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654: How to Tap Into Your Genius Zone with 34 Strong’s Darren Virassammy

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Darren says: "Be confident in where you sine and where you're blind."

Darren Virassammy shares his expert tips on how to make the strengths work best for you and your team.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How strengths can both be an asset and a liability
  2. The surprising sign of genius
  3. The trick to turn your blind spots into strengths

About Darren

Darren Virassammy is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of 34 Strong, comprised of a team that believes everyone deserves a great place to work and that any workplace can be great. A leading expert in the global employee engagement community, the 34 Strong team leverages the Strengths-Based approach to human development to create massive shifts within organizations, both culturally and on the bottom line. He and his team have created sustainable change in small microbusinesses, all the way up to large organizational teams at the FDA, Bank of America, and The California Department of Public Health. Darren is the co-host of the Leading Strong podcast and the host of The Nature Advantage podcast.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Darren Virassammy Interview Transcript

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

Darren Virassammy
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. What an honor to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear about so much of your wisdom. And, first, I want to hear, I understand you recently moved to Barbados. From where? What’s the story?

Darren Virassammy
Okay. So, yes, I am talking to you right now from Barbados. I moved from California, from Sacramento. I am a business owner. I’m the co-founder of a company called 34 Strong. That didn’t dissipate. We’re in a virtual world now so I have relocated here to Barbados. A big part of that story, Pete, was the fact that we wanted to give our kids a chance to live abroad. My family is originally from the Caribbean, from British Guiana, my parents and whatnot.

Barbados had a program called the Welcome Home Stamp, the Welcome Home visa, and that opened up over the course of 2020. Now, the interesting part, Pete, was we made the decision to make a move to the Caribbean in the summer of 2019 before COVID or any of that hit. So, 2020 was going to be the year that we planned on making that move to give the kids a chance to get a different experience, living overseas, looking into the United States, and really appreciating some of the things that we had there, and then getting a different appreciation from a global perspective.

One final piece I will say about that is a big part of that impetus as well was, for me, personally, outside for my family, was I really wanted to step into just leveling up into my strengths as a dad, and stepping into that place. I was personally ready to just shift into an environment like here that was going to force some of that because of some of the connections I had seen with my kids when we had been together on past trips to the West Indies, different islands.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like a cool adventure, and so, kudos. You did it and you’re living it and you’re loving it. So, that’s cool. We’re going to talk a lot about strengths here. Can you orient us quickly, your company, 34 Strong, what is it?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah, we actually do a lot of work in the space of organizational development and wellbeing. One of the tools that we’ve become very known for is our work with the CliftonStrengths Assessment. We’re helping to define what’s right with team members instead of fixating on what’s wrong with them. And then we really focused on focusing on moving the needle on employee engagement and wellbeing. There’s a loop connection between people’s overall wellbeing in their life, and employee engagement and their engagement in their work. So, we actually work in both those spaces, and we use strengths as a foundational. Foundation is kind of an anchor to build from.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, so we’ve talked about strengths a couple of times on the show and the difference it can make. Maybe, could you paint a picture perhaps by telling a story of just one professional who they were living their career life pre-strengths awareness, and then they came to getting an understanding of their strengths in a profound way, and then saw things take off as a result?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, when we think of playing to our strengths, let me start by giving this caveat. There’s this great question that Dr. Donald Clifton asked. He’s known as the father of the whole strengths-based movement and that perspective and this type of thinking. And he asked this question that ended up guiding his life, Pete, and it was simply, “What happens when we focus on what’s right with people instead of fixating on what’s wrong with them?” And that guided his whole life’s work.

So, getting to your specific question about how did that create a shift, I’ll never forget early on in 34 Strong’s life cycle, in our career as a company, when we were building it, there was a scenario where there was somebody that was in kind of a managerial role. And they were managing a team, and what started happening, there was these two managers. There was a manager effectively and an assistant manager, and they had to work together. But here’s what had happened.

They got to the place where they were not speaking and hadn’t actually spoken for 18 months. They’d be in meetings together and they literally wouldn’t speak to each other. Talk about toxicity, right? What ended up happening was they both went through the StrengthsFinder process, and the manager went through it. And the reason I started with the question of “What happens when we focus on what’s right with people instead of fixating on what’s wrong with them?” when you talk about strengths, it’s easy to think of, “Oh, let’s just focus on our strengths and ignore our weaknesses.” That actually couldn’t be further from the truth.

We actually become highly aware of where we are strong so we own those elements, and we have to own where our weaknesses show up. And here’s the key caveat. Our strengths can be our greatest assets and our greatest liabilities. This particular manager, Pete, had an awakening. She came to understand that there were things that she was doing that were contributing to how her counterpart was showing up, that was triggering her strengths.

So, it went from this lens of self-awareness to team awareness in terms of how they worked through. She came to an understanding of her own strengths and realized how that might be completely out of alignment with somebody else’s strengths on the team. And then that rippled well beyond just this assistant manager but to other team members as to how she was showing up.

So, a big piece of the puzzle that came here was this awakening of self-awareness in understanding, “How do I show up as I want to so I can be confident in where I shine? And how can I be confident around the areas where I’m blind where I might be stepping into it and not even understanding that?”

Long story short, that relationship synced up and that whole division synced up in the time that took place after that. And there was moving in the direction where it could’ve ended up very, very ugly from an HR perspective. All of that went down by the wayside and actually completely improved the overall performance of that whole division as a result of those two’s relationship falling out.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that is really cool. And so, I remember I’ve got Dodie Gomer, she was a guest on the podcast, and she told a story about she went through some strengths work and one of her top strengths was Positivity. And then she was working with someone who had another strength, I don’t even remember what it was, it might’ve something that was like Skepticism but that’s not one of them. I don’t know.

Darren Virassammy
Maybe Deliberative or Restorative where there’s a natural tendency to ask a lot of questions, like, “We need to prove first,” and going through looking at things from a very risk perspective, or seeing very, very solutions-focused but to get to solutions, have to identify the problem first. But go on.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the facilitator said, “Oh, so you see the problem with this?” And Dodie said, “Not at all,” which is like, “Your manager thinks you’re full of it. He just doesn’t believe you with that Positivity that’s not kind of vibing or natural for them.” And, sure enough, that was on the money. So, that’s what I think is kind of interesting here is that I think many of us have taken CliftonStrengths or a tool that goes after it. And, listeners, if you haven’t, I just recommend every human do it. It’s great and fun and quick and you learn some things. But so, then once we’ve got sort of our report, “Okay, these are my top five strengths or…”

I went with the whole enchilada, one to 34 all ranked, so I’ve got all of mine. It’s kind of like, “Now what?” I think a lot of people say, “Okay, so my top strengths are Ideation, Strategic, Learner, Activator, Input. Okay, cool, cool, cool.” And then I read a bit about what those words mean and I feel good and I say, “Yeah, I guess that’s kind of right. Okay, that kind of rings true.” So, I’m wondering, how do I go from, “Okay, I’ve got my report,” to, “I am going to build an exceptional career with this as my rock and foundation”?

Darren Virassammy
So, I think that’s a great question. That’s often the question that we come against here, and it’s, “So, what? Now, what?” and that’s a really important question to ask here because we have to switch the lens towards looking at it from, “How do I apply this?” So, some very practical techniques to go through.

There’s an exercise that we utilize at 34 Strong, it’s part of our series that we actually train our managers on, but we actually train staff on it. In fact, as a company, we’re going through this right now for Q1. So, this is how much we believe in it, and that’s everybody in the company. Myself as one of the founders and part of the leadership team, all the way through to every single member of our staff, and it’s a very simple exercise. We call it the triple G. And it’s called grind, greatness, and genius.

So, when we think of our grind, our greatness, and our genius, we have to think these in terms of the respective zones that we show up in here. So, grind, greatness, genius, when we’re thinking about our grind zones, Pete, these are the things that when you think of in your work, in your career just the thought of thinking about these things causes your stomach to go in knots. You get pits in your stomach just thinking about these things, “Oh, my gosh, I have to do these elements,” right?

Now, here’s an important caveat as you’re going through this. Everybody is going to have grind in your work. It’s called work. There’s going to be grind. The goal here is evaluating where your grind zone is, where your greatness, and your genius zones are, and then thinking of ways that we can shift towards spending more time in our greatness and our genius zone. And I speak of this a little bit more wider. If you’ve taken the CliftonStrengths Assessment, your knowledge from that will further deepen by going through this exercise. If you haven’t taken it, this is still a very applicable exercise. And this can, again, for all levels of your career.

The greatness zone, Pete, this is things that you do well. You enjoy doing them. There are some level of enjoyment and you feel pretty strong in it. You can do them really, really well. Now, here’s an important part to understand, and this is, again, whether you’re a leader or whether you’re an employee. You might have strengths that will allow you to get into the greatness zone to where you’re actually really good at doing something that’s actually in your grind zone. So, you’re grinding to do it but when others are looking in, they’ll say, “Pete, but you do such a good job at this,” but you do not love doing it. So, make sure you actually segment those things out. It’s really important for us to do that.

I’ll give you an example of this. For me, personally, in my old job that I had before I started 34 Strong, Pete, I was a senior project manager at a commercial construction company, and I would often get pulled into the fire drill projects where a project had gone sideways. And my thought process was constantly, to the owners of the company, “Hey, instead of having me parachute in and be the firefighter on these jobs to repair client relations and going through, why don’t we spend a little more time training the other project managers on this? I can spend the time doing that.”

And that never became an area of focus. It was constant firefighting that didn’t need to happen. So, I got really good at doing something that I didn’t love. I felt like I would’ve been much better in training and developing people. And then, lo and behold, I started the company that focuses on training and developing people. So, that’s an important distinction to make.

And then, finally, we get to the genius zone. So, when we step into the genius zone, these are the things that you do so well, Pete, and that people can do so well. Oftentimes, you personally might overlook them or be frustrated. This is a very important “or.” Or, be frustrated if somebody can’t do these things. Maybe you’re a person that very naturally, like you were talking about with your strengths, with Strategic, Ideation, you can very rapidly see where things are going.

Oftentimes, for those strengths, they’re sitting in a meeting, they’re sitting in a program, and they’re like, “Okay, I see where this going. Let’s move. Let’s get onto that place.” And many others need to actually catch up in going through. That’s a sign of genius and sometimes our frustrations can be a sign of our genius and the brilliance that we bring.

So, that can be something that we do so well that others come to us, and these are things that we often overlook and say, “Yeah, it’s no big deal. Anybody could do that.” If you ever catch yourself making that statement in any point in your career, I encourage you to pause because you’re overlooking a key area of value that comes to you so naturally that others see it as a huge gift that you’re providing and you’re just overlooking at it as no big deal. That’s a sign of your genius that you have to give.

So, again, grind, greatness, genius, spend some time over the course of a month, make a list of three columns. I think we have a resource on our website as well, 34Strong.com, where you can actually grab one of those, or message us for those and we can send you one of those links to be able to get that. And it’s an exercise that you can actually go through to take some inventory of that and think of that. And that can serve as a framework to start moving and asking yourself, “How can I spend more time in my greatness and my genius zones?” And we can think of ways that we can partner with others who might be in their greatness or genius zone when we’re in our grind zone.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you share some other telltale signs for our genius zone? I think the frustration is great in terms of that can tell you something. What are some other indicators that are like, “Aha, this is genius territory”?

Darren Virassammy
So, genius territory is when you feel very energized by doing these things. And, again, it feels like second nature. You’re stepping into doing something, it felt like you have known how to do this your whole life. That’s one of the clues to talent. And there’s a level of not only energy but enthusiasm. After you’ve gotten through it, you want to do it again. You might be tired. At the end of the day, you might be exhausted, and you see this surge that can be rising to do it. You find yourself in positions where there’s third-party validation of excellence. This is not me saying, “Hey, I’m a great singer,” when I’m singing in the shower. It’s like I’m actually singing out where other people are validating that for you when you’re getting that validation.

Here’s another piece, Pete, that I will share. Think of the reasons that people seek you out as a complementary partner. And if you haven’t thought of, “Why is it that people come to you?” ask that question, “What is the value that I do bring?” because oftentimes, again, it’s staring us right in the face. We’re looking at each other right now through a camera, but if we were in person, I wouldn’t be able to see my face, so if I had a big giant mark on my face, I’d hope, Pete, that you’d say, “Hey, you might want to remove that blemish. You’ve got a leaf or something sitting on your face.”

Pete, my point here is, oftentimes, our talent, similarly that genius zone, lies so close to us we cannot see it. So, it’s when we actually seek that out and find out, “What is it that we bring? What is unique about the perspective that we bring?” You talk about your strength of Ideation. Oftentimes, people will come to somebody with the strength of Ideation, and really enjoy digging into things with them because they’re constantly and quickly able to see many, many different ideas, and bring out very, very fresh perspective, and not get stuck in the, “Well, we’ve always done this the same way, so we need to keep doing it that way.” That can be a huge tell for us to really grow in our career and in our job. Again, wherever you’re at in that cycle.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s talk about, I don’t know if you want to call them weaknesses or lesser strengths or what’s number 33 and 34 on the CliftonStrengths report. For me, it’s consistency and adaptability.

Darren Virassammy
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Fun fact. So, what should we do with those?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, our bottom five, we like to look at, if you do go through the CliftonStrengths process and you take a look at your full 34 report, you really want to get to a place where you own your top ten and spend the time to understand not how they only exist individually but how they exist collectively. The reason for that is the likelihood of somebody having their top ten in the same order as you is one in six billion.

So, even though, Pete, you and I share Activator, you have Activator, you have Input, you have Ideation much higher. We share Activator and Learner in our top ten, you have those as your top five. But that Ideation that you share, that you have there, that’s a little bit lower for me. That’s not quite as high. I appreciate Ideation but what I’m getting at is the way that Activator and Ideation will pair versus the way that Activator and Self-Assurance might pair, the way that I have those. That’s going to be a slightly different brand of the way that that Activator goes.

So, we want to start in that top ten and understanding that. And that pivots right down to the next phase of understanding, getting into exactly what you talked about, the bottom five. So, we want to explore our bottom five, and here’s the reason why. It’s not to step into the place of deficit thinking. A lot of times, and when I say deficit thinking, we think that our greatest opportunity for growth and excellence lies in focusing in our areas of weakness. That’s not true.

What we’re getting at here is our greatest opportunities for growth and human excellence lie in those top ten. But when we look at the bottom five, what are we inevitably going to have? People that have those in their top ten, those are our blind spots. So, getting to a place where we can understand those strengths, we can also come up with an awareness of, “How do those strengths provide benefit? How can they give rise to the best ideas? How will they balance out my very own gaps of where I’m at to actually create a much stronger outcome overall for the team, for the organization and going through?”

And understanding them is not, again, to the lens to become them but spending the time to dig into that so we can figure out what those needs are, so we can figure out how those can play into a greater good, and, really, bring out the fact that, on teams, our differences can be our greatest advantage that we have.

The analogy I like to give with this is the Golden Gate Bridge. I mentioned to you at the top of our time together is the Golden Gate Bridge, we’ve all seen it, it’s absolutely beautiful, but the cables that keep those two towers standing are pulling in different directions. There’s a little bit of tension that’s there. And the healthy amount of tension is actually what gives rise to the strength of the bridge in and of itself. Much the same way, Pete, that’s what gives rise to the strength of teams where we go from self-awareness, and, “How do I grow in my career?” to, “How I then ripple that to my coworkers that we need to flow, work together, and give the rise to the best ideas?”

And we come to that understanding as opposed to just saying, “This person is difficult.” We start to understand where they’re coming from, what they bring that’s very unique, and that can be an advantage to getting to exactly where we’re collectively trying to go as our outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you share some of those tactical specific adjustments you’d make in your environment and with others to pull that off so more of us are spending more time in the genius zone?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, I love what you said with your bottom one, your 34 is Consistency. Let’s just use that. So, somebody that’s really strong in the strength of Consistency, they’re going to thrive oftentimes in creating and establishing systems and routines that we can rinse and repeat and then going through, and they’re naturally going to think in that sort of capacity.

So, for you, for instance, if you were working with somebody that was very strong in the Consistency strength, and your Ideation, your Strategic, your Activator might move in very different directions, but I might understand, if I’m in your shoes, you might understand, if I’m working with somebody that’s very strong in Consistency and then understanding that, they might have needs that are different than mine.

So, I’ll give you an example of this. Your Ideation might naturally go to a place where it’s going to communicate different ideas. And what we’re searching for is to give rise to the best ideas. We might throw six, seven, eight, ten different ideas on the board, and somebody with Consistency might be listening and saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, which one of these are we doing?” because their brain is not naturally thinking in the context of, “We’re throwing seven, eight ideas on the board to kind of wrestle with them and then see if we could push together and come up with a best idea out of that and maybe it’s not one of those ten. Maybe it’s one that merges together.”

So, when we’re communicating with somebody that might have Consistency high, when we’re looking at potentially disrupting that pattern, we give acknowledgement to the fact that, “Hey, consistency is going to bring the system.” I want a message to you so if I’m you, Pete, I might tell somebody with Consistency, just letting them know, “Right now, I’m in the process of ideating.” I might be very intentional in communicating that up front. So, “We have not landed a consistent place. In fact, the work that we’re doing now is to come up with the idea of what that could look like,” and leading the conversation with that.

Because if not, the way that they’re receiving that information might be through the lens of, “Let’s establish the system right now,” and where you might be at is working through defining what even the relevant ideas might be for the system. In a nutshell, you’re both working towards the same goal but you’re in different places as to where you might show up.

So, in spending the time to be curious not only about just reading the report but if you have somebody on your team that’s strong with that, get curious about them. Ask them, “Tell me more about Consistency. That’s one of my bottom ones. That’s in my bottom five. How does that show up for you? What does that mean to you?”

And learning about that and asking them if they have any specific needs that they feel like they have to be successful. What are the needs that they have to be successful? That might be very different than your need, and that will help you to grow your connection with direct teammates, with people that you manage, or if you’re managing up the chain with understanding what success looks like for them. And that will help you to nurture and strengthen those relationships, and, again, advance in your career as you’re continuing to grow in those techniques.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, Shane Metcalf, a recent guest, brought up those perspectives associated with the strengthen and the associated need. Can you say more about that and give us some examples? So, Ideation, Strategic, Learner, Activator, those are some strengths. You say there are some particular needs that are often tied to them. And what might be some examples of those?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. Shane is a great guy. I’ve worked extensively with 15Five and with Shane since 15Five was like a nine-person company, so outstanding human being. Great friends with him. When we think of some of the needs, so you mentioned Activator, I’m going to talk about that particular strength and how it kind of falls into place here.

A need that some strengths might have, and some of these are known as our influencing strengths here, Pete, they might need to verbally process. They might need to, when I say verbally process, for verbal processors, some of our strengths, like Activator, like Communication, like Command, Self-Assurance, Maximizer, those are some of them, they might need to verbally process where they think by talking. So, the talking process is thinking.

Now, here’s the thing that’s fascinating. When we’re listening to somebody that has these strengths, when they’re thinking out loud and going through that process, because those strengths bring with them a certain level of presence to be able to influence others, one of the things that we have to be mindful of, if we have those strengths or if we’re working with somebody with those strengths, is when they’re verbally processing, they might be influencing us. We might be feeling like an Activator creates some urgency, “Gosh, we got to get going. We got to get started on this.” And an Activator might unintentionally be getting things started and getting people going on things when they’re still in the verbal processing phase.

So, if you understand the needs of somebody that might be a verbal processor, my business partner, Brandon Miller, for instance, he is very much a verbal processor. And when we first started 34 Strong, I was very much an Executor so I would hear a story that made sense, I would say, “Hey, we could get this done, we could get this done, we could get that done.”

So, I’d hear what he might’ve been verbal processing, and what did I do, Pete? I went right forward to the task and three days later we’d have a chat, I’d say, “Hey, I got this done, I got this started. We’re moving forward with this,” and he might say, “Why did you get all that started? Why did you do that?” And I’m thinking, “Well, we talked about it,” because in my brain the only reason you talk about something is if you’re going to do it, and that’s where we were missing. And, thankfully, that didn’t cause us to disconnect. We weren’t eating our own cooking and it came to the place of understanding, for him, he’d signal to me, “Hey, Darren, I’m just verbally processing.” So, that was my signal to just allow that to go, allow that process to flow.

And then, for me, if I wasn’t sure if, “Hey, do we need to be moving to task on this?” I could easily ask, and say, “Are you just verbally processing right now or are we getting ready to land the plane right now? Do we want to move to task on this?” That’s just one example there, but those little nuances in understanding those of different team members can be the difference between frustration and acceleration as opposed to having to do things one, two, three, four times and we’re just missing how we actually connect and how people best learn and go forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And that’s one huge win right there in terms of, “Is this a commitment or is this just sort of kind of thinking about some things?” And, folks, their feelings can be hurt, “Hey, I planned my whole day around this thing that we talked about.” It’s like, “Oh, sorry. It was just sort of one option among many.” So, great to zero in on that.

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

Darren Virassammy
Yeah, I think these are really powerful tools to be able to take advantage of in thinking through in framing our thinking. And I want to let everybody know as well, you can go beyond this in just your work environments. You can take this sort of thinking home. Think of if you do have children or if you have a spouse.

What was really revealing for me, Pete, early on was when my wife and I both got our 34 reports unlocked, and I realized that three of her top five alone were in my bottom five. Everything that I’m talking about of understanding where people are coming from, that made our relationship make so much more sense.

And we’ve even applied this into the vein of parenting with our kids, and there’s a whole platform and push forward for going through that as well and digging into that great book called Incredible Parent. It was released earlier in January, and there’s actually a parenting assessment on strengths as well. And that was written by my business partner Brandon and Analyn Miller. And our whole Barbados story is actually featured in that book as well.

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

Darren Virassammy
So, a favorite quote of mine that I have lived by for a long time, I have so many, but the one that really stands out that’s at the core of the life that we live within 34 Strong is this African proverb, Pete, “If you want to fast, go alone. And if you want to go far, go with others.”

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

Darren Virassammy
So, my good friend, Joseph McClendon, III…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’ve seen him speak with Tony Robbins.

Darren Virassammy
He’s Tony Robbins’ business partner.

Pete Mockaitis
We did some power moves together.

Darren Virassammy
You did some power moves.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if he’d remember me. I was one of thousands.

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, Joseph is actually a dear friend of mine.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great.

Darren Virassammy
We share the space of bass playing, and we facilitated some workshops together on future-vision thinking and whatnot with the iconic bass player Victor Wooten, so him and I share that. But the story that he has shared, a study that he talked about was simply this. When he was doing his doctorate of neural science. When he was going through his doctorate in that, there was this stretch of highway in this two-lane road in southern California. And on one side of the road, Pete, there was light poles, telephone poles every hundred yards or 200 yards, whatever it was.

So, what was fascinating to Joseph was accidents would happen on that highway, and frequently over 50% of those accidents would end up with at least one vehicle hitting a telephone pole, which made no sense to Joseph because it didn’t just divot off and there was like these divots that went down. It was flat open dirt and fields.

So, what ended up happening for Joseph was he started doing studies, and he interviewed everybody that survived these, and there was a common theme that emerged, Pete, and it was simply this. Everybody said, “You know, Joseph, the last thing I saw coming at me was a light pole,” and that was it for him.

What happened for him, as he realized, people are what they focus on. They were so focused on not hitting the light pole, they never saw the wide-open fields that were there for them to go through. And that is at the core of a lot of what Joseph has gotten into his teaching as an ultimate performance specialist, and I love that story because you cannot hit what you’re not focusing on. How can you become strengths-based if you’re focusing on your weaknesses?

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Darren Virassammy
Favorite book of mine, there’s many to mention. I love Think and Grow Rich, the classic version by Napoleon Hill. I read it at least once a year and it seems to constantly teach me something new on a personal level, on a life level, and on a business work level each time as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Darren Virassammy
I love the CliftonStrengths Assessment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Darren Virassammy
It’s pretty powerful. That’s an obvious one.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Darren Virassammy
One of my favorite habits right now is collaborating with nature. So, I believe that as we become more technologically connected, we become more nature disconnected. And nature has always been a catalyst for human excellence, human innovation, and so much of what we do is tied up in that place. So, I actually talk about that as I explore people just like Joseph McClendon. He was one of my first guests and I interviewed him on my show The Nature Advantage and he shared a lot of his takeaways of how he’s actually used nature to step into his own genius.

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

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, one of the ones that comes back to me a lot is “Be confidently vulnerable.” And by that, I mean be confident in where you shine and where you’re blind. When we step into the place of being confidently vulnerable, we own who we are and we own who we’re not, and that allows for our self-awareness to grow and our team awareness to grow. That’s at the core of being strengths-based.

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

Darren Virassammy
I would tell them to check out 34Strong.com. You can find me as well on LinkedIn and you can find me at NatureAdvantageShow.com as well, and check out the Leading Strong podcast as well through 34 Strong.

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

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. I say go visit 34Strong.com and there’s a free download that’s right there on the power of setting clear expectations. This can be a valuable tool if you’re in a managerial role. I know with Shane, you talked about the importance of identifying recognition, what are the forms of recognition that people like. It’s just ten simple questions that you can ask of somebody that you’re managing or of a partner that you’re working with to understand their learning styles better, understand how they liked to be recognized, and what success will look like for them. That’s something that you can use immediately and put into work, so take advantage of that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Darren, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you and 34Strong lots of luck.

Darren Virassammy
Thanks a lot, Pete. Really appreciate being on here today. Thanks for the work you’re doing.

653: Training Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance with Dr. Ellen Reed

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Ellen Reed says: "That which you focus on expands."

Dr. Ellen Reed reveals how to build mental toughness by training your brain to be more solution-focused.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biological reason why we underperform 
  2. Three simple questions to your build mental toughness 
  3. How to beat out stress in 60 seconds 

 

About Ellen

Dr. Ellen Reed has been a top performance coach for more than ten years, working with Dr. Jason Selk. In addition to helping others reach high-levels of success, she has a well-established career as a professional dancer. With her background in academia and the performing arts, she helps athletes, students, and business leaders reach their peak performance by developing mental toughness. 

Dr. Reed received her PhD. in experimental psychology, with a focus on memory and cognition, from St. Louis University. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dr. Ellen Reed Interview Transcript

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

Ellen Reed
My pleasure. I’m so excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom, talking about Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance. I love so many of those words so I think you’re right up our alley. So, maybe, first, could you tee us off with a cool story? So, you and your colleague have been using relentless solution focus to help athletes win Super Bowls, gold medals, national championships. Like, can you tell a cool story with a particular athlete and how this stuff made the difference for them?

Ellen Reed
Yeah. Well, a big part of what I do is helping people perform at their best. Athletes have really kind of this opportunity to kind of show us how these mental tools can play out kind of in their arena.

But, really, what we do on a daily basis, and what the listeners do on a daily basis, is probably so much more important than what the athletes are doing, and these fundamentals were developed by my colleague Dr. Jason Selk. And you’re absolutely right that they were developed originally for athletes and teaching athletes how to focus on the right things, especially when the wrong things want to be swirling through their minds.

So, when a basketball player, is at the free-throw line with one second left, and they’re down by two, all those thoughts that want to swirl through your mind and all that pressure, how do you deal with that?

So, Jason Selk, who is the co-author on our book Relentless Solution Focus, his first book was called 10-Minute Toughness, and it was geared towards athletes. And in this book, he detailed a mental workout for athletes to do to really help train their minds be prepared for high-pressure situations. And people started picking up this book and applying these fundamentals to their own lives, in business, in their relationships, whether it be a business person, a doctor, a stay-at-home mom, and really started to find that these fundamentals, that really helped athletes play to their peak potential, really had almost better results with us regular people.

So, Jason, he started as the director of sports psychology for the St. Louis Cardinals in, I think it was 2006 where they had not won a World Series. I might need to fact-check this but they had not won a World Series in, I think, over 20 years. And the year he started with them, they won the World Series and they won the World Series again, I think, six years later. Again, I may need to fact-check this. I may be a couple years off on this.

And Jason spent, gosh, 20 plus years really studying highly successful people, and studying and paying attention to kind of the common threads that these people that have accomplished great things and people who are happiest in life, “What about them stands out? What about them kind of sets them apart?”

And what he noticed is that it’s really their ability to stay focused on solutions especially in the face of adversity, whether that be an athlete standing at that free-throw line with two seconds left, down by two, being able to keep their mind focused on, “What I need to be doing in this moment to improve or to succeed…” versus, “The pressure is on and we’re down by this much, and all of those thoughts. And I’ve got to make this shot.” All of those thoughts that are really normal that swirl through our minds on a daily basis.

So, relentless solution focus is essentially a method of training our brains to be able to stay focused on solutions and improvements when it’s really normal for us to want to focus on problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so, that sounds very useful and powerful for professionals who… their brains can go, myself included, our brains can go in all kinds of places that might not be super helpful. So, I think, for me, it’s like, “Uh-oh, I feel tired. I feel stressed. I feel overwhelmed. I am annoyed at…” fill in the blank.

So, yeah, there’s all kinds of thoughts going on up in there, and I imagine some are helpful, some are not. So, walk us through it, how do we get our brains to do what we want them to do? And, maybe first, what do we want them to be doing?

Ellen Reed
Right. Right. And I love that example, and I think that those thoughts that you’re kind of talking about that are normal for you, I think we can all really relate to. How many times do you wake up and think, “Oh, I’m so tired”? And then it’s easy to carry that into the next hour, and, “Gosh, I’m so tired today. I’m so tired today. I’m so tired today.” Right? And the more we focus on things, the bigger they get in our minds.

There’s a theory called expectancy theory that states that that which we focus on expands. And those examples that you just gave are such a great testament to that. When you focus on the fact that you’re tired, and when you focus on the fact that you’re annoyed by something that your spouse has done, those things get bigger in our minds.

And when you pair that with this what’s called problem-centric thought, where it’s normal for our brains to focus on problems first and foremost. We’re built this way. This is part of our DNA. And if you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, it was really important that we were very quickly able to pinpoint and recognize the problems and threats and shortcomings in our environments and so that problem-centric thought was really essential to our survival.

But, now, statistically, this is the safest time to be alive. Even with everything going on in the world right now with COVID, it’s still the safest time to be alive. And so, this problem-centric thought that really set us up well years and years and years and years and years ago, now really just causes us to underperform, it causes us undue stress, it’s unhealthy for us. And so, how do we get around that? That’s your question. What do we do? Because we know that we’re wired to focus on problems, and we also know that the more we focus on problems, the bigger they get.

And so, relentless solution focus is essentially a concrete method of training your brain to become abnormal. Mental toughness really is abnormal because it’s normal to be driving home from work, and having done 99 things right that day and one thing less than perfect, but then on that drive home from work, you’re focused on that one imperfection. That’s normal.

What’s abnormal is to be driving home from work and thinking, “Hey, what’s one thing I want to do that’s a little bit better tomorrow?” or, “What three things did I do well today?” Can you imagine how great life would be if that was what you were thinking on your way home from work instead of hampering on that one imperfection?

And so, the point is that this requires training because it’s not going to happen for most of us naturally. Everyone once in a while I think there’s somebody that’s kind of born with this amazing mental toughness and this amazing kind of uncanny ability to stay focused on solutions. I certainly was not one of those few that was born with it. For the rest of us, we can learn to be solution-focused. And RSF, relentless solution focus, is the polar opposite of that PCT.

So, the training aspect of this is critical. And we have a couple of tools outlined in the book, and I’d love to be able to teach everybody at least one of the tools today. And this tool that I’d love to teach everybody is called “the success log.” The success log is composed of, for our purposes, three questions. In the book, it’s a little bit extended because we talk about some goal-setting in there, but for our purposes, if you can get a start on these three questions, you’re going to experience some really dramatic results.

And that first question, just ask you, “What three things did I do well today? What three things did I do well in the last 24 hours?” So, it’s forcing your brain to think about and focus on some of the little things you’ve done well when, remember, your brain wants to be focused on what you feel like you screwed up that day. So, that’s the first question.

And the second question is, “What’s one thing I want to improve tomorrow? What’s one thing I want to improve in the next 24 hours?” So, keeping your focus on making small incremental improvements instead of, “Hey, what did I screw up today?” Again, that’s where our brain wants to go.

And then the third question is, “What’s one thing I can do that could help make that improvement? What’s one thing I can do that can help make that improvement?” So, let’s say that today you got really behind on emails, and so the one thing you want to improve tomorrow is you want to catch up, you want to clean out your inbox, you want to catch up on emails. That’s where most people stop. And most people are pretty good at identifying, “Hey, what do I want to do better or what do I want to improve the next day?” but most people won’t take this critical next step to identify something concrete you can do to bring about that improvement.

So, then you might say, if the improvement you want to make is to clean out your inbox, “What’s one thing I can do that could help make that improvement?” Maybe you say, “Okay, I’m going to block out from 10:00 to 10:30 on my calendar to go through emails,” or, “I’m going to set my alarm for five minutes earlier so I can get into the office five minutes earlier and work through emails.” It doesn’t matter so much what you come up with to make these improvements. What matters and what’s important is that you’re training your brain to be searching for improvements.

And you’re really taking advantage of the brain’s ability to change and mold itself through training. It’s called neuroplasticity. You probably learned about it in school, and it’s really important. And I think anyone that thinks, “I’m just not motivated,” or, “I’m just not a morning person,” or, “I’m just not good at math,” or, “I’m just not…” you fill in the blank. We’re really good at labeling ourselves as lacking certain things. But you’re failing to recognize that you have the ability to change your brain through training. What fires together, wires together.

So, using the success log and filling out that success log on a daily basis, starts to cause those positive thoughts and those productive courses of thoughts to wire together. So, it’s a really, really useful tool that I would encourage everybody listening to this, just try to answer those three questions three, four times a week, and you don’t need to spend more than a minute or two on it.

Pete Mockaitis
And for three things I’ve done well, I guess that’s interesting. As we talk about being positive and journaling, I’m thinking about gratitude. Three things I’ve done well is a different prompt than three things I’m grateful for. Can you maybe give us some examples? Because I guess there could be a Venn diagram overlap there, like some things are both.

Ellen Reed
Yes, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
But others are uniquely…So, I’ll just put you on the spot, Ellen, can we hear your success log from today or yesterday?

Ellen Reed
So, how about I’ll do my success log for today right now?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ellen Reed
Because usually I would do it about the end of the day and it’s about that time. So, three things I did well today. I snuggled with my boys this morning for a little bit of extra time before we all got ready and went off to school and work. I sent out an email to someone that I wanted to follow up with about getting their thoughts on the book. And, number three, I got my headphones ready for this podcast today.

And one thing I want to improve tomorrow, let’s see, I want to make sure that I get my mental workout done before I go to rehearsals. So, today, I was a little bit late getting out the door and so I had to do my mental workout kind of lunch break but I want to make sure I can get it done before rehearsal. And the one thing I can do to make that improvement is I’m going to write myself a Post-It note and I’m going to stick it on my dashboard to say, “Don’t leave before doing your mental workout.” And I’m going to get it done in the car on my way to rehearsal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you.

Ellen Reed
So, that took what? About 45 seconds?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s quick.

Ellen Reed
And let me go back to your point and your question about kind of the three things I’m grateful for versus three things I’ve done well. I think if you’re in the habit of, every day, identifying three things you’re grateful for, I think that’s awesome, and I would absolutely keep doing that. I think that’s awesome. I think that really promotes that positive thinking and I think that’s really important for our soul.

Now, there’s an added element to the success log that I think is really important that I want to talk about, and that is developing self-confidence. Now, self-confidence, scientifically-speaking, is the number one variable for performance. It’s the number one variable for performance. So, empirically-speaking, there is nothing you can do that’s more important for affecting your performance than developing your self-confidence.

Now, remember, PCT, problem-centric thought, we’re really good at honing in on our imperfections or where we feel like we fall short, which is a disaster for our self-confidence. And so, if you can get in the habit every day of identifying just three things you did well, three little things you did well, search for the small. I spent like five or ten minutes, snuggling with my boys this morning, when it’s really easy for me to be kind of rushing around in the morning to get out the door. They don’t have to be huge. But identifying the little things you’re doing well on a consistent basis really promotes that self-confidence.

And I think it’s easy to blow this off and it’s easy to kind of shrug it off as being kind of soft. It doesn’t necessarily sound very tough to take that time to develop your self-confidence but I want to be really clear that there’s really nothing more mentally tough than being able to identify some things you’ve done well when you’ve just lost a game, or when you’ve just lost a deal, or when you’ve had a bad day at work. That is mental toughness. It’s being able to get your mind focused on what you’re doing well and what you want to improve because that’s going to make you perform better in the future. Being hard on ourselves and really beating ourselves up for mistakes is a big, big factor in people underperforming to their potential.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious then, when we talk about three things I’ve done well, should we kind of keep it broad, like in any and all domains of life?

Ellen Reed
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, is it preferable to focus it in terms of one thing or another?

Ellen Reed
Right, that’s a good question. And the best option is to just get it done instead of trying to get it done perfectly. And I think it’s a really important thing to point out is that you don’t have to do these success logs perfectly. Getting them done is so much more important than getting them done perfectly.

If, one day, you’re sitting there for two minutes trying to come up with something you want to improve for the next day, just stop and put it away and then come back and start a new success log the next day. It’s the consistency of forcing your thoughts onto what you’re doing well, and forcing your thoughts on searching for improvements that really works to rewire the brain. Remember, that’s the key here. That’s the key is working on re-training, rewiring the way our neurons are firing together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s one approach. Boy, there’s so much I want to ask about. Okay, maybe we’ll hit this. You say it’s key to remember 60 seconds. What do you mean by that?

Ellen Reed
Yes. Yes. Okay, great question. So, what we talk about is you want to really recognize that you’re focused on a problem and be able to come up with a potential solution within 60 seconds. And why this is so crucial, it’s so important to understand the biology behind it. I won’t bore you guys with a ton of the details of the biology behind it but I think it’s important to understand a little bit of it so you really understand why this is so important and why this is so effective.

So, when you are faced with a problem, or when you’re faced with kind of thinking about something that you messed up or something that you feel like you’re lacking in life, that sends a message to your body to feel a certain way, to experience negative emotion. And I want you to think of negative emotion as really a wonderful gift, a gift that tells you what you’re focused on because you don’t feel anything without your brain telling you to. Your body does not feel any emotion without your brain telling you how to feel.

So, if I’m focused on a problem in my life, I’m going to feel like garbage, right? I’m going to feel stress, I’m going to feel frustrated, I’m going to feel nervous, I’m going to feel worried. Whatever it is, whatever that feeling is, you’re going to feel like garbage, and that is your signal that your brain is focused on a problem.

Now, what happens when we’re focused on a problem and when we’re feeling these negative emotions is that our brain sends a message to our body to release cortisol, the stress hormone. And we’re all probably a little bit familiar with the effects of cortisol. Now, in small doses, cortisol is actually helpful for performance, it kind of gets us going.

But, now, people are walking around with really elevated levels of cortisol because of this problem-centric thought. And even at moderate doses, cortisol really wreaks havoc on our health and on our happiness. It causes us to feel like garbage but it really increases our propensity for a lot of diseases, it limits our creativity, it significantly limits our intelligence.

And, again, because of this problem-centric thought that, evolutionarily-speaking, doesn’t really do much for us anymore. Our cortisol levels, for most normal people, are really elevated to the point where it’s creating a lot of unhealthy people and a lot of miserable people. And so, being able to recognize that you’re focused on a problem, within 60 seconds gets you ahead of that cortisol release.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ellen Reed
And so, this is why that 60 seconds is so important. Now, let me tell you though what you do within that 60 seconds because I think it’s easy to say, “Oh, just recognize you’re focused on a problem and start thinking about solutions,” right? We all probably know that it’s good to think about solutions and that it’s good to be positive and it’s good to be optimistic, but I think people have a harder time with understanding how to do that because we haven’t really been taught how to do that.

And so, I challenge everybody out there to write this down. Write down this question, it’s called the RSF tool, the relentless solution focus tool, and the RSF tool is a question. The question is, “What is one thing I can do that could make this better?” So, when you catch yourself focused on a problem, when you catch yourself feeling any negative emotion whatsoever, you’re feeling stressed, that’s your cue that you’re focused on a problem, and that’s your signal to ask yourself, “What’s one thing I can do that could make this better?” You ask and answer that question within 60 seconds and you’ve just beat that cortisol release.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. And so then, I’m curious, Ellen, not to be a downer or super difficult, but what happens when there’s just not a solution?

Ellen Reed
Great question.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, your parents are dying of a degenerative illness, etc. Like, it just sucks and there’s not much you can do, but you feel lousy because your environment sucks. What do you recommend we do there?

Ellen Reed
Yeah, that’s a great question. And we’ve got to redefine the way we think of solutions. Okay? So, I think kind of the traditional definition of solution is complete resolution to the problem, right? But it’s really important that we’re really clear about how we define solution. And the way we define solution is any improvement whatsoever to the current situation even if that means improving the way you deal with the situation.

So, I think that’s a great example that a lot of people are going through. I work with, in my other life, I’m a professional dancer so I spend the first half of my day in dance class and rehearsals, and then the second half of my day coaching others. Our outreach for the dance company is in senior living facilities.

We do a little performance, we’re not doing them now, obviously, because of COVID, which has been really sad, but we go into a lot of memory care units with older adults who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, and we do like a little 45-minute show, and we use music that’s from their era, and it’s just amazing to see a lot of these residents who their caregivers will tell us, “Gosh, this person hasn’t spoken in a week, and after the performance we couldn’t get them to stop talking.”

Or, we’ll go up to the residents afterwards and try to talk to them for a little bit, and they’ll tell us about, “Oh, that reminds me of my grandchildren who I used to go to their dance recitals. And my husband and I used to go dancing all the time.” It conjures up all these emotions and these memories, and it’s really amazing to see.

Now, I completely got off on a tangent there, but I think the point that I want to make with this is that we’ve got to search for anything we can do to improve our situation. And maybe, in your specific example, maybe there is nothing we can do with a parent who is, let’s say, suffering from Alzheimer’s. But what’s one thing you can do to make their day a little bit better? Or, what’s one thing you can do to help yourself emotionally deal with watching them and caring for them?

And this isn’t a one-time question that you answer. This is something that you have to be relentless about. You may ask yourself this question 50,000 times a day. Just because you come up with one answer to the question doesn’t mean that that’s going to solve your problem, right? We’re searching for the small, we’re searching for anything we can do that will improve our current situation or improve the way we’re able to deal with the situation by one, because remember expectancy theory. That which you focus on expands.

And when you’re focused on all the sadness, that’s a really, really hard thing to watch someone that you love go through dementia or Alzheimer’s, and that can really consume a person to watch that. But when you search for the small, kind of going back to what you said, you search for what you’re grateful for, those moments of seeing that spark, or thinking about the memories, or whatever it is that turns your focus onto something positive.

Again, go back to the biology of it. You can get ahead of that cortisol release and you can prevent yourself from going down what we call the PCT tornado where you get going on a negative train of thought in a problem-centric thinking and it becomes really hard to climb out of. But as soon as you can turn that around, and the one thing you can do that can make this minute a little bit better, or make this minute a little bit better for someone else, you’ve stopped that tornado from going down and you can start that momentum going in the other direction.

Pete Mockaitis
And I want to get your take, Ellen, if there’s any skeptics in the house. We had a couple guests just very fond of the poem by Rumi about “The Guest House,” I don’t think I can recite it, but about the notion that each of our emotions is a guest which has something valuable to offer, and we should allow them to enter and remain until they exit. Or, others have said, you said that which we focus on expands.

Ellen Reed
Expands.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve also heard it said, “That which we resist persists.” So, how do we reconcile or work with the idea of avoidance or running away from negative feelings and how does that square with what we talk about here?

Ellen Reed
Okay. I love that you asked because I think probably a lot of other people are thinking the same thing. And one thing that’s important to understand is that this isn’t about running from your emotions, or resisting your emotions, or turning a blind eye to the problems in your life. It’s about being able to get to solutions faster. And, really, it’s about being able to look at your problems with much more accurately focused lenses.

It’s important to recognize our emotions, and I think people have become so afraid of negative emotion. We do everything to try to avoid negative emotion. We run from it. We take medicine to not have to feel negative emotion when, really, again, negative emotion is given to us as a gift and we need to be able to recognize why we’re experiencing these emotions so that we can start to get to work on it, start to move in the direction of, “What can I do to make this better?”

Because what happens is that we get so consumed with the problem that, oftentimes, we don’t even get to the solution. pick up any newspaper, or watch any news show, and you just see how focused the world is on problems, and it is so important to be able to recognize the problem. And, in fact, we have, in the Relentless Solution Focus book, we have this broken up into three steps. Three steps to developing this relentless solution focus.

And the first step is to recognize. You’ve got to recognize when you’re focused on a problem because, a lot of times, people will feel a negative emotion and then they’ll try to put a Band-Aid over it, or try to, like you said, kind of resist it, and, meanwhile, this problem is still swirling around in their minds but they haven’t done anything to be able to move forward with it or figure out what to do about it.

And so, that first step is to recognize that negative emotion because, remember, negative emotion is there to tell us that we’re focused on something that we can’t control or we’re focused on a problem. And so, it’s so much more efficient to focus on what you can control or to focus on the solution by asking yourself, “What’s one thing I can do to make this better?”

If everybody in our world right now was asking themselves, “What’s one thing I can do that can make this a little bit better?” just imagine what kind of a world that would be, and we can do it. We can train ourselves to think like that even though it’s normal to want to really get consumed with the problems and spend so much time focused on the problem that we never take that step towards a solution. We can learn to do that. We can learn to become more solution-focused.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, you mentioned the mental workout a couple times. Have we covered that or is that something else we should talk about?

Ellen Reed
So, that’s something else, that’s something else. That’s another tool that we outlined in the book. So, the first tool, again, was that success log that I told you as three questions. And then the mental workout is a tool that’s designed to help you visualize and keep your focus on what you want out of life, and then to practice in your mind what you need to do on a daily basis in order to get there.

So, in the book, we talk about something called the framework of achievement where we walk the readers through how to develop, basically, a vision for what they want out of life in the long term, what they want out of life in the short term, so within the next year. And that’s really important because you’ve got to know where you want to go or you really have zero percent chance of getting there. And I think so many people kind of avoid this question because it seems like such a big question that they’re afraid to get it wrong, like, “Where do I want to see myself? What do I want out of life?”

But we really challenge people to just get a start on it. Just spend a little bit of time, and we walk you through it really specifically, really concretely, it’s not scary, and just get a start on it. You don’t have to get it perfect but you want to avoid holding pattern at all costs. Get a start on that vision and then modify it along the way. But it’s important that you know where you want to go so that you’re motivated to do the things on a daily basis that are going to get you there.

So, we establish that vision, but then the really important piece of this is establishing what we call the integrity piece of the framework. By the integrity piece of the framework, we mean what it takes on a daily basis in order to achieve that vision. What are the most important daily activities for you to be doing that are going to get you to that vision in the short term and then in the long term?

So, for example, let’s say you’re in sales and your goal is to increase your sales from a million to 1.1 million in the next fiscal year. And you’ve identified that the most important thing for you to do on a daily basis that’s going to put you in the best possible position to achieve that is to make ten prospect phone calls every day.

So, what you’re going to do in your mental workout is you’re going to visualize who you want to be and what you want your life to be in the long term, so three to five years down the road, but then you’re going to visualize yourself doing those things that you need to be doing in the upcoming day in order to get there. So, you’re going to practice and rehearse and visualize making those prospect phone calls, or putting in the effort and with the intensity that you want and that you need to achieve what you want to achieve.

So, it’s really a targeted mental tool that helps you practice what you want out of life and prepares you for what you need to be doing in order to get there.

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

Ellen Reed
One of my favorite quotes is by Coach John Wooden. And John Wooden is one of the winningest coaches of all time, one of the quotes that really sticks with us, and we talk a lot about in our coaching, is that, “It’s the little things done well on a consistent basis that cause greatness.”

I think most of us know what we should be doing on a daily basis that’s going to put us in a great position to get to where we want to go, but we have a hard time executing those most important things.

And let me give you one more quote because I think this is a good one in conjunction with Coach Wooden’s quote. And this is a quote from Jason Selk’s, one of his books, I think it’s Executive Toughness, where he says that, “Highly successful people never get everything done in a day but they always get the most important things done each and every day.” So, you don’t have to get everything done in a day but you’ve got to get the most important things done.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share with us a favorite book?

Ellen Reed
This is probably not what you would expect me to say but I love interior design and organizing and all of this stuff, and there’s a book called The Home Edit, and they’re actually a company and they do organizing, and they’re kind of taking the world by storm right now, The Home Edit, and they basically teach you how to organize. They teach you how to organize your drawers, your closet, your garage.

But when I go through this book and I look at all of their amazing, beautiful, inspiring pictures of these beautifully organized drawers and closets, it just reminds me in kind of a strange way of what we try to do for our clients. And they basically teach you how to get rid of all the stuff that doesn’t serve you, get rid of all the noise, get rid of all the extra stuff that we don’t need and that holds us back, and really prioritize what’s important, and make sure you have it prioritized and organized in a way that you can execute it and that it’s functional for you.

And so, I know it’s kind of a weird response.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, that’s beautiful. I think it’s a great book.

Ellen Reed
But I love that book and I love kind of what it represents for people’s lives, and I think it’s like a different way of packaging kind of exactly what we do for our clients.

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

Ellen Reed
I think it’s probably, I would say, the importance of self-confidence. I think that’s where everybody that we worked with, one of the first things that we are going to teach them is a success log.

And the beauty of it, and this is what, again, really kind of drew me to Jason’s fundamentals and Jason’s perspective is that it’s so simple.

And one of the simplest things you can do is to really start working on your self-confidence through the success log. And so, I think the nugget that probably comes back the most is, “Gosh, the success log is really making a difference and it really affects the way I go throughout the rest of my day.” And just taking that one or two minutes to identify what I’m doing well and what do I want to improve, really fuels so much performance and success and happiness in people.

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

Ellen Reed
Well, you can go to RelentlessSolutionFocus.com and that’ll take you to some really great resources. There’s also more information about Jason and myself at JasonSelk.com.

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

Ellen Reed
My challenge would be to pick one thing from this that maybe stuck with you. Maybe it was the success log or maybe it was that RSF tool, “What’s one thing I can do that could make this better?” and pick one thing and work on starting to implement that one thing. Don’t try to do it all. Pick one thing, whether it be the success log, or that RSF tool, or something else that you heard that maybe resonated with you. But try to just start implementing that one thing with consistency.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ellen, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your dancing and your coaching adventures.

Ellen Reed
Thank you. It was so fun to be here.

652: The Nine Mindset Shifts for Your Best Preparation and Performance with Brian Levenson

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Brian Levenson says: "We all need to stay curious so that we earn the right to be convicted."

Brian Levenson shares the key mental shifts that elite athletes use to prepare and perform at the highest levels–and work for professionals too!

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get into the elite performer mindsets
  2. When it pays to be arrogant
  3. The visualization hack used by elite athletes

 

About Brian

Brian Levenson is the founder of Strong Skills, which provides executive coaching and mental performance coaching, speaking and consulting to elite organizations, performers and leaders. He has been fortunate to work with CEO’s, professional athletes and with teams in the NBA, NHL, and MLS, Division 1 athletic departments, the Federal Reserve, the Department of Homeland Security, Hilton, Disney, Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and many other organizations. 

Brian has a weekly podcast, Intentional Performers, where he interviews a diverse group of elite high performers. Brian has a weekly newsletter called Brian’s Message of the Week, which shares articles, videos, podcasts, and information to subscribers. Brian also created an assessment tool called the Self Belief Inventory which is used by elite athletes, executives, and organizations. His book, Shift Your Mind, was released in October of 2020.

Brian currently lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife and two kids.

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Brian Levenson Interview Transcript

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

Brian Levenson
Thanks for having me, Pete. Excited to chat with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited too, and so, we’re going to be talking about your book Shift Your Mind: 9 Mental Shifts to Thrive in Preparation and Performance. And so, I think you’ve got such a great idea that you’ve captured here. Maybe, why don’t we kick it off by hearing a little bit about the behind-the-scenes research in terms of is there a particularly surprising or fascinating discovery you made while researching this stuff?

Brian Levenson
For sure. So, I work as a mental performance coach and an executive coach but most of my career, before what I’m doing today, has been with athletes and working with athletes so I really cut my teeth in coaching people with mental performance for athletes. And as I started to work with these athletes, some are golfers, some are basketball players, baseball, you name it, I would notice that their mindset for preparation was very different than their mindset for performance. And there were many times where they were bringing their mindset for preparation into their mindset for performance.

So, we just started putting a line down a piece of paper and saying, “Hey, what do you need in preparation and what do you need in performance?” What we started to realize was that they were very different mindsets and often they were actually opposites. So, the preparation mind and performance mind, they weren’t just different. They were often like very, very polar and sort of had polarity in them.

And then as I started to study more and more elite performers and I’d watched documentaries and I’d study the great performers in music or in comedy or in sports, I would notice this trend that many of them, not even consciously, but they would actually set their mind for preparation and set their mind for performance. And then I did a deep, deep dive and took about four years to write the book formally but spent much more time thinking about this framework and using it with my clients as well. So, that’s sort of the background of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s a cool big idea there. So, the preparation mindset is different than the performance mindset, and we’ve got some nine particular distinctions we’re going to dig into shortly. But when you said you noticed some of your clients, they were in performance but some of the preparation stuff was getting in there, is that a bad thing? How do we think about that? Is it fine or do we want there to be a really crisp line between them? And what difference does that make?

Brian Levenson
I think what I started to notice, even with the pro athletes that I worked with, that many of them would bring their preparation mind into their performance and it would get in the way. So, for example, perfectionism. It would really help them to drill down on what they needed to do, how they needed to do it, as they were training their body, or they were training their technique, or they’re training their mind, yet when they got between the lines and they needed to execute and compete, they actually needed to be adaptable.

So, we’ve seen performers and, for your audience, I’m sure a lot of them have been in meetings or have been in sales calls, and what they need to do to prepare for that meeting, it might be perfectionistic, but when they get into that meeting, it might be completely different than how they imagined or how they planned, and they have to be adaptable. And if they try to perfect it, it will really get in the way of their performance.

And if we just go from a macro level and zoom out a little bit, we’re recording this in the middle of a pandemic, like there’s no perfecting a pandemic. Some people might try to perfect it but you have to be agile, you have to be adaptable. So, really, the ethos and the thesis behind the book is that what we think dictates when and how far we’re going to go and what we’re capable of when it’s time to deliver. And a lot of times we just tell people to be humble or be selfless and we don’t really think about the when.

And so, I saw with my clients in sports, and then, as I said, I do a lot of executive coaching now, my clients in business, whether they’re directors or VPs or at the C-suite level, they often need to shift their mind in preparation and performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you’re saying, “Hey, be humble, be selfless,” you’re saying, “Well, no, there’s a time you want to be humble and there’s a time where you just want to be the opposite of humble, and there’s a time when you want to be selfless and then there’s a time just want to be just the opposite of selfless, and match it up right,” is what you’re saying.

Brian Levenson
Pete, have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs or any those personality assessments?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Brian Levenson
Like, on one hand, I love them and on the other hand, I hate them. And it’s a love-hate relationship because I love data and learning more about myself, and that part I love, but I hate being put into this box, and I read it and I’m like, “Well, sometimes I’m like that and sometimes I’m not.” Like, let’s take introversion and extroversion, for example. I’m like, “Well, sometimes I’m very extroverted and sometimes I’m very introverted.”

Now, I don’t go into introvert and extrovert in the book, but I just really believe in the power of polarity, and I think when is so important when you’re talking about performance, and how you’re going to prepare, and when you need to bring out a part of you that might be more humble, and when do you need to bring out a part of you that might be more arrogant. And I think that when really dictates how far we’re going to go.

Pete Mockaitis
As you speak, I’m thinking about times I’ve been particularly humble and particularly arrogant, and I hope I matched it up appropriately.

Brian Levenson
Yeah, because if you don’t, it’s a disaster, right? It’s a disaster. If you’re arrogant at the wrong time, first of all, you seem like a jerk, and then, second of all, like that’s probably a time when you needed to learn and grow and develop, and I think about young people, for example. I know a lot of your listeners might be in their 30s, I’m in my 30s. I felt throughout my career that I’m often the youngest person in the room.

This morning I was on a board call for a nonprofit, and I was like the youngest person in the room. And I think sometimes when we’re the youngest person in the room, we feel like we have to overshare, add value, like bring something bigger to the room to compensate, perhaps, for our inexperience, or, perhaps we feel like an impostor. And I found actually it’s the exact opposite, like we need to be aware of what room we’re in, how we can add value to that room, while also understanding there’s a time to learn and grow and develop, and then there’s another time to share with conviction. And figuring out when you do those is essential.

Look, I have a podcast. My job as a podcast host is to ask questions and be very curious and learn, learn, learn. And then when I put on this hat, and you’re asking me questions, I need to share and I need to be willing to share everything that I’ve learned.

Pete Mockaitis
And you nailed that, and I’ve noticed that when I’ve been a guest on other podcasts. I just sort of didn’t make the same shift, it’s like, hey, I’m comfy, I’m behind the mic, and so I’m just sort of curious, like, “I don’t know. Well, you know, I think I would say…” And it’s like that’s not what people want when you’re the guest, like, “No, I’d actually like for you to be confident and have the answers that you’ve thought through and establish your best thinking on as opposed to just kind of, ‘Huh, I’m just thinking out loud.’” I mean, some shows you might want to do that but I noticed that was a pause I had, is that, “Oh, I would say…” it’s like, “No, Pete, you’ve actually thought about this for many hours and you’re not just making it up on the spot, and you don’t want to convey that as a guest.” So, hey, I guess humble and arrogant right there.

Brian Levenson
Yeah, Pete, let’s use curiosity because I know you are a very curious person. You’ve done hundreds of these episodes, a lot of episodes. You don’t get to, where are you at, like 800, how many episodes have you done?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, 650-ish.

Brian Levenson
Six hundred fifty, right? Like, you don’t record that many episodes without curiosity. You’re trying to learn, you’re trying to grow, you’re trying to develop, and there’s a time to have conviction in them, there’s a time to share your ideas and whatever you’ve learned along your way. Actually, I think about humble and arrogant because we’re often told just to be humble, and we’ve all been around that guy or gal who was just trying to be modest, and they’re saying, “Oh, I’m just humble,” and we’re saying, “You’re actually really not but you say you are.”

And, actually, what we need right now from our leader is not someone who is going to be humble. Right now, we need you to give us direction. Right now, we need you to give us some answers and some solutions. There was actually an interesting study that was in the Harvard Business Review that talked about when being a humble leader backfires, and it can backfire. And I’m not saying I don’t want people to be humble. Trust me, I love humility as a value and as a trait, but I just don’t think you need it all the time. And so, understanding when we tap into these different sides of ourselves is really key.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, actually, I have not read that article. When does being a humble leader backfire?

Brian Levenson
When people are looking for answers.

Pete Mockaitis
And when answers are like, “Well, hey, you know what? We’re going to explore, we’ve going to engage, we’re going to listen, we’re going to do our research, we’re going to see where the science leads.” Like, “Give me the answers.”

Brian Levenson
For sure. There are times when team members are expecting leaders to be powerful and expecting them to say, “You know what, let’s go forth. Let’s do this. Let’s maybe be a little fearless.” And in those moments, if you’re being fearful, or you’re being humble, or you’re being too careful, or you’re being too cautious, or you’re asking too many questions in the room, there does come a time where leadership requires us to step into something and take a risk.

And if you’re just going to be humble and look for a meritocracy or look for everybody to have a say, you might actually not be leading. And so, I think there are absolutely times where leaders need to step away from humility and, trust me, there are plenty of times we need to step away from arrogance. I’ve worked for arrogant bosses before and that’s not a fun experience either.

So, the book is really about the power of and, the power of when, the power of polarity. And beyond the book, I use this just like a framework for how I operate with most of the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so lay it on us. We talk about humble versus arrogant, so we got nine shifts or continua or polarities. Tell us, how should I be thinking about these in terms of like an axis, or a continuum, or a polarity, or a shift? And what are the nine specific shifts?

Brian Levenson
So, I think there are nine shifts and I don’t think they are the nine. And when we were thinking about the book cover and the title, I pushed back on the publisher, I was like, “I don’t want there to be the nine.” So, we settled on nine, I sort of met them halfway. And the reason for that is I don’t believe that these are nine shifts that everybody should use. They might have different jobs and different requirements, and these are the nine that were the most compelling, they were the most backed by research and backed by anecdotal evidence, and that I saw also with my clients.

So, we have humble and arrogant, we have work and play, we have analysis and instinct, perfectionistic and adaptable, experiment and trust in process, and comfortable and uncomfortable, future and present, fear and fearless, and selfish and selfless. But there are many other shifts that we cut out of the book. I’m just big on truth telling and these are the nine that we settled on that would be most impactful for the reader. But I hope that people finish reading the book and think, “Wow, there’s actually a different shift that I need to make that’s actually not listed in the book.” That, to me, would be a sign of success.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, with those nine pairs, the first word is generally associated with the vibe we’re going for within preparation, like, “I want to be humble. I want to have some fear. I want to be perfectionistic, etc. while I’m prepping.” And so, that might be with, “I’m writing the speech,” “I’m rehearsing the speech,” “I am practicing basketball,” “I’m rehearsing the instrument,” “I’m thinking through the plan.” That’s what preparation feels like versus performances. It’s like, “All eyes are on you and it’s time to dazzle.” Is that a fair encapsulation there?

Brian Levenson
Yeah, there’s three distinctions that I would make just so we all have clarity and we’re all speaking the same language. So, for me, preparation is the action or process of making ourselves ready and competent. It involves learning, growing, developing, improving. It’s about being ready and, hopefully, working on our competence. Performance is much more about execution. It’s about the execution of actions that will be evaluated in some way, so I do think there is judgment, there is evaluation involved when we are performing. But, at the end of the day, a performance is about execution.

And then there’s a third distinction that I do think is important to point out which is practice. So, practice, to me, is actually a combination of both the preparation mind and the performance mind. Because a great practice will be an action of working at something repeatedly so that we become more proficient. So, the argument is the book is that you need to become proficient at both the preparation mind and the performance mind so you need to practice both of these.

You mentioned getting ready for a speech. Yes, we need to practice what it’s like to be in front of an audience whether that’s our family, or our dog, or our friends, like, let’s actually practice. Dogs are probably a little harder to be judged because they’re probably just going to bark at you and run out. But try to find ways to practice your performance so that you can feel what it’s like to be evaluated and to be judged.

And then there’s also that time where you’re away on your own, working on your material, really making sure you’re perfecting your craft, and you’re taking care of everything you need to take care of so that you’re learning, you’re growing, you’re developing. And so, we need both the execution and the learning and growing if we want to be effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then can we say a few more words about each of the nine shifts? Not the nine, but nine. And so, we talked about humble versus arrogant. In terms of humble, hey, we’re learning, we’re growing, we’re curious during preparation. And we’re arrogant, like, “Confidently, this is the point of view that I’ve settled on and that could be compelling.” So, lay it on us some of the others here.

Brian Levenson
Sure. And before we move on from arrogant, I know arrogant triggers people and it gets them up in a roar often. And there’s a reason we used arrogant instead of confident, and it’s because we believe that it takes confidence to be humble. If you’re truly humble, it actually is an act of confidence. It’s a belief in yourself that you can learn and you can grow. For us, arrogance is this exaggerated sense of your own abilities.

And I think anybody who’s done great things in this world has to exaggerate what they believe in, and a lot of times our society will say that they can’t do what they think that they can do. So, I think there does need to be arrogance. And I, also, would argue that our society prefers humility. It prefers the person that says, “No, I can’t do that,” or, “Let me take a step back.” And it’s often the people that are willing to dare greatly and to go for it, and say, “You know what, I think I can do this,” and it’s way safer to just stay humble. It’s way safer to stay humble than to go into this space to say, “No, I believe I can do it even if society is saying we can’t.”

So, I’d like to make sure that people understand how I think about arrogance because, once again, I think we’ve all seen arrogance run amuck and it can really backfire when it does.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s very well said in terms of when maybe naysayers, like I guess I’m thinking there’s a point early on in the podcast, it’s like, “Wow, this is a lot of work and I need help, yet I don’t have much revenue or budget. What can I do? Surely, there must be exceptionally talented English-speaking people in developing nations I can hire to help out with this.” And some say, “That’s a really bad idea, Pete.” Like, “Hey, maybe data entry is something they can handle.” First of all, I thought that was a little bit, I think, maybe conceited. I thought that was a little bit of an attitude.

And, secondly, I thought, “You know what, I’m looking at English newspapers in other countries that are excellent, have excellent writing so I think this can be done.” And so, in a way, I was arrogant in that I defied the conventional wisdom of the podcast Facebook groups and such, but it totally worked out. They’ve been amazing. I love you, guys. So, yeah, that’s a better spin on arrogant. I like that.

Brian Levenson
We talk about curiosity because I think we both really value curiosity. And I love curiosity for preparation and I need to be curious. And it sounds like, “Okay, I’m curious. What is possible out there?” And then there needs to be a time to be convicted. And that conviction is often greeted or birthed from your curiosity. So, I think the arrogance in performance, if done right, will be birthed from humility and preparation.

So, done right, a lot of these shifts will actually serve the other shifts because if you’re just arrogant all the time, you’re going to miss the opportunity, you probably are thinking, “I’ll just do it all myself. I don’t even need help. Like, I’m good.” But the humility to say, “Hey, I need help if I want to get this to where I want to get it to.” You needed that and it allows you to be convicted when it’s time to execute and pull the trigger on something.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. And there’s humility in terms of, “Hey, you know what, I’ve tried it. So far, it hasn’t quite worked. Is this even possible?” I guess one way we all learn is by asking some opinions. Another way I’ll learn is to see, “Is it being done anywhere on this Earth?” Like, “Does that thing exist?” And so then, in that humility, this is why I like this idea, Brian, humility does lead to arrogance in terms of I had a period in which I was wide open to learning and exploring and seeing what was what, and being willing to be wrong. And then after having accumulated a lot of research, I’m like, “Well, holy crap, this is totally possible. I’m going for it even if people say I’m nuts.”

Brian Levenson
Like, we all have these things that are holding us back in some regard, and we’re very quick to share with others why they shouldn’t do something perhaps because we haven’t gone and done that thing as well. And so, I’m an idea guy, and I can tell you when you’re an idea guy and you share your ideas with others, the first thing they’re going to go to, most people, is why it won’t work. And I think it’s often their own stuff coming up as to why it won’t work. Sometimes it’s really good feedback and I know you care a lot about feedback, and, trust me, I do.

This will actually dovetail nicely into some of your shifts, which was your original question. Analysis and experimenting are two preparation mindsets that you’re even talking about. Like, “I ran the analysis. I tried to figure out, all right, what else is out there. I experimented. I tinkered.” And when you do the analysis, that’s when you can trust your gut. That’s when you can rely on instinct. I almost think of analysis as a mind experience. It is, “Hey, what am I thinking? How am I thinking it?” And then instinct is more of a body experience. And so, there is a time where we do need to go to the gut instead of the head.

And then I think experimenting is no different. We need to test. We need to try things. We need to try to discover. You said, “I need to see the possibilities. What’s out there? I need to experiment,” so that you can then trust your process and have an unquestioning belief and resolve in your process and the systems in which you set it up. And, for me, this is always a back-and-forth so we don’t always just stay in trust and process. We want to evolve, we want to get better, we want to experiment, we want to tinker, and keep improving.

And when the lights are on and you’re interviewing me, now is not the time for you to tinker with your process. Now is not the time to try to find a new way to do it. It’s about trusting that you’re ready, that you’re competent, and that you can do it. So, those are two other shifts that I’m hearing from you as I hear you talk.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well said. It’s not the time to experiment. I remember I used to do a fair bit of keynoting on college campuses, and I don’t do much of that anymore, but I remember there is a big conference for fraternity and sorority people. And so, the idea is that if you’re a speaker and you’re keynoting at that conference, you’d just be exposed to like tons of different schools and groups with budget, and so you might be able to book a dozen or two keynotes off of one speech as sort of a promotional thing.

And then I remember someone from the agency said, “You know, I didn’t think it needed to be said but I guess it does that this huge keynote that sells all the gigs for a year is not the time to be experimenting with new material. It’s the time to bring your greatest hits that you know are absolute gold so people will say, ‘Wow, that person was great. Let’s book him on our campus, or let’s book him at our fraternity/sorority convention.” there is a time and a place for the experimenting and then for delivering the goods.

And I think comedians is another great example there because, well, you started the comedians. I’ll let you take it. What’s the story there?

Brian Levenson
Yeah. So, I was actually, as you were telling the story, I was thinking of Chris Rock. And what Chris Rock does is he goes and experiments at a small little club in New Jersey and tests over and over and bombs, and just tries ridiculous stuff so that when he gets to the HBO Special, he can trust his process and let go. And so, I think comedians are great at working on their craft and constantly bombing and experimenting with new material. So, I would bring that back to your situation.

The other story that I share in the book is my own. So, when I was a senior in high school, I was running for vice president of the student body, and I looked over and there were all these people running. And even the advisor, when I turned in my application, she goes, “Why are you running?” I’m like, “What do you mean why am I running?” She said, “You’re never going to win,” which, of course, fueled me to try to do it. And she didn’t know I was the eighth-grade president of my middle school. She didn’t know I had the experience to be in this role.

However, the difference between me and eighth grade when I ran as president was, I wasn’t expected at all. I came in there, I went over my speech over and over and over again, I perfected it, I got feedback. I did all this work and then I delivered a killer speech. And in eighth grade, you do an eighth grade, then you do seventh grade, sixth grade, and I was like standing ovation-type stuff, which is like maybe it’s when I peaked in life was eighth grade, but it was a moment and still people remember my speech, which is crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, I want to hear it right here.

Brian Levenson
Brian “is the bomb” Levenson for president. I may be small but I have tall ideas. Like, I did amazing. And for that senior year, it’s four years later, or five years later, I didn’t prepare at all. And I got on that stage, and I looked over, and I was like, “Shoot, I don’t have this at all.” And so, I just winged it, completely experimented and it was awful. I was terrible and I had no shot.

And I think, similar to the comedian, or similar to anyone who has to give a speech, and we all have to do some form of speaking in our life whether it’s a wedding or a funeral or a board meeting or whatever it might, I really believe that when you prepare and you experiment and you play with all the stuff, that allows you to earn the right to then trust your process and let go of it.

So, Chris Rock is a really good example of somebody who constantly does that. Jerry Seinfeld has an experiment calendar where he marks an X every single day that he creates, and he really just believes that a lot of comedy or writing is constantly experimenting and creating. So, I think Seinfeld and Chris Rock are both good examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there’s a lot of good stuff there in terms of like it is back and forth, so you had a victory. And this is, I don’t know if I made this up, but I’ve experienced it a couple of times and I’ve seen it with others what I call the second-time syndrome, which was you do something great the first time because you’re kind of worried. You’re not quite sure you got it so you put a lot of time and effort, you learn, you grow, you prep, you figure it out, and then you nail it. You’re like, “Okay, I’m awesome at this.”

And then the second time, you don’t do those preparation things because you think, “Well, hey, I was great the first time, so naturally I’m just going to be great the second time.” And the second time is actually way worse than the first time because you sort of overestimated what’s innate versus what’s the hard work and prep that needs to happen.

So, I have suffered from that myself a couple of times as well as others. And your student government example really resonates in that way. It’s that we do need to keep going back and forth here from preparation to performance, and then back to preparation, and then back to performance.

Brian Levenson
Yeah. And, by the way, I lost. I didn’t win.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I just assumed.

Brian Levenson
It did not end well. My friend, Michael Burns, won. Good for you, Michael. But, look, I think this is fear and fearlessness. And we often say, “Oh, just be fearless. Just go for it. Just live fearlessly.” And I don’t really believe in that, and I think your story is a good example of that. If you don’t have a healthy dose of fear and you don’t have a concern or any apprehension for the potential consequences or losses, you’re not going to give it the attention that it deserves, so fear is actually really helpful in preparation.

And we all know that it can be crippling when we’re in performance, and that’s when we need to shift into fearlessness. So, for me, fearlessness is a boldness. It’s being brave or courageous and not really caring about, “If I lose…” And that is healthy in performance if we’ve done the work and been fearful in preparation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, as we’ve been chatting through this, I think we’ve hit the majority of these shifts. We’ve talked about humble to arrogant, perfectionism to adaptable, analysis to instinct, experimenting and trust in the process, fear to fearlessness. How about selfish to selfless?

Brian Levenson
Yeah, selfish gets a bad rap. We tell people, “Stop being selfish.” And, for me, we have to take care of ourselves first if we want to pour into anyone else. Like, I work with a lot of executives who they’re never taking care of themselves. They’re always focused on their people.

I work with head coaches of sports teams, and they’re always focused on, “What are our players doing?” The executives are often thinking of, “What do my team need?” And they get burned out and they’re unhealthy, and then they can’t serve and be selfless. And so, for me, we really need to be selfish in preparation, which is a concern, primarily, with our own interests, benefits, and welfare. And if we do that, if we take care of ourselves, then we can serve other people.

But a lot of people, and I even think about, like, I know a lot of women who have left their career, and their whole lives is to serve their kids. And, look, I’ve got two small kids at home. Being a full-time mom, it’s tough. And I think anyone who questions that, during the pandemic, is now learning how hard that job is. It is really, really difficult.

And a lot of the women that I know, I often have these conversations with them about, “Hey, what are you doing for yourself?” because they’re living so much for their kids and they don’t always take care of themselves, and then it can backfire. So, we can see it in business, we can see it in our personal life, we need to take care of ourselves and then be outward-focused and think about how we can serve others.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I totally buy that in terms of when your needs are being met very well, you have a lot of energy, creativity, sort of loving generosity, better ability to listen and be present as opposed to be distracted by the fact that you’re hungry or exhausted or need to be doing all kinds of things you’re super behind on. Like, you’re totally better-equipped to be selfless and help others when you’ve invested there.

Brian Levenson
Pete, you even sent along this document that had all this great information about what makes this conversation great. And one of the elements of the document was, “Hey, make sure you’re good before we hit the record button.” So, I’ve got this, people aren’t going to be able to see, but I’ve got this big jug of water to make sure I’m hydrated, I went to the bathroom before, I got on here a few minutes early even though we had some tech issues. Like, I wanted to make sure that I was taking care of myself.

I’ve got two small kids at home. I told my wife, “Hey, I’m recording a podcast.” I locked the door to make sure they don’t barge in here and interrupt it. Like, there are things we have to take care of. And I’ll tell you, as a parent, I have had those experiences. My wife turned to me at one point when we had our second kid, and said, “Brian, are you okay?” And I was like, “Man, I’m tired.” And she’s like, “Yeah. When was the last time you did something for yourself?” Like, what an awesome wife, first of all. And, second of all, she was right, and I needed to start focusing on what I was doing to take care of me so that I can be there for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s perfect. Well, so then theoretically that’s cool. We got nine or more shifts and a very different vibe when you are preparing versus when you’re performing. So, how does one just make that shift on command, like, “Oh, I’m now going to be selfish. Oh, now I’m going to be selfless. Oh, now I’m in analysis mode, and, oh, now I’m on instinct mode”? How do you pull that off?

Brian Levenson
Yeah, it’s hard. It takes work. I think everything worth doing, typically, takes work. And so, in the book, I’ve got a bunch of exercises. If you’re an exercise-type person, I have a workbook. I live in the how with my clients, like, “All right, how do we actually put these into place?” But I’ll just go to that selfish and selfless one. First, I had to be aware of it, I had to notice it. And then, from the notice and the awareness, I had to be intentional with what I was doing and how I was setting up my days and how I was showing up for myself. And so, I think it starts with awareness.

Then there are processes that you can integrate into your day. I even talk about winning the week instead of winning the day. I think a lot of people talk about winning the morning, and, “What are you doing every day to be successful?” I don’t know about you, but my days can change and I need to be adaptable. So, I often think about winning the week and what that looks like for myself, and where are these shifts playing for me throughout the week. But there’s a ton of exercises that you can get into.

Like, for me, self-talk is a big one. How am I talking to myself? Let’s talk about arrogance. Third person self-talk has been studied and researched, as in like literally saying, “Hey, Brian, you’re good, you’ve got this. You know how to handle this situation,” is a really good example for arrogance. Visualization is really good. We didn’t talk about future and present, but visualization is a how-to for future focus. Breathing and meditation is great for being in the present.

There are all these exercises that I talk about in the book that are how-to’s. Those are three. I’m happy to go into more of them but I think a lot of it, it takes work. So, one of the other shifts is work and play. Like, you need to put in the work and preparation if you want to earn the right to play and to play with joy. But, yeah, there’s a lot in there. I live in the how world for a long time and there are exercises that you can practice. But it always starts with, “Hey, what do I need to work on?”

So, if someone is listening to this, I would say pick three. Pick three of these shifts that you think are essential for you and then go to work on them and start bringing in tension to them, and then you can shift them and you can change them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe let’s hit visualization real quick. Well, I think, in many ways, just knowing, “Hey, there’s a difference between preparation and performance. This is more of the prep vibe, this is more of the performance vibe, and so I’m going to, now, deliberately choose to move away from analysis and adapt some instincts.” So, I think that’s huge just right there. Like, conscientiously deciding, “Hey, this is how I’m looking to be right now.” So, that’ll take you far right away.

Then, let’s talk about, so we got the visualization, the mindfulness, the self-talk, how do we do visualization well? I have a feeling, working with so many athletes, you might have some pro tips that we need. Lay it on us.

Brian Levenson
I’ll just share what I do. I warm them up by doing a lemon exercise to just show them the mind-body connection. So, we go through a whole experience where they have to visualize a lemon, and how it smells, what it tastes like, what it looks like, and we’re trying to activate the senses. So, great visualization often involves activating the senses because our mind doesn’t really know the difference between whether we’re imagining it and we’re visualizing it, or if we’re actually experiencing it. So, it’s one of the powers that does exist with visualization.

And, as you mentioned, athletes, Olympians, are really big on visualization because, for many of them, it’s very hard to simulate what it’s going to be like from an environment standpoint, let’s just use the Olympics as an example. They train four years for this event that lasts, for some of them, it can be one event, and that’s going to determine how successful they are so the have to put themselves in that situation as often as possible.

The Blue Angels, who fly fighter jets 350 to 700 miles an hour and are within feet of each other, doing flips and turns and all kinds of wild stuff, they use visualization because they know they have limited amount of time actually practicing in the plane because of expenses and because of a lot of other reasons, weather, etc. So, first of all, I just try to acknowledge and get them to understand the power of the mind-body connection.

Second, how I do it with my athletes that I work with is I’ll have them tell me an experience that was a great experience. Let’s use a basketball player as an example. So, they’ll explain to me the experience. What was it like before the game? What was it like in warmup? What were they feeling? Once again, we’re going to try to activate those senses.

And then we’ll go into the game and actually record an audio clip. And with the power of phones now, it’s really easy to record and send an audio, we’re even recording this, I can use my podcast equipment, but you don’t need that. You can do it on your phone. So, I’ll type it up for them, I’ll basically try to capture their emotions and their feelings and their senses, and then we’ll try to paint the picture of what a great performance looks like, and then we’ll record it. And mine typically run about five, seven minutes and they can listen to that before a performance, and they can close their eyes and see themselves performing, and use that future focus to visualize how they’re going to perform.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we get a real good description of a great performance memory, and then you’re trying to use the senses to make it all the more powerful and come alive there?

Brian Levenson
That’s correct.

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

Brian Levenson
It’s interesting because when I was thinking about this, I was really thinking about curiosity. And I do just value curiosity tremendously, so I love, “I have no secret talent. I’m only passionately curious” from Einstein. I just think that is, when in doubt, I try to go into my curious mind and it often serves me.

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

Brian Levenson
Yeah, I mentioned that humility study earlier, but I’ll give you something else around self-determination theory, which is what makes people motivated, what allows people to thrive, especially in organizations. And self-determination theory, typically, looks at people are most satisfied when they’re competent, when they have relatedness, and when they have autonomy.

So, competence, I think people have a good sense of what that means. It’s you know how to do your job, like you’re a competent podcaster. Okay, cool. Now, relatedness, “Are you building relationships? Are you part of something bigger than yourself?” I think all of us, as human beings, crave to be part of something bigger than ourselves. And then there’s autonomy, and just, “Do I have the freedom to go toward the things that I want to?” And so, that’s something that has been really helpful for my clients and helpful for myself as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Brian Levenson
So, for fiction, I always say I love The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I just find it to be a great read and something that really stuck with me as far as what leads to successful teams and businesses, and I think your audience may be familiar with that book.

Then there’s a book called The Master Plan by a guy named Chris Wilson. That book is fascinating. It’s about a guy who was arrested for murder and committed the crime and was in jail, life sentence, and got out. A little spoiler alert. But it’s all about his journey. And I think it’s really valuable to hear his perspective and how he got to where he’s at. And I just couldn’t put it down.
Range by David Epstein, I think, is an awesome book. And then I go to like what is a biography-type book that I love, and I love Open by Andre Agassi. So, they’re different types of books, and I like them all for different reasons.

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

Brian Levenson
There’s an app called Pocket which I love. I send out a newsletter so whenever I read a great article or watch a great video or get a piece of content online that I really like, I throw it into Pocket and it saves the content for me. And there are sometimes where I’ll see a headline for an article and I’ll be really intrigued and curious, but I won’t be able to read it right away, so I’ll throw that into Pocket. So, I was actually telling a client about it today, so that’s a tool that I use often.

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

Brian Levenson
Twitter and LinkedIn are probably the places I play most, so it’s @BrianLevenson at both of those places. And then my website for my company is called StrongSkills.co. You can learn more about the book, my podcast, the newsletter, and the business that I’m involved with and that I founded. So, StrongSkills.co it’s dot co not dot com. I always joke that the dot com was too expensive and it wasn’t worth paying for so we went with that co.

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

Brian Levenson
When I think about that idea of curiosity and conviction, and I think we all need to stay curious so that we earn the right to be convicted. And I think about the world where we are right now, and we’re in this pandemic, it’s hard to be convicted. It feels like things change every day. And so, if we can continue to be curious, especially as it relates to what’s going on socially in our society today as well, like let’s just stay curious and then be convicted. And I find that that usually works out for me, and I find when I usually am convicted before my curiosity, that’s where I tend to regret some of the things that I say. So, I’ll just leave people with the power of curiosity so that they can step into their own convictions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Brian, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your preparations and performances.

Brian Levenson
Thanks for having me, Pete.

647: Cal Newport: How to Break Free from Your Email Inbox

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Cal Newport says: "You don't need advice for how to deal with your overflowing inbox... You need to change the structure of your business so that your inbox is not overflowing."

Cal Newport reveals how the rise of email led to a productivity disaster and what we can do to change that.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How email changed the way we work for worse 
  2. Simple strategies for cutting down the email back-and-forth 
  3. Why we feel guilty when we don’t respond—and what to do about it 

 

About Cal

Cal Newport is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. In addition to researching cutting­ edge technology, he also writes about the impact of these innovations on our culture. Newport is the author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller, Digital Minimalism, which argues that we should be much more selective about the technologies we adopt in our personal lives, and Deep Work, which argues that focus is the new I.Q. in the modern workplace. 

Newport’s work has been published in over 25 languages and has been featured in many major publications, including the New York TimesWall Street JournalNew YorkerWashington Post, and Economist, and his long-running blog Study Hacks, which receives over 3 million visits a year. He’s also a frequent guest on NPR. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Cal Newport Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Cal, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Cal Newport
Well, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, I got to hear one of the most noteworthy things about you, which is an interesting comment to make in this day and age, is that you have no social media accounts. Can you tell us why and how it’s going for you?

Cal Newport
It’s true. I think I’m the last person under the age of 65 and above the age of 12, for which that’s true. I don’t know. I’ll tell you what, this has not been that bad of a period to not be on social media, I think, if you could measure cortisol levels and graph it somehow, you would have all of American culture, all American society, and then me, probably a good 50% below it because I’m just not exposed to the up-to-the-minute fretting and doom-scrolling. So, it’s been good.

So, basically, it turns out it’s allowed. Just for idiosyncratic reasons, a long time ago, I’m talking 2004, I just decided, “I think I’m not going to use social media,” which at that point that was not a fraught decision in 2004 because there was not that much social media but I just sort of stuck with it because, why not? And it’s given me this really interesting vantage point. I’m like an anthropologist able to look around me and watch the impact the social media on everyone’s lives with a little bit of distance. I mean, I’m the last people who’s actually never had an account who can actually study it with some distance.

And here’s what I’ll say, I know what’s going on in the world, I still have friends, I still find ways to be entertained, I still manage to sell books and run a business, so it might not be as bad as people fear.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’ll take it. And have there been any downsides, any regrets, anything you miss? Maybe you can’t miss it if you’ve never had it.

Cal Newport
No, not really. I’ll tell you what happened that helped reduced regret is the big social media platforms, they had initially had this claim that, “We’re valuable because of network effects. We’re the best way to connect with friends and family and we’re the platform where all your friends and family are, so if you’re not on Facebook or if you’re not on Instagram, you can’t connect with your friends and family.”

But they basically gave that up about five or six years ago, and said, “No, no, what we’re really about is entertainment. We’re kind of leveraging your social connections to learn the type of stuff you’re interested in but what we are is a stream of things to look at,” and most of these digital interactions with friends and family began to shift from social media over to tools like text message, or Zoom calls, or other types of tools like that which I do use.

And so, I’m not missing out on the original promise, which is, “This is how you keep up with friends and family,” because that is largely moved off of social platforms. Now, they’re just a highly addictive form of entertainment and, I don’t know, I think I found other ways to entertain myself so, so far so good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s talk about your latest work, A World Without Email. Provocative. Could you kick us off maybe with one of your surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made as you’re doing your research there?

Cal Newport
Well, I was surprised to discover the extent to which how we work today, which I call a hyperactive hivemind workflow, which is, put simply, work unfolds with a constant unstructured stream of ad hoc messaging, whether that’s delivered through email or Slack or whatever tool you want to use. I was surprised by the extent to which that way of working is basically arbitrary.

So, we assume all of this emailing and Slacking, like we do this because it’s a pain but it’s more productive, or this is how work gets done. If we didn’t always communicate with each other, if we weren’t constantly, “Here’s a message,” “Here’s an email,” “Here’s a reply,” “Here’s a CC,” that we’ll somehow be less productive. And it was rationally decided by managers and consultants, and at some point, people figured out this is a better way of working. It turns out that’s not true.

It largely emerged somewhat haphazardly, more it’s just a side effect of what this new tool made available and it interacted in an unpredictable way with just human nature, and you can document this. But, basically, we stumbled into this world of sort of constant, ongoing, unstructured conversation. And then we look backwards and try to justify it and live with it.

And one of the big claims in this book is that there’s nothing fundamental about, “Let’s put an email address, associate it with every person. Let’s put everyone on a Slack channel and just rock and roll to figure things out.” There’s nothing fundamental about that being the best way to do knowledge work. And, in fact, when you really look closely at it, it’s actually a pretty terrible way of doing it for a lot of factors. There are many other ways you could approach it. So, I think that degree to which this is just, in some sense, email is decision that we work this way and not our own was definitely a liberating discovery for me as I got deeper into this topic.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. All right. So, we just kind of fell into it. And so, lay it on us, so why is it terrible? What makes email so detrimental to knowledge worker productivity?

Cal Newport
Well, the first thing I’ll further clarify, just so we have like a foundation for the discussion, is the title is sort of provocatively succinct when I say A World Without Email, but what I really mean, and this would be a less sexy title, is a world without the hyperactive hivemind workflow that email introduced. So, when I say a world without email, what I mean is a working world in which constant unstructured unscheduled conversation is not at the core of how we get things done.

The problem with that workflow, that hyperactive hivemind workflow, is that it forces us to switch cognitive context constantly. Say that four times fast. Because if you have to be maintaining dozens of these ongoing asynchronous, unstructured, unscheduled conversations, all these different threads, because that’s how everything gets figured out, from figuring out how to deal with a new client, to scheduling something, to pulling together bullet points, I mean, all this is happening on asynchronous threads, unstructured, unscheduled, just messages going back and forth, the only way for work to move forward is you have to constantly be monitoring and tending these threads.

That’s why when you look at the data, you see that people check their email inbox, on average, something once every six minutes. It’s not a rational behavior, it’s not a lack of willpower, it’s the only way you can keep up with so much ongoing concurrent communications is you have to keep checking. The problem is every time you check an inbox, you check a Slack channel, you induce a context shift within your brain. So, you’re switching your attention from the primary thing you’re working on to an inbox full of messages, most of which you can’t address right there in that moment.

And then you’re trying to bring your attention back to the main thing, that creates a huge pileup within your brain that reduces your effectiveness, that stresses you out, it makes you anxious, it makes it harder for you to think. So, we basically designed an approach to work that accidentally really reduces our ability to actually do work. We just cannot maintain these two parallel tracks of constantly monitoring communication while also trying to work on other things. We’re not wired for that, it goes against our sort of fundamental neural architecture, and I think it’s been a real big hindrance to both productivity but also people’s happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I’m curious. We had Dave Crenshaw on the show recently talk about the myth of multitasking and talked a bit about switching costs. Can you dig into that a little bit sort of just how costly is it when we do that? Do we lose a few seconds or something much greater?

Cal Newport
I would say it’s much greater. It’s hard to exactly quantify but every time you’re doing one of those email checks, you might induce 10 to 15 minutes of notably reduced cognitive capacity, where one-half of your mind is still trying to figure out, “Well, what about this message from our boss?” And we’ve all had that experience of writing emails in our head, which is like a real indication of our mind. It sees these open loop social communications. It wants to have to deal with that.

Now, the issue is if you’re checking your inbox on average once every six minutes, that means you never escape that effect. So, the typical knowledge worker is basically spending the vast majority of their time in a significantly reduced cognitive state. It’s almost as if every 30 minutes, you walk by and gave everyone in your office a shot, “Here, take some whiskey,” right? It’s less fun but it kind of has a similar effect. So, we’re talking about not, “Oh, I’m wasting a few minutes.” We’re talking instead like maybe you’re at 50% of what you could produce.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in that ballpark of 50%, okay, that’s striking. And could you share, is there any provocative studies or experiments or bits of research that can put an exclamation point on this?

Cal Newport
Well, the idea that there are these switching costs goes is something that goes back to research from even the early 20th century. But there was a researcher named Sophie Leroy who more recently really applied this idea of switching costs to exactly the context of working in an office. And she had a really interesting background.

I tell her story in the book because I spent some time interviewing her. She had actually been in academia, she had been working on her degree, and then she went and worked in industry. And then when she came back to academia from industry, she said, “Man, there’s this thing going on out there that wasn’t like it was before with all of this messaging,” this was the early 2000s, “We have to study that.”

And so, she had this dual background where she had a business background, she was an organizational management but she’d also trained in psychology so she understood the brain, and she exactly was quantifying what happens when you do this context switching and you’re trying to do actual office work. So, she had subjects come in to do this research, and they were giving them office work style tasks like reading resumes and trying to summarize and rank candidates, like the type of stuff you would really do in knowledge work, and they would interrupt them.

So, the researcher would come in and they would interrupt them. They had various ways of doing it but it would be, “Hey, you forgot to fill out this form that we need for our research.” And they could really precisely measure the impact on their performance, so the groups that got interrupted and the groups that didn’t. And you could just see that performance, you can see it drop, and you can just watch the numbers as it drops.

They recall less information. When they’re working on puzzles, they make more mistakes. And so, Sophie Leroy’s research really makes clear the degree to which these switches, boom, you just watch performance graphs just drop.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then tell us, what is the superior alternative?

Cal Newport
So, once we understand the issue is the workflow, the good thing about that is that it takes off a lot of sort of common responses off the table. So, when you understand, like, “Oh, the hyperactive hivemind, this fundamental way that the way we organize work and identifying and assign and review tasks, the way we do this is just messaging back and forth.”

Like, when you understand that is the underlying way you do work, then you realize that superficial fixes won’t get you there. Let’s say, “Let’s talk about etiquette, let’s talk about norms, let’s talk about turning off notifications, let’s talk about checking your email in batches, let’s talk about having a rule that says don’t expect you to answer emails after 5:00 or whatever.” None of that is going to solve the underlying problem so long as the underlying way that you organize work is unstructured ad hoc messaging.

So, in the book, what I really push is forget those superficial fixes, forget the etiquette, forget the norms. You got to actually replace, you have to replace the underlying workflow, “This is how we do this type of work. This is how we identify, assign, and review tasks.” You have to replace it with something better than the hyperactive hivemind. You don’t need advice for how to deal with your overflowing inbox more efficiently. You need to change the structure of your business so that that inbox is not overflowing.

And, basically, two-thirds of the book gets into principles for how to redesign whether it’s in your own life as an employee, or if you’re an entrepreneur that runs your own company, or if you’re an executive of a big team, “How do you begin this re-engineering process? How do you begin seeing your work in terms of these different processes?” And we can actually talk about each process, “This is how we’re going to do this. This is how the information is going to flow. No, we don’t just figure this out on email. For this, we have weekly status meetings. We have a shared document. We have this…” whatever it is.

There are tons of examples that you begin to explicitly engineer how work happens in a way that minimizes all this ad hoc unscheduled messaging, stops all the context shifting, and makes work much more sequential, “This then this, then this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s really beautiful in that I personally had some experiences with that, it’s like, “It seems like I was sending a lot of emails back and forth about this. That needs to stop. How would I go about stopping that? Well, I guess we’re going to make a standard process associated with boom, boom, boom.” And it’s worked. It’s so funny, like you and I, that we have this podcast interview, like we could’ve had a lot of emails between us. We had zero which makes me feel pretty cool, I’m talking to the no-email guy.

And we pulled that off because of the systems and the processes and the automation. It’s sort of like there’s an invitation, you pick a time, and then you get all of the info. And then, on my end, me and my team are thinking about, “Okay, what do we want to ask Cal? Okay, and then you’re going to send me the draft of some things, and I’m going to edit those things, and then I’m going to study it up the day of, and away we go.”

So, lay on us these principles and some examples for, hey, before we’re emailing about this thing, and after, here’s how it gets done.

Cal Newport
Well, let’s make it really proximate to what we’re doing right now, right? So, I’m doing a book launch, so there’s a lot of podcasts to be done, and I have someone at my publisher that I work with to help sort of schedule the podcasts and keep that calendar, or this or that. We had to figure out a process. So, the very easy thing to do would be she could just email me, like, “Oh, here’s one. Does this time work? Here’s another podcast. What do you think about this?” But I said, “Okay, that’s not going to work. There’s going to be so much back and forth emailing that I’ll constantly be context shifting.”

So, we created a process where I thought about the problem. And I had tried before with a previous book. Just to be concrete, I had tried giving the publisher access to a calendar, or I had made open, like, “Okay, here’s times I’m available,” and they would schedule things directly. I didn’t quite like that because I wanted more control over when I schedule things because I have a more nuanced understanding of my calendar.

So, what we did this time is we have a shared document and it has different sections. And what happens is I check it a couple of times a week. She’ll put into the top section, like pending, “Okay, here’s a podcast,” or, “Here’s the link to schedule it,” or, “Here are some time you’re available. Which one works for you?” And I just go into that shared document and just annotate it, like, “This time works for me. Okay, I went to the link and set up this interview. Here’s a question.”

So, I basically go into this shared document twice a week, spend about 20 minutes in it, and all of this happens. Now, it might seem like, “Well, what’s the point? Is it really that hard to just have figured this all out on email?” And one of the big principles, to argue from the book, is, yes, that matters. So, to take those two checks that are 20 minutes and to spread it out over 20 emails is a huge difference in terms of the impact on your cognitive performance because those 20 emails are unfolding throughout the week. It’s a conversation you have to keep tending. To tend it means you have to keep checking your inbox, and it’s a thread that’s kind of an open loop in your mind. There’s a huge drag to having you go back and do those back-and-forth communications.

Which brings me to a larger point about this type of process engineering is that it’s annoying, it’s almost always less flexible and convenient than just emailing that’s why this hyperactive hivemind is so entrenched because it’s easy and it’s flexible and it’s really convenient. But flexible, easy, and convenient in the history of business and technology rarely is the formula for getting the best work done or getting the most work done.

And so, example after example in my book come back to the same point which is it’s like often a pain to say, “Let’s actually think about the right way to do this in a way that minimizes all these messages.” It’s a pain. It might generate some hard edges. There might be some exceptions where bad things happen. Still worth it. Still almost always worth it because, again, the way to get the most value out of your brain is almost differently going to be something different than what would be the easiest way to organize work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I dig it. So, we think through it. And do you have any particular prompts or guidelines or steps associated with how we might do some good structured thinking and collaboration about, “Hey, what is the process by which this thing gets done?”

Cal Newport
Well, one thing I talk about is when you’re trying to optimize a process, think about context switching as being something you’re trying to minimize. So, just like if you’re optimizing a manufacturing process, you might try to minimize like the time required to produce a car. In knowledge work processes, you want to minimize context switches, “So, how many times am I going to switch my attention to this thing in order to get it to completion?”

And so, if your process involves back-and-forth emails and there’s going to be a dozen back-and-forth emails to figure something out, you’re now context shifting a dozen times to complete this process. So, if you could come up with an alternative where maybe, “Okay, I spend some time in a shared document for 20 minutes twice,” you’ve now reduced the amounts of times you have to shift your attention to this and back significantly, and that makes a big deal. And then the other thing to try to optimize is the degree to which you have to keep track of things in your mind or you feel like things are somewhat unscheduled or out of control.

So, the more you can actually have a sense of comforting structure, “Oh, I know how this works. It’s in the system. It’ll come up automatically. I don’t have to keep track of it in my mind. I don’t have to hope that I’ll just wait to get an email at some point, that’s just like, ‘Hey, what’s going on with this thing?’” That you feel like, “This is controlled. It’s not just in my mind. I don’t feel overwhelmed by various things,” that’s another thing to optimize.

So, those are the two general metrics you want to push people: less context shifting, less sense that things are just up in the air, in your mind, or ad hoc, or out of control.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got it. So, those are the things that we’re optimizing for in terms of let’s minimize those bits. And so, I guess there’s probably a million different ways we can make a process to get something done. But could you maybe share a few of your favorites in terms of, “Wow, these are maybe pretty flexible. They cover a wide array of stuff, work that needs to get done, as well as they’re pretty darn time-leveraged when you do it”?

Cal Newport
Well, one thing that seemed to come up a lot was making task assignments more transparent. So, we often use email to assign tasks and to check on tasks, we keep track of tasks just because they’re messages in our inbox. That’s where we keep track of everything on our plate. When you look at companies or groups that have moved all these tasks out of just people’s individual inbox and onto shared like task boards or project management systems, there’s often huge wins to be had.

And you can go and look at a Trello board for your team, or a Flow board, or an Asana board if you’re more techie, and you can actually see, like, “Here are all the things we’re doing, and here’s their status, and here’s who’s working on what.” Once a day you get together and you all look at it, and say, “Okay, where are we? What do you need? Here’s a new thing. Who should take this on or shall we leave it over here?” That seems like a basic thing but it makes a huge difference.

I profiled a guy who runs a marketing company and when they shifted. I talk about how they shifted from their inbox, just everything was kind of in there, to these Trello boards, one per project. And I actually had them show me the Trello boards, and I go through them, and I kind of go through, “Okay, here’s specifically what the columns are and here’s what’s under it.”

The relief they got when now their workflow is not about, “Open your inbox and rock and roll with messages,” but, instead, “Go to the Trello board for the project you want to work on, look at the status of things, take what’s assigned to you, make some progress on it, update the information. All the information you need to make progress is here on the Trello board attached to different cards. You don’t have to go find it in an inbox.”

Just the relief they got from that being the workflow, “Oh, I’m working on this project now. Here’s all the information on this project. Here’s what I’m supposed to be doing. Here’s everything I need to know to do this. Let me work on this. Let me update this board. All right, I’m done. Next project.” You switch over to that board. It was so much more relieving than, instead, just having this inbox open where, “Yeah, you’re hearing about that project but also other projects, and everything is coming in, and the whole thing is riled together.” So, task boards come up a lot in groups and teams that have moved away from a hivemind.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I’m wondering if we zoom into the individual contributor, if they don’t feel they’ve got a whole lot of power or influence to restructure the fundamental processes of how stuff is flowing, do you have any pro tips on how to navigate those conversations or bring it up?

Cal Newport
Well, one of the things I actually talk about is running your own shadow processes individually and having basically an invisible interface to everyone else. So, let’s say you’re at a big company and your boss is a jerk, he’s like he’s not going to want to hear this. He’s like, “I don’t care. I want you to answer my emails. It makes my life easier.” You can internally have these processes. And I talk a lot about this, like personal task boards or personal communication protocols where you really work out your various processes and how information comes in and out of them, how you keep track of things to try to keep yourself out of your inbox.

And instead of actually trying to explain it to everybody and say with autoresponders, like, “Here’s how I’m doing it now and this is how it’s going to work,” you just do it internally. And they don’t even maybe realize that you have these processes, they don’t even really realize that, “Oh, I was ready to just send a bunch of messages back and forth with you to, whatever, set up this meeting or pull together this report. Andfuiltwhen you replied, it was actually there’s a list of times, you had a Calendly schedule app, it was like ‘Choose one of these times and I will have this information ready, and it’ll be in this folder. Look it up before. We’ll meet at this time.’” You’ve described some process in an email. They don’t even realize it’s a process, they go, “Okay, whatever. Great. That saves me some messages.”

But internally you have it all processed, or you have different Trello boards internally for your different roles, and you’re keeping track of who you’re waiting to hear back from, and things you need more information on, and what you’re working on this week. I talk about how I ran a stealth ticketing system for a while when I had an administrative role where I had to answer a lot of questions from students in my department at Georgetown for an administrative role I ran. I didn’t make them use a ticketing system but I was moving all their messages into a ticketing system so I could much better keep track of them with my program manager, we could see what was going on where, who we’re waiting to hear back from, we can annotate them with notes, and then we’d just email people to get back to them again.

So, that’s one of the things I talk about just how to basically structure all of the process in your own life. Even if all the people around you aren’t restructuring how they do it, even if they’re still bothering you without constraint, if all that incoming goes into internal structured processes, you can still have a massive win in terms of how much context shifting and email wrangling you have to do.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I don’t know about all the listeners, but as I think about this, I’m super excited, like, “Heck, yeah, let’s get processes up and going for everything.” How do you recommend thinking about where to start or how to zero in on your first couple wins here?

Cal Newport
Use your inbox as a guide. So, you’re in your inbox, you’re overwhelmed, that you’re annoyed at all these messages. Start asking the question as you’re answering these messages, “What is the underlying process that this is a part of and that this message is trying to help advance towards completion?” And so, you just let the messages you’re getting be a guide. Then you can start saying, “Okay, this process kind of comes up a lot. Like, a lot of these messages have to do with whatever, like pulling together the weekly client memo. Or a lot of this have to be like answering questions from clients about the status of the project.”

So, now, you’ve let your inbox be the guide, “Oh, a lot of my communication is about this.” Then you can ask the key follow-up, “What would be a better process for accomplishing the same thing?” So, then if you see a lot of your messages in your inbox or your clients asking you questions kind of ad hoc, “What’s the status here? What’s that?” you might realize, like, “Maybe what we should do…” and this is just an example from the book, “…is like schedule a weekly status call with each client, we let them know where things are, we listen to them, and we immediately send them, after the call, a record of everything we committed to during that call, and they know that we are going to be on the phone the next week.”

You do that, for example. You may reduce your back-and-forth emails from a client down to basically none. Just the same thing done. The client wants to know what’s going on, to make sure the ball is not being dropped, to make sure that you’re actually doing the things you said you’re going to do, that’s a lot of what client emailing is, it’s just that they’re not sure, like, “I don’t know. Are you really doing this? Do I need to keep bothering otherwise I don’t know what’s going on?”

That’s just a case study but now that you’ve seen that’s what a lot of your emails were, you could actually come up with a better process that has a lot less back and forth. So, let the messages in your inbox influence you, “What is this message about? Is there a better way to get that general type of work done?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig it. And how about some of the internal emotional guilt stuff in terms of, if folks, they have incoming messages and they feel, from habit or compulsion, the need to frequently check the inbox? You say, “Well, hey, part of it that’s kind of how it has to be done because your processes are so unstructured, what alternative do you have?” But if we’re starting to move in this direction and there are some emotional guilt or resistance or trickiness, how do you recommend folks address that?

Cal Newport
Well, that guilt is really important because it’s at the core of why email makes us so miserable so I really get into those studies where basically the way we’re wired as social beings means it is really hard for us to see an email message in our inbox from a person we know and to not answer it. And it’s a deeper part of our brain. So, if you feel guilty about these things, as a general notice to your audience, that’s not a flaw. That’s a deeply human reaction because there might be, let’s say, a prefrontal cortex part of your brain that says, “I know I don’t have to answer that email right away. We have norms, they’re not expecting an answer right away. It’s okay if I write them back next week.”

That’s fine but there’s a deeper part of your brain that says, “Someone in my tribe is tapping me on the shoulder. If I ignore them, that’s a problem. If I ignore someone in my tribe who’s tapping me on the shoulder, what’s going to happen when we come into the famine? They might not share their food and I might starve.” We have a huge genetic compulsion to take otherwise communication very seriously. So, email really contradicts that instinct because, again, our paleolithic deep brain knows nothing about email etiquette. It’s just like, “Here’s a person I know, they want something from me, I’m ignoring them. Danger! Danger! Danger!” and that’s why we feel this anxiety about our inbox and the fact that it’s always growing.

So, that’s a really real thing and it’s a problem. It’s also a problem because this guilt is not equally distributed among people. So, there’s research I talk about in the book where they could look at how you scored on the big five personality scale, and based on how you scored on various attributes of that scale, they could measure real differences in how stressed you get about batching email.

So, for some people, your personality type is naturally such that you get incredibly stressed if you say, “I’m going to wait to check my email till the end of the day because all these people need me.” Other people have personalities in which they don’t mind it that much. Now, the issue is the people who are probably more willing to ignore their inbox till the end of the day are probably going to get more important things done, which means they’re going to move ahead probably faster than other people.

And what you’ve now done is accidentally selected for in your company that people that are essentially more jerks from a personality scale, less conscientious, are going to do better in your company. And so, now you’re selecting for the executive ranks to be less conscientious and more like jerks, which is not what you actually want to happen. It’s an unintended consequence.

So, I think that is also an issue and so, I don’t know, this is probably not the most optimistic answer but this is why I’m saying until you fix the underlying processes, this is going to be a real problem and it’s going to apply unequally. As long as there’s a lot of messages that you’re not answering, you’re going to be stressed, and that stress is going to vary dependent on your personality. So, your best bet is to figure out how to reduce the number of messages that end up in that inbox. It’s just not the right tool for doing a massive amount of communication.

Pete Mockaitis
So, lay it on us, where and when is email appropriate, when it’s something sort of new, one time, different, undefined, uncharted? What are your thoughts?

Cal Newport
Well, it’s a fantastic communication protocol, so if you need to asynchronously deliver information from one person to another, from one place to another, it solves a lot of problems. Before that, we had fax machines, memos, and voice mail, and those were all pretty ineffective and pretty high-friction ways of communicating asynchronously. So, for the delivery of information, for the delivery of digital files, for the broadcasting of information, email is a fantastic tool. You would not want to get rid of it.

Where it is a problem is where it becomes the primary medium of collaboration. So, if the primary unit of you working together with people to solve things, just back and forth messages, that’s where you get into the problem. If you want to email out, whatever, “Here’s the new parking policy at our company,” that’s a great use of email. It’s better than printing it out and having to put it in people’s mailboxes.

If you need to deliver a contract to someone, or let’s say I want to send you a headshot or something, yeah, email is great. Better than putting the mail or using the fax machine. So, it’s a great medium for asynchronous delivery of information and files but it’s a terrible medium for being the primary tool by which you actually interact and collaborate with people.

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

Cal Newport
I would say, more generally, when it comes to email and when it comes to the shift, at least the way that I see it, the less that I’m trying to convince people that they should move away from this type of hyperactive hivemind, everything is just back and forth messaging, it’s more giving the message that that shift is inevitable. There is a lot of money on the line.

Just like when Henry Ford figured out the assembly line, no one made cars the same way again after that. The same thing is just beginning to happen in knowledge work. There’s no way ten years from now we’re all still just going to be plugging into email inboxes and checking every six minutes. There’s just so much productivity and value and human happiness on the line.

This transformation to a world in which we have more sophisticated ways, less convenient maybe, more annoying, more overhead, but more sophisticated ways of actually collaborating, that means we get a lot more done and we’re a lot happier in general, that’s going to happen. So, the only question is, “Are you going to be ahead of the trend or not?” And that’s the way I like to see it.

So, I’m kind of prognosticating that we’re in a very early stage of knowledge work in the digital age. The way we work today is just our very first rudimentary attempt to figure out how we should work in an age of computer networks. The history of commerce and technology tells us that transformations take a long time, but then the phase shifts can be pretty rapid. We’re going to have a rapid phase shift away from this world of constant communication. So, again, hopefully, this is a book that’s predicting the future, more so than it’s trying to convince people that we need a better future.

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

Cal Newport
A favorite quote that came up kind of in the context of this work came from Neil Postman who was a really well-known sort of philosopher and social critic and technology critic. And he had this really important quote for at least my own thinking about technology and the world where he was saying, “Technological changes are not an addition; it’s ecological.” It’s not addition, it’s ecological. I’m a little bit messing that up but the basic point is when a new technology comes along, it’s not just like, “Oh, you’re in the world you were before, plus the addition of this new technology.”

Instead, a lot of technologies tend to change the entire world, change the whole ecology. So, he famously said that when the printing press came along, it wasn’t like you had medieval Europe plus a printing press. Like, no, you had a whole different Europe. It just changed the way everything worked. I like that quote. That’s the way I see a lot of technologies.

In 2001, we didn’t just have the 1991 office plus email; we had a completely different type of office. What worked meant the ecology of work completely transformed once this tool is here. And so, that quote is important to me because it tells us we got to be pretty self-aware of the way that new technology can completely change things often in ways that no one planned or no one intended. And once you realize that, then you might say, “Maybe we should step back and push back a little bit.”

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

Cal Newport
There’s a bit of research I enjoyed in the book because it was devious where they’re trying to understand exactly what we’re talking about, how communication is something that’s really deep in us, we get really anxious when we can’t communicate, when we know someone wants our attention and we can’t give it to them.

And so, there’s this great study where they brought people in and they hooked them to heartrate monitors, and they told them it’s a study about something unrelated. And then they had a confederate come in and say, “Hey, your phone is interfering with our machines and we’re just going to move it to get the electromagnetic radiation.”

And when they moved the phone to the other side of the room, they turned off the silent mode. So, they could only do these with iPhones because iPhones have the switch on the side. And then they would call it. So, you’re in the room, you’re doing this experiment, you’re all hooked up to all these heartrate stress monitors, thinking you’re supposed to be working on this computer screen, and you hear your phone ring.

And it’s a really cool experiment because, obviously, they did not expect to be able to communicate, they didn’t need to communicate, they had turned their phone on silent so they’re completely comfortable with the ideas of, “During this experiment, I will not be communicating with people.” But, still, hearing the text message buzz on the phone, their heart, their galvanic response, all the indicators of stress jumped up because they’re all hooked up to these things and they could measure it.

So, I just love that experiment because it meant they were calm even though they knew rationally, “Oh, yeah, I turned off my phone. I’m not going to hear from anyone who calls me. It’s fine.” They knew rationally that was fine, “I’m doing this experiment. It’s fine.” Still, hearing a text message come through made the stress response go up.

That’s all day every day in the world of email. It’s like no matter how you tell yourself, “It’s okay. I don’t have to answer all these emails. We have expectations. We have norms,” there’s a deeper part of you that when it just sees or hears that person’s name and it’s in bold and you can see they want something from you and you’re not answering it to them, we get stressed. And so, I thought that was a beautifully designed experiment to try to capture that real effect.

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

Cal Newport
One I like to recommend is Amusing Ourselves to Death, also by Neil Postman who I mentioned. It’s short and it’s brilliant and it’s really original. And, basically, it gets at that ecological notion. His argument is when you change the technologies with which we communicate or send information, you can actually change the way our brains understand the world, that there’s this impact between the medium and the message being delivered.

Postman studied under Marshall McLuhan who actually said the medium is the message. Simple idea, beautifully delivered, but it completely changes the way you see technology. It moves you away from this notion of like, “Heck, it’s just tools and it can do some things well, so use it in the way that it does things well. And if you’re having a trouble with the tool, you’re just using it wrong.” It’s like the typical nerd, engineer, or like our typical response.

And Postman comes in and says, “No, no, it’s way more deeper than that.” This was before email but basically you could extrapolate from him. Like, the mere presence of email can change the very structure of what work means, and his work was about television. The presence of television changed the way we understood the world. He’s really smart, really accessible, and I recommend it, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

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

Cal Newport
I’m a big believer in time blocking where you actually schedule out what you’re going to do with your time as opposed to going down a list. And so, having a good notebook in which you’ve schedule out what you’re going to do. Give every minute of your day a job. Don’t just go from a list and say, “What’s next?” Instead, say, “From 1:00 to 2:00, I’m working on this and I have a meeting from 2:30 to 3:00.”

Having a good notebook in which you do that is a complete gamechanger. So, in the fall, I put out my own planner called a Time Block Planner that helps you make these plans. But whether or not you use my planner, I have used notebooks and I’ve built these analog plans for my day for whatever it’s been, about eight years now. So, that simple of a piece of a paper in which I see the whole plan drawn out is, by far, one of the biggest impactful things I have in my professional career.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Cal Newport
I do a shutdown ritual and I’m a big proponent of this, that when you’re done with your workday, you have a shutdown ritual where you basically close all of the open loops. So, you look at your inbox and make sure you’re not missing something, you look at your calendar, you look at your plan for the week. If you’re captured like notes or ideas on scraps of paper, you get them into your system. So, you close all the loops, “All right. There’s nothing else I need to do for work tonight. I have a plan for tomorrow. I’m not forgetting anything.”

And then you have some sort of phrase or ritual you do to indicate that you’re done with that routine. So, like I used to actually say the phrase, “Schedule shutdown complete,” which was like purposefully nerdy. I talk about this in my book Deep Work, and there’s a whole subculture of people who, when they see me now, are like, “Schedule shutdown complete.”

But it was weird on purpose because what happens is that later in the evening when you begin to feel some work anxiety, instead of going through it, instead of…

Pete Mockaitis
A schedule shutdown has been completed.

Cal Newport
You say, “Why else would I have said that stupid phrase unless I had actually gone through the whole thing?” Now, in that planner, I actually added a checkbox that says, “Shutdown complete.” So, instead of having to say that out loud and risk the mocking of everyone within earshot, you can put a checkmark next to the phrase. But the whole point is you have something really weird and clear you do to indicate you’ve done the shutdown ritual. So, if you get anxious, you just say, “I did that weird thing, which means I did a ritual, so I’m not going to get into the particular anxiety. I’m just going to trust myself that I would not have said something so dumb unless I’ve actually gotten things under control.”

I love that ritual. I’ve been doing that since 2007. I started it as a grad student and it’s incredibly effective.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you say or have written that people quote back to you frequently? It sounds like “Shutdown ritual complete” is one of them. Any others?

Cal Newport
Yeah, I get “Shutdown complete” a lot. For some reason, so I have this podcast Deep Questions where I answer questions from readers. And, for whatever reason, we went down a rabbit hole of…I don’t know how I encouraged this. It’s just like one of these cycles of superfluous references to Greek mythology. So, I do these mini episodes once a week where people kind of call in with questions, and now it’s become kind of a competition to see who could work in like the most superfluous reference to Greek mythology in trying to set up their question about workplace productivity. So, I get a lot of that from people now. I don’t know how that started, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
“How could I soar like Pegasus to new heights of productivity?”

Cal Newport
Oh, yeah, Hydras. Earlier today, I had a Bacchus reference. That’s a good one. I had a question from a classicist recently, a classicist professor, so that was intimidating because she actually knew the whole canon. So, yeah, I don’t know, but I get that a lot. I get a lot of Greek mythology.

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

Cal Newport
So, you can go to CalNewport.com if you want to find out about the books and sign up for my newsletter. I’ve been writing a weekly essay there since 2007. If you want to hear me instead of read about me, Deep Questions is my podcast. If you want to find me on social media, as we’d mentioned, you’d be out of luck.

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

Cal Newport
It is a hundred percent possible for almost anyone or any job to get to a place where your email inbox is something like it was in 1995. It’s something you check maybe once a day, “Hey, here’s this file I needed,” or, “Here’s a reminder. Let me look at it,” and that’s the only role it plays in your life. This idea that you have to constantly be checking and communicating to do your job, that might be true about your job as constructed right now, but it can be reconstructed.

So, my challenge is do not give up on this utopian dream of a world without email by which I mean not a world in which you don’t have an email address but a world in which email does not play a central role to how your work actually gets done.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cal, this has been a treat. Thank you so much and keep on rocking.

Cal Newport
Yeah, thanks. It was my pleasure, like Icarus flying close to the sun on wax wings, I think. I’m trying to make the reference work. I’m trying to make it work.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe not afterwards.

646: Redefining the Rules to Make Work More Enjoyable with Vishen Lakhiani

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Vishen Lakhiani shares foundational principles to make work more fulfilling.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How the most successful people find bliss in their work 
  2. How to keep stress from fazing you
  3. Why hustling hurts your career 

About Vishen

Vishen Lakhiani is one of today’s most influential minds in the fields of personal growth and human consciousness. He is the founder and CEO of Mindvalley and behind several top-ranking health and wellness apps. He also has two New York Times best-selling books, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind and The Buddha and the Badass. With an incredible passion and drive to unite humanity and challenge the status quo, he has built a movement of growth-seekers, spanning across 195 countries, engaging more than 15 million followers on social media, and nearly half-a-million students online each year. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease! Save $20 on a $150+ purchase with promo code AWESOME. 
  • Monday.comExperience a 14-day free trial of the Work OS that boosts the ownership, joy, and efficiency of work. 

Vishen Lakhiani Interview Transcript

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

Vishen Lakhiani
Pete, thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. And, first, tell us about A-Fest. It seems like the coolest thing and I want to hear the story as to how it came about and what goes down there.

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, first, for those of you listening, A-Fest, it’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around that word. It’s A-F-E-S-T, it’s a festival I created 10 years ago because I wanted to be able to meet fascinating people, hang out in paradise locations, and grow my network. Back then I was just starting out my career, I was a kid in Malaysia, and I had bigger dreams in my tiny little country. Now, obviously, there’s no point talking about A-Fest because, like any other festival, it shut down for two years because of COVID. It’s devastating. I miss it but it’ll be back next year in 2022.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s the A stand for?

Vishen Lakhiani
I’m laughing because I’m embarrassed to say so. So, the very first A-Fest started because I was fascinated by surfing. I sucked as a surfer. And in surf lingo, there’s that word, “Awesome, dude,’ so it stood for Awesomeness Fest because the very first happened at Witch’s Rock in Costa Rica, which is a famous surfing site. And I didn’t know there’d be 15 more of them all around the world but the word awesome stuck to it. Everyone got free surfing lessons when they showed up. And then when we realized that you couldn’t build a festival around the concept of surfing, we’d be awesome and it just became A-Fest.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we love awesome here at How to be Awesome at Your Job so that’s kind of why I zeroed in on this one, and I think awesomeness is a great thing that needs to be celebrated via festivals. And so, I look forward to the day that that and other awesome events return to the world.

And I want to dig into more about feeling awesome versus miserable at work. You’ve got some perspectives here. Can you kick us off by maybe setting some foundational principles? Like, what’s missing from our work lives?

Vishen Lakhiani
Rather than what’s missing from our work life, let’s talk about a different concept and then it becomes evident what is missing, okay? So, this whole podcast is about how to be awesome. Now, I gave a speech once in Calgary and the speech was called “The Theory of Awesomeness.” I love that word.

Now, “The Theory of Awesomeness” suggested this. It suggested that there is a state, back then I called it the state of awesomeness. The word awesome in 2008 meant this for me. It meant being in a state of mind where there were two ingredients in your life. Now, the first ingredient is awe. It’s awe towards a future vision. That means there is something that excites you, that tickles you, that gnaws at you, that makes you want to build, to create, to produce, and you cannot wait to get this out to the world. So, that’s the first lever.

But there’s a second lever, and that second lever is, as you’re building, as you’re creating, you are not pushing forward your happiness. In other words, your happiness, your bliss, your feelings of magic and being in the flow do not come from you hitting your goal. They come from you moving towards your goal. In short, the awe is not towards the end goal but the awe is the journey.

Now, when you combine both of these together, what happens is you have a really wonderful state of human existence. You have a vision calling you forward but you also have bliss in the present. This is the ultimate state of human existence. It is to have visions that pull us forward but to be blissful in the now. It is the merger of your future and your present. It is why so many great men and women across history spoke about life in these esoteric terms.

For example, Bruce Lee said, “The point of a goal is often not to hit the goal. The goal is simply a force of direction.”

And then there’s this poem by this historical figure. So, I’d like to read this out to you, guys, because it illustrates this point of the dance between vision and bliss. This man wrote in his 82nd year, he wrote this down:

“I was early taught to work as well as play;
My life has been one long, happy holiday–
Full of work, and full of play–
I dropped the worry on the way–
And God was good to me every day.”

Now, when you listen to that, it sounds like some beautiful farmer like plowing his field, enjoying the sunshine, but that was actually written by John D. Rockefeller in his 80s. John D. Rockefeller created Standard Oil. He was the richest man of his era, potentially the richest man who ever lived if you count for the value of money back then. That was written a hundred years ago. But, again, John D. Rockefeller doesn’t talk about chasing goals. He talks about a life which was one long, happy holiday, full of work, full of play. His worry dropped along the way.

And this is just further evidence that people who are crushing it at work are not stressed out. They are not facing extreme anxiety. They are dancing this delicate dance between visions pulling them forward and bliss in the present. The dance between the future and the now, this is what I call the theory of awesomeness. And this is the state of awe that I think all of us need to be in. Now, this is what is missing from work. Because if you look at work, we see work as separate from play. We see work as separate from living.

And I remember once hearing Richard Branson say this, he was asked, “How do you balance life between work and play?” And he said, “Work? Play? To me, it’s all the same thing. I just call it living.” So, this is what I believe is missing from the way we’ve been trained to show up at our jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I’d love some more of that for sure. Tell us, what is the path by which we land there? Because I imagine if you’re Richard Branson or John D. Rockefeller or any professional, that they had some issues. I’m sure there’s some lawyers saying, “Hey, we’re suing you,” there are some acquisition targets they wanted to get but then the price was higher than they wanted to pay, whatever. So, like, they’re playing the business game at a higher level and they have disappointments, things that they want to happen but don’t happen, and things they don’t want to happen that do happen. So, how do we get into this rocket mindset where it’s all good?

Vishen Lakhiani
Beautiful question. So, to answer that question, particularly what you said, “I’m sure they have things that they want to happen that happens, I’m sure they have things that they don’t want to happen that happens.” I want to share with you a conversation I had with a famous business school professor. His name is Professor Srikumar Rao. And Professor Rao used to teach classes at Columbia, at Kellogg, at other famous business schools like London Business School, and there was something really unique about Rao. His classes were not on business. I mean, they were on business. This was an MBA program. But his classes, rather, explored the art of living. They were called classes on personal mastery.

And what Rao did was he would bring in wisdom from ancient sages like Confucius or ancient sages and saints from India, and he would implant this wisdom in the minds of his MBA students. Now, his classes were so popular, there was a line to get in through the door. Students who graduated from his classes would form alumni groups because they would bond so firmly with other students. I sought out Rao as a mentor after I saw a video of him giving a talk on Google, and that video blew my mind.

And so, I sought him out as a mentor, and as we became friends, I remember one day he came to me and he said, “You know, Vishen, all of this stuff that American business schools are teaching are bull.” Now, he didn’t actually say bull. He’s a very polite man. He used a far more polite word, I think, but I’m not a polite man so I think my brain changed it.

So, I said, “Rao, what do you mean?” And he goes, “What they need to teach is consciousness.” And I said, “But they do teach consciousness.” And he goes, “No, no, no, no, no. You’re confusing consciousness and ethics. Since Enron, all business schools teach business ethics. Consciousness is beyond ethics.”

And I said, “Well, do explain. What do you mean by the need to teach consciousness?” He said, “To be truly conscious, you have to understand one thing.” And I said, “Well, tell me, what is this one thing?” Rao went on, he said…Now, Rao, he’s a man of Indian origin. He’s American. He lives in New York but he speaks in his Indian accent so you can picture this in his Indian accent.

He said, “Business schools need to teach that the most important thing is not your business. If your business hits a billion dollars, it doesn’t matter. If your business fails, it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is, ‘Did you grow?’ If you become a billionaire, I don’t care. Did you grow? If you go bankrupt, you shouldn’t care. Did you grow?”

And he said, “The point of life is growth. When you make growth the number one thing, and you measure everything in, ‘Am I better today than I was yesterday?’ in some way, your life takes on a whole new meaning. Growth has to be the number one goal but we don’t teach that, do we? We teach chase the money, chase the career, and that is the problem with how we are training today’s business folks.”

So, that’s a very important lesson. Growth should be the number one thing. Now, back to the theory of awesomeness: vision and bliss. A core concept of growth is to make yourself better and better at being you. Now, when you make yourself better and better at being you, what happens is that all the bold things that you’re seeking to do, they come to you faster. As you grow, your business grows. You’ve read that from countless books on personal growth.

But the other aspect of growth is mastery of yourself. It’s not just becoming better; it’s becoming more comfortable in your own head. Now, what mastery of self means is being able to navigate the complex ebbs and tides of being human, being able to navigate extreme emotion, being able to deal with anger but not have anger consume you, go through failure but not have failure define you, see everything as “Is this helping me grow?”

Now, when you do that self-mastery plus constantly seeking to become better and better, That is how to be in a state of perpetual awe.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s awesome in terms of the mindset there in terms of, “Is this helping me grow? It’s all about the growth whether I hit the goal or I don’t hit the goal. It’s all good.” Well, so then let’s talk about some of this emotion self-mastery stuff. So, we’re just going to have to duck some of the naughty words and just say them freely so we can do this. So, for example, in your book The Buddha and the Badass, you talk about how we can master the art of unf-withability, which sounds like something I want for myself.

So, we’ve established some of the foundational ingredients for that. How do we move forward in terms of really developing, I don’t know if you want to call it a skill or a set of skills in the realm of emotional regulation self-mastery so that we get there? Because I imagine, Vishen, right now, if listeners say, “Okay, that’s my thing. I’m going to say, ‘Hey, is this helping me to grow? Am I making growth my number one thing? Okay, I’ve got that decision made internally and, yet, if a curveball gets thrown my way, I’m probably, the first time or two or many perhaps dozens of times, going to be feeling some of the stuff.” So, how do we take our first steps here?

Vishen Lakhiani
So, first, let’s set a vision. Remember what I said, right? You must have a vision. You must have a direction pulling you forward. Let me paint a vision of what I mean by self-mastery. And to understand this vision, I want to read you a poem from the Rumi, it’s called “The Guest House.” Now, the poem says this:

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”

This is the epitome of truly being able to have mastery over your emotional states. Our natural state should always be bliss. But this doesn’t mean that we push away sadness. This doesn’t mean that we don’t get annoyed by failure. It means we embrace these emotions. We open our doors to them, we welcome them as guests, we feel them, and then we move beyond them.

When you cultivate that, what happens is that you develop what, in psychology, they sometimes refer as resilience or grit. And this is one of the most incredible things you can have. Even if you look at people like Elon Musk, I once actually asked Elon Musk, like, “If I could put you in a blender and distill your essence, what makes you Elon?” And he said, “You know, I think what makes me who I am…” and so he answered this in 2013, he said, “…was my ability to endure extreme pain. I have high tolerance for pain.”

Now, high tolerance for pain simply means that if you go into the darkness, you embrace it and you move beyond it. Elon can accept his pain and then bounce back. But not everybody can. Many people, they sit in that pain. They make that pain define them, “I’m a failure. I suck. Why does this happen to me?” But that is not in the criteria of truly being able to become awesome at your job or at work. You must see pain as your friend.

And if you go through pain, what you want to ask yourself is, “Is this pain helping me grow?” Now, it turns out that one of the most powerful ways we grow is through pain.

In Zen Buddhism, they call this Kensho moments. Most of us go through Kensho or growth through pain. If you’re listening, ask yourself how many times has someone broken your heart. But because of that act of your heart breaking, you gained a better understanding of what you want in a relationship.

How many times have you been fired from a job – I’ve been fired twice – or been near bankruptcy? I’ve been there nearly three times. But it led you to greater fiscal responsibility or to finding a job that was even better for you. How many times have you ended up sick or in a hospital and it made you realize, through growth, that you go to take better care of your health?

So, you see, when you understand, when you make growth your number one goal, that’s the first rule, you start to see suffering and pain as Kensho, as a lever for growth, as the great educator, as the wakeup call. And that mindset shift is one of the key ingredients of people who are really doing awesome at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So, I’d love to get your view then, when it comes to growth “Am I better today than I was yesterday in some area?” do you have any particular ways that you love to capture, measure, gauge, quantify that growth? We talked about the business metrics not mattering so much, but they’re so easy to measure. We can see in the bank account, we can see in the income statement, the revenue growth. What is trickier to graph or measure or see or appreciate can be some of the internal growth things. How do you recommend we get our arms around that?

Vishen Lakhiani
So, firstly, if your audience is on MindValley, they would already know the answer. Now, on MindValley, there’s a free tool that you can use. It’s Life.MindValley.com. It’s a 22-minute assessment that has you measure your life from 12 aspects of personal growth.

Emotions, for example, is one, “What are your persistent emotional states?” That’s like what the Rumi poem spoke about. Finance and career are two common ones that are very much spoken about in the American education system. But then there’s also relationships, there’s character, “How are you with your habits, with your routines, with your values?” There is your physical fitness, your spiritual states. There are 12 different things or dimensions of life. And by taking this survey, Life.MindValley.com, you get a score and you also see where you stand among the hundreds of thousands of people who have also taken the survey.

Now, what the survey tells you is where you might be crushing it and where you might be lagging behind. And when you see where you’re lagging behind, that is what you want to start exploring further.

Vishen Lakhiani
Now, the thing about your career is that you want to specialize. If you’re a designer and you want to increase your hourly rate, you go deeper and deeper and deeper into design. You become the best designer you can be. You don’t jump from design to, say, copywriting. But in your personal life, you don’t specialize. You have to be balanced.

You cannot be crushing it at work, be making millions of dollars but have a messed-up relationship with your family, nor can you be the ultimate mom or dad, the ultimate family person but be completely broke. You need balance. There’s a certain wheel of life that has to be balanced out. And this is why this assessment that we made free helps you identify where you might be off kilter.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then we talked about different areas of life. And when we used some of the words like crushing it versus lagging behind in a performance-achievement-y world, kind of bring me up to another point of yours I wanted to discuss. And you say that hustle as the path to success is a myth. And we get some things wrong about hustle. Can you set us straight?

Vishen Lakhiani
Absolutely. So, there’s this prevailing theory out there that hard work is what makes you successful. There are many people like Gary Vaynerchuk who speak about hard work. But hard work only applies if you’re a lazy bum and you’re just hooked on computer games. Then get off your butt and hustle and put in some work. But most of us are not like that. The typical person listening to this podcast isn’t some guy hooked on computer games.

In that scenario, hard work is actually dangerous. You see, we have to move in life in a balance, and all the most remarkable people who are really successful do not work hard. Jeff Bezos just gave an interview, and he said, “You know, I sleep eight hours a day.” That’s a lot more than the average American. The average American sleeps 6 hours 52 minutes a day. Jeff Bezos, eight hours.

I’ve spent significant time on Necker Island with Richard Branson and I observed how Branson works. He has this beautiful balance between work and then play. He will be on his mobile phone on a hammock. He doesn’t have a laptop, everything is on his mobile phone, and then he’ll go swim in the ocean and kite surf for an hour, then go back to his mobile phone. It’s a beautiful balance. Now, I call that dance the dance of acceleration and navigation.

You got to accelerate at your work but you got to step back. People like Steven Kotler who wrote a book on high performance says that after about three and a half hours, you got to go from acceleration to navigation. And navigation is where you sit back and you think. In my case, I like to relax with a cup of tea and just think, or even take a nap, or meditate, or read a book on poetry or personal growth, then you go back to work. That dance, acceleration and navigation, happens in the day but it also happens in the month.

For example, I’m going to be working a 60-hour week this week but following that, I’m flying to the Maldives to spend eight days in a paradise island in navigation. Now, in navigation, I’m not doing what we think of personal work. I’m writing, I’m journaling, I’m reading books on personal growth. I’m working on new manuscripts. This is how, it turns out, the top performers work. When they work, they are protective of their physical state. And now, science is starting to back this up.

For example, Shawn Achor who wrote the book The Happiness Advantage cites study after study after study that shows that happiness, or positive states, directly correlates with work performance. Examples, doctors who are happy are 19% better at diagnoses. Salespeople who are optimistic, 55% better at closing sales.

Now, Shawn Achor’s work has been developed further by another researcher called Shirzad Chamaine. He wrote a book called Positivity Quotient, and what he did in his studies is he found that the number one factor of high-performing teams is they are positive states. The more often the team is in a positive state, the better the performance of the team. And it turns out that to create these positive states, you don’t overwork yourself. You got to play that dance.

Now, in America, we’ve created this awful rule that hard work is a path to success. You know who created those rules? The robber baron, the titans, the factory owners who want people slogging away at a factory.

It is a lie that hard work results in success. It is an awful lie. It breaks lives. It destroys relationships. It messes up with your health. Work and productivity is the dance between focus, between acceleration, moving towards your goals, and watching your emotional states, and putting yourself in the optimal states where you can think, you can create, you can ideate.

Pete Mockaitis
You used rule, which is one of the main things I associate with you – brules. And one them is that, hey, hard work is the key to success. And you say, nope. In fact, adapting that mindset is problematic. So, can you define for us brules, and give us some other examples, and make sure how we conquer them?

Vishen Lakhiani
So, a brule is what I coined in my first book The Code of the Extraordinary Mind in 2016. Brules are a simplification of a complex world. When we look at the world, we create rules to help us navigate this complex world of human dynamics. These rules come from culture, from beliefs, from religion, from a country’s government, from our teachers, our preachers, the media, and these rules have a purpose. They help us navigate.

We know that when someone greets us, to say, “Good morning.” We know to say “Thank you” to a waitress. Easy rules. We learn these as kids. But then there are brules that serve not much of a purpose but are just blindly carried forward from generation to generation to generation. What are brules? Well, hard work makes you successful is a brule.

Another example of a brule might be, in terms of how we define relationships, how we think about our health, how we think about money. The question is what may be a brule to one person, may not be a brule to another. The way to understand is to look at your life. And Alan Watts, the great philosopher, suggested this exercise. Ask yourself, “What do I believe? Because I learn through my own experience is true,” versus, “What are my beliefs that I were told is true?”

Now, when you start putting this together, it’s a disruptive exercise. Let me ask you this question. What is it that you came to understand as true because you discovered it to be true?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, there are so many things. I mean, it is disruptive in that it is so all encompassing. We could talk about it small and big in terms of like the nature of reality and human existence, or productivity strategies. So, yeah, I’m just looking at a glass of water right now, and so one thing that I believe to be true, from a lived experience, is that drinking plenty of water feels great in terms of making me feel alive and vital and healthy and smart and sharp, and it’s also very easy to forget to do, and then wonder, “Why do I feel so crappy?”

Vishen Lakhiani
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s just like a visual stimulus, there’s a cup of water there, so that’s one thing.

Vishen Lakhiani
Yeah, exactly. That’s great, right? Now, what is it that you took to be true because you were indoctrinated into it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess, this is so small stakes but while we’re on the topic of hydration, like someone said, “Oh, you need to have eight glasses of water a day.” And that’s just something that’s just repeated and I’ve sort of dug into the science behind it. It’s not really founded anything, it’s like, “How big is the glass? Who says eight? What if you’re like a tiny 80-pound woman or a Mr. Olympia hulking bodybuilding man, like, one size does not fit all? That’s silliness.”

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, here’s a bunch of other brules that most people believe not because it’s real but because they were told to believe it. One is, “A woman’s place is in the home.” Another one might be, “You need a college degree to get a job.” And so, there are so many brules that we blindly take on without evidence simply because that’s the way it’s always been.

Remember that great quote from Steve Jobs? He said, “At a certain point in life, you come to realize that everything we think about life is made up by people no smarter than you. And you can change things, you can poke things, you can make things happen. And once you understand that, your life will never be the same again.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. And so, let’s just take, “Well, hey, you’ve got to get a college degree to get a good job.” I think that that’s something that, yeah, that’s just sort of in the air, and there are some truths to it in terms of we could look at some stats to show that, on the whole, people with college degrees earn more than those who don’t, or we could look at many individual job posts that claim “Must have a bachelor’s degree in these or related fields.” So, there’s a smidge of evidence that can point you in one direction, although I know of truckloads of evidence that say that that’s not true at all.

So, yeah, what’s the next step? We take some time to say, “Okay, hey, what are some beliefs that I’ve come to understand in my own experience?”

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, what you’re asking me to do is to simplify life, is get the great secret of life in the tiniest soundbite as possible, and you can’t do that because everybody has to discover their own secret.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s probably a fine transition point, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Vishen Lakhiani
“The most extraordinary people in the world do not have a career or a business. What they have is a mission.” And what I mean by this is that you would do the work that you do even if you didn’t get paid. It is your mission. It is your art of living. It is your contribution to the world, and this sums up that idea I said earlier.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
One of my favorite experiments, and this actually has to do with what we were talking about earlier, that positive states, that positive emotions, amplify your productivity at work. So, Shawn Achor did an experiment, I believe it was at the company First National. The CEO Gary Baker, he said was not a numbers guy, and Shawn wanted to suggest to Gary Baker that if he wanted to transform his company, he needed to do a simple 2-minute exercise with all his managers every day.

So, Gary Baker thought it was a joke but he decided to try it. Now, this was the 2-minute exercise. The managers, when they started their day, would set a timer for two minutes, and in no less and no more than two minutes, they would open up their email and write an email of appreciation to someone else in their company. Shawn Achor said anything beyond two minutes is too much of an obligation, less than two minutes is ideally too short.

So, Shelly might write an email to Tom and say, “Hey, Tom, just wanted to appreciate you for the wonderful idea you gave me last night and helping me improve my keynote presentation.” That’s it. Now, what they found is that in one year the company started to go through like a radical transformation. They went from 650 million in revenue to 950 million in revenue with no new headcount.

The number of job applications went up 237%. All of this because employees were spending two minutes a day appreciating each other. And it goes to show that emotions and our states of bliss really have a massive impact on our job. Shawn Achor said, “What was going on is that as you appreciated someone, you were actually practicing a form of gratitude. You were recognizing elegance, beauty, like great work. And then when they replied, you were getting another dose of happiness because you are being recognized for appreciating someone. It’s a beautiful cycle.” But that surge in positivity that it caused within an organization was transformative for Gary Baker’s company.

And this is probably one of the most interesting studies I’ve come across. I wrote about it extensively in my book The Buddha and the Badass.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Vishen Lakhiani
I’m holding it up right now, The Poetry of Rumi.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
Airtable. You got to love Airtable. It’s a no-code coding software. It allows me to build any application I want to make myself more efficient in any way.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Vishen Lakhiani
Well, taking supplements every morning, but also meditating to “The 6 Phase Meditation” which is a meditation process I pioneered. There’s going to be a book coming out on it. It’s a meditation process used by super performers in just about every field. And it’s about retraining your brain to operate in that state, that dance between vision and bliss. It’s called “The 6 Phase Meditation.” You can find it on MindValley or you can Google it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. And not to go too deep down this one, I’m sure we have a full episode on supplements, but give us the hitlist, top daily supplements that Vishen swears by.

Vishen Lakhiani
Magnesium to help you go to bed. I believe in healthy sleep. 5HDP, wonderful in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, people quote back to you frequently and ascribe to you?

Vishen Lakhiani
People love some of the words I created to help us navigate the world, words like brules. Conscious engineering. All of these you’ll probably find in my book.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
Follow me on Instagram @vishen or go to MindValley.com.

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

Vishen Lakhiani
The most important thing you can do, which will transform your life, transform your job, is to get a MindValley membership. It will just freaking change your life. Go check it out.
Pete Mockaitis
All right. Vishen, this has been a treat. Thanks so much and I wish you lots of luck in your growth adventures.

Vishen Lakhiani
Thank you. Thank you for having me.