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627: Breaking Through Your Mental Limitations to Grow Faster with Matt Norman

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Matt Norman discusses how to break the mental patterns that hinder our growth—and encourage healthier patterns.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The thinking pattern that saps our energy 
  2. Two questions to keep your thoughts from overwhelming you 
  3. How to keep criticism from fazing you 

 

About Matt

Matt Norman is President & CEO of Norman & Associates, which offers Dale Carnegie programs in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Through Norman & Associates, he helps people think and work together more effectively. Matt’s mentorship has helped Fortune 100 corporations, non-profits, and entrepreneurs change the way they engage with their employees and clients. 

Matt has been named to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal 40 Under Forty list and the Minnesota Business (Real) Power 50. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Matt Norman Interview Transcript

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

Matt Norman
Thanks, Pete. Really excited to be here with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And, first, I want to hear about your fondness for Latin dancing. Now, people who can’t see you, you don’t look Latin to my eye, but you never know actually. What’s the backstory here?

Matt Norman
Thanks for asking me, Pete. When I was in college, I spent a year in Ecuador and I had to choose from elective courses, including Latin American dance, and at the time I had no dancing background. Being of Nordic Minnesotan background, I thought that that might be a helpful cultural experience, so I ended up taking the class and loving it, and actually spent a lot of my time down there doing as much dancing as I could. And few people know that one of my email addresses is Bailando Norman which is Dancing Norman. I’m not that great at it but I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, is that for the VIPs who know that one and others don’t? Or how does that work?

Matt Norman
It’s actually for the spam emails.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve got that too. Mine is PeteMJunk@gmail.com. Now everybody knows but I probably won’t see the message if you email it. But then when I give it to people, I don’t want them to know I’m giving them a junk email address so I try to space it out like, “Oh, yeah, it’s P-E-T-E-M-J-U-N-K@gmail.com.”

Matt Norman
That’s right. Yeah, talking about having those long ones you have to spell out. I know, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. Well, so that sounds like a healthy habit right there, is keeping your inbox clean. But you’ve got some broader speaking patterns you’ve identified of healthy people, four in particular, in your book the Four Patterns of Healthy People: How to Grow Past Your Rooted Behaviors, Discover a Deeper Connection with Others, and Reach Your Full Potential in Life and Business. We like all of those things. So, lay it on us, what do you mean by healthy person and how did we determine that there are four patterns of them?

Matt Norman
Yeah, thanks, Pete. By the way, when you say that “We love those things,” I can say, as a frequent listener of your podcast, I really appreciate the ways in which you and your guests helped me and others develop healthier patterns. And when we say healthier patterns, we mean not just physically healthier but mentally and emotionally healthier.

And through my coaching and life experiences, I’ve realized that at some point in life we develop ways of thinking and behaving, usually as an adaption to our circumstances and it typically works well for a while, therefore we repeat those ways of thinking and behaving. And at some point, many of us realize that those ways of thinking and behaving don’t work anymore because of a relationship that we’re in, a job that we’re in, or realize that we’re overusing some of those ways of thinking and behaving, and so we get stuck.

And so, because of that, we have a choice. We can either remain stuck and surround ourselves with people that don’t challenge us and don’t cause us to self-confront and grow, or we can grow. And because of that, I wrote the books to help individuals and organizations go to live with more joy and impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, all that sounds swell – joy, impact. So, let’s talk about these ways of thinking and being just to make that really clear. Can you give us an example of a very common pattern that, let’s say, wait, let’s do a contrast…So, let’s hear a common pattern of thinking and operating that is found in healthy people but not so often in…well, I don’t know what we want to call it. Do we call them unhealthy people or pre-healthy people? What’s the term we’re using?

Matt Norman
Less functional, less optimal. Yeah, absolutely. And so, before I give that example, I can just put into context of there are four pattern areas, as you alluded to, how we think, how we relate to others, how we view ourselves, and how we operate, or make choices of our lives. And so, to use a common example, in terms of how we think, many of us ruminate on things that drain us of energy rather than releasing things that drain us of energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Matt Norman
And in the book, that’s one example where we talk about the value of metacognition or thinking about our thinking so that we realize that when there are thoughts, in the book we use the metaphor of leaves falling in a river, and to think of our thoughts as a stream or river of everything that’s going through our mind. And the green leaves that are falling in the river are thoughts that energize us and red leaves are thoughts that drain us, and many of us will fixate on red leaves because they worry us, we think that by fixating on them we’re going to change them, we’re going to improve the situation.

But we find is that the healthiest people, top performers, will allows those red leaves, they won’t ignore them, they’ll acknowledge the red leaf is there, but then they’ll let it float down the river, and they’ll choose to fixate on the green leaves, those leaves that are energizing us. And so, it’s a very common pattern to ruminate rather than release.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s huge right there in terms of, boy, just the energy that can liberate in terms of you think about being awesome at your job, that could very well make the difference between, “Do you have two good energized hours to do great work or do you have six in the course of a day based upon just how much of this you’re doing?” And I’ve lived both of those. So, yeah, let’s go right there right now.

So, the best approach if there’s an energy-draining situation, and maybe let’s make this all the more real in terms of maybe someone said something you found offensive at work, like you felt unappreciated by what they said, like, “Hey, Matt, how about we just do one more pass at this and I think we’ll be ready to go,” and you’re like, “Excuse me? We’ve already done six passes, that’s just pretty darn good and I’m tired of this, and I thought it was excellent and your critiques aren’t very useful and they’re frankly annoying.”

I’m not talking about anyone in particular. If you’re listening to this and I’m collaborating with you on something, this is purely fiction, for the record, but these things do come up. And so, let’s just say that’s the situation. You’re ruminating on it, and so you say the healthy approach is to not push it away or ignore it or run from it but rather to allow it to pass through. What are we doing in practice when that happens?

Matt Norman
That’s right, yeah. So, we’re acknowledging that it’s there, we may interrogate that thought briefly, not ruminate, but we may interrogate and be curious about that thought rather than defensive. We’re starting to get into the relationship pattern in the book which has to do with how we respond to criticism and also how much we internalize what people think of us or whether people approve of us. And so, there may be a moment where we want to be curious and interrogate, “Well, why did that bother me so much?” or, “What truth is there that’s there?”

But then we would let it go. We would let it pass. And metacognition and neuroscience would suggest that sometimes it’s actually valuable to physically release it, you know, write it down in a journal or a piece of paper and crumple it up and throw it in the trash. Or sometimes, literally, what I’ll do is kind of toss my hands up in the air, it’s like I’m releasing them or like I’m dropping the mic, you know, to physically send a message to my mind that, “I’m now releasing you.” And sometimes it may just be as simple as just saying, “I choose in my mind, I choose to release that thought,” and then perhaps focus on thoughts that are also true and perhaps more fulfilling than that draining thought.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I like that. So, I guess the answer is probably it varies, but lay it on us. I mean, just how much time do we care to be curious, to interrogate, to investigate versus…? Because at some point I guess we might fall into the ruminating zone there. So, how do you think about that in terms of how much time is not enough time and how much time is too much time?

Matt Norman
Yeah. I think two litmus tests, one would be, “Am I repeating the same thing over and over again?” “Am I sawing sawdust?” As Dale Carnegie says in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, I don’t saw sawdust. And the other thought is, “Is this bringing me consolation or desolation?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so Ignatian of you, Matt.

Matt Norman
Yes, exactly. Good pickup. I was just going to make that reference, yeah. So, this idea that, as Ignatius of Loyola says, many of the thoughts that we may have, or experiences, bring a sense of…it consoles our spirit even though it may be hard or difficult or problematic, there’s still the sense that it’s constructive, it’s connecting to where I should be at this moment. Whereas, there are desolate feelings, that’s where we literally feel empty, we feel we’re losing our self, or that we’re losing our spirit or our energy around this particular topic. It sounds like you have experienced or thought about that reference also.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I have a book about the discernment of spirits that’s taking me a long time to finish because it’s dense. I gnaw upon it and think about it. So, that is some handy litmus test distinctions there. So, then in this example we’ve used, it might sound like…well, you tell me, I’m going to take a crack at the acknowledging and interrogating and being curious and letting it pass.

I might say, “Boy, I feel frustrated that we’ve already been through many revisions on this document and yet this guy wants to do even more. I kind of feel like I am stupid or a loser or inadequate, at least in his eyes, and relative to what I’m producing here. And that feels disappointing to me because I thought I had created something awesome that I had spent a lot of time and effort already in doing. And the subsequent set of recommendations, I think, frankly, could make it worse, and I don’t feel like doing that.”

Okay, so that’s me acknowledging. That’s exactly how I feel about the situation. So, then interrogating and being curious might sound like, “Why do you suppose he feels he needs to go through so many revisions?” or, “Why would I feel like a loser based upon the input of one person who’s not that important to me?” And then maybe follow those threads, like, “Oh, maybe he’s new and he’s raw. He’s worried about making a good impression with his boss. Maybe it’s because I really like things to be optimal, at their peak-performing levels, and it just sort of demotivates me when I think we’re moving away from that, and that’s kind of what’s up.”

So, well, you tell me. I’ve tried to acknowledge and to interrogate and be curious. Would you recommend I do that any differently or in more depth, less depth?

Matt Norman
Pete, that was really powerful. I thought that you did two things there that were really strong, and then one thing that you didn’t do. So, I think one thing that you did that was really strong was that you weren’t blaming in that thought pattern.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, like, “That jerk face. Where does he get off doing…?” Okay.

Matt Norman
Yeah, exactly. “I get so much disrespect in this culture. I’d say he’s always after me. Why does he have to make me…?” All of that is pointing at the other person as opposed to looking at your own thoughts, which is the second thing I think that you did really well there is that you were processing your authentic feelings. You were saying, “I feel disappointed. I feel…” and even thinking about some of the identity translations of those feelings, like, “I feel stupid. I feel like I’m missing the mark on this.” And so, that seems really authentic to be saying those things, so processing those ideas.

So, not blaming and then having authentic expression of your emotion is really powerful. And then the thing that you didn’t on that was you weren’t repeating yourself. Once you process the thought, you move to a level of deeper interrogation, or you moved onto a subsequent thought, but you weren’t circling back to say, “Yeah, you know, I am stupid. I must be…Who else thinks…? What other evidences there that I’m doing stupid things around here? Why would he say that? Why would he say that?”

And so, those are kind of the repetitive thoughts that we’ll often have that are less helpful. So, the fact that you were making forward progress and that you were not blaming, that you’re authentically expressing your emotions, I think, was all the way powerful there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Well, thank you. Well, hey, it doesn’t always work out that healthily in my brain. And so, let’s go there next. So, let’s say you do find yourself circling, you do find yourself blaming, you did the acknowledging, the interrogating, the being curious, and then it’s looping on back, what do we do?

Matt Norman
So, one consideration is, “What might I be attached to from an identity standpoint?” And this gets into some of the psychology around the false self versus the true self. Typically, we have this false self that psychologists will say is the self, the image that we want projected to the world, the image of what we want other people to see us, “I want people to see me as highly competent here. I want people to see me as not making mistakes, etc.” And we say it’s false because no one’s perfect.

And so, to cast this kind of image of perfection out to the world or that we think the world expects of us has a degree of falseness to it versus authenticity. And so, for us to think about, “What are the parts of my false self that I’m holding onto too tightly? What are the parts of my identity? In other words, do I think that I need to be accepted in order to be okay? Do I think that I need to be viewed as competent in order to be okay? Do I think that I need the approval of this particular group? Or do I think do I need there to be harmony in the environment for me to be okay?”

So, there’s a number of questions as we interrogate that we can start to realize about how we’ve maybe overidentified with this particular situation. Therefore, we may need to consider if we’re holding onto too tightly to parts of my false self that I’m trying so hard to project to the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, there’s a lot of good stuff there. So, the pattern, I heard you say, is, “Do I need blank to be okay?” associated with what you’re attached to and your identity. And so, I guess, ideally, I would like for there to be nothing in that zone, like, “I don’t need anything to be okay. I’m okay just by being alive.” And you can draw – we’re getting deep here – you can draw, like your fundamental worth or value whether it’s the United Nations’ Declaration on Human Rights or like a faith or wisdom tradition, like, “I’m made in the image and likeness of God,” or something, like you believe, “I have intrinsic value, worth, dignity just because I am or I am a human.” That seems like the ideal place to be but often we’re not there. And there are some other things attached to it such as, “I do need to be perceived as,” whatever, or, “I need to look like a winner or make $125,000 annually,” or fill the blank.

So, if we’ve identified some of those attachments, what do we do with that?

Matt Norman
Yeah. Well, it may be a process of revisiting where our true value comes from. To your point, revisiting what tradition or source we look to for our true value. The Harvard School of Negotiation says that, often, when we’re really thrown off balance, they call it an identity quake.

Pete Mockaitis
Quick?

Matt Norman
A quake.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, like an earthquake. Okay.

Matt Norman
Like, the ground under us is shaking. Often, we can feel this most when we just are really upset about something, or maybe we are triggered in a way that other people might not be triggered by. We just get more upset or more reactive than someone else might get. It may be a sign that we have to look at, “What is it about this that may be questioning something that I think is central to my identity? And does it really need to be central to my identity?”

So, I had this earlier in my career, I was in an operational role where I was responsible for getting deliverables out on certain timelines, and because of a number of factors, we were behind schedule, and we had customers calling and complaining. And I remember that our head of sales came to me, and not just me, to our executive team, and said that our team was not performing and, frankly, the message was that I had to be fired.

Pete Mockaitis
Right there in front of everyone. Okay.

Matt Norman
Yeah. Basically, he was going through channels of communication that came around back to me or I knew that this was the message that he was communicating. And at that time, I remember being so upset at him and at the situation, far more upset than I think many people might be when they were missing deadlines. I was so upset. And the reason is because I’ve developed a strong desire throughout my life for approval from other people, particularly people that I viewed as key stakeholders for my work. And I viewed this vice president of sales as a key stakeholder of mine.

And so, it literally was an identity quake for me, for me to get this feedback that I ought to be fired, that our group ought to be reorganized because of our inability to make these deliverables. And so, as opposed to having a productive reaction at that time in my career, I remember sitting in meetings and just constantly wondering whether I was saying the right thing, whether I was doing the right thing. And as a result, in one meeting in particular, I had a panic attack where I couldn’t continue speaking and I had to leave the meeting because I became so physically taken down by this identity quake that I’d turned into a series of unhealthy rumination.

So, all that goes back to, again, not just the realization of those red leaves or those draining leaves that are falling in the river but the source of those leaves often has to do with the way I view          relationships and the need for me to project this idealized image onto those relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that’s a huge insight in terms of understanding that. And I suppose, can we dig into some detail in terms of, “How does one divest one’s self of these attachments and return to the source and…?” Because it’s tricky, like, I think once we can get to a place where it’s sort of like, “Okay, I know I feel the need to…” fill in the blank, you know, “…look productive, be competent, be rich…”

Matt Norman
Get a promotion, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“And I don’t like that. It’s true but it is.” What’s my step-by-step to freedom there?

Matt Norman
Yeah. So, the book really goes through a number of exercises that we can do to make progress in that area. And, again, one of them would be this thought process of realizing that, “Okay, when I have identity quakes on that, or when that need triggers me, rather than ruminating I can release those thoughts,” that’s number one. And then number two is, “I can decide in this relationship that I’m going to differentiate myself.” In other words, this is another, your concept in psychology that, “Rather than absorbing the anxiety around me, that I would separate my emotions from how other people may be feeling, I would decide that I’m going to own my emotions and not let other people control my emotions.”

And so, we may need to, in our relationships, decide that, “I’m going to create some emotional separation here with my boss, or with this VP of sales who’s really anxious and really challenging me. I may need to decide, just take a deep breath and decide, say to myself I’m not going to let him control my emotions. I’m not going to let him control how I feel about myself. And then, finally, start to reestablish where my value comes from and operate in patterns that will affirm my worth or affirm my source of value.”

And we can get into a little bit more of what those operating patterns might be, but I think there are exercises that we can do. We’ve probably experienced it. Spending time with people that reaffirm that, that whisper verdicts in our ear about who we really are and why we really matter, or doing, reading certain types of books, or whatever we do that these practices around us can really affirm for us where our value comes from and who we really are.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, let’s talk about some of those patterns here. I’d also love to zero in on, say, “Hey, I’m not going to let him control or dictate my emotions.” So, I think that’s a good bit of awareness and conviction to hold. Nonetheless, I think it’s quite possible that, sure enough, that VP of sales comes a-huffing and puffing again. You may feel some stuff again. So, what do you do kind of in the heat of battle?

Matt Norman
Yeah. Well, so it may require a few things. One is naming what we’re feeling. I thought, Pete, you did a great job earlier in the conversation of naming, “Okay, I’m feeling this way right now. Because of this conversation, I’m feeling disappointed which is causing me to feel stupid. Are those true thoughts?” So, part of it is that naming of the emotion, of the thoughts that we’re experiencing, I’d say point number one.

Then, point number two, we may need to create some space, just separate from the situation somehow and breathe through that situation, and just, frankly, calm our amygdala, you know, that part of our brain that’s often wanting to hijack our thought process. And once we can sort of move to a more prefrontal cortex kind of thoughtful intentional thought process away from that, kind of emotional reactive state, we can start to think more clearly about, “What else is true here? What is true about my identity? What are other verdicts I’m getting? What are other data points?”

You see, we have these cognitive biases, economists tell us that we have heuristics, these mental shortcuts that cause us to draw conclusions about things that may or may not be true about our environment. And I’m sure many of your podcast guests have, in various ways, talked about many of those cognitive biases and mental shortcuts that we have, and we need to challenge those and say, “What are other data points that we have, that I have, that I can look at? Who else is appreciative of the work that I’m doing? What is good about the work that I’m doing? Is the only datapoint this VP of sales?”

So, there’s a number of steps that we can do from, as I said, naming the thought of the emotion, to separating and breathing through to try to move from the amygdala to a more thoughtful response, and then challenging those cognitive biases to try to look at, “What else is true? What else can I pay attention to here?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a great phrase, “What else is true?” My realtor used to use that a lot in conversation. I wonder where he got that. I thought, “That’s an interesting turn of a phrase you keep using.” But it is handy in that it really…I think often our brains are kind of like question-answering machines at times, and so that’s a powerful question when you’re in it, and that could seem to be all there is to really point your brain elsewhere in a really helpful correct way.

And then when you talk about the releasing and the shifting away from the amygdala, we had another guest talk about like writing something down on paper and lighting on fire or throwing in the trash. And I think, for me, it’s I guess I often think about releasing something as in, “That thing is going to stay in one geography and I’m moving to another.” So, it’s sort of like, “I’m going to go into the bathroom, I‘m going to deal with that thing, and then I’m going to leave that thing in the bathroom.” Or, “I want to go for a run and I’m going to leave it on the treadmill or on the trail.” Or, “In the shower, I’m going to have a deep refreshing shower, and then it’s like I’m a new man from pre-shower to post-shower.”

And so, that’s kind of how I think about releasing and shifting, and it’s quite handy. Any other pro tips on the releasing? You said you just sort of mic drop or throw it in the air?

Matt Norman
Well, I love the ideas that you just gave. And the other piece that I think is important to bring into the conversation is community, healthy community that surrounds us, where we’re with other people we can release. And I think there’s something very powerful about meeting with a therapist, a counselor, or a dear friend, who’s willing to let us share authentically and share perhaps a deeper level of the emotions that we’re experiencing and even some of these more challenging thoughts around how that confronts our identity attachments.

And as we share those things, for someone else to say, “I hear you,” and not try to fix us, not try to rescue us, not try to minimize the situation, but someone who’s willing to just say, “I hear you. That’s really hard.” Somehow, I think there’s this therapeutic process that occurs where we’re able to more easily release those thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you for talking about the community and the people side of things. You’ve also got some perspective on managing our own schedules and energy patterns. How do we do that?

Matt Norman
Well, I think this is the foundational pattern for all the other ones because when we’re drained or tired, it’s much harder for us to think productively. It’s more tempting to ruminate, it’s more tempting to, as you said earlier, make our identity about, “Not just about my intrinsic value but my intrinsic value plus whether I get approved from my boss,” or whatever else it might be.

So, we find it’s particularly important through the coaching that I’m doing and the research, that we manage, first of all, our sleep and our nutrition, and there’s been a lot of research on this. Recently, and I’m sure a lot of listeners have read or listened to some of this research from, for example, the Stanford School of Sleep where they talk about the fact that 99% of human beings need between seven and nine hours of quality sleep. And quality, suggesting that we need to manage screen time, chemicals, you know, caffeine, alcohol, and find ways to put ourselves in a position to optimize our sleep. As we’re going to bed to make things like routine, like stretching and things like that.

So, starting with just the consideration of, “How much quality sleep am I getting? And then how am I managing my energy throughout the day?” Realizing, Daniel Pink, in his book When talks about the science of perfect timing, that there are certain times of the day, too, when we need to do things, where we’re more vigilant. And, actually, while we’re mentioning books, I would also suggest to listeners that, if they’re interesting in this, I think David Rock’s book Your Brain at Work is perhaps my favorite book when it comes to these topics because David Rock talks about what’s going on in our brain when our energy is down and how much less vigilant we’re able to be about managing our thoughts, managing our responses and relationships, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m a big believer in this energy stuff, and I remember the first couple of years of the podcast, my two longest interviews were both with sleep doctors, so it’s like, “Oh, I guess that tells you something.” I was like, “I’ve got one more question, and one more question, and one more question.”

Matt Norman
I think I listened to one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
So, sleep is huge and I’m a big believer. Any other particular best practices in bringing more good energy to work and life?

Matt Norman
Well, we talked earlier about reinforcing and reminding the true verdicts about your worth and, frankly, what’s true about the data that’s coming at us. In other words, we get all this data and we’re getting feedback from our boss, and we’re getting feedback from our coworkers, and from our partner, and all these different people are giving us feedback in various ways in which they’re responding to us. And, as we mentioned earlier, we can have all these cognitive biases about what’s true, and, “Do I ruminate or focus on some of those, some of that feedback?”

And so, to reinforce through a podcast we’re listening to, what we’re reading, the journaling that we’re doing. And part of that, as a best practice, I think, is blocking time to make that happen. I think right now, in particular, it can be challenging in the environment in which we’re operating where a lot of us are working from home and everything sort of blending in. All the parts of our lives sometimes feel like they’re blending into one another. But to be able to compartmentalize the parts of our lives to say, “Now, I need to go into 30 minutes of reading,” or, “I need to go into 30 minutes of listening to this podcast that’s going to reinforce what’s true. It’s going to cause me to be more curious in a helpful way. It’s also going to reinforce who I am and why I matter.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, I like that a lot and I think I’ve gotten better with that lately in terms of just like in the middle of a workday I’m just going to do some not-work, and my work is actually better for it in terms of quality and quantity. It took me a while, I think, to break through the barrier of, “No, I need to be a good productive worker and not sleeping on the job, like napping or whatever.”

And so, now I say this a little bit tongue in cheek but it really is true. I call goofing around, whether it’s playing a game or whatever, while at work, “Part of my creative process.” And I try to say it in an artistic way like I’m wearing a beret. And that helps me sort of push through past my resistance of, “No, I need to be a diligent worker now. It’s work time, therefore, it is time for work.”

So, lay it on us, if folks feel either, “I got too much to do, Matt. That’s crazy. I couldn’t possibly do not-work during work hours,” or they say, “No, no, I just need to be a productive high-output person,” how do you help push past those bits of resistance?

Matt Norman
Yeah. You know, I came home recently and my wife said, “How was your day?” and I said, “Oh, it’s a great day.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because I got a ton done.” And she said, “Is that how you measure your day?” It just stopped me in my tracks, I felt, “Oh, my gosh.” You know, I think part of it is that, going back to what we value when we get into the whirlwind of our work as we think that checking boxes or like the game of Whack-A-Mole, where it’s like knocking the moles down, or responding to emails, we think that that’s what’s most important. And several great thinkers have illuminated, like Clay Christensen in his book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m listening to that right now, How Will You Measure Your Life?

Matt Norman
Are you? How Will You Measure Your Life? Yeah. It’s just this realization that perhaps I need to distinguish between what I want now and what I want most. And the realization that sometimes what I want now is the immediate gratification of responding to an email, or the gratification of shipping something, or finishing a project.

Now that may require a discussion with our leader, it may require a discussion with other stakeholders in our lives to say, “You know, what I often want now is the immediate gratification of responding to an email or whatever the case may be. But what I want most is to create this value for the organization, and what I want most is for this to happen in our relationship, or what I want most is for me to become this in my career. Can we, together, agree that that’s not just what I want most but that you’re willing to endorse that or come alongside me in that? So, at times, I may need to appropriately say no. I may need to turn off email. I may need to…”

In fact, a couple of years ago, I took email off my phone because I realized that often what I wanted now is to respond to that email, whereas what I wanted most was to spend time with people that were most important to me or have quality time for myself. So, I think it’s the question of, “What do I want now, which is often that immediate gratification, versus what do I really want the most and getting other people around me to support me in that?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a great distinction. Thank you. Ooh, boy, there’s lot to chew on here. But, Matt, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Matt Norman
Well, I think the only thing I’ll add is that all of this requires a growth mindset. And I know, Pete, that you’re all about growth mindset. And when we talk about growth mindset, we’re thinking of Carol Dweck’s research at Stanford published in the book Mindset, where she talks about the continuum from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. And it really, for us to change the way that we’re thinking and behaving, unless there’s a complete crisis and we absolutely cannot move forward, it usually requires some level of self-confrontation.

And that’s incredibly difficult because we’re all wired to self-protect, we’re all wired to survive. And in many cases, these patterns are so ingrained in us. So, I think we have to each ask ourselves the question, “How willing am I to self-confront and grow? And what’s a vision I might have of myself if I were willing and able to self-confront and grow?” And that’s the starting point.

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

Matt Norman
Well, this concept of growth is, really, resonates with me, and so, yeah, a quote that I’ve often repeated around this book is that, “Patterns are inevitable. Growth is optional.”

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

Matt Norman
Certainly, the research around growth mindset, I think, is probably have been my favorite study over the last several years. As with you, Pete, I also am really into studies and research around the brain, in particular, how the brain operates under pressure and fatigue. And in David Rock’s book, Your Brain At Work, I really appreciate that the study really talked about the ability to say no or inhibit our response. It’s sort of like the ability to say, “No, I’m not going to check email,” or, “No, I’m not going to eat that cookie.” And they talk about the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex which sits right above our temple or our ear and it’s responsible for breaking, you know, like the breaks on a car.

And the study suggested that the more we use the break, the more it reduces its effectiveness. And so, that’s why kids will often realize with adults that if they ask five or six times for something, by the five or sixth time, the adult will relent and say, “Okay, fine.” Or if we keep asking ourselves, “Should I eat that cookie? Should I eat that cookie? Oh, it looks really good. Should I eat it?” by the fifth or sixth time, we’ll relent. And what the study showed was that we really have to veto quickly and immediately when we’re trying to be vigilant about something, like not checking email or saying no to a request that someone has, because the more we ruminate on it and question it, the more we’re going to tire that ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the harder it’s going to be to say no.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you. That’s big. So, I’m just imagining if it’s like, “Oh, maybe I should check Facebook or the news.” It sounds like the right answer there is to say, “No!”

Matt Norman
“Darn it. Stop.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Just cut off. The boat is burnt.” Okay.

Matt Norman
I’m taking out my phone.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Matt Norman
You know, I really like this tool blocking time, like we talked about earlier. Now that’s not an actual tangible tool. The other tool, Pete, that I really appreciate is I just really appreciate the Notes apps on my phone. David Allen, in the art of Getting Things Done talks about having your mind like water, and just whenever we have a thought, getting the thought out of our brain so that we’re not thinking of it. And that goes back to what we talked about in today’s podcast.

So, a tool that I love to use is a simple tool that pretty much all of us have handy, and that’s the Notes app on our phone. And that’s every time we have a thought, “Well, I wonder if I should do this?” that we would just put it in a category of notes, or Evernote or whatever note tool someone might use, and just get it out of our head, get it onto a note so that our mind can remain like water.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you. And a favorite habit?

Matt Norman
Getting up early. Now I know this differs based on physiology, and Daniel Pink talks about this in his book When, and not everyone is an early riser. But, increasingly, throughout my life and when I analyze the most successful people who have the most successful habits, I find that they get up early, and as a leading indicator of that, they manage their bedtime. And they manage their bedtime well, a we talked about earlier so that they’re managing screens and alcohol or caffeine or whatever else is going on in their mind so that they can go to bed on time, get enough sleep to wake up early because for most people, the earlier parts of the day is when we’re most vigilant and most productive.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, well, lay it on us, what is your bedtime, your wakeup time, and your bedtime process?

Matt Norman
Yeah. So, I wake up at 4:40 a.m. every morning, and to back that up, I just have to get seven hours of sleep, on an average. So, I really work hard on going to bed between 9:30 and 10:00, typically the 9:40 is the seven-hour mark so I’m really fixated on that 9:40. So, that means backing up further. I take about 20 minutes to stretch and read something that’s calming before bed. So, I’ll sit on the floor next to me, and I’ll stretch for 10 minutes. I have a phone ruler that I’ll use and I also make sure that I’m reading something that’s going to be productive but calming.

And then I’ll also make sure that there’s no screens within 30 minutes of going to bed, that I’m avoiding it at all costs, basically these screens, except the alarm on my phone. And then I try to stop eating by 8:00 p.m. and try to do as much digestion as possible earlier in the evening. And then I’m an intermittent fasting person so then I’ll continue to fast until noon which is kind of a whole another topic, but I just like to not put anything in my body in the morning so that I can be totally vigilant and focused when I wake up.

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

Matt Norman
This idea around growth and being willing and able to self-confront, I think, is the most common idea in conversations around. And then, second to that is having authentic conversations, as we talked about earlier. It’s the ability to really share honestly about how we’re feeling. So, to grow, confront, and share honestly about how we’re feeling.

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

Matt Norman
MattNorman.com is a great place to go or you can learn more about the book at FourPatterns.com, that’s the word four, FourPatterns.com. And people can also connect with me on LinkedIn.

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

Matt Norman
My challenge for all of us is that we would self-reflect on a regular basis, really look at our patterns, the ways in which we’re thinking, relating to others, viewing ourselves, and operating our lives, and not just resign ourselves to a fixed mindset to say, “Well, this is just the way I am. Well, Matt, you don’t know my job, or you don’t know my family, or you don’t know my personality,” but rather to really continue to challenge ourselves to say, “Yeah, I do have some patterns that are pretty ingrained in me but maybe I could change.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Matt, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and health with your people and your patterns.

Matt Norman
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s an absolute honor to be with you.

625: How to Be Happier, More Fulfilled, and More Effective Every Day with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

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Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar says: "The problem is not the stress. The problem is the absence of recovery."

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar discusses the fundamental principles that help us lead happier, more effective lives.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why many ambitious people end up unhappy 
  2. Why chasing happiness won’t make you happier—and what will 
  3. How to find your motivation in just five minutes 

 

About Tal

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar is the co-founder of the Happiness Studies Academy, as well as the creator and instructor of the Certificate in Happiness Studies and the Happier School programs. 

After graduating from Harvard with a BA in Philosophy and Psychology and a PhD in Organizational Behavior, Tal taught two of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history: Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership and taught Happiness Studies at Columbia University. He is an international, best-selling author whose books have been translated into more than 25 languages. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar Interview Transcript

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
Thank you, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to chat with you. I’ve read two of your books long ago and so much good stuff to dig into. So, maybe could you open us up with a little bit of a background on how you became an expert teacher on happiness?

Tal Ben-Shahar
So, I became interested in happiness because of my own unhappiness. I was an undergraduate at Harvard studying computer science, of all things, and I found myself, in my second year, doing well academically and doing well in athletics, I played squash, doing quite well socially, and yet being very unhappy. And it didn’t make sense to me because, in terms of what I’d learnt until, and I checked all the boxes, I did everything that I thought I needed to do to be happy and yet I was very unhappy.

Now, I remember, this was a very cold Boston morning, there were many of those, getting up and going to my academic adviser and telling her that I’m switching majors, and she said, “What to?” And I said, “Well, I’m leaving computer science, moving over to philosophy and psychology.” And she said, “Why?”

And I said, “Because I have two questions. The first question is, ‘Why aren’t I happy?’ Second question, ‘How can I become happier?’” And it’s with these two questions that I then went on to get my undergraduate degree in philosophy and psychology, then studied education across the pond, in the other Cambridge. And then back to Harvard for my PhD, all the time asking, “How can I help myself, individuals, couples, families, organizations, and, ultimately, nations, increase levels of happiness?”

Actually, I did become happier as a result of my studies, then I went on to share what I’d learnt, and what I continue to learn, with others.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. I got a chuckle out of “About the Author” picture on the back of one of your books. You didn’t look super cheery, but you’re smiling a lot, so…

Tal Ben-Shahar
Well, I’m smiling a lot today, at the same time, I’m not always cheery. Happiness is not about a constant high. That’s a myth and illusion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, we’re going to dig with that, too. But I want to know, in your personal case, what did you discover was missing or, for you, what was like the discovery or the practice or the thing that made a big difference for you?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. So, for me, the main thing was realizing that happiness doesn’t come from success. This is the model that most people have in their mind. They think that once you’re successful, once you achieve your goals, once you reach the summit, the peak that you’ve been aiming for, then you’ll be happy. That’s a misconception. That’s a misunderstanding of what a happy life is about. At best, success, arrival, achievement lead to a temporary high, nothing more.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I remember in your books you talked about often it’s a relief as opposed to happiness that we experience in those victories.

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah, exactly that. So, it’s a temporary relief. It’s what I describe as negative happiness. Why negative happiness? Because you need to go through a lot of pain and suffering and discontent. And when that goes away, you feel the relief, and you mistake that relief for happiness. You know, it’s a little bit like having a terrible headache, and then you take a pill and you feel better, and it’s such a relief, you’re happy, but it presupposes going through a lot of pain before.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, one key thing for you was the distinction associated with the relief and then the success, the achievement. Any other key discoveries that made the impact for you?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yes. So, another key discovery is about goals, in general. You know, there are essentially two dominant models when it comes to happiness. The first dominant model is it’s all about achievement, it’s all about getting there, arriving at that peak. That’s one model, it’s future-oriented. The other model is present-oriented. It’s all about being in the here and now, being present. And when you can be fully present, that’s when you can be fully happy.

And over the years, I shifted, as many people do, between the two models, and for a while I thought, “Okay, it’s all about finding a meaningful goal,” and then for a while I thought, “Okay, goals don’t do it for me or for anyone as far as I can see. Let me just focus on the present.” And in many ways, the future-oriented model is associated with the West. The present-focused model is associated with the East. And what I’ve realized, and what the research tells us, is that actually we have to synthesize the two models. The challenge, of course, is how to do that. How do you find the golden means, so to speak?

And the answer is that we need both, meaning we need to have a future goal. We are future-oriented creatures. We do need to have something that we strive, something meaningful, significant, in our life that we want to attain. We need that. At the same time, after we have that goal, then it’s time to let it go. Then it’s time to say, “Okay, I know where I’m going, I know my direction, I know where that peak is that I want to reach, and now I can just focus on the journey.”

And let me give you a personal example which, for me, is very timely. So, I have a book coming out on the 27th of April. That’s the date that my publisher gave. So, I have a very specific goal, a future goal. It’s a personally meaningful goal, which is of course important if we’re concerned with happiness. So, once I have that goal, I can let go of it. How do I let go of it? I say, “Okay, it’s in the future. Now, what I need to do is spend three, four hours every day writing in the present moment.” So, this morning, before this, I sat down for over three hours and I wrote.

When I wrote, I was in the present moment. I was focused on the here and now. I didn’t constantly think, “Oh, April 27th. Oh, I have to get to that mountaintop.” Not at all. That played its role as far as I’m concerned, and now I can let go and focus on the present moment, on the here and now, which helped me enter a state of being fully present or a state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Well, so let’s zoom out a little bit beyond your own experience. So, you spend a lot of time with Harvard folks, an ambitious bunch. Can you share, our audiences also are ambitious, any recurring observations associated with happiness and ambition that you saw over and over again that How to be Awesome at Your Job listeners should know as well?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. You know, very often, this is unfortunately quite common, we see very successful people, in fact, people whom we would describe as the most successful members of our society, we see them becoming depressed or addicted, whether it’s alcohol or drugs or even, in many cases, suicide. And the question is, “Why?” Why does a person who seemingly have it all opt for drugs, alcohol, or suicide? And here lies the answer. It’s because of the model, the false model, that they have internalized from a very young age.

So, let’s take an example. So, you have an individual whose dream it is to become a famous movie star, and he is unhappy as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult. However, through his unhappiness, he constantly and consistently tells himself, “That’s okay because when I make it, when I become a famous movie star, then I’ll be happy.” So, that belief sustains him.

And years go by, years where he’s unhappy, however, continues towards the goal. And then, eventually, he makes it and he becomes a success and, suddenly, he has more money than he knows what to do with, he can buy anything. And he buys himself the best and the fastest car and the most beautiful home in the most prestigious neighborhood, and he can have any partner, basically, that he wants, and he’s living the dream, and he’s finally happy. He has made it. And that lasts for a month, six months, maybe a year?

And then very soon after he makes it, he goes back to where he was before, psychologically speaking, emotionally, he’s once again unhappy. He’s once again, in fact, miserable. Only this time he doesn’t have the illusion to sustain him, telling him that, “When you make it, then you’ll be happy,” because he’s made it, he’s there. But he realizes there’s no there-there. And then he becomes despondent. Because, you see, the difference between sadness and depression is that depression is sadness without hope, and he no longer has hope now. He no longer has hope that reality can provide him with happiness. So, he looks for the answer outside of reality. What’s outside of reality? Well, alcohol or drugs or the ultimate exit from reality, which is suicide.

The belief that success or outcome or arrivals will make us happy, that’s an illusion and it’s a sinister illusion because it’s causing millions and millions of people around the world, ambitious people, well-intentioned people, to reach a dead end.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is powerful and well-said. Thank you. That rings true and explains a lot of things all at once. I want to shift gears for just a smidge. So, the goal of happiness, in and of itself, is a great one. I want to make a connection. I’m thinking a little bit about some Shawn Achor work with The Happiness Advantage. Can you share the linkage between being happy and being awesome at your job?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Sure. So, there is a lot of research that shows that success doesn’t lead to happiness but there is also a lot of research that shows that happiness does lead to more success.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Tal Ben-Shahar
For example, if you increase levels of wellbeing, even by a little bit, I’m not talking radical transformation here, but if you increase levels of wellbeing by a little bit, creativity levels go up. We’re more likely to think outside the box. We’ll be more innovative. You increase levels of happiness even by a little bit, you become more engaged, more productive, whether you’re in school or in the workplace. Increased levels of happiness, and relationships improve significantly, or if you’re thinking about the workplace, teamwork improves.

In school, grades go up. In organizations, performance increases. Profits, revenues go up if you increase levels of wellbeing; retention rates go up. So, happiness is a good investment. It’s a good investment as an end in and of itself because it feels good to feel good, but it’s also a good investment in terms of other outcome measures, other KPIs, key performance indicators, that organizations, whether businesses or schools, are interested in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so a double whammy, being happy feels good and increases performance. So, let’s dig in then, how does one learn to become happier? What are some do’s and don’ts, some practices to start and stop?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. You know, Pete, the first thing that we need to keep in mind, remember, is what has been coined “the paradox of happiness.” So, what’s the paradox? So, on the one hand, as the studies have established, happiness is good for us, so most people want to be happy. Again, because it feels good, because of all the other benefits thereof.

On the other hand, there’s also research, and this is by Iris Moss and others, showing that people who value happiness, in other words, people who get up in the morning and say, “I want to be happy,” or, “Happiness is important for me,” they actually tend to be less happy, they actually tend to be lonelier. And loneliness is a very strong predictor of depression, so we have a problem here that, on the one hand, we were told and we know that happiness is good for us, we want it therefore. On the other hand, we also are told that if we value it and it’s important for us, then we’re going to be less happy.

So, how do you resolve this paradox? And is it self-deception? Do you tell yourself, “You know, I actually don’t want to be happier, wink-wink, I actually do”? That’s not the way to do it. What do we do then? How do we resolve this paradox? The way we resolve this paradox is that we pursue happiness indirectly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Tal Ben-Shahar
Let me explain this. Let me explain this starting with an analogy. Think of the following analogy. Sunlight. You’re looking at the sunlight. What happens? It hurts. It burns. Unpleasant. So, instead of looking directly at the sunlight, what you can do is break the sunlight down and look at it indirectly. So, how do you break it? You break it using a prism and then you look at the colors of the rainbow, and you can savor them and enjoy looking at the sunlight indirectly.

In the same way, pursuing happiness directly, that’s unhealthy, unhelpful. But what if you break down happiness and then pursue those elements that make up happiness? Then you’re pursuing happiness indirectly. Now, this insight was actually described by John Stuart Mill 160 years ago. Today, we have the research to back it up. So, we know that if we get up every day and say, “I want to become happier,” we’ll actually become less happy. However, if I pursue the elements that make up happiness, for example, a sense of meaning in my work or at home, or if I pursue relationships which are one of the elements of happiness, that’s pursuing happiness indirectly, and that resolves the paradox, and that can actually lead us to becoming happier.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s talk about elements. Is there a collectively exhausted set of these elements? We got meaning, we got relationships. If there is a red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, you know, lay it on us, what are the other colors?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Exactly. So, what are the colors of the metaphorical rainbow? My colleagues and I have been, obviously, working on this for a long time, and looking at positive psychology, however, also looking at general psychology as well as philosophy and theology and literature and neuroscience, we have created a model that brings together the different elements of happiness, the fundamentals, the basics, the primary colors, so to speak. And there are now three primary colors, there are five primary elements to happiness, and here they are.

The first element is spiritual wellbeing. Spiritual wellbeing, we could, of course, find it through religion. However, it doesn’t have to come through religion. It comes through a sense of meaning and purpose in life and through being present in the here and now. So, if I’m present to a blade of grass or to a person sitting in front of me, and truly present in the here and now, this potentially is a spiritual experience.

Then there is physical wellbeing. Physical wellbeing is about nutrition, it’s about exercise, it’s about sleep or rest and recovery, in general, it’s about touch. We are also physical beings. Next is intellectual wellbeing. So, intellectual wellbeing is, for instance, about curiosity. You know, Pete, that people who ask many questions, who are constantly learning, they actually live longer. In other words, it strengthens our immune system. They’re also happier. So, learning and deeply engaging, whether it’s with a text or with a work of art or with nature, deeply learning also contributes to our intellectual wellbeing, into our overall happiness.

Then there is relational wellbeing. The number one predictor of happiness is quality time we spend with people we care about and who care about us. Relational wellbeing also has to do with the relationship we cultivate with ourselves, which is obviously important. And, finally, it’s emotional wellbeing. Emotional wellbeing refers to our ability to deal with painful emotions, which are an inevitable part of life, of every life, as well as our ability to cultivate pleasurable emotions, whether it’s joy, gratitude, love, and so on.

So, these five elements – spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional, that make up the acronym SPIRE – these are the five elements of a happy life. And when we pursue these elements, then what we’re doing is we’re indirectly pursuing happiness and contributing to our overall happiness, circumventing the paradox.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is excellent stuff. And I think, right then and there, that can trigger things for listeners right away in terms of, “Aha. Well, I’ve totally neglected maybe some spiritual practices,” or, “I’ve been eating out boxes recently instead of having salads, etc.” or, “Hey, instead of really channeling my curiosity into rich, engaged learning stuff, I’m just looking at headlines which aren’t really deeply satisfying,” intellectual needs there, and then relationally and emotionally. So, that’s a lineup.

I’m curious, when it comes to dealing with negative emotions and cultivating positive emotions, I imagine there are some not-so-healthy ways you could do trying to do that and some better approaches. What are the do’s and don’ts here?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. So, this is very important. In many ways, I see the foundation of happiness. The foundation of happiness is, first of all, accepting unhappiness, or more specifically, when we encounter, when we experience painful emotions, what we need to do is embrace them, accept them. Now how do we embrace and accept painful emotions? Well, we can shed a tear. That’s one way of expressing painful emotions. We can talk about them, whether with a therapist, or coach, or our best friend, or partner. Or we can write about painful emotions.

There’s a lot of research, wonderful research by Penny Baker, Laura King, and others on the value of journaling. And when we write about our most difficult experiences, traumatic experiences, we are expressing them, we are giving them space rather than rejecting them, and then they do not overstay their welcome. There’s a beautiful poem by a Sufi poet, Rumi, from the 13th century, called “The Guest House.” And in “The Guest House,” Rumi talks about how we need to welcome all thoughts, all emotions, into our house just like we would welcome guests. Why? Because they are messages from the beyond.

Now, I don’t know whether or not they are messages from the beyond, but what I do know is that when we accept them and embrace them and welcome them, like we do guests, then they come in, we experience them, and then they leave. Whereas, if we reject them, the paradox once again here, is that they only intensify, grow stronger.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so I’d like to zoom into in my own experience, some days I’ll have, well, I call the BLAHs, it’s an acronym, it’s that ordinary tasks, they aren’t that big of a deal, call it like email, or making dinner, or something, on some days they just feel a little extra BLAH, a little extra boring, a little extra lame, annoying, hard or hassle, and it’s not that hard or annoying or lame really to do any of these things, but some days they just feel like that, an extra dose. So, what is your recommendation in terms of best practices when we’re just having one of those days where there’s some extra BLAH associated with normal stuff? What should we do?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yes. So, there’s a lot of great research, much of it done in Carleton University in Canada, on procrastination. If you can believe it, there’s actually a procrastination lab. I don’t know whether they get any work done but it exists, and they actually do get a lot of work, a lot of great work done. And the most important research coming out of the procrastination lab, to my mind, is, well, they have coined the five-minute takeoff.

The five-minute takeoff is about starting whatever it is that you want to do even if you don’t feel like doing it. Why? You see, procrastinators, and, by the way, the majority of people would classify themselves as procrastinators, and would pay a high price for seeing themselves as procrastinators, meaning a high psychological price.

So, procrastinators have the mental schema, the model, that motivation must precede action. In other words, for me to act to do things, I have to feel really motivated. Some people take it even further extreme, and their argument is that, or they believe that, inspiration must precede action. This is a false model, and this is a model that leads, inevitably, to procrastination because, very often, as you point out, we have those BLAH days, very often we don’t feel like doing the work even if, overall, we like our work, or if it’s not too taxing and even pleasant overall. We all have those days when we just don’t feel like getting out of bed or working.

And if one has the mental model that motivation must precede action, well, then there’ll be no action because there’s no motivation. People who do not procrastinate, or procrastinate little, because we all do some of it, they have the model the other way around. They understand, they recognize, that action usually precedes motivation, that action needs to precede inspiration. In other words, even on days when they wake up and they don’t feel like working, “So what? We can still take action even if we’re not motivated,” and they start doing it. That’s the five-minute takeoff. And after five minutes, or it could be 10 or 20 minutes, motivation comes, energy comes, and then they continue to work. There is inertia that’s created by the action.

In other words, simply put, fake it till you make it, or fake it till you become it. That is the best advice. And this is advice that I heed and many people do, and that’s how you get work done. I study a lot about the lives of writers, of authors, because I can learn a lot from them. And, inevitably, what the prolific writers do is they have a set of rules when they write and how much they write. And it doesn’t matter if they’re inspired to write, or they feel like writing, or they’re really motivated to write. It doesn’t matter. They sit down and write. And if they have to fake it till they make it, or fake it till they become it, then so be it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that five-minute guideline for the procrastinators, is there some magic to that number? Like, that’s kind of enough for the motivation to kick in pretty often or is it just sort of arbitrary?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yes, and yes. So, it is pretty arbitrary. However, for most people, five minutes is enough, and if it’s not, then have another five minutes. There are days when a minute is enough, and there are other days when an hour is not enough, but it doesn’t matter. An hour is simply 12 five-minute sessions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. Let’s talk a little bit about being in the pandemic, that has taken a toll on people’s happiness. Are there any particular threats or practices that are specifically relevant for this context?

Tal Ben-Shahar
I think most of the things that are recommended for regular times are good for difficult times only more so. For example, the rule of thumb in terms of the minimum amount of physical exercise that one should do is 30 minutes three times a week. The three times a week is a lot better than two times a week and it’s not much worse than four times a week.

So, this would be the rule of thumb, this is how much I used to practice pre-pandemic, three times a week, 30 minutes each time. During the pandemic, because stress levels are generally, for most people, higher, I would recommend doing four or five times a week. This is what I am doing now. Similarly, with gratitude, if usually even once a week of doing the gratitude exercise contributes to happiness, during difficult times do it twice a week or seven days a week. Just do more of the basics. In other words, increase the dosage of the regular interventions, of the regular practices.

Mediation. That’s another very helpful practice. And, again, mediation can be sitting down and focusing on the air going in and out, or it can be doing yoga, or it can be mindfully listening to your favorite music. These are all forms of mindful meditation. So, if you usually don’t do it, well, that’s a good time to start now. Or if you do it five minutes a day, bring it up to 10 minutes a day. So, go back to basics is what I recommend and be vigilant about them.

I often ask my students, “When is the time that you’re least likely to exercise?” And, invariably, they say, “Oh, exams, because that’s when there’s just too much pressure. I don’t have time to go to the gym or go out for a run, and then have to shower after that. Too time consuming.” And my response to that is, “When you are stressed, exam period or pandemic, this is the time to exercise, even more important than during ‘normal times.’”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And I think about these practices, I’m curious, are there any particular practices to do at work, whether it’s mental or the means by which you approach a meeting or an email or the writing, kind of whatever maybe your deep focused work is? Any key ways that we can do work better with a happiness perspective?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Very much so. Very much so. So, let me begin with brief tips, some of which I’ve already mentioned, and then go into something which I think is so, so important, and I’ll elaborate. So, first of all, simply, at the end of each day, write down one thing that you made progress on. This simple practice was introduced, described by Teresa Amabile who’s a professor at Harvard Business School in her book The Progress Principle.

And she found that people who focus on the progress that they make at work, and it doesn’t have to be something major, it can be “I cleared my desk or my inbox,” or, “I had a good client meeting,” or whatever. People who do it regularly are not just more satisfied with the work, they’re also more productive as well as more creative in the workplace.

Then there is another very important element, and that is probably the number one reason that companies invite external speakers, or psychologists in particular, to speak is because of stress. Before there was the COVID-19 pandemic, there was the stress pandemic. Burnout is a very common phenomenon in the workplace today. There is, fortunately, something that we can do about it. You see, many people perceive stress as highly problematic. In fact, many people talk about stress as the silent killer, as the destroyer of innovation, creativity, joy in the workplace.

However, once my colleagues and I started to study stress, we realized actually that stress in and of itself is not a problem, but actually stress potentially is good for us. Think about the following analogy. So, let’s say you go to the gym and you’re lifting weights. What are you doing to your muscles when you lift weights? You’re stressing them. Now, is that a bad thing? Not at all. On the contrary, you go to the gym one day, two days later you go back to the gym, you lift more weights. Two days after that, you continue your routine. And over time, you actually become stronger, healthier, better off than you were before. Stress is not the problem.

The problem begins when you go to the gym and you lift weights, and then more weights, and then more weights, and the following day you do the same, more and more and more. That’s when the problems begin. That’s when you get injured. That’s when you get weaker rather than stronger. The problem, therefore, is not the stress. The problem rather is the lack of recovery. And that’s a problem in the gym physiologically, or in life, in the workplace, psychologically.

What we need to do, if we want to fulfill our potential at work, is find more times for recovery. Now, recovery can come in the form of a 15-minute break every 90 minutes or 2 hours, whether it’s a cup of coffee or chatting with colleagues or just hanging out or exercising. It can even be 30 seconds of closing our eyes and taking three deep breaths, five to six seconds in, five to six seconds out. That in and of itself can shift us from the fight or flight stress response or to what Herbert Benson, from Harvard Medical School, calls the “The Relaxation Response,” because the problem is not the stress. The problem is the absence of recovery.

Recovery is also getting good night’s sleep. There’s a lot of research on the benefits of sleep for productivity, creativity, of course, happiness, for physical health, mental health. Taking a day off is an important form of recovery. Vacation, of course, is an important form of recovery. And if we punctuate our crazy busy lives with periods of recovery, then we can make the most of our energy, and we can be at our best more of the time.

One more thing that is related to recovery. One of the reasons why we experience so much stress in our day-to-day work is because of multitasking. And multitasking is fine, we do it, it’s natural, it’s important at times. However, what we also need is to create, what I’ve come to call, islands of sanity throughout the day. Islands of sanity are times when we are single-tasking, when we’re only doing one thing, when we’re focusing on it, when we’re mindful. And it could be doing email, and it could be being in conversation with a colleague, and it could be writing the organizational strategy. It doesn’t matter. But single-tasking, islands of sanity amidst all the crazy, busy multitasking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Tal, there’s been so much good stuff here you’re sharing, and I know you’re sharing a whole lot more in your Happiness Studies Academy. What’s this program all about?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Well, the Happiness Studies Academy offers certificate programs in that respond to two questions. The first question is, “How can I become happier?” The second question is, “How can I help others become happier?” And, of course, through happiness, given the relationship between happiness and success, we also become more productive, creative, improve our relationships, and so on. So, the Happiness Studies Academy offers practical applied interventions that we can employ in our personal lives as well as our professional lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Super. And so that’s conducted online, are there classmates or groups or cohorts, or how does that go down?

Tal Ben-Shahar
So, it’s all online, and it’s on our website, which is HappinessStudies.Academy.

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
Albert Camus, “In the midst of winter, I found within me an invisible summer.”

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
So, I think my favorite research is one that it’s a joint study that was conducted by the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School. And what they found was that the best way to increase our happiness levels is through giving, by contributing to others, by helping, by being kind and generous. And I love that because what it does is it takes the whole field of happiness studies to a place where it’s not just a solipsistic, individualistic pursuit but rather it’s a pursuit that contributes to our own wellbeing as well as to society. It’s a wholistic pursuit.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Tal Ben-Shahar
I’d have to say Mary Anne Evans, aka George Eliot, Middlemarch.

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
Realize, recognize, that becoming happier follows the same trajectory, the same routine as becoming better at any skill, which means we need to invest time and effort. It’s not enough to just know what leads to happiness. What we need to do is practice, implement, do the work.

Pete Mockaitis
Tal, this has been a treat. I wish much happiness in all your adventures.

Tal Ben-Shahar
Thank you very much, Pete. And thank you for doing the work that you’re doing.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

 

About Jennifer

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Jennifer Colosimo Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Colosimo
Do you remember the book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Colosimo
We talked about this, yeah.

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

Jennifer Colosimo
I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you may have mentioned it.

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

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

Jennifer Colosimo
It’s novel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Colosimo
We are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Nir Eyal.

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

Pete Mockaitis
He’s been on the show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

622: Taking Control of Stress Before It Takes Control of You with Kirsty Bortoft

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Kirsty Bortoft shares easy ways to keep stress and negativity at bay.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to un-hijack your brain in 12 seconds 
  2. How to effectively deal with stress in five steps 
  3. The number one reason why most people struggle with stress 

 

About Kirsty

Kirsty Bortoft is an award-winning mindset coach to entrepreneurs and professionals. She helps them to dissolve stress and anxiety without having to resort to medication and traditional therapy. Kirsty developed the unique ‘Freedom Alignment Method’, a three-stage process that crushes the obstacles so many high achievers frequently face during their lifetime. Obstacles that inevitably leave them feeling trapped by their current circumstance and pulled from the inner peace and happiness they deserve, despite working so very hard for it.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Kirsty Bortoft Interview Transcript

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

Kirsty Bortoft
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to learn your wisdom and it sounds like you’ve got a lot of it. And I understand you’re a monk. What’s the story here?

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, I know, it always makes people laugh when I say this. I am what’s called an Ishaya Monk of The Bright Path. So, yeah, it was a journey that started 2005 when I started getting really into kind of self-development and wanted to know more about, I guess, how to live my best version of my life, and I went on a bit of a soul-searching journey.

And in 2010, I bumped into a friend, and they’d been on this meditation retreat, and I was like, “You know what, I think I need a bit of Zen in my life.” So, he says, “Well, here’s the link, go and have a look.” So, I did. But, to be honest, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had an image of meditation being pretty boring because I can’t sit around with my eyes shut, and I’m the kind of person that’s got quite a lot of energy, I like doing things, so I thought, “Oh, I don’t know if it’s going to be for me.”

But, anyway, I went to this weekend and I had this lightbulb moment, and the only way I can describe it is, imagine a jigsaw, and there’s one piece it just can’t find its way home. And on this Saturday morning, the lady shared something and it kind of went ca-chunk, and I just saw this vision of realizing that I’d been spending my whole entire life trying to fix myself on the outside. And I realized at that moment that no wonder I find life stressful and really difficult because there was always another problem.

And so, what they taught me was to shift my attention from the outside and go inside. So, I thought, “Oh, I think I need a bit of this.” So, after doing that weekend cause, I bundled my children into a car, we drove to Spain, and we lived on top of a Spanish mountain, and I studied with some Ishaya monks on the workings of the mind and how the mind-body connection works, and how to go inwards. And after about six years I graduated as a monk myself.

Pete Mockaitis
Six years? No kidding.

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, that was quite a journey.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you moved to another country and hung out for six years.

Kirsty Bortoft
No, I came back and forth but, yeah, yeah, yeah. Came back and forth but, yeah, on and off for six years. And then in 2015, I graduated as an Ishaya monk, which is hilarious because you can see me, I don’t really look like a monk coming out of that stereotypical…

Pete Mockaitis
You’re wearing an XBOX headset on your collar at the moment which you see on brands for monks.

Kirsty Bortoft
My son’s. Very trendy. Yeah, so it’s cool. So, yeah, one of the things I do now is I teach The Bright Path meditation ascension, which means to rise above the mind.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s talk about the mind. So, I want to dig into stress and mindset and just learn all of your good stuff. So, let’s think about, in your experience working with professionals, what do you see over and over again are kind of the biggest sources of stress?

Kirsty Bortoft
So, stress, really, is triggered by four different areas and you’ll relate to all of this when I tell you. You’ve got chemical stress, so you get stressed out because you’ve got a hangover.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that will do it.

Kirsty Bortoft
They’ll say that you would relate to that but that’ll do it. And a virus, which is obviously a big topic right now, bacteria, medications, for example, so that’s chemical stress. Everyday source of stress. But you’ve also got emotional stress and everyone knows when we’ve had that stressful day at work with perhaps a colleague, or maybe you’re just not going on quite well with your partner, or there’s been a fallout with a neighbor, so that kind of emotional stress. And then you’ve got that good old physical stress, so that’s when you’re injured or maybe you’ve just had a really long week at work and you haven’t stopped, and physically you’re exhausted.

But then there’s a fourth one, and I think this is the most important path that when I learned this it completely changed my relationships the way I saw stress. And that’s this, that we are the only organism, which I think there’s about something like 8.7 million other organisms on this planet, but we’re the only one that can trigger the stress hormone, which is cortisol, with thought alone.

So, what I mean by that is you could be sat on your sofa at home potentially thinking about, I don’t know, a business meeting, or perhaps you’ve had an argument with somebody yesterday, or maybe you’ve got to go and have a difficult conversation at work tomorrow, and your mind thinks that’s actually happening now. So, your subconscious mind has no ability to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not. So, it just thinks, “Oh, my goodness, little Johnny is having some sort of stress. We need to protect him.” So, it does its job and it triggers off the stress hormone.

Meanwhile, you’re actually sat on your sofa watching an episode of Game of Thrones, something like that, but your mind does not know that it’s not happening now. And I think it’s such an important fact for people to know that actually their thoughts have a lot to do with the mental, emotional, physical state in which we get into.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that resonates and I think, for me, it’s so funny how I can just kind of imagine that, let’s say, I’m going to submit some work to a client somewhere, and then I think that they might critique something. And then I would start thinking about, it’s like, “Well, they do that.” And I want to be like, “Well, look, you can’t change the deadline on me.” It’s like I’m already having a fight that’s not a real fight but with that imaginary person about something, which they probably won’t even bring up. And then I’m worked up truly as though they are ripping into me right now. And so, that happens all the time.

Kirsty Bortoft
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s good to know that, one, the body will just naturally react to that and produce those kinds of things as though I’m really there. I guess, two, immediate thoughts there are, one, if I don’t care to go there and have those thoughts and the emotions that come from those thoughts, how do I develop a sense of mastery of my thoughts so that I can just choose, “Hmm, yeah, I’m not going to think about that right now, and that’s okay”?

Kirsty Bortoft
Well, without having a lobotomy, the best way is… It is mastery. You are right in the terminology that you used there because one of the things I say in my signature program The Freedom Alignment Method is that, number one, awareness precedes all change. So, the first thing that we have to do is we have to become aware that we are actually going off into this addictive thinking actually because even if it is us having like an imaginary argument with our work colleague who’s really annoyed us because he never made us a cup of tea and made everyone else one, even if that’s what we’re doing in our mind, that is still, as I said before, triggering the stress hormone.

And so, the first part of it actually is becoming aware that you’ve gone off into that thinking pattern because, quite often, we go into imaginary states in the future or in the past and it takes us a while to even realize that we’re doing that. But, meanwhile, what happens is your mind and body are completely connected. So, you know this is true because if you’ve ever been really hungry and you’ve like walked into someone’s home who’s baking some fresh bread or you’ve walked into a restaurant and you can smell some beautiful food and you’re starving hungry, you see the food, it’s nowhere near your mouth but your mouth starts to salivate, and that’s purely because your mind and body are connected.

So, in the same sense, what happens is you attach yourself to a thought but then you go off into thinking. So, you start thinking about this work colleague or this deadline that you said, and then what happens is the thoughts are the language of the mind, but the body then kicks in with emotions, and all emotions and all thoughts are in the same vibrational level.

So, I, for example, have never had a client who is utterly peaced out, who is having an anxiety attack. The same way around, I’ve never met anybody who’s thinking really negative thoughts, who feels like they’ve got loads of energy. The mind and body are completely the same at all times. So, if you are feeling stressed, the stress hormone, some of the effects are it makes your heart go faster, it makes you feel quite clammy and sweaty, and it also makes you feel quite exhausted.

And, in the same breath, when you’re feeling elated and you’re feeling excited about life, you feel like you’re energized. Suddenly, you’ve got this like energy from nowhere and anything is possible. And so, that’s purely because your mind and body are completely connected, so one triggers the other. They always are the same.

So, how do you stop that? As soon as you become aware that you are actually starting to downward spiral, so you’ve gone off into that addictive thought, you simply go, “Stop, Kirsty. Stop right now.” Now, depending on where you are, I don’t suggest you say it out loud because people might think you’re going a bit bananas. But wherever you are, in your car driving to work, whether you’re working on your laptop or you’re with people, you can, literally in your head, just tell yourself to stop. And in that moment, you then take your attention and you put it on something different.

So, the chemical reaction of an emotion is 12 seconds. That’s it. So, if you take your attention and put it onto something different, very quickly you start to change the chemical reactions within your body, which then starts to change your thought patterns and vice versa. So, the big part of this is really going, “You know what, I actually have control over where I put my attention but the first part is I need to become aware, and become aware of where I am and put my attention.”

And, recently, because there is so much stress going on in our planet with the virus and then we’ve also got what’s going on in America right now, it’s very easy to get sucked into the TV and all the negativity, and it’s very easy to be caught up in conversations about that, and sometimes you have to ask yourself, “You know, how much of this do I need to put myself in front?” Like, “Okay, I need to know what’s going on in the world. But do I need to be like putting myself around that negativity 24/7 when it’s actually making me feel horrendous?” And the answer to that is no.

No, you have a choice. You have total choice. And I would say to people, you know, that we’ve got no control over what happens in our planet. So, it could start snowing, for example, and we’ve got no control over that. It’s fact. But we have total control over the meaning we give something. So, it might be that you have got a really sort of big event at work you’re about to embark on it, it may be pushing you out of your comfort zone, it may be quite challenging. But instead of getting caught up in the what-ifs and, “This could go wrong, and that could go wrong, and people might judge me. And, oh, my goodness, my career could be over,” instead of doing that, you can just stop and say, “You know, it hasn’t happened yet, and right now I have the ability to give it a different meaning. And the meaning I’m going to give it is, ‘God, this is so exciting, it’s new. Who cares if it doesn’t go 100% right? I’ll learn from it and I’ll still be living at the end of it, hopefully.’”

It’s all about you giving your power back to yourself and saying what meaning you might give in this stuff, and is it actually real. And by choosing the right meaning will change your state and change the way you feel about something.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s a lot of great stuff there. Well, 12 seconds is, I think, that’s huge right there and I think that’s about true in terms of I think of talking about you’re taking three deep breaths, for example, it might be 12-ish or a little bit more seconds, and then that is sufficient to move from one place to another. And then choosing the meaning that you’re giving there, that’s cool. Well, thank you.

So, then let’s talk about choosing meanings in a big way when it comes to mindsets kind of across a whole lot of stuff as opposed to one given moment or experience. So, you are an award-winning mindset coach in your bio.

Kirsty Bortoft
I am.

Pete Mockaitis
Which I find exciting because I’ve been listening recently to Kelly McGonigal’s The Upside of Stress, and I hope to have her on the show soon.

Kirsty Bortoft
Oh, exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
And I was so intrigued how there were a number of mindset interventions which don’t take a whole lot of effort but really do kind of yield to, or yield great results whether whatever you’re measuring in terms of like it’s not dropping out of college or whatever years later, and so I thought that was awesome, whenever there’s just a little bit of effort produces a lot of bit of results. Very cool. So, can you lay it on us now, what’s a mindset? And what are some of the most high-leverage things we can do to adjust our mindsets to make good things happen for us?

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, that’s a brilliant question. So, I think I want to start off first of all to say that our brains, for the last 50,000 years, have not changed very much at all, and our minds, which I think the brain is the house in which the mind works from. The mind has many different functions but one of the functions that it has is the stress response system, which has not evolved at all since the cavemen times.

So, we may have something going wrong with a colleague at work and we may feel stressed about it, but we can’t go into the office and start fighting for our lives when we get annoyed by somebody, or just run. Our fight or flight system, however, still kicks in, and it’s literally kicking in like a false alarm almost. And so, what happens is every time this happens, it releases a stress hormone into the body, into the system.

Now, any organism can deal with short terms of stress. We’ve been made to deal with it. It’s fine. The problem comes when it’s on repeat and it’s happening day in, day out. Now, unfortunately, most people, every single day of their lives, whether they’re aware of it or not, are triggering their stress hormone maybe not just once, twice, three times. And so, this is what happens when the stress hormone gets turned on.

You have two paths of your body that are happening all the time. So, you’ve got your immune system which is fantastic. It’s protecting you from viruses, it’s protecting you from bacteria, it’s doing a great job. And you’ve also got maintenance because your body is continually rejuvenating. I mean, in the last five days, you’ve had brand new taste buds on your tongue, which is phenomenal. So, you’ve got these two aspects at work.

But as soon as you start getting stressed, and you start having acute stress, the first thing that happens is your immune system gets switched off. Now, again, if it was just switched off for a short time, not a problem. But you can see where the problem kind of kicks in when it gets switched off for long term.

So, how do we deal with this? How do we ensure that our immune system, especially now, is firing on all cylinders? So, The Freedom Alignment Method is my signature program that I’ve created over the last 10-15 years and it addresses this exact problem. So, you might want to grab a paper and pen because I am going to literally give you the five most simplest steps that if you implement these, it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you say it works, let’s get really clear. Now, what is the goal, result, the outcome that we achieve by doing this?

Kirsty Bortoft
So I always imagine cortisol being like little taps in your brain that releases into the body. So, if you imagine what it does, it allows the little taps to be switched back off so that your stress hormones stop releasing into the body and you start to return back into homeostasis.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we stop stress just like that. Okay, intriguing. Let’s proceed.

Kirsty Bortoft
So, the first step is, you probably know this first step because it’s quite commonly known that when we get stressed, we don’t breathe very well. We really go shallow in our breathing so it cuts off oxygen to the brain which makes us feel weird. So, the first most simplest step is let’s get some oxygen into your brain and take three really big breaths. And that is so simple, I know, but, honestly, I can’t tell you that our first little step, how it sets you up for the rest of this process. So, once you’ve done the first part and you’ve got some oxygen in the brain, you start to feel less weird.

Now, step two, I mentioned earlier, awareness precedes all change. So, you, first of all, ask yourself, “What have I been putting my attention on?” So, it might be in your mind or it might be actually something in front of you, okay? So, it could be actually happening or it might be just that you’re thinking about it. So, what have you been putting your attention on?

Once you’ve established what you put your attention on, the next thing is you need to start taking personal responsibility for the next step. Now, what does that mean? You’re probably going, “Well, I do.” Well, it means is that, probably, what you’ve been doing over and over again hasn’t been working so we need to do something different.

Now, I just love what Einstein said, which is like, “The definition of insanity repeating the same behavior and expecting something different.” Oh, my goodness, how many times have we all done that and then got really crossed because we haven’t either felt better or things haven’t turned out right for us, and we do this all the time. And so, this part of the process is going, “I’m prepared to do something completely different and trust that, by doing something different, I will get a different result.” So, this is where the paper and pen comes in.

So, this process is called the feel, deal, and dump process which is what I named it, and it’s for our fundamental part which underpins The Freedom Alignment Method, and it’s the most simplest thing, so listen because you might miss it.

The first part of this is you need to ask yourself what was that thing that I asked you to do in step two, which was, “What are you putting your attention on?” So, I’ll give an example. Let’s say you’re at work and you’ve been putting your attention on a deadline and actually you’re winding yourself up, getting worried, thinking you won’t get it done, then this is going to be the title that you put on your paper. So, you put that at the top of your paper, “Stress or worried about a deadline.” Now, this is the part that is fundamental to this process.

Now, before I share this part, I always say this process is really not difficult, and it isn’t, but it is different. And because it is different, the mind will try and jump in and say, “This is too simple. It’s not going to work.” I’m going to invite you now to ignore that running commentary and just do something different anyway and just see the result.

So, you’ve written down at the top of the paper, you’ve written down that, “I’m worried about a deadline.” Now, this is what you need to do next. You take your paper to pen, pen to paper even, and without thinking, which is quite difficult, which is why I get you to write because when you’re writing, it takes your mind off actually trying to think about something. I want you to just directly go to that title and ask yourself, “How does this, honestly, make me feel?” And I just then want you to start writing and allow your pen to flow like a stream of consciousness.

Now, what might happen is your mind might try and kick it. If it does, just take off your pen off your paper, take a deep breath, go back to it and just keep on writing. This exercise can sometimes take a minute, or 10 minutes, or 20 minutes. It really doesn’t matter but you’ll know when your brain dumped enough because there’ll be nothing left to write.

And what you’re actually doing at this point is you’re actually going straight into your subconscious and you’re releasing any suppressed emotions directly onto the paper, so you’re letting things go and you’re doing something different. So, you keep writing. Sometimes when I do this exercise, I can’t even read my writing. It’s like a mess. It doesn’t matter. The intention is how this process works. So, you keep writing until there’s nothing left to write. And as soon as you have finished, you ask yourself a simple question, “Have I written about my feelings or have I written about what went on?”

Now, if you’ve written about what went on, I want you to stop and go back because it’s really important that you write about the emotion and not the act, the actual thing that’s going on. Once you finish this, you take your piece of paper, you just crumple it up, and you go outside and set it on fire, and give it back to the universe. And what we’re doing there is we’re just doing a cycle, so we’ve taken the emotion out of the body, onto the paper, and then given it back to the universe.

It is so simple that people sometimes get it wrong. And I know that’s ridiculous because I’m saying it like this right now but it’s because the mind, the egoic mind is a control freak, and it likes to keep you in your comfort zone. So, when you do something different, it will have a running commentary, and its commentary is always pessimistic because its job is to look for problems. It’s not the enemy actually. It’s doing its job but your job in this moment is to override that and not listen, and just go back to the emotion.

Now, once you set it on fire, you’ve given it back to the universe, you then need to take your attention, so this is step five, and put it onto something upward spiraling. And to be honest, the best upward spiraling thing that you can ever put your attention on is simply gratitude because gratitude naturally expands your experience upwards. So, just by one thing, it doesn’t matter what it is, and just write down why you are grateful for that thing or you can even say it loud, it’s fine.

But what you’re doing then is you’re now choosing to put your attention on something that’s expansive rather than downward spiraling. And when you do that, it allows you to be more grounded and centered in the present moment and stops you from going back off into that kind of mindless chitter-chatter that’s going to cause the stress and trigger the hormone again. There you go in a nutshell.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we start with the three breaths, we say what’s our attention on, “I’m worried because of a meeting,” or whatever, and then we journal on, “How does that honestly make me feel?” just sort of the emotions, not the thoughts, not the thing, just the feelings. Then you set the page on fire, and then you put your attention on something like gratitude, and that’s your five steps.

Well, let me talk about the fire just for a second. Like, if some people are in office buildings…

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, you can’t do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you rip it up or is that okay?

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, that’s okay. Yeah, please don’t be like, “Our fires have gone up.” Yeah, absolutely. If you’re inside, don’t obviously do that or maybe save it to later. Yeah, don’t do it and set the fire alarm off.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s intriguing here is, I think, in step three, that distinction in terms of the feelings. Like, can you give us some examples, like, “How does this make me feel?” Because I think that you can just say, “Sad,” “Angry.” Well, yeah, but I have a feeling there’s going to be a little bit more to it than that.

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, so let us just take the title that we’re stressed because we’ve got a deadline. So, it might be, this is hypothetical, “I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m feeling scared. I’m feeling like judged, feeling not good enough. I’m feeling hopeless.” I’m just making that up. It’s that simple and it’s literally whatever is there in the moment for the person, they write down. And the power of this exercise is the energetics, really, of what you’re doing, because the person is doing something completely different to what they’ve been doing.

So, mostly, what happens when we experience something that’s uncomfortable is our kneejerk reaction is to push that thing away whatever it might be, even if it’s not actually happening in real life; it’s happening within our mind. Our kneejerk reaction is to push it away. And the reason for that is because we’ve been programmed to move from pain to pleasure at all costs, which is why when we decide to go on a diet and lose weight, unless we have actually dealt with the unconscious programming in our minds, what will happen is we will sabotage ourselves every single time because the desire to move from pain to pleasure will be so great that we’ll then go back in the fridge, eating that piece of chocolate cake, saying, “I’ll start one day.”

Before, when we felt stressed, we’ve suppressed the emotion back down into our subconscious usually by distraction techniques like drinking, maybe spending money we haven’t got on our credit cards potentially, staying up too late, playing video games, all these types of things, our distractions are really from the real feelings that are actually going on in that experience.

And so, what this process does is it takes us from what I call resisting the experience into feeling. And when we do that, we go into a state of allowing. When we go into a state of allowing, that is the only place where healing and letting go can happen. So, when we’re in resistance, it’s not possible because we are literally pushing something and resisting something, and we haven’t got the space for something to move. But when we shift that into a state of allowing, it allows it to go, it allows it go move on and be set free.

And so, this simple, simple exercise, the power in it is because the person, for the first time, is taking out resistance into a state of allowing. And when they do that, they’re allowed to freely let go of the suppressed emotion, the anger, the guilt, the fear, whatever it may be. They’re allowed to honor it, feel it, and let it go.

We’ve been taught, most of us, from childhood that negative emotions are not good. I was told when I was younger, you know, “Come on, Kirsty, please stop. You’ll be fine,” if I was upset about something. And it wasn’t that my parents were being awful. It was that they thought they were doing the right thing, but the truth was that I immediately learned from a very young child that it wasn’t good to show being upset because I felt like I hadn’t done something right or it wasn’t good to feel angry.

And so, what I learned was to push these emotions down. And we’ve all done it. And the reason for that is because the way that the brain has been designed is that between about the age of two and the age of seven is our brainwaves are in this like Theta state, which is the imaginary state.

It’s also the time called the hypnotic stage as well. And the hypnotic stage of the brain is when we download programs. So, we download how to survive, we download how to be in the world, we download how to interact with each other, we download our parents’ belief systems, we download at school what’s right and what’s wrong. And the majority of it is really good stuff, and it teaches us how to be adults. The problem is that there are certain things that are slightly dodgy and don’t serve us.

So, for example, well, the one that money doesn’t grow on trees. And so, what happens, we download these pros and cons, and suddenly, at the age of seven, our brainwaves change, and we go into Beta state which is what you and I are in now. The fundamental shift with that is that now we only can learn through repetition, right? So, what happens is when we have a stressful experience, the brain, being designed to keep you alive, so what it does is it takes that experience, and if it could speak, it would say something like, “Can little Johnny, right now, deal with this stress? No, he can’t,” so it takes that emotion and it would push it into your subconscious mind.

And I always described it a little bit like before like we’ve all got this rucksack on our back, which is invisible, but we carry in our life, and every time we go through something really stressful, we chuck a bit of it into this bag. Now, as I said too early, your mind and body are completely connected, and so this bag is large but it’s not infinite. And so, at some point, it gets so full it starts to overflow. And when it starts to overflow, it offloads from the mind into the body and starts manifesting as stress and anxiety and depression and migraines. And so, all we’re doing when we’re doing this exercise is we’re not just dealing with the actual stress at the moment. We’re actually starting to release some of that out of our bag.

So, when we start feel, deal, and dumping, we’re letting go of some of this unnecessary stuff that we have just dragged through our whole entire life. And so, what I love about this technique, the feel, deal, and the dump, is that it is so simple, and it’s probably likely you’re going to have to do it more than once because you’ve got a lifetime of stuff, but that’s okay. And what I suggest to people is if you are feeling really stressed, you are feeling really anxious, then just keep doing this exercise over and over again, and you will get some relief, I promise you. And if you’re struggling, then reach out. Reach out and have a chat because I’d love to help you.

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

Kirsty Bortoft
Shall I tell you about my book that’s coming out in two weeks?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing.

Kirsty Bortoft
So, Break Free from Pain, it’s my first book, so I’m really excited. It’s more like a guide to help people with physical, emotional, and mental pain. And it’s a step-by-step handhold process to be able to really support you and ensuring that you can live an empowered life rather than a stressful life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now can you share with us a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Kirsty Bortoft
I’m a massive, massive fan of a number of different scientists but especially newer scientists. My favorites are Joe Dispenza, I love him, he’s amazing and his publications on the mind. And, also, I just love Biology of Beliefs, which is another book. I also love David Hawkins, and his work is incredible. And, unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago, but his work, he’s got a fantastic book called Letting Go which I would say is my go-to book. And he’s also done lots and lots of studies on consciousness and the mind, and I just think he’s phenomenal. So, his work and publications, I would recommend over and over again.

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

Kirsty Bortoft
Meditation, I guess, is the first thing that came into my head. But I would also say that it’s not just meditation. I’m a massive fan of daily rituals. So, every morning, I feel like the first hour or two has got to be about inputting back into the soul. So, for me, I get up and I do meditate, but I also move my body a little bit. I also ensure that I have some good nutrition. And I also make sure that I set a really positive intention for not just the day but just for my life. And I think that that makes a massive impact on how I feel for the rest of the day.

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

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah. All my clients know what I’m like. And one of the things I would say is I just think that the first couple of hours of your day really set up the rest of your day. So, if you get up and you are consciously inputting positive expansive things into your experience, what happens is I feel like I go out into the day and so, obviously, real life still happens, but I feel like I can deal with it. It doesn’t get to me. It’s, again, about making a conscious decision about the meaning I’m giving things. And how I do that is by these daily rituals. And I guess another thing I throw in there is back to the old gratitude as well because it’s such a superpower, and I think so underused.

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

Kirsty Bortoft
So, come and get in touch definitely at www.Kirsty-Bortoft.com and you can email me at hello@kirsty-bortoft.com. I’m on YouTube which is the Mindset Coach at Kirsty Bortoft, or you can find under the same name on Facebook or Twitter, Kirsty Bortoft. And if you want the spelling of that, I don’t know whether I need to spell that really slowly, or whether it will be somewhere on here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, it will be on the show notes but B-O-R-T-O-F-T, and Kirsty not Kristy for the…with a K. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, I just think that it’s got to come back to that we, as human beings, are so powerful and we give away our powers way too easily, and I think that the action here is tomorrow when you wake up, is just remind yourself that you have the choice of where you put your attention firstly and the meaning you give things. So, don’t give that power away because anything is possible. And, honestly, you sincerely are in control of your destiny when you do that. So, just make sure that you live your best version by putting that first.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kirsty, it’s been fun. I wish you lots of luck in all your adventures.

Kirsty Bortoft
Thank you so much.