr. Sam Rader

And the final one I call constricted. So, this is when during that time of proto-puberty when we’ve got all this exciting mojo coming through our little bodies, and we are no longer these chubby toddlers, but we want to run and jump and play and, “Tag, you’re it” and “Come, chase me” and be competitive and excitable during this time, how our parents respond to this animal-alive part of us determines how we feel about this part of us.

Whether our parents are overly controlling of that, they say, “Don’t do that. Put your head down. We don’t do this. This is bad. Aggression is bad,” whatever that is, or, if we had parents who were overly amorous, and we saw that that animal part of them got them in trouble in either case, if they were overly controlling, us or if they were out of control, in either case we learned that the animal instinctive wild part of ourselves is bad, and that controlling that part of ourselves is good, and now we’re constricted and we’ve got to hold everything in.

We can’t spill out. We can’t make a mess. We can’t be too wild. We can’t be aggressive. We can’t be expressive. We can’t be tender. We’ve got to keep it all held in, because if we don’t keep it all held in, maybe someone would judge us as weird, or bad, or wrong. And in all of those cases, we would feel humiliated, possibly shunned, and none of that feels okay to us. So, we’ve got a tight lid on ourselves. We have to be hyper-controlled. So, in the same way, an omnipotent person tries to control everything and everyone outside, a constricted person tries to control everything inside, like, “I should never fart,” “I should never scream,” “I should never do anything weird. It’s all got to be held in.”

And the antidote to constricted is to become free. And when we’re free, we get to trust our animal nature, and trust that everything we do and everything that we are is innocent, and that no judge out there has the right to decide what’s innocent or guilty, that we can have an inner authority, and we know that we’re innocent, and we know that our instincts are actually holy and beautiful, and will lead us exactly where we want to go. We don’t have to control them.

It’s actually the repression of them that causes them to act out. But when we know that all these animal parts of us are so good, there’s nothing to restrict or constrict around, then they only do good.

So, when we’re coming out of constricted, we become free. We’re able to express and desire and follow our instincts, and be more animal and alive and vibrant. And when we would stop resisting the flow of life, we can finally feel all the pleasures of being alive. And how this shows up in work is that things start to be a lot more creative, and flowy, and less literally constricted. Like, all the ways that it was like, “Uh-oh, we can’t do this, and we can’t do that, and we can’t do this.” It’s like, “Wait, the sky is the limit. The world is our oyster. Let’s do anything that we feel like doing. I’m free.” And it’s like, “Oh, my God, the workplace becomes so different and the results become so different at work once we’re free.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, beautiful. Well, I really appreciate you going into the full rundown of the dozen here. And what I like about this lineup is these are patterns I think that we can recognize, like in ourselves or others, like, “Oh, yeah, I know someone who’s kind of like that. I know someone who’s kind of like that,” and it’s sort of handy to have some language and some categories to operate with.

I’m curious, beyond just sort of listening and reflecting, how do we know which ones are active in us? And then what do we do once we know that?

Dr. Sam Rader

Yeah. So, you can go to my website, DrSamRader.com, and take the free quiz, it takes like two minutes, and that’ll give you your “top coping style,” your most prevalent one. And once you do that, there’s like a really sweet little $11 mini course you can take to start unraveling and dissolving and resolving it. And then you can also take, once you get inside that mini course, you can take a full-length test. They can give you all of your coping styles and to what degree you have them, and you can start working on all of those as well.

But it’s funny, you also mentioned the thing about people at work, because once you start to understand the coping styles – and, by the way there’s also a free pocket guide on my website that describes all of them so you can kind of have that handy – you start feeling less annoyed with other people when you understand that it’s just a coping style and where it comes from.

So, for example, if there’s someone at work who’s frictive, who’s always like, “Hey, hey, hey, can I have your attention? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and they’re really like needy and intense, and you’re like, “Oh, that person won’t leave me alone,” you can be like, “Oh, they’re frictive. They didn’t have enough physical containment as little ones. Maybe I can just give them a squeeze and a hug, and, wow, they’re much calmer now. Wow, they’re bugging me a lot less.”

So, once you start to understand the motivation of other people’s behavior, it also causes really great team building, you’re much easier to manage others, and be managed by others when you understand what makes them tick, and how you can support them in being a little less in their coping styles and a little more in the antidotes.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, now could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Dr. Sam Rader

One of my favorite studies was of a troop of orangutans in Africa, who, all the alpha males contracted a disease from eating from a garbage pile that was infected, and they all died. And so, traditionally, when new adolescent males join a troop, they’re sort of hazed by the alpha males and the females are not allowed to groom them. But once all the alpha males died out, when the new adolescents would come from other tribes, because that’s what happens to adolescents, leave their troop to go to a new troop so there’s no inbreeding, they would be welcomed by the new matriarchy who would groom them and touch them and welcome them. And they created a completely peaceful, egalitarian, anti-hierarchical troop that survived for nine generations forward that just had a completely different culture.

And why I love that study so much is that even though things can seem so effed up right now on the planet, all it takes is one shift in how we treat one another to create an entirely new culture here on Earth, and that’s my wish for humanity.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite book?

Dr. Sam Rader

I love the Hafiz, the Sufi poet, and this book translated by Daniel Ladinsky called The Gift. It’s Sufi poetry.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Dr. Sam Rader
“There are no bad people, only hurt people hurt people. And we all need more love, not less.”

Pete Mockaitis

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

Dr. Sam Rader

Come to my website, www.DrSamRader.com, or you can follow me on Instagram @drsamrader. I would love to hear from you. Feel free to DM me. I’d love to chat about what you loved about this interview or not. Or, I’d love to just meet all of you.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Dr. Sam Rader

Yeah. See if you can spot any patterns, the things that are bugging you about your vocational life. See if you can spot a pattern in that that is familiar, that it’s not just now, it’s not just in this job, but it’s been haunting you and with you for as long as you can remember. And then see if you can trace that pattern back to actually your early experience as a little one, how that’s actually in a reenactment of a drama from home.

And when you do that, sometimes just that awareness and seeing that it is a pattern, it’s not just this one thing that’s happening today at work, but it’s actually the pattern, that once you recognize that pattern and just hold it for what it is, sometimes that alone can start to dissolve and resolve it on its own.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Lovely. Well, Sam, this has been fun. I wish you much luck in transformations with you and your clients.

Dr. Sam Rader

Thank you for tolerating my woo, and it’s been a pleasure.

949: How to End Miscommunications, Unclarity, and Endlessly Repeating the Same Conversation with Marsha Acker

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Marsha Acker reveals how to break free from the cycle of miscommunication and misunderstandings.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The root of misunderstandings and miscommunications
  2. The four actions of every conversation
  3. The more effective way to disagree with someone 

About Marsha

Marsha Acker, CPCC, PCC, CPF, is the host of the Defining Moments of Leadership podcast, the founder and CEO of TeamCatapult, and the author of two groundbreaking and thought-provoking books:  The Art and Science of Facilitation and Build Your Model for Leading Change (a workbook). Marsha has an international presence and reputation as a facilitator of meaningful conversations, a host of dialogue, and a passionate agilest. She coaches leadership teams to grow their collective leadership and to build the capability of achieving true, sustainable behavior change through dialogue.

Resources Mentioned

Marsha Acker Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Marsha, welcome.

Marsha Acker

Thanks, Pete. I’m happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m excited to talk to you, hear your wisdom. And first, I got to know, your pitch claimed you had the answer for “Why do organizations have the same conversations over and over again without getting anywhere, feeling frustrated?” So, I’m just going to put you on the spot right from the beginning. What’s up with that and what do we do about it?

Marsha Acker

Well, I think that so much of what we do every day is about having conversations with one another, and I think many of us would look at conversations and communication as not something that we need to go get any kind of development around it because we already do it. I mean, we do it all day every day, and I think many of us likely think we’re good at it.

But what, in the work that we do, I have found there’s a model that we use to help all of us look at the structure of conversations, and the structure can actually predict the outcome of the conversation. So, maybe a quick litmus test would be to think about “How often do you feel like you have the same conversation over and over again?”

Like, you had a conversation a couple weeks ago, and now you’re back in a conversation, and you’re starting to have that kind of Groundhog Day moment where you’re going, “Hey, wait a minute. I think we’ve been here before.” So, a lot of times I think many of us have those moments, but we don’t really know what to do about it. So, real quick, I think what we could do is, if you want to play with me for a moment, we could lay down a little bit of the theory, and I can tell you a story about how I apply it.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. Well, I guess, first, I want to tee up the stakes here. Is it, in fact, possible to exit this? Because I think it was Dr. John Gottman who was talking about married couples, he’s like, “You’re going to be basically having the same couple arguments for decades until you die,” which, in a way, was heartbreaking. But in another way liberating, like, “Oh, okay. Well, then I guess we’ll need to figure out how to disagree in an effective, loving kind of a way.” But are you suggesting that, “No, we are not doomed to this fate”?

Marsha Acker

I think that if we notice that we keep coming back around to the same thing, the way I think about conversations is there’s likely something that, each one of us is thinking, but not really saying, or not saying it in a way that the other person can hear it.

And so, that leaves both of us, in some way, kind of leaving the conversation with a piece that we’re thinking but not saying. And I think that’s part of the work to do, is, “Can we be in the conversation and actually be authentic and be effective in how we’re communicating with one another?”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, is it your premise that should we find a means of effectively articulating the unsaid, then we will escape the groundhog loop?

Marsha Acker

I think when we’re able to really fully name what’s happening for us, yes, because we can escape the groundhog loop because both of us are able to work with new information or new data that comes into the conversation. So, that’s partly what enables us to change the nature of the outcome.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. And so, you said then, in order to pull this off, you want to cover some conceptual territory?

Marsha Acker

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, go for it.

Marsha Acker

So, it’s work that comes from David Kantor in his theory of structural dynamics, theory of face-to-face communication. And, basically, what it says is that everything that we’re saying can be coded, and if we can code a conversation, that’s partly what will allow us to change the nature of it. So, there’s quite a bit of depth to it, but the very simplest way to start is in action. So, really, everything that we’re saying can be coded into one of only four actions, everything in conversation.

So, the four actions are, one is to set a move, which is to set direction in a conversation. So, move often points. You just made a move when you said, “Let’s hear what you have to say about the theory.” That would be a move. The second action is to follow. So, the follow gets behind or supports what’s happening in a conversation.

The third is to oppose. So, oppose offers correction. It says, “Hey, hold on. Stop. Wait a minute.” And then the fourth is a bystand. And a bystand offers a morally neutral comment about what’s happening in a conversation. So, to bystand, I might say, “I’m noticing I’m really engaged in a conversation right now.” It just puts some data into the conversation.

So, someone could make a move and say, “Let’s go get ice cream.” Someone could follow and say, “That sounds good to me.” Third person might say, “Nope, don’t like it, don’t want to go.” And a fourth person might say, “Well, I’m noticing we have two different ideas about what we’re going to do. What do we want to do next?” So, it’s sort of prompts for a new move.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m fixating on the, I think, did you say innocent? Or maybe I just added that myself, because innocent bystander tends to go together, like in comic books or something, “Innocent bystander.”

Marsha Acker

Yeah. No, just to bystand.

Pete Mockaitis

To bystand, you said that it’s just an observation. It doesn’t have judgment to it. But I got to know, in some ways, I don’t know, it almost feels like it can, like, “I’m noticing that your eyes are dimming and you are growling.” It’s sort of the implication is almost, like, “You’re behaving angrily and inappropriately in this context.” So, I don’t know, maybe I’m missing too much detail.

Marsha Acker

No, it’s great. So, here’s what’s really great about it. So, what you’re naming is, a lot of times, I think in conversation, what happens is we say one thing, so we voice one thing, and if you were just simply coding the conversation, you might code that as a bystand. But I’m on the receiving end of it and I’m going, “Hmm, that doesn’t feel…” like, I’m not experiencing it as a morally neutral statement because it feels like it’s loaded up behind it.

And so, a lot of times when that’s happening, what we’re doing is we’re saying one thing but we intend another. So, I’m speaking a bystand, but I’ve got judgment behind it, and so I’m really intending an oppose.

Pete Mockaitis

I see. Okay. Levels and layers.

Marsha Acker

Well, that’s the tricky part. So, I’ll tell you a quick story. My daughter, when she was much younger, I called it our Groundhog Day conversation, but it would be the, “Get your shoes on, please” conversation. And I would make a move, and I’d say, “Hey, Lauren, the bus will be in here in 10 minutes. I need you to get your shoes on.”

And her response will be, “Okay.” Walk away. Come back. “Bus will be here in five minutes. Need you to get your shoes on.” “Okay.” Five minutes later, at the door, and when I would turn around and say, “Lauren, the bus is here. Let’s go.” And there’s a little girl at the end of the hallway screaming because she says, “I don’t have my shoes on.”

And so, we had this pattern. I was making moves, and she was voicing a follow. She said, “Okay,” but she intended an oppose. It’s not what she meant. And it sets up this pattern of we’re saying one thing but we mean another. And it creates what we call, in the structure of coding it, it creates a covert action. So, what happens is the oppose, both in your example of you are bystanding, but what’s really behind it is a covert opposition.

My daughter was doing the same thing. She would voice a follow, but she would intend an oppose. Now, you know, why is that? Well, somewhere along the way, I might have laid down the expectations that “You’re not allowed to tell me no,” or, “I need you to do something different.” So, what I learned was that was really much more about…she’s a teenager now and we can still get into this pattern because every time when…so what happens is that we’ll have one or two of these actions that we can tend to do more in our behavior, particularly in different systems. So, in my home space, I’m often the one with her making moves, and I’m sort of expecting her to follow. But what’s not helpful is that she’s quite independent, even as a little person, definitely as a teenager, she’s quite independent.

And so, one of the ways that I started to change our stuck conversation, our stuck Groundhog Day conversation, was I stopped being the one making all of the moves, and I’d start to enter that conversation differently with the intent to give her the space to make the move that I could follow. So, our conversations would sound a little different, I would start to do more bystands, and I would say, “I’m noticing it’s 10 till 7:00. The bus is going to be here in 10 minutes or 15 minutes. What do you need to get done?”

And she’d think about it for a moment, and she’d be like, “Well, I need to put my shoes on.” And I’d be like, “Great. So, do you know where your shoes are?” So, I started to bring more bystand into the conversation and allow her the space to make a move. And it took a little bit more conversation in that way. But eventually, what she would come around to do is say, “Well, I need to get my shoes.” I’m like, “Great. So why don’t you do that? You’ve got 15 minutes. So, when do you want to do that?”

So, where I could, I began to shift the conversation, and it helped to change the nature of how we were engaged in that conversation. And I use that because I think it’s just such a really simple example, but it happens so often in leadership teams, across our workplaces. Particularly in American business, I think we have managed out or trained out the voice of opposition.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s intriguing on so many levels. And you said this happens thousands of times. I was like, “Yes, I have asked my children thousands of times to put their shoes on.” What’s intriguing in a number of dimensions, like one, just general coaching principle. If you pose a question and they think about it, then that is more active and engaging and more likely to feel rewarding. Like, “Oh, I figured out that I need to get my shoes.” And then they did, and like, “I’m taking care of things.”

It’s funny, my kids right now, they’re five and six, and one and a half, but the five and six-year-olds, it seems like they’re relishing these little tastes of independence. They could say, “I’m going to make some toast.” All right, you go for it. And so, they’re into it. They really just plow through bread because they enjoy making toast and it’s delicious.

But I think, even more than that, they like that, hey, they can’t use the stovetop on their own, they can’t use the oven on their own, but even the microwave can be dicey. But the toaster is like, “Okay, I push the button and then I walk away, and then there we go.” But in many ways, I think, Kwame Christian said, he was on the show, he’s awesome, Negotiate Anything is his podcast. In many ways, we have an inner toddler within us, and so that’s strong.

And I’m intrigued by, when you say covert action, with the shoes, I think that sometimes what’s going on is that they’re thinking, “Well, I’m not opposed to putting on shoes. But at the moment, I’m very engaged with this little mouse character or whatever.” And so, I think that’s funny because covert action makes me think of, “Okay, I’ve got a spy who’s like sneaking into enemy territory.”

But I guess that, too, can run a whole spectrum associated with, “How much am I willfully saying yes when I mean no because I’m hoping they’re just going to shut up and forget about it,” versus, “How much am I like, ‘Oh, yeah, sure. Cool, yeah. Sure, I mean I’ll get to that soonish, so it’s fine, yeah’?”

Marsha Acker

What I’m often going for is wanting leaders to become more aware, more self-aware, of their behavior, how does their behavior, it’ll likely be different how we behave at home, talking to our children versus how do we behave in our leadership team, versus how do we behave in our development team when we’re collaborating with eight, ten peers.

I think it’ll be different, there will be spaces. And I think a lot of it happens, it gets laid down for us at a very early age, in our formative years, we develop. One of my childhood stories is not to oppose because it’s rude. And so, that got laid down very early on for me. The way that translated into adult and business life is oppose has often been my least used. It’s been the one for me to work on the most. Regardless of the role that I was in, it would be the one, kind of unconsciously, that I would use some of the other actions.

Or, sometimes I’d just make a new move. If I didn’t really want to directly oppose you, I’d just change the subject, which is another pattern that sits underneath of this. Or, many teams fall into the place of they’ll just agree, they’ll say, “Yes,” or, “Sure.” Or, they’ll say, “Sure,” and then they go out of the room after they finished talking to you, and they tell six other people what they really think of your idea, but they don’t bring that conversation in the room.

So, ultimately, what I’m all about, because I think it’s what changes the nature of the conversation, is, “Can we bring the offline conversation online? And can we be more aware of what our behavioral tendencies are, and where we go to say one thing, but we actually intend something else?” and catching sight of the difference between the action and the intent.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s intriguing. And I guess, as you have this language and you can start to view conversations in this way, that’s intriguing. So, your goal is to get the offline, online, and get it in there. I think sometimes I follow, maybe often, I follow, I use the words okay, and I do the thing. But internally, I’m thinking, “This is so stupid.”

And I don’t know if that’s valuable, but I guess I’ve also had the internal conversation of, “But it’s pointless to bring this up because it’s not going to affect anything. So, the most efficacious, expedient thing for me to do is to just comply, even though it’s going to result in a worse outcome, but fine.” And I guess maybe sometimes there’s a time and a place where that’s just the reality, and so live it, but go ahead.

Marsha Acker

You and many, many, many, many other people. I watch it over and over. And I often say to folks if you’re in a group of people, and you’re not going to be with them for an ongoing basis, you’ve stepped in, somebody’s made a move, you’re following, like the juice doesn’t feel worth the squeeze, so you just say, “Yep, I disagree or I see it differently, but I’m willing to do it.”

I think doing that intentionally is one thing. Doing it out of a habit is another. And I think those things that you are thinking, what I would offer is those things that you’re thinking are actually quite valuable. But it definitely takes a system, like it takes a group of people that you’re working with on an ongoing basis. Because I think what matters is not that it happens one time or in one moment or with one group, but when it gets to be a stuck pattern, like when it’s a Groundhog Day conversation.

Because I think that’s where you’ll, if you talk to people, all the things that are in the news today about quiet quitting, and people are just burnt out, and they’re tired, and they’re exhausted, and they don’t feel connected, and it’s super hard to connect on Zoom. I hear all of that, and I go straight to this model of, “Yep, because we’re not having the real conversation.”

And people get really exhausted, “At the end of the day, if all I’ve done is have surface level conversations, I’ve not really been able to say what I think, I don’t think anybody wants to listen, so I just sort of fall into this victim mode or this apathetic mode, and I get into doing this sort of I’ll just show up and do the thing until I can do something better.” Like, none of us want to work in that kind of setting or in that kind of situation.

So, I always bring it back to, “Well, I wonder what the pattern is. I wonder which of these actions is being voiced and which are missing,” because those patterns, like things that keep recurring, there will be data in that. And so, I’m a huge advocate for teams, leaders at any level, building the muscle of, “Can we have the real conversation? Can we bring the real conversation online?” And it takes time. It’s not a one-time fix.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. So, that’s the main thing is having the real conversation. This reminds me, we had Amy Edmondson on a couple times, talking psychological safety. Any pro tips for how we can have the real conversation more often? One, so we got some coding, we got some awareness, that’s cool. Anything else in terms of building our own conversational courage and/or creating an environment where people feel more comfortable speaking up?

Marsha Acker

Well, I think the work is highly correlated to Amy’s work. Actually, Amy Edmondson and David Kantor worked together at Harvard, so both of their theories are quite distinctly linked. It does take container-building or creating the space. I often say sometimes it can be just helpful to introduce your team to the four-player model as a way to name that, actually, we need all four of these actions in a conversation in order for them to be effective. So, sometimes just all of us starting to gain awareness that we need all four and be watching for when we’re not hearing one of them. So, I think that’s one way.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s great. That’s pretty simple. You just highlight, “Hey, this is what’s up.” And then someone might say, “Hey, I noticed that nobody opposed anything over this whole three-hour meeting. That’s interesting. All just coincidentally in unilateral consensus agreement? What are the odds? Or is someone not saying something that needs to be said?”

Marsha Acker

And, actually, Pete, what I love about what you’re doing is that you’re doing it with a little bit of humor, and I think that that is key to some of this work is to find a way to make it light and humorous, rather than…I realized really many years ago as I was starting to introduce this model to teams and leaders, so they’d take it and they’d be so excited, and then go off to the next meeting, and it was like, “You, you have made too many moves. You need to stop that,” with a bit of finger pointing.

And I was like, “Well, that’s not really what we’re after.” Like, it’s a model to create awareness, but I don’t think it’s really effective if we use it to sort of poke people in the eye with. So, I love the way you’re sort of tongue-in-cheek saying that.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And when it comes to opposing, I’m curious, do you have any, because I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I imagine for many, that might be the spookiest of the four to step up and do. Any pro tips or any magical words or phrases that are great for opposing? I imagine you’re like, “No, you’re wrong!” is probably not the best way to do it.

Marsha Acker

Well, actually, there is. Well, so two things I’d say. One is we likely all know someone who’s really good at it, so just think about the person. It won’t be hard for everyone. It is definitely based on our behavioral model, like our viewpoint of how we grew up and how we think about the voice of oppose and what it does. So, likely there’s at least one person usually in each group. We sometimes load them up and we call them the devil’s advocate or the naysayer, which I’d encourage everybody to just stop using the labels because I don’t think they’re helpful.

But if you find someone who’s really good at bringing oppose, you can just watch and listen. Sometimes, though, for people who are stuck in opposition, the thing that will be challenging for them is to make a new move. So, they can be really good at opposing, but not good at the suggestion.

So, a really effective oppose, like a way to bring a really effective oppose, is to actually start with more follow and bystand because those are the actions of more inquiry. They’re also the places that, so if you’ve made a move, and you’ve said, “I think we need to switch all of our computers out, and go from Macs to PCs.” And if I want to oppose that, if I just come right back and say, “Nope, I disagree,” it’s helpful because it’s a really clear oppose, so that’s great.

But really, if I just say no, and I push back without voicing anything else, then we’re kind of stuck because now you’ve got an idea and I’ve got an idea, and we’re actually put ourselves in this debate or clash about, “Which one of us is going to have the winning idea?” So, a more effective way for me to oppose that might be to start with a follow, so what’s something about what you’ve suggested that I actually do align with.

So, I might say something like, “Pete, I really appreciate, and I actually share your value about keeping us up to date in technology. I’m with you on that.” I might bystand and say, “You know, I’m noticing that that would create…it would be really expensive. And it’s the first part of the year, we’re not quite sure where our revenue is at.” What’s my clear oppose? “I disagree with doing all of them right now and in this time frame.” But my new suggestion, my new move would be, “What if we looked at it, doing it five at a time?” or something like that? So, what’s my new suggestion? Then it would be back over to you.

And now what’s happened is I’ve actually put some of what I’m seeing, what I agree with, into the conversation, and the idea is that now we can continue a dialogue because I’ve put new data in, and it gives us something to build off of.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. Thank you. All right. Well, in your book, Build Your Model for Leading Change, you spend a good portion talking about self-awareness. And I wanted to hear your perspective on why self-awareness is important for change, when, really, Marsha, it’s the other stupid dummy heads who are the problem.

Marsha Acker

I know. I think life would be so much easier if everybody else would change, and then the world would work according to how we view it and what we want to do.

Pete Mockaitis

Exactly.

Marsha Acker

Yeah, I’m a big proponent of self-awareness. And I think that there’s so much to be gained from even just building on…so one aspect of Build Your Model for Leading Change is having a way to look at behavior because I think that behavior drives, like everything that you and I’ve been talking about, behavior and how we’re showing up in communication. Everything starts and ends with how we work with other humans.

And knowing, “Why do I do what I do? And where did I learn to do that? And why do I have such an affinity for following and bystanding in a conversation? And, more importantly, where can I grow my leadership range? Where can I expand my behavior so that it’s more effective?” And I think the way to go about doing that is through getting to know ourselves in various ways, and how we change based on the different contexts that we’re in, because I think context matters.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, so you actually delineate seven critical junctures of functional self-awareness. Could you give us the one-minute version of what are each of these critical junctures?

Marsha Acker

So, the junctures actually expand on the theory of structural dynamics. And without going through each of them, what I would say is they’re about “Where are you able to identify what you do? Are you able to expand your behavioral range? And are you able to notice, kind of growing the muscle for noticing in the moment, when the conversation isn’t working, like, when you’re clashing with someone?”

There’s another piece of it is “Beginning to understand when the stakes rise for me and how my behavior changes when the stakes are high.” We talk a lot about what’s happening today in leading from high stakes, which I think many of us are doing, and how when we’re not at our best, so, “How do we lower the stakes?” And then I think the big piece of it is, “How do we expand our tolerance for difference?”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, sure thing. Well, I’d love it, so there’s a lot that we could dig into. Could you share with us, I believe, was it Tasha Eurich, we had on the show, who says, “You’re not as self-aware as you think,” is her assertion? Can you tell us, is there a particular zone in which many people overestimate their self-awareness? And how do you recommend we get after that?

Marsha Acker

I watched many leaders believe, like even if we just look at the four actions, many leaders believe that they are good at communicating, number one, with others, and that they are being clear in their communication. And I think the biggest gap that I watched people discover is where they’re not being clear. So, just the small examples, like we talked about today, where I think I’m saying to my daughter, “I need you to get your shoes on.”

Like, I think I’m communicating, but really, I’m doing something entirely different. It happens to me all the time, even with my own team. I’m fascinated. I’ve built a structure where we can give one another feedback in the moment about that. And so, I think it’s noticing when I think I’m doing one thing, but I’m actually doing something else, and it’s being interpreted really differently than what I intended.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, could you give us an example of a common way this unfolds?

Marsha Acker

So, we have a monthly team meeting, and often the purpose of that monthly meeting is really for us to carve out some time and actually slow down our conversations so that we can talk about how we’re working together. And so, I had come in with a move around some reflection questions that I was actually teeing up for everybody to think about as we led into the conversation about thinking about how we were working together as a team.

And I have a colleague who would have agreed that the purpose of our meeting is to align on how we’re working together, talk about how we’re working together, but this particular person at that moment wanted to be involved in creating the agenda for the conversation, not to have me come in with some pre-canned questions. And so, the feedback to me in that moment was, you know, I hold on, “I think we set out with the intention to have a conversation about how we work together, and I feel like I’m being driven to your agenda, not a collective agenda that we would create together.”

And I think the stakes were pretty high for that person because it’s risky to say that. I think it’s really risky to name it. I, in that moment, so the stakes were pretty high for me in that moment because I kept thinking, “It’s not what I intended.” I felt quite misunderstood, and I felt like I was being accused of something that was really not my intent at all.

And so, it was in the moment of actually being able to park any further forward movement and talk about where the mishap was, where the misunderstanding was, that we were able to take what was a fairly high-stakes moment, and then I began to realize, “Okay, so it’s not so much an opposition. It was an oppose but not necessarily the intent, but it was definitely an oppose to how I started it off.” And it became a really, really fabulous conversation afterwards, so that sort of friction moment led to a much deeper conversation about how we work and where some of that pattern, even that dynamic that showed up, how it shows up in other places. But it was really challenging, and I am fascinated by the number of times that I watch that happen in teams.

So, when teams have the ability to name it, high stakes are happening all the time for us, and it either leaves us to keep talking about, like, I think about it, it’s like moving deck chairs around on a sinking ship versus talking about what’s really going on.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, it’s intriguing. And it was cool that they voiced it, and so you got to go there. And I remember, it is fascinating, one time I was coordinating in this leadership conference, and I just said something like, “All right. Hey, guys, now we’re off to the sketch session,” and then one of the volunteers, their mom, I heard this third hand, their mom said, “Oh, I think Pete just lost Matt as a volunteer for next year.” I was like, “What? What? I just said now we’re going to walk over here.”

But apparently, for Matt, it was rather an important tradition that he – I think he was dressed in a costume of some sort – like, I marched them over, and that was one of his favorite things, and I’m like, “I had no idea.” I looked at the clock, I said, “Oh, it’s time for us to go there.” And then I was completely oblivious that that mattered. And had I known, I’d be like, “Oh, well, let’s wait for a moment for Matt to return with his costume.” Just kind of a goofy camp kind of vibe.

So, you’re right, like we can just be utterly clueless about such things and, yeah, that’s really eye-opening to make sure that we’ve sort of built in those checks associated with asking questions in that context, like, “Hey, what’s the most important for your volunteer experience this weekend?” It’s like, “Okay, good to know.”

Because, I mean, hey, they’re volunteers, right? I owe them everything in terms of when this event occurred, I want to make sure that they’re getting what they need. But I was like, “Oh, I just didn’t make the agenda in terms of the weekend.” So, I’m just rolling the dice, basically. You don’t know who you’re alienating and why if you don’t take the time to get the info.

Marsha Acker

And I love your example because, here’s the thing, none of us will ever be able to plan or attend all the places that we could just make a mess. And unless we have people around us who have the communicative competency to really raise their hand and say, “Hold on a second. Like, that’s not what I thought we were doing,” or to say it rather than go out of the room and stew about it. We will never know, and I don’t think we can ever plan for all of that.

So, I think about navigating all the change and the turmoil that exists today. Like, we’ve got to have people around us that can say, “Hold up, we’re about to go over the edge,” or “I really see something differently here. I think we’re about to miss something important.”

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. Well, Marsha, tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about your favorite things?

Marsha Acker

No, I think we’ve covered a lot, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marsha Acker

It comes from James Humes, and he says, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marsha Acker

I ran across this research, actually, a couple of weeks ago, and it really resonated, still along the same lines, but it was done by ZipDo. So, I think you could go to Google and search it, it was done July of last year. They found that 85% of employees at all levels experience conflict to some degree, and that 60 to 80% of difficulties in organizations come from strained relationships. So, I found that information fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite book?

Marsha Acker

There’s a book by William Isaacs, it’s actually been around for some time, called Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Marsha Acker

A journal.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite habit?

Marsha Acker

I wake up each morning before everybody else, I have a nice cup of coffee, and I journal.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marsha Acker

I’m known for saying this phrase a lot, “Awareness precedes choice, precedes change.”

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marsha Acker

You can find me on LinkedIn, Marsha Acker, so I’m happy to connect with folks. And then you can read about the book at BuildYourModel.com, and you can also find me at TeamCatapult.com. And if you go to TeamCatapult.com, there is a Re-D-Room, so re, dash, d, dah, room, you can download a handout about what we’ve been talking about today.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marsha Acker

Find a way to elevate dialogue.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Marsha, this has been a treat. I wish you many enriching conversations.

Marsha Acker

Thanks, Pete.

947: How to Listen to Your Body for Leadership Insights with Rachel Rider

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Rachel Rider shares visualization and other approaches to gain individualized insights on improving your leadership.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A powerful visualization to break out of negativity
  2. The biological hack to overcome anxiety
  3. How to decode your body’s tension signals 

About Rachel

Rachel Rider founded MettaWorks in 2015 after a distinguished career in HR, receiving executive coaching certification from Columbia University, and extensive training in meditation, Somatic Experiencing, and Polarity Therapy. Starting as HR Business Partner responsible for developing and coaching leaders and teams at Bloomberg, she went on to specialize in leadership coaching at AppNexus (since acquired by AT&T) and Digital Ocean, the third-largest hosting company in the world. She studied under renowned teacher and Zen Mountain Monastery founder John Daido Loori Roshi for 13 years before continuing under his successor, Shugen Arnold Roshi.  

Rider completed a three-year intensive certification in Somatic Experiencing in 2018, and a 2020 training in Polarity Therapy with the aim of bringing leaders tools to unlock effective, long-lasting change in concert with the body. Since 2020, she’s been working intensively with anti-racism coach Makeda Pennycooke. Rider lives in New York with her husband and two children. 

Resources Mentioned

Rachel Rider Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Rachel, welcome.

Rachel Rider

It’s so good to be here. Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m excited to be chatting. We’re talking about Who You Are Is How You Lead, and some of your insights is associated with this goodness. Can you tell us any particularly surprising, or fascinating, or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made along the way here doing your research?

Rachel Rider

When I started this work, I grew up in the corporate world of HR, and I was studying somatic experiencing, which is the regulation of your nervous system, and at that time, it felt too woo to discuss. But what I have found over time working with folks in the professional world, particularly high-powered leaders, is that there is a hunger, almost a desperation, for “How does it not just live in the cognitive but how do I work with my nervous system to be able to navigate the incredible demands of my job?”

And so, where I began timid to discuss this, it felt a little magic-y, a little woo, became actually the thing that people seek me out for, and that was a surprise. I guess I had a presumption or prejudice against the corporate world, but it turns out actually there’s a place for it there.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, it’s interesting. And we’ve talked to a number of guests on the whole spectrum of woo, I would say, and what I find interesting when we talk about woo, one, I guess it’s a little bit of a vibe, maybe hard to define. But when I read your stuff, I feel much more of a biological grounding.

Rachel Rider

Yeah, I appreciate that because I would say I actually live in the realm of woo a lot. And what I think of woo is the non-concrete world, the things you can’t see but you can feel exists – feelings, energy, overwhelm, you know, that’s a feeling. And so, what I appreciate about what you’re saying is my mission is to really translate the intangible but the knowing that’s there into concrete behavior, into a clear understanding, into actually being able to shift your relationship with something as a result of your relationship with the non-concrete.

And so, I believe that also lives in the biology, the body. The body is so concrete, and yet so much of the things that get stuck, a panic attack, or anger, an immediate reaction to something that lives within the body, and so even though it’s intense It’s so clearly there. And so, my passion for this work is how to connect the two, and shift it in a way that’s really healthy and powerful in how you show up professionally.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, could you make all this concrete for us a little bit in terms of a common situation or an example of a client who had a situation, and they put some of the stuff to work and saw cool things happen?

Rachel Rider

Totally. I have a client who is very successful. She built from scratch an eight-figure business, and she came to me struggling to get out of bed in the morning. This woman runs a very successful company. And what was happening was it was so heavy for her. She would stay up late, watching Netflix, and not look at her calendar in the morning, and not wake up for these very important meetings with very powerful people.

And she came to me, and she’s like, “I don’t know what’s going on. I feel stuck and I don’t know how to get out of this. And I’m even like, ‘Should I just shut this business down?’ this successful business, because I feel like it’s killing me.” That’s also, by the way, of mine, I get a lot from the people I work with. I work with very successful people and, unfortunately, that’s a line I hear, and they mean it literally. This is not a figurative line. And it’s such a beautiful way in because it’s like, “There’s something on the line here. There’s something physical on the line here that we need to explore.”

So, the place we started was understanding what was happening in the collapse because she was literally having a physical response. She could not get out of bed in the morning. She could not bring herself to look at her calendar. And so, one thing that we did physically was work with, “How did she notice in her body this happening?” And so, we would track what happens at the end of the day for her. And it was almost like everything in her day was living in her body. There was no body boundary. She was completely absorbing everything and everyone’s needs, and had totally lost her sense of self because she was caretaking of others even within her body.

And so, one of the pieces that we played with was a lot of visualization of pulling these pieces literally, pulling these pieces out of her body, pulling the direct report and their needs out of her body. She didn’t have to put them too far because she didn’t want to forget about them or un-attend to them, but starting to create space. And once we started to create space in her body, noticing she could breathe a little better, she actually felt a little more energy. She actually started to feel the skin on her body and space inside, and then there was room to move around and show up to her life.

And so, this happened over a few sessions, but I feel like I’m giving you a sense of the overall arc of how this work goes. And I’m curious if I’m answering your question.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, no, that’s really cool. So, that notion there, “I feel like it’s killing me,” I think we can all relate to this notion of overwhelm, exhaustion, too much, just, “Baah” hard to take care of a thing, maybe it’s everything, or maybe it’s work as a whole, or maybe it’s a particular procrastinated task, like, “Ah, I just can’t bring myself to do this so I feel like it’s killing me.”

I want to hear some other articulations of this vibe. One I’m hearing a lot from Dr. Trevor Kashey and his podcast, hopefully he’ll be on the show soon, is, “I can’t stand it.” Is that sort of in that same zone? Or, what are some additional articulations of this? Or, are they very different, distinctive flavors, would you say?

Rachel Rider

I think that’s a fair aspect of it, “I can’t stand it.” I think what often I’m hearing the subtext of these clients say is, “The current state is no longer sustainable, and I have no idea how to do it otherwise.” And so, instead of knowing how to escape, they just feel like they’re going to collapse and die. And truly, like physically, like I’ve worked with folks with panic attacks, I worked with folks who, like I just said, kind of can’t get out of bed in the morning.

And there’s something about this piece around feeling trapped, feeling trapped in your success, feeling immobilized by the powerful position that you have, and wanting, first of all, normalizing that. It is very normal to feel that way. And then the question is, “How do we help you?”

Pete Mockaitis

That is good. And I like that portion of normalizing. I was reading Buzz Aldrin’s autobiography kind of randomly, but he too had struggles with depression and such. He was on the moon. You’d think, “Here’s a high-achieving dude,” and yet things were tough in terms of he’d have speaking engagements and just didn’t go. He was like, “I just can’t bring myself to get out of bed and do the thing.” And so, I think this totally happens to high achievers, maybe often, maybe not so often, maybe intensely, maybe subtly, globally or locally, it’s there. So, Rachel, lay it on us, what do we do with this?

Rachel Rider

Yeah, I really love the summary you just gave. This happens often to high achievers. As high achievers, we are seeking something outside of ourselves, and we are beautifully rewarded. I am a high achiever. I speak from direct experience and my clients. Usually, high achievers have pushed themselves so hard to cultivate the success that they’re standing in. And, usually, that pushing and that reaching for that success lives with that outside of themselves.

And so, when they finally made it, and not they, we, when we finally made it, we look around and we’re like, “Where am I? Where do I exist? I can’t find myself in this. And why is this success not the life I want? It’s everything I want and yet it’s not working for me.” And so, there’s this theme of “Where am I in this? Who am I in this?” that gets confused because, for so long, the success has been validated of who we are.

And so, so often that’s a place that I begin with my clients, is finding the internal compass of “Who do I want to be? And it doesn’t mean that I’ve disappeared because of my success. It just means I can’t tell who I am versus the success and what’s important to me.” And as we start to identify that and listen to that voice, and the way we’re doing that is we’re pulling out those other voices, literally, physically, energetically from our body, we’re finding the places inside ourselves that feel neutral, that feel good physically. We’re working with the energy around it.

And then as we find our space inside, what’s amazing is magic happens, clarity happens. Clarity arises from within, it’s like it bubbles up, and insight happens, and spaciousness happens, and we can make decisions from a stronger, more confident space.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Well, so then, in practice, how does one execute that in terms of, it’s like, “Okay, I can’t stand it. I feel like it’s killing me. I’m overwhelmed by the stuff. I’m lost amid my success”? Kind of what’s step one, two, three, four, kind of working through some of that?

Rachel Rider

So, I have a client, actually, right now who’s very successful and is trying to make a decision about whether he wants to step into something that he has been successful at before, and it’s very high profile, and he would be very rewarded for, and he is deeply conflicted about this because that reward isn’t necessarily what he’s looking for right now in his life.

And this is like an urgent, pending decision that has a lot of implications either way. If he walks away from it, it’s a major missed opportunity. And if he walks away from it, he may really be able to lean into who he wants to be. But the work that we’re finding is those don’t have to be mutually exclusive. What we’ve been doing concretely is, first, starting to identify whose voices are living within him and whose are his. So, judgments around him taking this opportunity, “Oh, it’s just for the money,” “Oh, it’s just for the accolades,” “Oh, this is a ridiculous occupation.”

Pete Mockaitis

Now, I wonder what it is, Rachel, a ridiculous occupation. Plastic surgeon. I can’t help it. The brain just opened up.

Rachel Rider

No, but right. Exactly. But interesting that that’s where your mind went.

Pete Mockaitis

No offense to plastic surgeons.

Rachel Rider

But that’s what I’m saying, look at the judgments that surround certain roles. And he embodies a role, and he has a judgment of it. Wow! And so, pulling that out, we’re like, “Oh, that’s not your voice. That’s a parental voice.” It’s one of his parent’s voices, “Okay, if we were to pull that voice out and just stick it on the floor next to you, maybe let’s burn it, because it’s not yours.” Even as I say it, I can feel that space that we created for him in that session. Okay, we’re now pulling the voices out, what were you going to say?

Pete Mockaitis

So, when you say pulling it out, sticking it on the floor, burning it, are these are all kind of like visualization exercises in terms of I close my eyes and I imagine this voice is a tangible thing? As a podcaster, I see a waveform.

Rachel Rider

You said a wave?

Pete Mockaitis

A waveform. I see it like in the software, the voice.

Rachel Rider

Yes, yes, yes. So, this is the thing, I want to take away the word imagine because energy is very powerful. When our heart is beating fast because we’re anxious, that’s real. Even if the anxiety of what’s happening isn’t. And so, if I were to pull that anxiety out of my body and hold it, that energy exists. So, yes, you’re visualizing, and you’re holding that energy. 

So, I want us to really know that when we’re playing with visualization, you’re really actually working with the energy. And so, when you see that waveform, when you think of the energy, that is real because of mirror neurons in your body. What’s amazing about visualization is the power of somatic experiencing, your mirror neurons, that when your body sees something happen, your body responds even if it’s in your mind’s eye.

And so, if we go back to the client where we burned that voice, the body witnessing that burning of the voice actually experiences relief. And so, that’s why I want to do away with the idea of imagine because this is truly a deep energetic experience, a healing moment.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And just a practical note, a voice is something one hears. To burn a voice, I’m actually imagining like the decibel wave chart printed on a piece of paper. I said the word “imagine.” Apologies. I’m visualizing that and then a Zippo lighter igniting this piece of paper with the printed decibel waveform of a voice. Is that how one means by which one would “burn a voice”?

Rachel Rider

Whatever you see it as. So, yes, for you that would be true. For this client, it was actually sticky. As we were pulling the voice out of his body, it was a sticky substance. And so, these experiences can come in all forms. What matters is that you’re able to connect with the felt sense of it, the texture, the color, because mirror neurons in the body are a very powerful thing. It’s like when you’re watching a movie, and you see someone kissing another person, it’s like your heart melts a little. Or you watch violence, and that stirs something within you. There’s a reason for that. Mirror neurons are very powerful.

And so, whether you’re watching a movie on your screen or in your mind’s eye, your body’s nervous system is still stirring and responding. That’s why visualization can be so powerful for good and for bad. That’s when you’re getting stuck in a loop about something and your body’s getting worked up. You’re re-running that same conversation in your mind over and over again. Even when I say that, I can feel kind of the anxiety energy, and that’s an opportunity to work with that in your mind, “Okay where does that conversation need to go so that I can sleep right now and not be thinking about it at 2:00 a.m. in the morning?”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, so then, it sounds, I get you that the visualization is super powerful, and that there are very creative means by which we can represent stuff. And then by doing that visualization, we have a cool response to it. So, then I guess I’m thinking, how do I know what to go after in this visualization adventure?

Rachel Rider

So, where we begin is where a place you get stuck. We need a doorway. And so, for someone who we’re talking about, when we’re really feeling like a job is killing us, where do we feel that in our body? “Oh, my chest gets tight.” Okay. So, we start with the body. We go to the body because we want to get out of our thoughts because we can get stuck there so easily.

And then, where in the body is it? Is it, “Am I feeling like I’m going to die. My chest is getting tighter”? What color is it? What image arrives for you? Is there a texture? How much space does it take up? And once we are able to identify that, then we can decide, “What does this need right now when I have tightness in my body, and it just feels like an iron rod, I have jaw tension?”

And I’ll sit there and I’ll think, “What does this need right now?” The most gentlest thing, and I’ll imagine a flame of a candle sitting next to my really tight jaw, and just watching the molecules of that, that tight metal jaw opening up and moving a little. And that’s how we’re playing. We’re really meeting what’s happening in the body with what it needs.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, this is intriguing in terms of it’s like I was just showing my little kids a video animation of DNA transcription and translation, because that’s just mind-blowing, like, “This happens constantly in our cells all the time.” It’s just amazing when I first learned about this in AP Biology, it’s like, “That’s mind-blowing.” And so, the cells know what proteins they need, and say, “All right, we’re just going to go make those via this elaborate process.” It’s just all choreographed beautifully.

So, what’s cool about this is you’re sort of zeroing in from a bodily-felt perspective, what’s the medicine, the prescription I need, and then we’re just going to go ahead and write it up, a visual style. And so, I’m imagining, Rachel, tell me if this feels appropriate, so I’m thinking, “All right, so tax stuff coming up. I don’t want to deal with it,” and it’s like “Aargh” and I just feel “Aargh” with regard to it. And I guess the bodily sensation is I just feel kind of weighted down, like moving, just walking over to the keyboard and clicking over to the bank websites, wherever, just feels heavy and dreadful.

And I know, rationally, “Pete, it’s not a big deal. You’ve done it many, many, many times before. I can handle this. I’m totally capable of this. This can be done.” And yet, my typical response of trying to overpower the weight, in terms of, “Come on, come on, let’s do this! Let’s, like, Eye of the Tiger, like Rocky, like, da-da-da-da!” like, that kind of pump-up stuff, sometimes is adequate, like, “Okay, get over hump and do it.”

But this approach, it would seem, Rachel, that maybe the best move is to say, “Well, let’s look into that bodily sensation. Let’s look into that weight, and what is sort of a visualization prescription that can ease that.” Like what is needed, I’m thinking, is maybe I need more. What I need is some lightness and fun. This needs to be a little silly even. I want to feel like a winner instead of a loser.

Rachel Rider

When you come up with a silly visual of that, like, what is a silly visual when you think of like a winner?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, now, there are so ways we could slice it, but I guess I’m thinking for silly and opposite of heavy-weighted down, I’m almost thinking of like a pogo stick. It’s like, “I’m not weighted down. I am buoyant. I am bouncing, and I’m bouncing in a fun way,” which brings back some childhood memories.

Rachel Rider

If we were to play with this, that’s really cool. I feel your energy shift. Did you just even notice your energy shift as you move the pogo stick?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.

Rachel Rider

So, if we’re playing with you pogo-sticking towards the computer, tell me how it feels, and when and if you notice a difference in the lightness to the heaviness as you move closer to the computer on your pogo stick.

Pete Mockaitis

I mean, I’d say maybe by the second or third bounce, and I’m also putting some sound effects in there, Rachel. We’ve got a “boing, boing,” you know, something cartoony, if you will.

Rachel Rider

Yes. So, you’re feeling really light, and then something. By the second or third, you’re feeling the heaviness. If we were to pause there, and so your nervous system knows, “Oh, I don’t have to go closer for the moment. I get to enjoy this pogo stick,” just what comes up for you as you know that you can pause?

Pete Mockaitis

It just feels really nice. I mean, it’s like I’m having a childhood memory on my childhood home driveway with my brother pogo-sticking, realizing you could take off the suction, the little rubber part on the bottom, and like dent the pavement, “We really shouldn’t do that. Let’s put it back on.”

Rachel Rider

See, that’s what we’re looking for that laugh and the twinkle in your eye. And so, I invite you, I’m curious about this, we’re going to slow it really down. So, as you get off the pogo stick, and you had that twinkle and lightness in your eye, and you’re moving very slowly towards the computer, is there any thoughts or feelings that arise?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I mean, I guess I still don’t want to do it as I get closer to the reality. It’s almost like the pogo-sticking is fading out and the doing is fading back in.

Rachel Rider

And what’s under the not wanting to do? Like, what’s the feeling as you slowly, very slowly move towards the computer?

Pete Mockaitis

That this is less fun than pogo-sticking.

Rachel Rider

Yeah. And underneath that? Like, what’s the blech, a kind of word to it, or feeling underneath it?

Pete Mockaitis

I guess I just sort of think that I should have found a better system, and team, and process outsource package to have handled this by now and years ago, and I feel a little negligent.

Rachel Rider

Okay. So, now we’re understanding the dread. So, what we did, like, look at that insight that arose, “Oh, I have a little judgment around myself about this, and it probably could be done better so I don’t have to deal with this.” How does that shift the experience of dread?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I guess my first thought is like, “All right. Well, this will be the last time I handle this. Let’s adopt and mean it well, and be ready to pass it on off.”

Rachel Rider

Yes. How incredible is that, that insight about, “That’s why I don’t like the taxes?” And all we did, we started with the body and the nervous system.

Pete Mockaitis

That is pretty cool. It is a very different pathway, both in terms of feelings and thoughts, insights that pop up than, “Come on, let’s cue the Rocky montage music, and let’s power through.”

Rachel Rider

Exactly. And that’s the premise of my work. What we, literally, witnessed, insight bubble up when the body had space to play. When the body has space to look and examine without meaning-making, that’s when insight bubbles up, that’s when action can happen. Look at the insight, you’re like, “Yeah, I’m not doing this again.” And think just how powerfully that translates to the professional world, taxes in the professional world.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, certainly, yeah, in terms of lots of stuff, lots of better ways to do stuff just kind of never gets the chance to bubble up because we kind of shove it aside or whatever.

Rachel Rider

Yeah, and there’s one thing I wanted to say, I didn’t say it while we were kind of in it, but you said something that is such a profound indicator that it’s a great time to go to the body, which is, “My mind knows this isn’t a big deal,” or, “My mind knows. Like, my mind knows something that my body doesn’t. My body’s not paying attention. We are misaligned here and the body is more in charge.” That is a great place to know, “Ooh, this is when I go to the body.” It’s like, “I know I shouldn’t be so pissed off about this small thing, and yet I am losing my mind. I can’t focus on anything else.” That’s a great time to go to the body.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. Okay. Well, thank you for going deep in there with us. So, that’s a way it gets done. Tell us, in your book, you’ve got 16 snazzy chapters, and I’m curious to hear how we incorporate this kind of bodily approach to the leadership action in terms of, you got a chapter on reading the room, and then disrupting the patterns. Can you share with us how does this all kind of come together?

Rachel Rider

And so, at the highest levels of leadership, I have found that, in the work I’ve done with the hundreds of leaders, maybe thousands I think at this point I’ve coached, is when you run companies, when you’re in the senior executive team, your relationships are your deliverables. It is not about checking the box anymore. And that also means that you need to be having successful relationships with folks, which means you have to be having a successful relationship with yourself.

And so, this book is really understanding your inner world. It’s exactly what we’ve just done here. So, there are case studies in the book about a client who has really sharp elbows. She does so because she has such a high standard, but it’s really alienating people, and it means people are working around her. And so, the work we did on, “Where is that visceral impulse coming from within her?”

In the beginning of our work together, she could not handle not saying something critical, even when she was celebrating someone, because she wanted them to do better. And so, our work was, “Okay, where is this living within you? What makes it so impossible for you to not share?” And what she really wanted was to foster connection with people and make them do better, be inspired to do better.

And so, through our work together, she was realizing, “Oh, if that’s what I want, and that’s not what I’m getting, how do I work within my body so it comes from a visceral place, the celebration, it comes from a visceral place, the feedback?” And so, there are a lot of different case studies in the book that talk about, “How do you try translate understanding your inner world to showing up differently, concretely?”

Pete Mockaitis

And so, we went through one pathway by which that can be done. Any other pro tips?

Rachel Rider

So, I’m a big fan of a holistic approach. In our work at MettaWorks, we do mind, body, and spirit work. First, your brain needs to be on board, okay? We do not want to dismiss the cognitive. Your brain needs to think something needs to change. Your brain needs to think, “This is not helpful.” Then, your body needs to be on board, “I want to do it differently.” But there’s also the spirit piece, there’s also a surrender to something bigger than you.

And I have no opinion about what that should be for you. And I do believe that we do better work when we feel connected to something bigger than us because there are some impossible situations that are only impossible if we feel alone as an individual in them. And the moment that we are able to sit back and connect spiritually, we get more clarity.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, when you say spiritually, you mean bigger purpose associated with “Why are we bothering to do the thing we’re doing?”

Rachel Rider

Yes, that’s a great way in. I would also say, “Do you connect with your ancestors? Do you feel connected to the wind outside?” Whatever feels like is bigger than this human form, whatever feels like the ethereal to you that you can connect with and feel held by, that that’s what I’m talking about. And I think that was a great example and a really good place to start of “What’s my bigger why? Why do I care? What am I doing here?”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, Rachel, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Tell us, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Rachel Rider

I profoundly believe, and I have seen over and over again, that every one of my clients has it within them, and the work we do is simply decluttering in the inside so that they can listen deeply to who they are, what they need, and how they want to show up. And I think that is so vital to hold within you because it means then anything is possible for you.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Rachel Rider

Einstein’s “Everything is energy.” I truly believe that. And the more that you hold that everything is energy, the more there’s no immovable force. It’s just a deeper, denser energy that you need to work with.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Rachel Rider

Oh, shoot, I forget the name of it. But when light is observed, it changes behavior.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s so trippy, man.

Rachel Rider

I know. So, I have been a longtime meditator, and so I love that study because it’s literally concrete evidence that when we pay attention, when we cultivate awareness of our mind, of our body, just the awareness changes everything.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah. And a favorite book?

Rachel Rider

Gosh. I will default to my favorite, which is called Far From the Tree, and I forget who it’s by. I think it’s Solomon. And it’s about this man who did, I think, 10 years of studies with these children that are not identified as mainstream children in the world and the communities that they’re a part of. And it’s just so powerful and compelling. And I do believe it’s a leadership book, even though it talks about children.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Rachel Rider

Somatic experiencing body work.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite habit?

Rachel Rider

Meditating.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Rachel Rider

I would point them to three places. Our website, that’s MettaWorks.io, or Instagram, mettaworks, or LinkedIn, Rachel Rider.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Rachel Rider

Start paying attention. The moment you do, the light molecule changes.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Rachel, this is fun. I wish you many fun leadership moments.

Rachel Rider

Thank you, Pete. It was such a pleasure.

945: How to Master Your Inner World and Flourish During Stress with Mawi Asgedom

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Mawi Asgedom shares four tools anyone can use to master their emotions and thrive.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Easy ways to keep your cool when things go awry
  2. The key investment that improves both happiness and success
  3. The powerful reframe that makes you feel unstoppable 

About Mawi

Mawi Asgedom is an award-winning author and expert on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) who has inspired over 1000 audiences with his uplifting speeches. 

Mawi founded Mawi Learning, an organization that unlocks human potential through evidence-based social emotional learning. Under Mawi’s leadership, Mawi Learning won the prestigious CODiE award for excellence and innovation in educational technology, and achieved CASEL-designation for evidence-based Social Emotional Learning.  

In 2023, Mawi launched his newest venture to help youth unlock their potential: Inner Heroes Universe, a media company that helps parents, educators, and therapists equip kids with crucial mental health and social emotional skills. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

  • UpliftDesk.com. Build your dream workstation and get 5% off with promo code AWESOME5

Mawi Asgedom Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Mawi, welcome back.

Mawi Asgedom

Oh, it is so good to be back, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

This is crazy. So, you were episode number one. That was a wild eight years ago on the show. We’ve been talking in between, but nobody else has been listening.

Mawi Asgedom

Hey, it is incredible. It’s hard to believe. I still remember that first episode. And what is it 800 episodes later now? Like, you’ve been at it 900. How many done?

Pete Mockaitis

That’s right, 940-ish. Totally.

Mawi Asgedom

Oh, my goodness. Well, it’s been fun to see the growth. I’m proud of you. It’s so cool. I’ve got to ask you, Pete. You’ve talked to so many world-class people throughout the years here, what has been the one most important or interesting learning that you’ve gotten? Let’s flip the table on you, get you to answer a question right off the bat. When you think about all the journey that you had here, the whole journey.

Pete Mockaitis

If I boil it down to one thing, it’s caring.” It’s like, “Do you care? Do you care about your job, your colleagues, your teammates, your boss, your customers, your stakeholders, the investors? Do you care or do you not?” It’s like, “I just got to get through the day. I got to try to get through the day, get to the paycheck.”

Versus when you care, it opens everything in terms of, “Well, why do I spend the time to learn this thing? Oh, because I care. Why do I really try to listen and understand where someone’s coming from? Oh, because I care. Why do I invest in learning this stuff when it’s hard or it’s uncomfortable or it’s unpleasant? Oh, because I want to improve it.”

So, I think it just makes all the difference when folks are plugged into that versus just trying to get through it. And so, many of the tidbits of advice in terms of being likable or being persuasive, if you just keep drilling down to the why, why, why, it’s “Well, because this just matters to me.” And being awesome at your job is sometimes, quite literally, a matter of life and death, and other times you’re making an impact on a smaller level.

I was just chatting with someone who sells lots and custom homes for planned developments, and she says, “For me, family is the most important thing, and a house is one of the most important things for a family’s experience of family and togetherness, so it really matters to me.” And it shows in terms of how excellent she was at what she was doing. So, that’s my soapbox, is it really boils down to caring.

Mawi Asgedom

Thanks. So, you reminded me as you talked, Pete, I gave a keynote a long time ago, maybe 15 years ago, at Vernon Hills High School in Illinois. They’d all read my book, Of Beetles and Angels, and I gave what I thought was a great speech, and everybody was saying, like, “Wow, that was great.” And then one of the kids came up to me and said, “Hey, are you happy right now, because you don’t seem like you’re really happy up there?” I was like, “Wow, this kid could see right through me. I’ve been having like a bad streak, I hadn’t been doing self-care,” and I really wasn’t happy, and it showed.

And to your point, it’s a tough thing to hear from a kid after you’ve been paid to go present at their school, right? But then it forced you to hold up the mirror and answer the question that you just asked, really, like, “How much do you care right now?” And if you’re not where you need to be, in terms of your happiness, joy, energy, what you bring to the table, well, you need to step back and do something about it. And so, that is one the stories I’ll never forget from over the years.

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah, that’s great stuff. Well, it’s good to be back, Pete. Man, the world of podcasting has changed. It was pretty nascent still when you were doing it. It was pre-pandemic when we did the first episode a while back. And to see just how much it’s changed and grown. And to be a part of that must be pretty cool for you.

Pete Mockaitis

It has been, and new fun opportunities have opened up, and it’s been fun to explore those. And I want to talk about your new fun, cool thing, The Inner Hero’s Universe. It’s a series of books for children. So, first, we should address why are we talking about this on “How to Be Awesome at Your Job?” And it’s not just because we’re buddies. Even though we’re buddies, I don’t let people on here who don’t have something to say that sharpens the universal skills required to flourish at work. So lay it on us, you got a book series for kids. I can see how it’s useful for us grown folk, but tell us what are we doing here today?

Mawi Asgedom

Well, look, I just asked you what the sum wisdom was that you collected from people in your 900 interviews with all sorts of leaders and CEOs about how to be successful in the world of work, and it came down to caring, which is really something that we should pick up, start picking up very early when you’re three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, how you’re raised, and the things you’re taught. And there are enduring lessons about all these things.

And so, in any case, the whole Inner Heroes Universe actually has tremendous application, I would argue, for the world of work and just for the world of humanity, of just being adults in life, because it’s really rooted in psychology. And what I wanted to do, Pete, was, my first company focused on what’s called social-emotional learning, which is the way that kids learn about things, like mindset, relationships, goal-setting, all the personal development kind of stuff that you talk about on your podcast, but from an education and kids’ lens.

With the pandemic and the challenges that our country has had in the mental health area, I wanted to translate the world of psychology, that clinical world of psychology, into simple, easy tools that kids could use, and those same tools can be used by your listeners. And we can talk about what that means in each of the four areas of psychology that we started with, but think of us as the Marvel universe of the inner world.

Like that movie “Inside Out” that Pixar did, Pete, where it showed that young girl’s inner journey, but it only focused on emotions. We’re bringing the entire inner world to life through books, through media. And as we continue to talk, I’ll share how these things are so relevant in four of the initial areas of our inner universe.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s so cool and it’s powerful. And I totally resonate with that. And we had Kwame Christian on the show, he’s got the podcast Negotiate Anything, and he’s so cool. I think in his book, Nobody Will Play With Me, he talks about our inner toddler. And I totally connect that notion, is that when I observe my own children, and they’re upset and yelling or crying because they can’t play a game that they wanted to play, and we see we’re not really above that.

I think we are experiencing the same kinds of feelings of disappointment, frustration, “Oh, I was really looking forward to that, and this is being taken from me, and I don’t…aargh, it’s not fair,” we’re feeling all those things, and we just dress it up a little bit more professionally in terms of like, “Oh, this is a disappointing change in schedule. Is there a way we could return to the original agenda?” And so, I think that there’s loads of truth to we have an inner toddler, and the messages that connect for children, and sometimes are among the most profoundly impactful to us at a deep, I don’t know, limbic or something, level of our human experience.

Mawi Asgedom

Exactly. I’ll give you one specific example of how that works. In education, in kid psychology, one of the things that we talk a lot about is regulation and dysregulation. And a good way to think about it is that, as human beings, whether we’re kids or adults, whether you’re a five-year-old or a CEO of a major company, when we go throughout our day, we all detect threats, right? Like our nervous system, our bodies, the way we evolved has learned to wonder, “Hey, is that a lion over there? Is that lion going to come for me? Or is that just a tree?” Like that kind of thing, right?

And so, we all respond differently when we see those threats. A lot of times when we’re a kid, what psychologists talk about is, the kid will go into like the red response or the blue response. That might be a kid who, all of a sudden, runs out of a room and the teacher doesn’t know where they went. Or a kid gets really angry and won’t let go of a point, like they keep arguing, they have low inflexibility, they will not stop talking about something.

I’m wondering if any of your listeners have ever worked with someone in their jobs that is inflexible, that gets attached to something, they won’t let it go, they just will not let it go, or when a conflict comes up, they just kind of like leave, they retreat, and they close off and they lose. What’s happening there is that we’re actually, like when you said limbic, we’re losing access to our thinking brain, and we’re going more in that survivor mode.

Well, with Inner Heroes Universe, what we do is we teach kids very basic, simple strategies to first reconnect with their bodies because it’s the body that’s dysregulated. We try to talk to someone logically, right, and say, “Oh, Johnny didn’t mean to say that to you,” or, “They didn’t mean to exclude you.” You’re using logic. What really needs to happen is we need to connect to the body first. We teach kids things like spider fingers. We teach kids things like box breathing.

And you know what? Some of the best leadership thinkers working today with adults and CEOs, like, I don’t know if you’ve had Shirzad from Positive Intelligence on your podcast.

Pete Mockaitis

Not yet.

Mawi Asgedom

You got to get him on. He’s one of my favorite thinkers. He sits down with CEOs, and he just tells them, “I want you to take 10 seconds and just feel each of your toes. Okay, just feel each one of your toes.” What’s he doing? He’s turning the thinking brain off for a second and reconnecting people to their bodies. And when you do that, you actually think at a higher level.

Like, for type A folks, like us and maybe many of your listeners, who are used to believing that logic and thought and what our conscious brain can do is the sum game of progress and how we should think about things, it can be difficult to accept that these breathing exercises, regulating our bodies, doing things like spider fingers, they’re as important for the 36-year-old, 56-year-old, as they are for the 6-year-old, and it helps us lower our stress. It helps us kind of moderate the temperature of our bodies and our thought. And that’s a very specific example, Pete, of where the world of kids is actually not that different from the world of adults.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Mawi, I’ll totally second that, and it’s really fun. We talked about spider fingers. My daughter, Mary, has done this, and I actually was not familiar with spider fingers before reading this book. And if listeners have not heard of it, it is the practice of simply touching your thumb to each of your fingers in succession, “My thumb to my index, my thumb to my middle, my thumb to my ring finger, my thumb to my pinky.” And just doing that with some awareness of, “This is how my body, my fingers are feeling,” gets your brain in a different gear.

And if you’re feeling angry and you can’t go take a walk, you could do spider fingers anywhere and everywhere. And I had not heard of this before. I have found that it’s useful, and my daughter Mary has done it numerous times. So, it was really cool. It’s like these books are full of, like, superheroes, super villains, battling inside the kids’ minds, and yet I’m learning useful stuff here, so spider fingers. Well, Mawi, tell us, where do you even discover it? Like, I Googled it and it wasn’t all that common.

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah. So, the way I discovered it is, so with Inner Heroes Universe, I hired a team of mental health experts that I work with very closely, and my criteria for them was they have to sit down with hundreds of kids every week – like I didn’t want someone who wrote research papers off in some university, no offense to those folks who are listening, but they weren’t grounded in the reality of what kids experience every day.

And what my mental health experts told us is, the kids they see, they’re having problems because someone is messing with them and they can’t control their reaction to that, and they’re getting in a lot of trouble in school. Or, they’re having problems where they’re not able to pay attention and their mind is wandering a lot, and they’re getting in trouble for that. Or, they’re having deep anxiety and they’re afraid to go to school for any of a number of reasons.

And so, the spider fingers were, actually, created by one of my mental health experts, a woman named Carrie, came up with it, and my son uses it. I use it. But it’s really like, “How do we translate all these clinical tools that you have to go to a counselor to get them, typically, or read a dense book on mental health? And how do we translate them and make them accessible for everybody using like art?” So, like this example of a book. Here are some art with the characters and making it interesting and fun.

Pete, let me give probably my most stunning example of regulation from my career, okay?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, please. All right.

Mawi Asgedom

I was working on the most important deal, up to that point in my life, the most important deal I’d ever worked on, and I was having a lot of problems, a lot of problems. It was going very poorly, and I was really struggling. I consider myself to be somebody who gets along with everybody, but sometimes when the stakes are really high, that other part of who we are comes out that we don’t want to acknowledge. Maybe your listeners can identify with that. Like, “Hey, I’m usually a nice person. Everybody loves me. What just happened? How come I’m having all these battles and people don’t seem to like me anymore, and I can’t get…?”

Well, a lot of times it’s because something is at stake and you have to negotiate things and you’re fighting over things. And what that does is that gets us more in that survivor brain I was talking about, and your thinking brain gets compromised. You think you’re being logical, but you’re not. So, I described all this to a friend of mine who’s a very, very wise woman named Ranjini, and I just said to her, “I don’t understand why I’m not getting any progress here?” And you know what she said to me? She’s a woman who teaches at a top business school. She didn’t give me any business advice.

She said, “I want you to start every single day praying for the people that you feel are tormenting you and the problem with this thing not moving forward.” I was like, “It ain’t going to happen. Forget about it. Why would I do that? I’m right, they’re wrong. It’s pretty simple, okay?” A neutral outsider looking into the situation, 99 out of 100 times would say, “Mawi is correct. They’re wrong.” I truly felt like that.

Maybe some of your listeners… Listener, can you identify with that? And in situations where you’re pretty sure you’re right, you’re being jacked up by some folks who shouldn’t be doing whatever they’re doing, and you’re stuck there. And the last thing you’re going to do, the last thing you’re going to do is waste a minute in the morning praying for these people. I was desperate, Pete. I was at a point of desperation where I’ve tried everything else. But I tried it, Pete. No joke. Everything moves forward within like five, six days, things start moving forward.

It turns out, unbeknownst to me, my own energy was having a lot bigger contribution than I thought. And by me praying for them, put that aside. What is that? That’s a regulation technique. That’s like I was dysregulated and didn’t know it. I always thought I was being logical. I thought I was using my best intelligence; I was right. And then this is a simple technique of taking things away from my perspective, a simple act of getting on my knees and praying for someone else who I didn’t think should be prayed for, changed my body, changed my energy, and the transaction ended up being one of the best in my career.

Pete Mockaitis

All right.

Mawi Asgedom

So, if it was just as smart as me making an Excel sheet and mapping out the pros and cons, and that was the only way to think about business, then you wouldn’t need something like Inner Heroes Universe. You wouldn’t need that world of things, but it’s not like that, right?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s powerful. So, now, well, hey, I’m a believer in the power of prayer. But as you understand it, it’s not so much that the Almighty parted the seas for you, so much as you were putting out some, I don’t know, hostile, contentious, unpleasant, difficult, inflexible – don’t let me throw you too far under the bus here, Mawi – energies in the course of the negotiation, the conversations, with this deal, and it was just getting things sort of jammed up.

You’re like, “I don’t really know how to make progress with this guy over on their side,” is what was going on. But then through the prayer you got into a more chill vibe that you were able to have some back-and-forth and progress. Is that an accurate summary of what went down there?

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah, definitely. Another way of thinking about it was in my previous state, I had access to 70% of my intelligence. Like, my previous state had got me so worked up I thought I had access to 100%. And once I started praying, my energy shifted, I started to think differently, and I regained the 30 additional units I would need to understand where I was being inflexible, to understand, “Oh, well, if I don’t like this person, I’m going to find ways to still get it done rather than just being mad at them.” Like, you’re able to kind of make additional distinctions.

So, it wasn’t that the Almighty did this, necessarily, not that I doubt the Almighty. I think that if there is a lesson from the Almighty here, it’s that, “Hey, there might be a plank in your own eye, as the scripture says, while you’re looking at the peck of dust in somebody else’s eye,” and we have to take responsibility for that as leaders. Well, this is the same thing that we can teach a kid. If you’re upset with somebody else, don’t focus on them for a second, like, “Hey, let’s do some box breathing, let’s do some spider fingers, and then after that, we have a few strategies for you that you can use to exit the situation that are now available to you, now that you’re not completely dysregulated.”

And so, it’s similar because we all have bodies, we all have emotions, we all have feelings, and we all get stuck. The inflexible thinking is a big part of it. Inflexible thinking is a big problem that happens when you get so into somebody, like being against you, or out to get you, or the enemy for a particular thing happening, we kind of get stuck in that quicksand of inflexible thinking that I think that prayer helps out. Yeah, and I think that would be something that would work, Pete, in my opinion, for someone who is an atheist, if they took time to just pray and think about, wish good things upon that person’s the way, I would say it, and shift one’s own energy, like that kind of thing. That makes sense?

Pete Mockaitis

That is good. And when you said box breathing a couple times, so just in case folks are not familiar, Mawi, what is box breathing?

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah. So, I’m still learning a lot about this from the mental health experts, and it’s a variety of breathing techniques, like box breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, where you’re just counting your inhales and your exhales very intentionally. And you could say something like, for example, here’s this book that I have here, shaped like a box, you could say that, and you could breathe in and out, as you’re noticing the contours of the box and feeling that alongside your hands. You could count as you’re doing it.

But the point is you want to pay attention to your breathing. So, it’s all these strategies that are intended to interrupt your thinking through your body or your mind. So, for example, another one, Pete might be something like this. Hey, Pete, tell me your three favorite neighborhoods in the city of Chicago.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, sure thing. Let’s just go with East Lakeview, Wrigleyville, and Old Town.

Mawi Asgedom

Okay, so that’s an example of something called ABC mindfulness we teach kids. You just ask someone to list off three things that you know they know about. And as they’re thinking about those things, their mind kind of moves away from what they were focused on. And that’s very useful for kids where you’d be like, “Hey, tell us your favorite Pokemon.” As they’re reciting their Pokemon, their five Pokemon, or if the kid is into rollercoasters, “Tell us your five favorite rollercoasters.” They recite those rollercoasters, their bodies are calming down because they’re being distracted, and then when they come back, you can ask them to engage in the problem.

So, whether it’s the spider fingers, whether it’s the breathing techniques, whether it’s ABC mindfulness, each person listening to your podcast should have a repertoire of, like, five to six things that they can do. Like, one simple one that I like to do, that Shirzad talks about from Positive Intelligence is just take your fingers and rub them closely so you can feel the contours of your fingers very closely, and you can kind of feel it.

I would literally do that under the table at certain meetings when I was getting stressed out. When someone was saying something that I didn’t like, I would just do that, calm myself before responding. Nobody knew I was doing it because it was under the table, like while I’m sitting at a meeting, I’m calling myself, reminding myself, “Hey, let’s do a little regulation before you jump into something with somebody.” So, that’s kind of like what that world of regulation is all about. Have a few strategies that work for you.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, you mentioned that these books cover four areas. We’ve talked a good bit about the soothing, the regulation, which is handy if we’re stressed, overwhelmed, getting angry at folks, and not having our full intelligence. What are the three other areas?

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah. So, we picked regulation because we’re seeing so many challenges post-pandemic, with that in schools and in society at large. Another one that’s massive for today’s world, Pete, is relationship and connection isolation.

And so, two of our characters deal with…one of our characters, bad guys is, one villain is named Iso, we call him Khans, his name is Iso. Then we have Link, whose job is to connect with people. And, Pete, if there’s anything we learned during the pandemic, I would say it’s that we need each other. We need human connection.

And the Surgeon General has said that loneliness and being isolated is the same as smoking, or just being a heavy smoker in terms of what it does for your life expectancy, for example. It’s a devastating kind of issue. So, I would say relationships are a key area. Like, if regulation is the first area, relationships would be the second area, and I can double-click on that if you like.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, yeah, so could you just give us a pro tip or tool that fits in there, sort of like we talked about spider fingers for the regulation? Any relationship power tools?

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah, definitely. A couple power tools I would say is that, one is that pay attention to who your real champions are. What I mean by that is there’s three to five people in your life, Pete, and in every listener’s life that, for whatever reason, these people have been there for you above and beyond what you might even think is deserved, are there.

These people are your ultimate champions. You might view yourself, let’s say, you just like have amazing self-concept, and you think of yourself as a 10 out of 10. These people think you’re a 50 out of 10. They throw opportunities your way that are 50 out of 10. They treat you like that. And God has provided these people to each of us, I would say it’s like angels that help us, but a lot of times we don’t really value them. We don’t connect with them. We don’t thank them.

And following the 80/20 rule of understanding who these people are, really over-invest in them, I would say, is a top relationship strategy. And I think everyone here can think about two or three folks in their network that have really done that for them. Another one, Pete, is that one thought that’s been really helpful to me, professionally, is that I know a lot of people, I’ve made a lot of friends professionally, it was hard for me to admit, Pete, that my relationships were atrophying, that my relationships were, over time, depreciating.

I still know a lot of people, but I haven’t talked to that person in seven years. I haven’t talked to that person in four years. They moved to a different country and they now have like, you know, they’re busy caring for their kids, or whatever it might be, or they did this. And the reality is if I called them, they might be like, “Why is Mawi calling me?” because they thought either someone died, or you just haven’t talked for so long. So, we have these rich relationships over our time but then understanding that, like, “Hey, we have to continuously intentionally renew and build up our relationships.”

And so, I was talking to you before, briefly before our interview, and I was telling you, for example, I joined a club that does cost money, a decent amount of money, that has been really helpful to me over the last year and a half, it’s called 3i, that has really helped me connect with people all over the country, really fun, and it connects me with people that are more in my current stage of life.

Like, I sold my company, I’m post-job right now, really, in how I live my life. And being able to connect with a lot of folks who are in that same kind of stage of life, and have some of the same interests as me, has been a great fit for me. It doesn’t mean I don’t have my old friends or that I’m not connecting with folks, but I kind of like analyze, currently, from my current stage of life, what do I need?

And I would ask every listener to do that. And I would just ask them, for your current stage of life, like what are the new relationships you have to create? Where have things atrophied? Where have things depreciated? Where do you need to step up and really invest in it? I have four kids, Pete, if they were to ask me what’s the single most important thing that I can tell them, other than their life philosophy around their faith and things like that that will help them the most, it’s the people they have around them, without any doubt. That’s the thing in life that makes you happiest and most successful, is having those relationships from mental health, from professional, from happiness.

And so, that’s why we focus on this area. It’s critical for kids. A lot of mental health challenges are rooted in relationship challenges, or accelerated by them. And as adults, we have to nurture our relationships, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, we got regulation. We got relationships. What’s next?

Mawi Asgedom

I’d say a growth mindset is critical. Growth mindset has been defined many ways by many different people. I actually had a chance to work with Dr. Carol Dweck, who wrote the book Mindset. I created an online class with her, went to her office at Stanford, and so I feel like I got really a bird’s-eye view of just everything that was happening at the industry, but also learning directly from her and her team.

And a growth mindset is really the idea that our skills and abilities, they’re not fixed. They’re malleable. They can always grow, that we can get better at anything. And the fixed mindset is that we can’t grow, we can’t get better at things. And we want to teach kids these concepts because a lot of them think they’re not as good at math, or something like social anxiety where, “I don’t have any friends.” Well, we can help you make a friend.

Like, if any of your listeners who are anxious, for example, there’s a lot of anxiety out there, one of the most powerful therapies and solutions is you don’t run from the things that make you anxious, you get exposure to it. A lot of the counselors we work with, they actually help people take little steps to gain exposure to those things so they can build those muscles and grow.

So, professionally, the best one example I can give you, Pete, of how this mindset really mattered for me, and I’d ask your listeners to think about this, is when I was selling my company, I engaged with DLA Piper to help me sell the company. It’s one of the top law firms in the country. And there was a part of me that wanted to think “I’m just going to let DLA Piper handle this, okay, because that’s what I’m paying them for, they’re the best.”

Then, one of my friends, who’s a lawyer, who I really respect, a really smart guy, works at a private equity firm, and one of my high school friends, he told me, “Hey, you need to understand every single word in that contract even if you didn’t go to law school. Like, it could be hundreds of pages. I don’t care. You have to take it upon yourself as an intelligent person who believes they can learn about anything.”

So, Pete, I did that. Like, I made sure, if I had questions, I got them all answered. And actually, you’d be surprised how many people I found out signed something without having understood everything that’s in it, like, “Well, I’m agreeing to do this for this amount of money.” Well, it’s only because I had a growth mindset that I was able to do that, that I knew about growth mindset. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t be afraid. Don’t say things like, “I didn’t go to law school, so I can’t understand this.”

Well, if something’s important, assume you can get better at it and learn about it. And that actually made the deal a lot better because then I could ask a lot of questions and unearth sources of value and not be intimidated. So, I’d ask the listeners, is there an area where you’re currently intimidated, or you think you can’t learn it, or you think it’s only for the pros to learn about and you can’t do it? That’s a fixed mindset. You should assume, even if you don’t have the same knowledge as a lawyer, you can get smart enough, like you can get smarter, you can get better at it, to be able to make some progress in that critical area.

So, that’s why a growth mindset is critical for kids and adults. We all have to be aggressive, avid learners. I actually take it personally, Pete, even with my kids, they’re like, “Well, calculus, they’ll take that when they’re 17.” I’m like, “Nope, I’ll take that challenge. I’m going to teach my five-year-old the basics of calculus. I’m going to get a couple boxes, and I’m going to show them how to calculate the area outside, then we’re going to add those up, and that’s basically what calculus is, kid. And you’re going to be able to use this to estimate how much water is in that water tower in a few years when you take a class on this.”

But if you have that orientation that, “I’m so committed to believing that things can be learned,” that I will even take on the challenge of assuming I can start to teach a four-year-old calculus or a six-year-old calculus, I’m not going to back down. It becomes part of one’s professional orientation and life philosophy.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s super. And when it comes to growth mindset, it’s funny, I think that in some ways, folks think, “Well, yeah, okay, I understand there’s a growth mindset, there’s a fixed mindset, and the growth mindset means I believe that I can grow, learn, change, and improve. And fixed mindset believes, ‘Nope, you’re either good or bad at a given thing.’”

And so, what I think is interesting, as I’ve reflected on this lately, is it’s a lot more than just philosophically aligning yourself to the notion that, “Yes, a growth mindset is true in terms of what humanity is capable of and an individual,” but rather like a day-in, day-out experience or mental discipline of, like, sometimes something happens, like, “Oh, I feel like a loser. I’m just not any good at this.”

And it’s funny, like, I will hear myself say these things to myself, and I know that that’s “wrong,” like, “Oh, that sounds like a fixed mindset. That’s incorrect. I’m supposed to have a growth mindset.” So, do you have any pro tips if folks are like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what a growth mindset is, but sometimes I just totally fall back into thinking about things in a fixed mindset kind of a way”? Any hot takes for when you’re in the heat of battle there, what to do?

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah, no, definitely. It’s one of those terms that’s become a platitude that, like, everyone, “Oh yeah, growth mindset, I have a growth mindset.” A lot of folks have no idea what it is or how to think about it. And, quite frankly, there’s a lot of definitions of it flying around out there, so I was particularly grateful that I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Dweck and do a lot of research on it in my own life.

Pete, one of the most useful ways I think about it that’s really helpful is think of a circle, like imagine my fist here is a circle. Let’s call that the can-do circle. That represents all the things we can currently do right now. Like, I can speak a certain level of Spanish. I know how to make these kinds of friends. And what we teach kids and we find to be really powerful is then to tell them, “Hey, look, outside of that is a not-yet circle, there’s things you haven’t mastered yet right.”

And when you’re feeling that feeling of frustration and despair, what we teach kids is that’s actually like a really exciting thing, and that’s where we can train ourselves to say, “Hey, that emotion that I’m feeling, that despair that I’m feeling, that’s the signal for, eventually, maybe not that second, we’re going to process that, but that’s where our inner dragon slayer is going to come out, and say, “I can grow through this and pass this.” It’s like an exciting thing.

And also understanding, as human beings, it’s only normal to fall back to the can. Everything you just described is perfectly part of the human experience. It’s, “I have a challenge.” “My business is not getting the sales I want it to get.” “I’m not getting the promotions.” “I’m trying to learn this new programming language, and I’m not learning it.” And that’s when we have to ask ourselves, “Hey, are we going to push through?”

And so, having those visuals of the can-do circle that’s right there, but then right outside of is that not-yet circle, and then what I like to do, Pete, is I like to set a small goal into my not-yet circle. Like, let’s say I’m trying to grow sales. I’m not achieving my sales goals. I’m really frustrated. I’m feeling bad.

Well, what I can do is I can set a small goal into my not-yet circle, and go into what we call the almost-circle, just outside your can-do circle, it’s right there, and we’ll set a goal, “You know what? I’m just going to reach out to seven people who I’ve already worked with in the past who know me, to get advice about how I can think about this and how I can expand this. Maybe some of those will turn into sales, maybe some of those won’t.” And then from there, I’ll continue to grow. So, I find, Pete, that taking those little actions in the almost-circle, just outside the can-do circle, helps us to continuously grow at the margins and the edges, and that helps a lot.

One of the tools we taught kids in my previous company that we still teach kids was we’d say, “Set a MAD goal, a measurable, attainable with a deadline, a goal that’s measurable, attainable, and with a deadline.” Smart goals are too confusing. There’s too many to remember, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

There’s five letters. You can’t deal with that.

Mawi Asgedom

It’s too many. It’s too many. What do you think this is? I’m going to have a fixed mindset there and say, “I’m going to go to MAD goals, there’s only three, reduce that,“ but that’s what I’d say. Set a MAD goal just outside your can-do circle and get into it that not-yet circle.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And then the fourth area?

Mawi Asgedom

Fourth area is my favorite, Pete. You heard me talk about the turbo button for a long time. And what that is it’s this area of agency, that as human beings, we’re meant to be agents. That there’s all these external thin

And all that does is it takes away our agency. It makes us feel like we can’t do anything.

And so, it’s a skill, it’s a skill to constantly put oneself back into what we call the turbo zone, like hitting your turbo button, taking action, being able to move by focusing on what you can do. And we teach kids this because a lot of times kids feel like they’re powerless. They live in a world that adults create, and adults are making all the rules, tell them where to go, they got to raise your hand to go to the bathroom, they got to sit in a certain place, they got to eat the like adults do, so they feel like they have no agency, but we show them how to capture that agency and how to recognize that.

I actually thought that one of the most provocative things I ever heard in the world of leadership was when Stephen Covey, in his book, I believe it was The 7 Habits, he says, “The person who takes action, the person with high agency, they’re not a little bit more effective, they’re 5,000 times more effective.” It’s a massive shift, which is a tall claim to make, I mean, to go from twice as effective.

And I actually have found that to be true, that when we’re not acting as agents, Pete, we lose all access to our intelligence, to our relationships, to our connections, to our problem-solving because we’re thinking about something outside of us, by definition, that we don’t control. And so, being able to shift back into agency land is a critical and fundamental tool for any professional who wants to accomplish a lot of things in their life.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And I want to hear your favorite perspectives on how that’s implemented, but one thing I find really handy is if I’m just sort of like, you know, tired, not feeling it, unmotivated, stressed, under stress, whatever, like all the things. I guess, you know, “Hey, there’s some self-regulation.“ But the question I like to ask myself is, “How can I make all this suck 1% less?”

Mawi Asgedom

Ah, I love it.

Pete Mockaitis

Because when I’m in that space, I don’t feel like dreaming big dreams. I don’t feel like much is possible, but I know there’s always a little something I can do. It’s like, “Well, you know what, I can drink a glass of water. You know what, I can stretch. You know what, it’s dreary and rainy outside, and my eyeballs would appreciate some light, so I’m just going to point my eyes at a light bulb for a little while, and that’s a little bit rejuvenating.”

And, sure enough, I find that you just build that momentum, and so it’s like little thing by little thing by little thing. It’s like, “You know what? I’m feeling okay. Let’s go do something.” And likewise, I think that’s often the case with any number of domains. It’s like, “It’s true, we don’t have control over worldwide geopolitics. We don’t. But what do we have control over? Oh, well, I guess I can tidy up this desk, and then I feel like I’m in control. I’m ready to rock and roll.” So, anyway, that’s how I think about agency. What are some of your favorite moves?

Mawi Asgedom

It’s a big one. And you’re right, a lot of agency, the good news is that we can actually plan for a lot of these things. Like, for example, for our podcast today, I know I just perform better in general for anything that involves other people, anything that’s recorded, anything when I’m speaking, if I’ve done a couple things.

One of those things is like if I’ve done a workout. So, I always do a workout before I have any, and that’s an act of agency. Like, I don’t have to wait till I’m tired, or depleted, or having to recover. I just do that, and so I find that even 15 minutes is better than nothing. When you’re talking about like, “Oh, I feel like I can’t do enough,” 15 minutes makes a big difference. If I really get my heartrate up for 15 minutes, bam, I’ll just do that in a hotel room. If I don’t have any weights with me, I’ll do squats, pushups, some circuit training in a room real quick.

Pete, I have this master account, like Google Doc for my life that I recommend to people. It has five or six tabs, but one of those tabs is things I’m grateful for, not just made-up stuff, like, “Oh, yeah, I got to be grateful.” Like, things that I’m genuinely, like, “Wow, like I’m really grateful for…” I have one of the tabs, Pete, has my worst-performing financial year of my history since I was 22. And the reason I look at that is I can’t help but feel tremendous gratitude. I say, “Hey, God, I’m not any smarter today than I was before. I’m not working any harder.”

And that Mawi got that response, got that, and then this other Mawi got this, I’m just going to choose to be grateful for that. And when you see those stark numbers of dismal, abysmal, like, I’m looking at cell phone plans I can switch to, to try to save an extra $3 a month to survive kind of thing, then you feel really grateful because you remember that.

So, I feel you can build things into your life, and I try to look at that Google Sheet each morning while I look at the different tabs, including where I’ve been grateful, where things have been challenging but where things have gone my way. Like, I have a meditation in there, Pete, that I really like, that I look at each day.

And so, I think we can exercise a lot of turbo and agency in recognizing each day presents its own challenges, and we can also put some things in place to boost ourselves each day, to elevate our things each day. There’s certain music that I listen to. It’s not accidental that where I’m doing this call, like the way I structured my office, Pete, is, it’s like out by some windows because I love light. And there’s a guitar right behind me because I’ll screw around on that a little bit.

So, I try to build into my work environment that, if I needed to, I can just look out the window and feel a little happier, because I love light. I got a little guitar I can screw around with really quick, if I’m in one of those moods you were talking about, it’s literally two feet from me. I’ll just grab it. I’ll strum something really quick. I’ll feel better. And so, I think these are the kind of things that I would encourage your listeners to think about how can you surround yourself with those little things? 

One thing I’ll ask myself, too, Pete, is for any situation, if I have the wherewithal and I feel stuck, I’ll just say, “Okay, how can I turbo this thing?” And that just means, “How can I operate from an internal locus of control instead of external locus of control?” Because when you operate from the internal locus of control, it’s like you’ve got that turbo energy. Like, those movies where someone hits a button in the car and it zooms and flies, has all this energy that no one knew was there until that button got hit. Well, I’ll ask myself, that’s a good metaphor for me, Pete. I’ll say, “How can I turbo this thing? Like, I’m stuck right now. I feel bad.”

And it could be, “Play that guitar real quick. Look out the window. Take a walk.” Like, all those little things. It could be like, “Call a friend.” That’s a big one. “Call a friend” is a huge one. They’ll change a different perspective. I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of that.” So, I think we all got to develop that toolkit to kind of boost ourselves in those moments, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Mawi Asgedom

All right, Pete. So, I know you got a lot of listeners out there, Pete, who are at different stages of their life, and now that I’m becoming a few years, I’m going to be 50, Pete. I got four kids. I’ve got a kid who’s a teenager. So, you know what happens when you get a little older, Pete? You start to think, “Man, what are some of the things that I wish I would have known?” So, I actually wrote some of those down when I was a little bit younger, that I would love to share with your listeners, just purely as an act of like, hey, maybe this is the only time I’ll connect with them, and this will help somebody out there.

A couple things that I think are interesting, and this is random, okay, random stuff that I came across. Pete, I think it’s really interesting that my biggest financial mistakes I’ve ever made in my life have been after I had my biggest financial wins. There’s something that lulls your brain, I believe. Like, right after I got on the Oprah Winfrey Show when I was younger, and I had a big book deal with a publisher in the same year, I was on top of the world, I had more money than I ever thought, I made the dumbest financial moves, and it wasn’t that I bought a Ferrari. I wish I would have. I just made really bad investments and things that I thought would work out and they pretty much all went to zero. I felt like an idiot.

And I say that with humility to all your listeners, to say, “Hey, right when you have your biggest win, be extra humble and talk to your friends.” What would have saved me was if I would have talked to my friends more, smart friends. Talk to your friends, take your time, don’t rush. Just don’t rush. You don’t got to do anything. So, that’s one, Pete.

And another one that I would say is, in terms of entrepreneurship, I’d say my biggest leadership mistake, like CEO mistake, was being attached to things that weren’t working for too long. Meaning, like I would work on the same thing for five years and not pivot when the data was really clear that it wasn’t getting traction.

And that thing I had in my heart from being a former refugee of never give up, it actually can be really bad idea. There are times to give up. When the data is all pointing in the same way, it’s foolish to keep doing it again and again and again. You should pivot. 

It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean you’re dumb. It doesn’t mean that what you did should have never been done. It just means you’re being intelligent. And I didn’t understand that, Pete, because I was trained to always be a hard worker, and I believed one should never give up, and I believed if I could just work harder, things would work out, and that just was fundamentally wrong in some of those situations.

And then in terms of I would say the thing that helped me the most, conversely that is, where I showed the most wisdom was, I noticed in a couple key instances when something was working better than it should have. And then once I saw that it was working better, I over-invested in that. That’s how my company got into online education, and we became the market leader in social-emotional learning from an online perspective, where we trained more students than anybody else before we sold to ACT.

But that was all an industry I knew nothing about in terms of being online but I kept kind of reinvesting in it as the data came in. So, I’d say it’s the converse of what I learned with the first business is, it’s really like, be very curious and listen to the data, and don’t be over-attached emotionally, particularly if you’re passionate about something. Be willing to shift, be willing to shift, and I say that because I’d hate for there to be a brilliant listener out there who could have so much impact had they pivoted a year earlier, two years earlier.

And then they might think, “Well, I just wasn’t cut out for that business. I wasn’t good enough to succeed in that business,” or “I couldn’t make it.” Actually, that’s not true. You could have made it. You were smart enough. You just need to adjust a little quicker, that’s all, and you would have been fine. That’s why I point that out. That’s just something that I experienced as an entrepreneur.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Mawi Asgedom

One that has been very useful to me and my four kids, are those experiments, Pete, that basically show how addicting variable rewards are.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yeah.

Mawi Asgedom

So, if you give a mouse some cheese, and it’s predictable, it’ll stop asking for the cheese. It just won’t. But if you vary when it gets the cheese, it’ll keep hitting that lever until it dies basically. And I show that to my kids because I wanted them to know that’s how their phones are set up. Like, all those notifications that come up, every time I sign up for a notification, they’re giving permission to somebody else to send them cheese and addict them at that person’s choosing for their own interest.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite book?

Mawi Asgedom

In the world of fiction, which I’m a big fantasy science fiction advocate, there’s a tremendous author named Robert Jordan. Really sad kind of thing though. He wrote this 15-book series but he died after the 14th book, so somebody else had to finish the book 15. It’s like a huge mega-seller. Actually, Amazon is making a series of his called Wheel of Time. You can watch a couple season of that. It’s really cool.

But his best book that he wrote, in my opinion, is called Dragon Reborn. And the reason I like that story, Pete, is it’s just an incredible fairy tale for adults.

And then, in terms of personal development, the book that I think had the most impact on me, although I didn’t like it the first time I read it, I really didn’t. I thought it was just boring, I couldn’t get through it. But then, I read it again, and I mentioned it before, but I really liked that The 7 Habits book. I like that The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. That book makes a lot of sense to me, Pete. 

Pete Mockaitis

Well, tell us, do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Mawi Asgedom

A lot of us end up doing what we’re doing because we thought it’d make our parents happy. We thought it’s what we should do. We felt like we had to do it. 

And I’m at a spot now where a lot of my friends are asking, like, “Hey, did I even want to do this? Like, why did I do this in the first place? I never wanted to do this.” It’s been pretty tough for me to kind of help my friends think through that. So, I’d say, particularly for those who are younger, but at any age, really like, are you doing what you really want to do? Because we only live once. And it would be really sad to have spent that entire time not at all doing what you want to do. To me, that’s sad. And so, think, take some time to reflect, and think about, “What do you really want to do? What is it?” And it’s not something that anybody else can answer. Nobody else on the planet can answer that other than the listener who’s hearing that question, and being honest with yourself.

And then if you’re not doing what you want to do, well, what are you going to do about it? It doesn’t mean you have to quit your job, but what are you going to do about it? And being honest with yourself about that, because that’s been one of the joys of my life, Pete, I would say, is I have gotten to do what I want to do, and it’s been a joy to like work with kids and to feel like I’m doing what I wanted to do. Even when I was broke, I could wake up and say, “Hey, I’m doing what I want to do,” which gave me a lot of joy.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Mawi, this is fun. Keep doing your awesomeness, hitting the turbo button, being an Inner Hero. This is awesome.

Mawi Asgedom

Hey, fantastic to be on with you again, Pete, and I look forward to the next time, maybe episode 1,742 we’d be back on.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s a good one.

Mawi Asgedom

That’s a good one, right? We’ll be back on. Thank you. Keep it up, Pete.