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794: How to Get Comfortable with Discomfort with Sterling Hawkins

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Sterling Hawkins shows you how to turn discomfort into fuel for transformative change.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we need to hunt discomfort   
  2. Why you need your own “street gang”
  3. What to do when you feel like quitting

About Sterling

Sterling Hawkins is an internationally recognized entrepreneur, motivational leader, and public speaker. His 2019 TED Talk, “Discomfort is Necessary for Innovation,” has been viewed more than 100,000 times. 

Sterling serves as CEO and founder of the Sterling Hawkins Group, a research, training and development company focused on human and organizational growth. He has been seen in publications like Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, The New York Times and Forbes. Based in Colorado, Sterling is a proud uncle of three and a passionate adventurer that can often be found skydiving, climbing mountains, shark diving or even trekking the Sahara. 

Resources Mentioned

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Sterling Hawkins Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Sterling, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Sterling Hawkins
Thanks for having me on, Pete. Good to see you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you, too. Well, I’m fired up to talk about your book Hunting Discomfort: How to Get Breakthrough Results in Life and Business No Matter What.  But it looks like you’ve been doing some discomfort hunting yourself with skydiving, shark diving, mountain climbing. Can you open us up with a thrilling tale? I’m wondering how close you come to dying, basically.

Sterling Hawkins
Probably too close. I think one of my favorite stories is, a couple of years ago, my sister wanted to go skydiving for her birthday. And, of course, everybody guilt-trips me, and they’re like, “Sterling, you’re the No Matter What guy, you have to do it,” which I’ve got a lot to say about. It’s a separate subject. But, anyways, we go skydiving. And have you ever been skydiving before, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
I have. I loved it.

Sterling Hawkins
It was terrifying. Not so much the skydiving part but like the 15 things you have to sign, saying if you hit the ground wrong, it’s not their fault. Did you do this?

Pete Mockaitis
I signed some sort of release. I don’t remember the details.

Sterling Hawkins
Yeah, there were so many of them, like it just got me more and more hyped up, and we’re getting on a plane, and it’s a rickety old plane that I’m sure is not really built for much flying, at least not these days. And we get up there and once we jumped out of the plane, it was just bliss, one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

The discomfort leading up to it, though, was a challenge. It was a hard part. And some research I’ve found, after the fact, I realized I was in more danger driving there, a bee sting, a lightning strike, than actually jumping out of a plane. And I realized in that jump that we’re not always properly oriented to discomfort. And when we can line ourselves up in a way to use it, great results come, incredible skydiving jumps and also in our life and business.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s talk about hunting discomfort. And, first things first, the goal of hunting discomfort is not so much to kill it but rather to seek it out. Is that fair to say?

Sterling Hawkins
Well, it’s funny, the thing that I get from most people is, “Sterling, you got to look at my bank account, my business, my relationships, like all these things. I don’t need to hunt discomfort. I’m surrounded by it.” And my answer, Pete, is always the same, it’s, “Oh, you mean you’re living with discomfort. You’re not hunting it.” Because when we hunt it, we maybe aren’t killing it, per se, but we’re free from it forever.

Not circumstantially free, not based on the amount of money in your bank account, or a special job, or certain relationships, but based only within yourself. And it’s the only kind of true freedom there is. We just have to hunt the discomfort that’s in the way of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Intriguing. Well, so, tell us, in the course of putting together these thoughts, any particularly shocking discoveries you’ve made along the way?

Sterling Hawkins
Yes. So, I’ve been doing this in some shape or form for about a decade, and I came across this research just a couple of years ago, in writing my book actually. I was looking at all kinds of research, and I found something out of the University of Michigan that blew me away. Now, they were studying discomfort of varying sorts: physical discomfort, like somebody broke a limb; emotional discomfort, somebody lost a job, or perhaps broke up with a loved one; mental discomfort. Like, they were looking at all these kinds of discomfort as they were analyzing somebody’s brain and body.

And what they found is that it didn’t matter what kind of discomfort somebody was going through. Our brain and body process them almost identically, so much so you can take acetaminophen for emotional pain, believe it or not. Crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
And it helps?

Sterling Hawkins
Supposedly. Now, that’s not like a bio-hack from Sterling, by the way. I’m not a doctor. Like, all the disclaimers, I’m not suggesting you do that. But the powerful piece is if you take the next step, you say, “You know what, if how we meet discomfort is the same anywhere, how we can deal with it, we can grow our capacity to deal with it everywhere.” It turns out it’s a muscle we can build. You go to the gym to build your biceps, and you want to grow your resiliency, your ability to create breakout growth, well, you hunt discomfort. There’s just no other way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I think about the gym metaphor, you have some sort of a program. You have a stress, and then you have rest, and then you have adaptation. Tell us, how do we think about programmatizing our discomfort hunt versus the folks who say, “Hey, I’ve got all kinds of discomfort foisted upon me. Like, here’s your barbell. Ahh”?

Sterling Hawkins
Right. Yeah. Well, mostly what people are doing with discomfort is they’re avoiding it or they’re surviving it. They’re not using it as a feedback mechanism to change, to adjust, and to grow. And I think that’s one of the major missteps that many of us make, is when we externalize the problem, and say, “Well, we didn’t achieve our goal. We didn’t achieve X because we didn’t have enough money, we didn’t have enough time,” “I’m not old enough,” “I’m too old,” “I don’t have the right partner,” “I don’t have the right leadership.”

We rob ourselves of the ability to take that discomfort, that feedback, even that potentially failure, and use it to change and grow ourselves. And so, exactly as you pointed out, when you look at discomfort through the lens of, “Hey, this is here to help me. This is a feedback mechanism. I can use this to not just change how I act but change who I am and adjust who I am based on the results that I want to achieve.” Then it becomes hugely powerful.

Now, there is such a thing as too much discomfort, and there’s a framework that is best to work through because, I don’t know, one of the things that used to scare me most is public speaking. And if you were to throw me onto a stage back in the day without any framework or structure or support system, I’d probably would’ve collapsed.

But when you want to have a commitment of, “I want to achieve this. I want to be successful in my public speaking,” for example, and you’ve got people around you that are going to support you on that journey, and especially pick you up when you fall down, then it becomes much more feasible to move through and improve. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sure. Okay. Could you bring it to light with a few examples in terms of instead of avoiding or just enduring hunting and how that’s been helpful for real-life folks who went out and made that mindset shift and saw cool results?

Sterling Hawkins
Absolutely. One of my favorite stories is from our No Matter What community. The No Matter What community is a group of people that we put together that have joined us on declaring big goals, big visions for themselves, for their communities, their family, their business, and they’re willing to move through the discomfort to achieve it.

And this one gentleman joined us a couple of years ago upon losing his really nice somewhat cushy corporate job during the beginning of the pandemic. It was a tough time for many, myself included, and especially him. He’s got his family to support. Now, what he could’ve done is just applied for another job and try to make ends meet but he didn’t just do that.

He was walking through some side neighborhood in the suburbs of New York, and he stumbled into a tattoo parlor. And one of the important things in the No Matter What system, the framework that we teach people to grow through is get a tattoo, commit so deeply, there’s no going back. Now, I don’t mean that literally, but Emmanuel took it as such, walked into a tattoo parlor, got the name of the business he wanted to start tattooed on his left bicep.

I don’t know how he explained that to his wife when he got home, but it left him working towards building his own business in a way that he probably, otherwise, would’ve shied away from. Been worried about, waiting for the right time to make sure his bank account was properly padded before he started it.

And today, he just texted me a couple of weeks ago, and he says, “Sterling, I can’t thank you enough. I’m a testimonial for life, but, really, what I have here is an eight-figure business in a matter of 18 months.” So, when you go into that discomfort and you commit to things on the other side, it produces remarkable results, things that we can’t even see from where we sit today.

Pete Mockaitis
Impressive. All right. So, then what are the steps here in terms of making that happen?

Sterling Hawkins
Yeah. So, the first, I think, is one of the more challenging, which is you’ve got to be willing to see reality clearly. Not the reality that we necessarily see with our two eyes, although that’s important, but we’ve got to be willing to question our values, ethics, beliefs, ways of thinking, being, and acting that might not be perfectly correlated with reality. It’s just like my experience with skydiving.

The chances of me dying were very, very slim but my experience of fear and failure were massive. And as we can come to terms or reconcile what’s actually dangerous from what is merely discomfort, we can change one of three things: either ourselves, how we see others, and how we see the world. And when we change that view, the perspective, those beliefs, it will naturally change our actions and then give rise to new results. So, that’s the first step.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you share an example of that in practice in terms of someone who made the shift and it was cool?

Sterling Hawkins
Yeah. Well, I think a personal story might fit in well here because it’s been dramatic for me, Emmanuel and for many, but I was serious. Like, one of the things that scared me most was speaking in public. And it wasn’t just speaking in public, it was a lot of self-doubt and fear of exposure, two of the major discomforts that stop many of us as humans, me especially.

And I had this discomfort, in a large part, to do with the fact that I’ve been hugely successful early in my career. My father and I started this company, sold it to a group in Silicon Valley where we raised over $550 million in part of this collective in what was kind of the Apple Pay, before Apple Pay, multibillion-dollar valuation, like, “I think I’ve got it made.” It wasn’t discomfort at all. There’s all comfort in certainty.

And I really thought I had it all figured out until the housing market collapsed and the investment dried up. And it was like playing out a sad country song of a story where, no longer do I have a job. Eventually, I ran out of cash. I go from this big, beautiful penthouse in downtown San Francisco to my parents’ house. And it even got so bad, my girlfriend broke up with me. It was like one thing after another. And I was suffering from a lot of self-doubt, a lot of fear of exposure, people seeing me for what I really was, which I thought was not nearly enough, especially having all that success early on.

And what I did is applied to speak at this conference in Singapore because I remembered this thing my mom said to me when I was a kid, she said, “The way out is through.” And I thought, “Okay. Well, if I want to change the situation, I want to transform my business and my life, I need to go through the things that scare me most.”

So, I applied to speak at this conference in Singapore, and practiced incessantly. My poor sister, I dragged her into it and practiced in front of her probably hundreds if not thousands of times, and as part of that process, had to give up some of the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs I had about myself and what I was capable of.

And, eventually, I did go on to the stage, I gave the speech. Good thing I practiced because I think I blacked out, and I get off the stage, and the conference director. I think I bombed, Pete, so I’m, like, covering my eyes, tried to just sneak out of the room, and he catches up with me, and he goes, “Sterling, that’s the best talk I’ve seen in my 17 years of doing this.”

To this day, I don’t think he was in the same talk I was in. I think it was just like a nice thing he wanted to say to me. And he did go on to put me in touch with all of his conference director friends, and I was like, “Ah, my mom was right. The way out is through,” and the way through is giving up some of the things that you hold true about yourself. Whether they’re true or not, if you can let go of them, there’s new things that can arise on the other side.

Pete Mockaitis
And how do you articulate, when you talk about engaging what’s true and real, how would you articulate your belief prior versus post in that moment?

Sterling Hawkins
So, prior, it was, “I am incapable of speaking in public.” And I had that all too common feeling that anybody that’s afraid of speaking in public probably knows, where you get really hot, the world starts to spin, and I thought that’s just the way that it was. I thought I was that way and there was no other option for me. I was just one of the many that would rather be giving the eulogy than in the coffin. Thank you, Seinfeld, for that reference.

And in going through that thing, and standing on the stage, like, yes, I experienced some of the feelings of self-doubt and worry and fear and all the things that I was expecting. But I proved to myself, importantly proved to myself that they didn’t have to stop me from giving a successful speech. So, afterwards, sure, I might continue to be scared.

In fact, I continued to be scared for some time afterwards, but I started to let go of that belief that I was a certain way, I was afraid to speak in public, and started to embrace the idea that I can, not only can I speak in public, but I do and I do it successfully.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Thank you. Okay, that’s our first step.

Sterling Hawkins
Of course. That’s the first step.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s our second step?

Sterling Hawkins
The second, we pointed to a little bit with that story of Emmanuel but self-doubt does get in the way of many of us. And when we commit with that second step of getting a tattoo, commit so deeply there’s on going back, it calls us forward through any discomfort, through any fear that might be in the way. Now, I’m not suggesting you have to get a real tattoo, like Emmanuel, although that’s an option. A surprising number of people from the No Matter What community have done that. But you do need something that’s going to call you forward when everything inside you is telling you to stop.

And you can do that in a couple of different ways. Like, sure, you could get a physical tattoo, but you might just tell a friend or a significant other. You might commit to them, and say, “Hey, I’m going to do X by certain amount of time that goes by,” and then have them call you on it. You could sign a legal agreement, you could put an amount of money on the line that’s meaningful to you, that’s going to bring you forward. You’re looking for ways to put yourself on the line that are going to, again, kind of call you into action when it doesn’t feel so good, where the commitment is stronger than the feelings.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me more about signing a legal agreement. When it comes to the money game, I’ve heard of what’s like Stake8.com that facilitates that. And so, with a legal agreement, I guess in the course of doing business, like, sure, I’ve actually committed to a client or a partner, or to whomever, a particular result by a particular time. So, there’s that. I guess I’m wondering if it’s a goal that doesn’t so much…when I signed a legal agreement to complete a marathon, for example. Have you seen that go down and how did it work?

Sterling Hawkins
It wouldn’t necessarily be a legal agreement, but you could formalize a commitment to somebody that was important to you. And you could take it up a notch by, I don’t know, posting it on Facebook and sharing with everybody you know on social media that, “Hey, I’m committed to running this marathon.” And then those mornings when you just don’t feel like getting up and training, that idea that everybody is expecting you to run this race is going to be a tattoo of sorts that’s going to help you move forward. It’s not going to feel good but it is going to help support you into moving into action.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Beautiful.

Sterling Hawkins
So, legal agreements are great for business purposes but I think it’s really the commitment that we make inside of ourselves that’s more important, and it’s the action of sharing it with others where it becomes much more powerful, whether it’s on a legal document or written down somewhere. I do suggest that, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. I’m thinking about the research on commitment devices and the legendary Ulysses or Odysseus, like, “I want to hear the siren song but I hear that’s dangerous, so strap me up so there’s no way out.”

Sterling Hawkins
Right, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, “Burn the boat, like we can’t retreat. There’s nothing else.” Any other creative ways to lock that commitment in hard?

Sterling Hawkins
You can do it with consequence. If you do do something, you get a certain reward, or if you don’t do something, you lose something. One of my friends, he had some trouble making it to the gym every morning, so he committed with consequence, and said, “Every morning, of the five days a week that I’m committed to going to the gym, if I don’t, I’m going to donate $100 to my favorite charity.”

Now, sure, a couple mornings he didn’t make it, but that $100 going out of his bank account starts to weigh on you the more often you miss on that commitment, and it did really work. He lost something like 25 pounds from that alone.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. And I am such a master of rationalizing, I’m like, “You know what, maybe I did need to do some more support of that charity,” like after the fact.

Sterling Hawkins
Well, I had another friend, a mentor of mine actually, his name is Kirkland Tibbels, phenomenal guy, runs a group called Influential U. But he, when looking at commitments, suffered from some of the same things, so he said, “I’m going to donate to the political party that I hate every time I don’t fulfill on my commitments,” so you can work it that way too.

Pete Mockaitis
I was also thinking about just straight up torching the money, although I guess that’s technically illegal in the United States. Fun fact, that’s against the law. But I think it may be effective.

Sterling Hawkins
It could be. You could give it to a friend or you could give it to somebody that you don’t really want to give it to, but you are looking for ways that are going to call you into action, to your point. Like, you don’t want it to be something that you really want to give money to all the time, at least in the amounts that you’re going to be giving it. You want it to weigh heavily enough on you that you’re going to do the action. The point is not to make the payoff.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I’m also thinking about how we had Maneesh Sethi on the show, and he created a device called the Pavlok. Have you heard of this?

Sterling Hawkins
I have. It shocks you when you don’t do whatever the thing is, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Of course, you still have to push the button to do the shock. So, I guess you give permission to a friend or a family member to engage.

Sterling Hawkins
That reminds of the original Ghostbusters, the very beginning, where he’s shocking the woman when they’re reading cards. Do you remember that?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’m afraid I don’t. Refresh all of our memories, Sterling.

Sterling Hawkins
Old Ghostbusters reference, yeah. Well, in the beginning of Ghostbusters, they’re, I think, working on mindreading or something crazy like that. And he’s showing the backside of a card and asking this woman to guess what it is. And every time she gets it wrong, he shocks her. Supposedly, that’s supposed to be some negative reinforcement to make her better at mindreading but it doesn’t work that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, duly noted for the aspiring mind-readers.

Sterling Hawkins
Right. Right. Exactly. It is tough to make a commitment like that. And I think that self-accountability is fantastic to maintain the status quo. If you’re reliable to write one blog a week, or to make five cold calls, or to run two miles every single day, you probably don’t need to commit to somebody or something that you’re going to continue to do that.

But if you’re looking to grow in any kind of meaningful way, you need outside accountability, you need an outside commitment to call you forward because everything inside of you is going to tell you, “Stop. This doesn’t make sense,” you’re going to rationalize your way out of it. You really need people on your side to help. And that’s the third step of the No Matter What system, which is I call it build a street gang, not because I look anything like somebody that belongs in a gang, by the way. I think the best I did was Boy Scouts when I was 15.

But I call it building street gang for a reason. I’m not talking about a personal board of directors, I’m not talking about friends or spouse, although your street gang can be comprised of those people. But you’re looking for people that can go toe-to-toe with you and are really going to hold you accountable for what you said you were going to do.

Now, that’s the most important function of your street gang, being that accountability partner. Research shows that when you’re personally accountable to somebody on a specific day and time for a specific thing, you’re not 70%, 80%, 90% more likely to achieve your goal. You’re 95% more likely to achieve it. It’s almost like if we actually want to achieve anything, we better be personally accountable because it’s going to help us there.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to building the street gang, how do you recommend doing the recruiting?

Sterling Hawkins
Well, you’re looking for people that have four main functions. One is the accountability. You need somebody that’s going to be strong enough, again, to go toe-to-toe with you, especially when it doesn’t feel good. You want this person to be more committed to your growth and your success and your vision than they are to your feelings.

That’s not to say that you’re going to achieve everything every time but they are going to take a really hard look with you as to why you didn’t achieve what it was that you said. Was it an action? Did you take no actions? Was there a mistake? Did you account for something wrong? Did you maybe see reality incorrectly? And they’re going to work with you to figure out how to achieve that thing at a very, very heavy accountability level. So, that’s one.

The second piece is you need some kind of inspiration, somebody or something that’s going to light the fire in you about why you’re here, what your purpose is. To quote Simon Sinek, like, “What is your why? And how are they going to bring you through that or light that fire in you?” You then need some level of mentorship, somebody that’s got some expertise in the area that you’re looking to grow in, and they can teach you the specifics or specialized knowledge of how to achieve whatever that might be. They might also put you in touch with people. Like, there’s somebody that’s in the role, going the direction of what you want to be yourself.

And the fourth, which I find highly underrated in a lot of business cultures, but I do see it in the most high-performing, is love, not in a romantic sense. Like, I’m not talking about find yourself a romantic partner, especially if you have one, fantastic. But at a human level, somebody that’s really going to love and support you through any downfalls that you might have.

Now, many people have those four roles kind of revolving in and around their life but it’s a matter of sitting down with them, maybe having coffee, a Zoom meeting, whatever it is, and formalizing that role, and asking them, “Hey, here’s what you meant to me, here’s the role in my street gang that I’d like you to play, and here’s what that might look like over time.” And when you sit down and formalize it like that, people can kind of rise to the occasion of the role that they’re supporting you in.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you share with someone their role as your lover, what are some of the sort of actions? Like, what is that person doing in terms of like regular conversations and as the process unfolds?

Sterling Hawkins
So, it could be as simple and straightforward as some encouragement to point out the successes that you’ve had even if you haven’t arrived where you want to arrive yet. They could be looking at what you’ve already achieved in your life, what you’ve already achieved on this particular trajectory. They’re going to remind you of all the great things about you that you have, that they accept, including the failures, and help you kind of come to terms with, “Oh, yeah, this failure, this misstep, or maybe just not having achieved the level of growth that I want to, it is okay.”

Now, that could be over coffee, it could be a lunch, or it could just be kind of sitting down with a friend on the couch. It’s more like the feeling of acceptance that you’re looking to throw out in the situation. And that could look a little bit differently depending on the people having those conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. So, after we’ve got the street gang, what’s next?

Sterling Hawkins
Well, of course, we all run into problems, obstacles, limits, challenges, like they are real. Sometimes there’s just not enough money or there’s not enough time. We do have to deal with the hard limits of the situations and circumstances that we’re in, and we need that four step, which I call flip it. and it’s looking for, “How can we use those obstacles, those roadblocks, those barriers? How can we use those things as the pathway to even greater results?”

It’s a very stock philosophy, the obstacle is the way. And as we can think differently about some of the things that maybe we’re sweeping under the rug, we’re embarrassed about, we try to get rid of those proverbial warts, the more we can embrace them and look to them as the source of our strength, it actually becomes the reason for your success, not the reason inhibiting you from achieving it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s go to some examples, like, “Hey, I don’t have enough time but, actually, that’s an enabler of success. So, I don’t have enough money but, actually, that’s handy. My boss is a jerk but, actually, that’s useful.” Can you give us some examples of how this plays out in practice?

Sterling Hawkins
Yes. So, I was lucky enough to give a TEDx Talk a couple of years ago with a gentleman whose name was William Hung from American Idol fame, if you remember him at all.

Pete Mockaitis
Was he also in “Arrested Development: Hung Jury”?

Sterling Hawkins
He’s not. No, this is the guy that sang Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” so badly that he became world famous.

Pete Mockaitis
Ah, yes. Uh-huh.

Sterling Hawkins
Yeah. So, with the rest of the world, I had seen him on TV, in the news networks, and everybody making fun of him as like not a great singer, which I guess, subjectively, he’s not. But in getting to know him a little bit, I started to see the human side of it and how challenging and hard that must’ve been when he had what felt like the entire world kind of breathing down on him, of, “You’re not a good singer. You messed up. You’re embarrassed. Like, what are you going to do with your life?”

And for a while, he said it was debilitating. He wasn’t sure where to go or what to do because he felt that he was really expressing his heart and what mattered to him. And maybe he wasn’t the greatest singer in the world but singing was important to him. And what he did is he embraced that “failure” that he had, and he said, “Okay. Well, this is how I sing. This is how I sing. Everybody in the world knows me. Why don’t I make the most of this?”

And so, he started singing and capitalizing on the fact that nobody thought he was a good singer. And not only did he create his own record deal, but he ended up on a stage in Vegas singing Ricky Martin. He has made countless dollars from all the records that he’s sold and all the places around the world that he’s traveled to and singing from the very thing that everybody told him he would fail at. So, I always find that a great example of the obstacle being the way.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. And I couldn’t resist Googling while we’re talking about this. He was, indeed, in “Arrested Development” as a leader of the band.

Sterling Hawkins
Was he, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Hung Jury, which appears in mock trial.

Sterling Hawkins
I did not know. See, he’s ridden this thing in all the different ways he possibly could. I didn’t even know that, but that’s just another example of using this thing in all these different places.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. I dig that. And, certainly, I guess, what is that they say, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”? He managed to take that, “Okay, I’ve got some notoriety.” Well, that is, in some ways, can be transformed into a positive asset. Any other examples that maybe the everyday professional can get behind?

Sterling Hawkins
Yeah. So, I’ll give you a business example, and this is going to be like a big case study, but I think everybody will be able to personalize it for themselves. And it’s from the famous Richard Branson, Virgin fame. And in the ‘90s, he was CEO of Virgin Atlantic, the transatlantic airliner. And one of the things he was committed to doing in the early ‘90s was retrofitting all of his jets with the latest and greatest entertainment system. It was something like a £10-million proposition.

And anybody that recalls the early ‘90s, it was a tough economic time. And so, Richard, he wasn’t quite as famous as he is now, but a lot of people knew him for the showmanship, the success he’d had, everything else, and he was calling banks, he was calling lenders, he was even calling in favors, and he just couldn’t find the £10 million that were required to retrofit his planes, so he’s got a hard problem. Like, something that he literally cannot solve, at least in its current form.

But what he did is one of my favorite ways to flip it, which is he created himself a bigger problem. You’re thinking like, “I thought you’re crazy, Sterling. Now, I’m sure of it.” But hear me out. He said, “If I can’t find £10 million to retrofit my planes, what if I buy all new planes, a £4-billion proposition?”

So, he called Airbus up, and he said, “Listen, if I buy an entirely new fleet of planes from you, will you throw in the entertainment system and give me the financing necessary to buy them?” They said yes. Airbus, same thing. Virgin ended up with an entirely new fleet of planes, the cheapest planes that they’ve ever bought in the history of the company with the latest and greatest entertainment systems on board.

It was only because he couldn’t achieve his goal in the original way that he thought, that he started creating a bigger problem, and that solved not only getting all the latest and greatest entertainment, but gave him the newest jets they’ve ever bought at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. All right.

Sterling Hawkins
It blows me away, I’m like, “That is so smart.” Most of us aren’t buying new fleets of planes, but we’re confronted with budget issues all the time. I know I am, personally and professionally. And it helps sometimes to say, “Okay, if this were an order of magnitude bigger, how would I solve it then?” It opens up some new ways to achieve that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then what’s the next step?

Sterling Hawkins
So, the next and final step is to deal with the fact that no matter how much we plan, prepare, or predict, tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us at any level. And I think we lose sight of that with all the stock predictions, and weather predictions, and road conditions, and news, and everything else telling us what tomorrow is going to bring. Tomorrow is not promised, and we have to deal with that uncertainty in a very specific way.

The fifth step I call it surrender, not in terms of giving up. I’m not saying sit on the couch and watch Netflix and order a pizza, though there might be a time and place for that. I’m talking about actively and intentionally accepting what is exactly how it is. Carl Jung, arguably, like the father of modern psychology, he had this great quote that really stuck with me, he said, “We cannot change anything until we accept it.”

Condemnation about not having enough time, or enough money, or enough resources, condemnation about any of those things doesn’t liberate. It oppresses. And when we can surrender our view, the things that we’re upset about, resentful of, holding against other people, when we surrender those things, it frees us to achieve something brand new. And if we don’t surrender, it works the other way. It becomes an anchor holding us back.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, I’m curious, in the middle of all this, when the rubber meets the road and we just sure feel like quitting, how do you power through?

Sterling Hawkins
Well, so you’ve got a couple of components. You’ve got your commitments that are calling you forward when you want to give up. You’ve got your street gang that’s building your courage, your confidence, and your accountability. You’ve got some of these different ways to flip it and think about it. But that acceptance piece, for me, is the most challenging.

And I find one of the greatest ways to accept is what’s called the sacred pause, by really slowing down, by maybe turning off your phone or your computer for a couple of minutes, even better for a couple of hours, by not bringing that phone in bed with you, by really slowing down and intentionally start to accept what is.

And it’s not necessarily a fast process, but when you have some kind of practice where you’re intentionally doing that over time, it’s going to allow you to let go of that discomfort, the things that maybe you’ve been holding onto, or better said, holding you back, and let you rise in a new way.

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

Sterling Hawkins
I think that’s it. This system is designed to move you through growth. I’ve always been inspired by movies like Star Wars and so on, where you’ve got these heroes moving through these incredible journeys. And I think this is almost a system to move ourselves through that journey. It helps us step into the unknown, unknown of ourselves, unknown of our world, and realize something new for ourselves, realize something new about ourselves or about others or about the world that we can bring back. And that’s a true gift to the world, and that’s what I think real growth is.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Well, now can we hear a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Sterling Hawkins
It’s that quote I heard from my mom. It’s actually Robert Frost, “The way out is through.” The way out is through, to me, means you go through the things that you’re fearful of, scared of, and what you’re looking for is on the other side.

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

Sterling Hawkins
I found a study from Yale University, and it turns out, when you’re uncomfortable, you’re four times better at learning. You learn four times faster. It’s like a bio-hack to being better.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. So, when you say uncomfortable, there’s a variety of ways. So, if I’m just like cold, if I’m wearing a hair shirt, is there a precise form of discomfort we’re talking about?

Sterling Hawkins
No, we’re talking about what that University of Michigan study, like discomfort is discomfort – physical, mental, emotional, arguably, spiritual. So, as long as you’re in some level of discomfort that’s not debilitating, but has you kind of sit up and take notice, it could be a cold room, it could be sitting on a bed of nails, if you’re into that kind of thing, any kind of discomfort will trigger that kind of superpower of being four times better, faster, and smarter.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. All right. And how about a favorite book?

Sterling Hawkins
I have many of them. But as I was thinking about this, I think it’s got to be The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger.

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

Sterling Hawkins
This is probably an overused answer but I’m in love with Keynote, not only for giving presentations but I use it to map out some of my ideas, and kind of draw different maps of how some of these things are working inside of myself and inside of companies. And I find it something that I’m on, like, half my day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Sterling Hawkins
So, one of my, like, only habits is that every day I get up and I commit to doing at least one thing no matter what. My days look very different. I’m on the road a lot, giving keynotes, workshops, different places around the world, and every day I get up and it could be something different, it could be I’m going to call my mom today no matter what, or I’m going to meditate today no matter what.

It doesn’t really matter what it is but I find that when I’ve got one thing that I’ll do every day, regardless of the circumstances, it builds my capacity to get things done even when the world is thrown into chaos; COVID, you know. So, it’s something I use and I recommend it to a lot of people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect, resonate, gets highlighted a lot?

Sterling Hawkins
I think it’s that research from Carl Jung, “We cannot change anything until we accept it.” And like I said in the beginning, discomfort is not the point. I’m not suggesting everybody live a super uncomfortable life. But when you move into that discomfort, and as Carl Jung suggests, you accept it exactly how it is, that’s where growth comes from, and you grow your ability to deal with different kinds of discomforts, it’s not set, and it grows over time along with you.

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

Sterling Hawkins
Best thing to learn everything about me, the No Matter What community, my book, all that stuff at SterlingHawkins.com. All my social media is there. And one of the really cool things we started doing is sharing commitments of folks from the community up online, so you can check out what everybody else is up to, get inspired, and maybe even submit something yourself.

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

Sterling Hawkins
Final challenge, is find something that you’re uncomfortable with every single day and at least take a micro dose of it. Every time you do, it’s going to make you a little bit stronger and it’s going to grow that discomfort muscle for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Sterling, thanks. It’s been a treat. I wish you much fun on the hunt.

Sterling Hawkins
Thank you, Pete. it’s been a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.

767: How to Build Tremendous Mental Strength with Amy Morin

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Amy Morin delineates the bad mental habits that are holding us back from achieving our full potential.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three elements of mental strength
  2. The 13 things mentally strong people don’t do
  3. How to more effectively tolerate discomfort and distress in our day-to-day 

About Amy

Amy Morin is editor-in-chief at Verywell Mind, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and psychology lecturer at Northeastern University. She’s also an international bestselling author. Her books, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, and 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do have been translated into 40 languages.

The Guardian dubbed her “the self-help guru of the moment” and Forbes calls her a “thought leadership star.”

Her TEDx talk, The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong, is one of the most popular talks of all time with more than 15 million views. She’s a regular contributor to Forbes, Business Insider, and Psychology Today where her articles on mental strength reach more than 2 million readers each month.

Resources Mentioned

Amy Morin Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Amy, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Amy Morin
Hey, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. And I think the first thing that we need to hear about, though, is, is it true you’ve been living on a sailboat for the last six years? And what is the story?

Amy Morin
It is true. So, I guess six years ago, we decided, “Hey, why live in Maine if you don’t have to? It’s kind of cold and dark.” So, we went on this adventure that was supposed to be six months on a sailboat, but six years later, here I am. And it was my husband’s dream. When he was four years old, his bedroom was decorated in a sailboat theme, so he said, “Someday, I’m going to live on a sailboat,” but we realized someday isn’t always promised, so just one random day, we said, “Why not do it?” So, we packed up a Fiat with a dog, a cat, a laptop, and off we went, and here we are still in the Florida Keys on a sailboat.

Pete Mockaitis
So, as we speak, you’re on a sailboat?

Amy Morin
I am, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t see anything rocking.

Amy Morin
Yeah. So, a lot of the time, because I need superfast internet, we’re tied to a dock, so I’m not just bobbing around in the ocean or anything.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, has that been working out well for you, you’re pleased with the decision? And what are some of the pros living on a sailboat maybe others should consider?

Amy Morin
Yeah. So, there are some pros and cons. The pros would be it’s kind of a simple life. Again, I have some clothes and a laptop and not much else, and you really don’t need much. And, like, manatees and dolphins come swimming by, and there’s lots of cool stuff. And, of course, during quarantine, it was easy to be on a sailboat because when everybody had to be inside their house, well, my house moves so I could go places and still go out and do things. I can snorkel, I can swim, I can do lots of fun stuff.

But there are some cons as well. So, this is my podcast studio, so we’re recording a podcast from a boat. It’s loud sometimes. There are certain things you have to think of with a sailboat, like, there’s not a ton of room, so we kind of jockey for position on who gets the cool space on the couch during the day. And there was an octopus incident that involved an octopus coming through our air-conditioning vent. That was not the best day ever.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild. Well, cool, you’re making it work. That’s exciting.

Amy Morin
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m also excited to hear all about mental strength. You’ve got a series of excellent books, including 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, and I loved your TEDx Talk, we will put a link to that in the show notes, for sure. So, tell me, when it comes to us humans and mental strength, is there a particular surprising discovery you’ve made about us in the course of your practice and research?

Amy Morin
Well, I guess the first thing was that mental strength really depended on what not to do. We talk so much about all the healthy habits and all the things you should do.

Pete Mockaitis
Exercise.

Amy Morin
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Breathe.

Amy Morin
And as a therapist, I was taught, “When people come into your therapy office and they tell you what’s going on in their life, figure out what they’re already doing well and build on that,” and that makes sense on the surface, like, “Yeah, I’m going to point out your strengths and we’re going to keep doing that.” But, at some point, I thought, “Well, if I want to go see a physical trainer and they told me to run on the treadmill, yeah, I’m going to run on the treadmill.” But if they didn’t mention, “Hey, by the way, that junk food you’re eating kind of negates all that work you’re doing on the treadmill,” I’d be kind of mad.

So, I thought, “Let’s take a look at this. What are the common unhealthy habits that we all do but, yet, those little things keep us stuck?” And so, for example, you can practice gratitude quite often but if you still feel sorry for yourself sometimes, kind of negates the gratitude. So, most of us have moments where we feel thankful, but we also have moments where we feel sorry for ourselves. So, let’s focus on getting rid of that in our lives, and then the good habits you have already become much more effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, beautiful. So, then when it comes to talking about being mentally strong, how do you define that? Is being mentally strong distinct from mentally healthy or are they kind of synonymous or interchangeable?

Amy Morin
I’m glad you asked that because they’re different. People will say that sometimes, like, “Ah, I wish I could be mentally strong but I’m depressed,” or, “I wish I could be mentally strong but I have anxiety.” Not the same thing at all. It makes more sense to our brains when we think about it in terms of, like, physical strength and physical health. You go to the gym, you can build physical strength, yeah, that improves your physical health, too. But even a weight trainer can still develop, like, high cholesterol or some sort of physical health problem down the road, you might injure your knee, mental strength is the same.

It’s all about the exercises we do every day, the strategies we employ in life, but knowing that despite how much mental strength you have, it doesn’t guarantee you won’t ever develop a mental health problem. So, even when you’re mentally strong, you might still develop something like depression, anxiety, OCD. Those things happen to anybody, but mental strength can prevent some problems, it can make you feel your best no matter what kind of mental health problems you might be struggling with.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’ve got a distinction. And then, so what’s the definition then of a mentally strong person is blank, or mental strength equals this?

Amy Morin
Well, I’d have to say, the easiest way to define it is that there’s three parts to it – the way you think, the way you feel, and the way you behave. So, when it comes to thoughts, it’s not about like super positive thinking all the time. It’s about knowing that your thoughts can be realistic so that, all right, when things are bad, you might just accept, “Yeah, they’re bad,” but, on the other hand, you don’t want to spend all your mental real-estate worrying about things that will never happen or ruminating on things that already did. It’s about just taking some control over your mind and your thoughts.

And then when it comes to our emotions, sometimes people will be like, “Oh, be mentally strong. Don’t cry.” That’s not the case either. Sometimes it takes a lot of mental strength to just acknowledge how you feel, to express those feelings, and to know that you can be comfortable even with some uncomfortable emotions. But, on the other side of that, there are times when maybe you’re so angry you can’t think straight, so you need the power to reduce your anger. So, a simple way would be to be in control of your emotions so that they don’t control you.

And then the last part is about our behavior, the action you take. You can be an optimistic, happy person, but unless you take action, those things don’t really matter. So, it’s about knowing, “Okay, even on the day I’m tired, I’m still going to go to the gym,” or, “Even though I don’t feel like doing this thing, it’s the right thing to do so I’m going to do it anyway.” And knowing when to push yourself but, of course, also knowing that it’s different to, say, run on a sore leg versus a broken ankle. There are days where you need to say, “Okay, being mentally strong sometimes means taking a break, taking a step back, or even quitting or giving up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s nice and clear. All right. So, we got a picture of those three things. And tell us, Amy, to what extent are they learnable? And can you maybe share an inspiring story or research that says, “Hey, people have made transformations here all the time”?

Amy Morin
Yeah. So, it’s definitely all learnable and it’s things that we can learn and practice and put into our daily lives, these small things, just like all of us could choose to build physical strength by working out, doing some things differently. We can all choose to do things differently when it comes to building mental muscle and there’s lots of stories of Olympic athletes and Navy SEALs and people who go out there and do really cool things with their lives.

But I can share my own story and life, and tell you that I don’t come by this naturally but I’ve learned a lot over the years. As a kid, I was the kind of kid that never raised their hand in class. I actually hated school to the point that I vomited before school every day until about the fourth grade. In high school, I never spoke in class either. I was the shy kid in the back of the room. I became somebody that was able to give a TED Talk that’s now been viewed by 20 million people, and I can do lots of things I never ever thought I could do before but it was about practicing and putting those things into place.

And as a therapist, I knew some of this stuff but it wasn’t really the books, the textbooks that taught me anything differently. It was mostly my life experiences. When I was 23, I lost my mom. When I was 23, my husband passed away. A few years after that, my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. It was like my 20s were awful. I went through all of this hard stuff but I learned from it, and what I learned was like, “Okay, don’t sweat the small stuff. There really is a lot to be said for that.”

There are things I never thought I could do that I can. And even as a therapist, I’d be teaching other people about their self-limiting beliefs but, at the same time, I think I really believed that I had a lot of limitations that I didn’t. I can get out there and do so many things now that I never thought I could do by putting these things into practice, by giving up unhealthy habits that were holding me back, and by truly just saying, “Okay, let’s get out there and try these things.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear the things. So, there’s 13 things mentally strong people don’t do. Can you give us that rundown?

Amy Morin
Sure. You want all 13?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, please.

Amy Morin 
I’m going to cheat by looking at the back of my book because now that I’ve written five books, I get a little out of order after a while. So, the first one is that mentally strong people don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves. They don’t give away their power. They don’t shy away from change. They don’t focus on things they can’t control. They don’t worry about pleasing everyone. They don’t fear taking calculated risks. They don’t dwell in the past. They don’t make the same mistakes over and over. They don’t resent other people’s success. They don’t give up after their first failure. They don’t fear alone time. They don’t feel like the world owes them anything. And they don’t expect immediate results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. That’s it, that’s 13. Okay.

Amy Morin
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, then as I hear them, that seems to make sense, like, “Yeah, it’d be better to not waste time feeling sorry for yourself. It’d be better to not give away our power. It’d be better to not shy away from change. Yup, yup, yup, that seems good.” I’m curious, though, if we are doing some of this stuff, how do we begin to make that change?

Amy Morin
Yeah, so it’s easy to say, “I don’t do those things,” or, “I don’t do them very often,” or, “It’s not a problem.” But the truth is we all do those things sometimes, and we all expect immediate results, for example, and that’s part of the world we live in. We now have Google and Amazon where you can get an answer, or on a click of a button, you can get something delivered to your door almost immediately. So, then when it comes to changing our lives, we think this will happen this week.

And you can even look at it with like New Year’s resolutions. Most of them go out the window within two weeks. I think January 18 is the day that most people have already given up on their New Year’s resolution because we expect things to happen fast, “I’m going to lose 100 pounds this year,” “I’m going to change my life,” and it doesn’t happen according to our schedule. But whenever we find ourselves doing these things, the first thing is just become more aware of it.

And even though I’ve written books on this and I talk about it all the time, I still find myself doing certain things. I give away my power, for example. I blame somebody else for putting me in a bad mood, or ruining my day, or making me do something. No, those are all my choices. And just recognizing it, that was the first step, and then being able to say, “Okay, what am I going to do about it? How do I get rid of this habit? What am I going to do instead?”

And, luckily, there’s an antidote for all of this stuff. If you want to stop feeling sorry for yourself, just take a moment and say, “Well, what do I have to be thankful for? What can I be grateful for in the moment?” You find yourself expecting immediate results? Find a way to say, “Okay, now I’m going to figure out how do I track my progress?” Whether you say, “I’m going to make a certain amount of money,” “Pay down a certain amount of debt this year,” or, “I want to have this fitness goal,” well, what can I do to track my progress? It might just be as simple as putting an X on the calendar every day so that you don’t expect this to happen overnight.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, actually, I really like these antidotes. Can I hear 11 more?

Amy Morin
Sure. And there’s a lot of about all of them. There’s science behind it. It’s not just things that I made up. But if we were to talk about not fearing calculated risks, for example, we tend to think that our level of fear is equal to the level of risks, so, “Applying for that promotion feels scary so I shouldn’t do it because it must be risky.” The truth is that our emotions have nothing to do with the actual level of risk that we face.

And so, the antidote to this one is just taking a look from a rational perspective, which, in some cases, might be taking a step back, and saying, “What would I say to my friend who had this problem?” because it takes a lot of the emotion out of it. So, if you said, “Gee, I had this opportunity to apply for a promotion but it feels scary, so I don’t want to embarrass myself.”

Well, if your friend came to you and said that, you’d be like, “Hey, go for it,” or, “I think you’ll do a good job.” You’d probably have some kind words unless you really thought that they shouldn’t apply then you might be willing to be honest, and say, “Actually, maybe not yet.” Well, give yourself those same words, and it takes a lot of the string out of it, the emotion out of it, and you can make a better decision.

Or, if we were to say, let’s talk about not giving away your power, if we went back to that one. The antidote to that one is changing your language. How often do we say, “My boss makes me work late”? Nope, your boss doesn’t make you work late. It’s a choice. Maybe there’s a consequence. Maybe your job would be at risk. But just recognizing, “All right, the expectation is I’ll get this report done by tomorrow. I’m going to have to work late to do it, but that’s my choice.” There’s something super empowering about just flipping your language around so you could say, “It’s up to me to decide how I’m going to do this.”

Another one is about not resenting other people’s success. Well, how often do we, say, flip through social media, and you look at other people, and you’re like, “Ugh, they’re happier than I am. They’re healthier, they’re wealthier, they’re more attractive, they have a better life than I do.” It’s those comparisons that keep us stuck. And studies will show that if you look at somebody as an opinion-holder rather than your competitor, then you’ll learn from them.

So, if you just look at somebody that, say, drives a really nice car, you might be able to say, “Well, what can I learn from that person? Maybe they have a really cool job, or maybe they know how to negotiate a good deal on a car, or maybe they gave up something in their life so they could afford this car.” But just saying, “What can I learn from that person?” rather than, “That person is better than I am,” it keeps you from feeling bad about it.

Amy Morin
when it comes to failure, we have this idea that, “Failing feels bad and I don’t want to feel bad so, therefore, I shouldn’t put myself out there.” Well, one of the insane things we do is we talk about success stories. So, they looked at high school science teachers, and all the science teachers were telling kids about, say, Edison, Einstein, all these famous scientists who were really successful.

And the more that they talked about how successful these people were, the kids’ grades started to decline. So, then they had them talk about how all these famous people failed. Edison had a bazillion experiments that didn’t go well, Einstein had some theories that probably were a little off base. And when they started talking about these people’s failures, the students’ grades started going up because then they knew, “Well, gee, failure is actually part of the process, so the way to succeed, you have to take a risk, put yourself out there, you have to guess sometimes, you have to do things that are going to be really hard.”
And once the students started doing that, they took more risks, they raised their hand, they guessed on an answer if they didn’t know, but they were willing to do harder things, and their grades went up. And I think that’s a great lesson for all of us. When we look around these dotcom businesses or successful business leaders who now have programs out there and they’re trying to get us to buy them, we hear about how successful they were but we don’t always know what it took for them to get there. Just by studying famous failures, it will give you courage to try so that then you’ll know, “Okay, well, if I failed, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just part of the process.”

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. And how about not shying away from change?

Amy Morin
Yeah, so that one, a lot of people come into my therapy office, and they’ll say, “I’m ready to change my life,” but then when we talk about making change, they’re kind of like, “Eh, I’m not so sure about that. Change is uncomfortable.” And we like it when things are predictable. Even though they’re bad, if it’s familiar, somehow we think, “Well, that’s not too bad.”

So, with this one, there’s a few different things that you can do but sometimes just putting a name to your emotions goes a long way. So, if you just label how you’re feeling, “Okay, I’m anxious,” “I’m sad,” it takes a lot of the sting out of it. And there’s science behind this one, too, that our brains and our bodies need a little help making sense of things. So, when you have all these stress hormones going on, just take a moment and be like, “Okay, I’m feeling anxious right now,” you automatically feel a little bit less anxious.

And then the next thing you can do is, once you identify how you’re feeling, is to be able to say, “Well, is this a friend or an enemy right now?” because so often we talk about feelings like they’re either positive or negative. People will say, “Well, excitement is a positive emotion and anger is a negative emotion.” But when you think about it, any feeling has the power to be positive or negative. Yeah, anger is helpful if you stand up for your friend, maybe, or it gives you courage to stand up for yourself. It’s not helpful if it causes you to call people names or to say things that you wouldn’t normally do or say.

But excitement, on the other hand, we love it. When you’re looking forward to a vacation and you’re excited, that feels good. But what if somebody comes to you with this, like, a get-rich-quick scheme and they guarantee you that there’s no way you’re going to fail?

Pete Mockaitis
“Ooh, no way I can fail, Amy? Sign me up now.”

Amy Morin
Right. That’s why we see really smart people fall prey to, like, really stupid get-rich-quick schemes because they’re so excited about the payoff that they overlook the risks. So, sometimes it’s just helpful to say, “How am I feeling right now?” Put a name to that, and then say, “Is that helpful or harmful?” And if it’s helpful, embrace it. If it’s harmful, then you say, “Okay, what do I do about this?” and make a different choice.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Amy, I love this so much. “Positive emotions” and “negative emotions” I guess we might re-label that as pleasant emotions and unpleasant emotions. Like, it’s pleasant to feel excited about the get-rich-quick scheme but that’s not going to serve you well. It’s going to be harmful to you. So, you could say that’s…in a way, I don’t even like the words positive and negative in relation to emotions because they get things a little bit fuzzy versus friend versus enemy, I love it.

And I want to dig a little deeper here on the emotional management stuff because, all right, so you’ve probably heard this poem, and it’s very short so I’ll read it in its entirety, from Rumi, “The Guest House,” and it has a perspective on emotions. A couple guests have brought it up, it says,

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning is 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.”

So, that’s a poem. I think there’s some profundity. I chew on that, and I think, “Wow, that sounds like a cool, free, liberating way to live,” but I don’t know if it’s optimal, and it may be harmful. And what’s your hot take, Amy, when it comes to emotional management, calling things friends or enemies, versus they’re all just guests, they come and they go and they serve us?

Amy Morin
I think there’s a lot of power in just sometimes allowing emotions to come in. I think a lot of our suffering in life comes from our attempts to fight feelings. So, something anxiety-provoking, we don’t want to feel that way, so then we try to get rid of the anxiety rather than solve the problem. I think life gets a lot better when we get better at answering the question, “Should I solve the problem or solve how I feel about the problem?”

Sometimes we have a problem that’s huge but it’s so anxiety-provoking and I feel anxious about it so I just want to solve my anxiety rather than tackle the problem. This is why people develop, say, substance abuse issues or compulsive behaviors, “It feels better to do this right now than it is to tackle that problem, so I’m going to do what’s in front of me, whether that’s grab a drink or eat too much. Something to take care of my feelings rather than take care of the problem.”

And I can’t tell you, I mean, I’ve noticed this in my own life but it’s something I constantly work with people in my therapy office about is just honoring our emotions sometimes and knowing that the more we run from them, the more they just keep following us, and they show up wherever we are, and they show up in different areas of our lives.

So, if you’re sad, sometimes it helps you honor something you lost, you have to go through those sad feelings. But, instead of going through them, we do a lot of effort to try to go around, do everything we can to go under, over, skip it, we distract ourselves constantly because emotions, certain ones, are uncomfortable, we don’t want to be bored, we don’t want to be lonely, “Who wants to be sad or anxious?”

And in today’s world, it’s so easy to distract ourselves with our phones, with constant noise in our ears, all the things that we can do so that we don’t have to tolerate a moment of discomfort, but if we spend our whole lives trying to avoid just being uncomfortable or making it so we don’t experience emotions that are unpleasant, life gets even worse in its suspicious cycle.

But I also don’t think we have to tolerate it. So, again, when your emotions are saying enemy, when they’re not helpful, then you don’t have to sit and suffer with them. Sometimes we need to say, “Hmm, maybe I should do something else.” If you allow sadness to stick around too long, you might find yourself in bed, and then it lies to you. People become depressed, their depression tells them, “Don’t go to work today. You just stay in bed and you’ll feel better.” Well, nobody’s ever felt better by staying in bed all day but our emotions can lie to us. It can make us irrational.

If we took the example of sadness again, never negotiate when you’re sad. You’ll take a horrible deal when you’re sad because you’ll think, “I don’t want to counter offer because I just don’t know that my ego can handle one more blow, so I’ll accept whatever deal you offer me.” Or, when we’re anxious about something, our anxiety from our personal life spills over into work.

So, let’s say you just had a health test, you’re waiting on the results, you go to work, your boss offers you a new opportunity, you’re going to be like, “No, thank you. I don’t think I can handle that,” because your anxiety spills over and you’re not even going to recognize it. So, as much as we talk about emotional intelligence, I don’t think we’re there. I think we need to just go back to the basics sometimes and figure out, “How am I feeling? Is that feeling helpful or harmful? If it’s harmful, how do I change my emotional state?”

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s say, how does one change their emotional state? We say, you figured out, “Okay, hey, I’m sad but I’ve got a negotiation coming up in half an hour. I recognize that me being sad is not great for this upcoming challenge but, nonetheless, I feel sad. What do I do about it?”

Amy Morin
Yeah. So, let’s say you lost your pet last week and you’re sad about it, obviously being sad helps you honor that lost. It’s okay to be sad for a while, that’s sort of a thing. But in that moment where you’re, like, “I’m about to walk into this meeting and I need to negotiate an amazing deal,” then you can do two things. Number one is change how you think and change your behavior. So, we tend to do something that keeps us in whatever state we’re in. When you’re anxious, maybe you pace. When you’re sad, you just sit and stare at the wall.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, look down.

Amy Morin
Right. And those kinds of things reinforce how we feel. So, sometimes you need to act the opposite, so get up and go for a jog, or you look at a funny cat video online, or you call somebody and talk about a completely different subject just to shift it. And you could also change what you’re thinking about. When you’re anxious, maybe you’re replaying something over and over again, or dwelling on the worst-case scenario.

Or, when you’re sad, you’re just thinking about more sad things. Take a moment and purposefully think about something that’s happier just to give yourself that little mood boost when you need it in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Okay. Well, let’s see, there’s a few more things that mentally strong people don’t do. Maybe you want to hear some antidote if you find yourself doing it. How about when we’re focused on things that we can’t control? What’s the antidote?

Amy Morin
That one is about sometimes just pausing and saying, “Okay, what is within my control?” It might only be your effort, your attitude, your behavior, but it’s tough to do. We want to control the outcome. Or, we find ourselves doing these things, too. Like, let’s say you have a pain in your knee, and suddenly you start Googling. And within two minutes, you find out either it’s nothing or you’re about to die, depending on which website you look at.

And so, to control your anxiety, maybe you just keep researching, researching, researching, and it’s not helpful. Well, what can you control? Well, you can control when you call the doctor, if you make an appointment, or what you do about it. So, sometimes it’s just about taking a step back, and saying, “What’s within my control right now?” and then taking some kind of action, but making sure that that action is about moving forward. Ending up in an endless loop of research, you could research forever, and what’s that going to do?

Or, if you have something coming up this weekend and you want to make sure it’s a sunny day because you have outdoor plans, checking the weather compulsively every two minutes isn’t going to change the outcome. So, maybe you just ask yourself, “Well, okay, what’s the worst-case scenario?” and then kind of play that through of, “All right. Well, if it rains this weekend, what’s going to happen? My plans get ruined. Well, if my plans get ruined, what will I do instead?” And just playing that tape through sometimes reminds us that, “All right, even if the worst-case scenario did happen, it’s not the end of the world.”

Pete Mockaitis
And if we’re worried about pleasing everyone, what do we do?

Amy Morin
Again, that one is a difficult one for chronic people-pleasers. When you tend to always say yes to everything, sometimes it’s just a matter of stepping back and having a new default answer, because if somebody calls, and says, “Hey, can you do me this favor?” and you always say yes, take a moment and say, “Ah, I’m going to check my schedule and get back to you.”

And just having a new script, and maybe you already know the answer is going to be yes, or maybe you already know, “It’s something I really don’t want to do,” but in that moment, it’s hard to say that. So, just having a pre-planned script, like, “Let me check my schedule and get back to you,” or, “I’ll have to see if that works for me but I’ll let you know.” Just having that little pause sometimes can then give you enough time to think, “Okay, is this something I really want to do or not?” then you can get back to the person with a better answer. But I find a lot of times, people-pleasers, just their default is to always say yes to everything, so they need a little bit of time to decide, “Do I really want to do this or not?”

Pete Mockaitis
And what if we’re people-pleasing not just in the saying yes or no, but in the broader sense of what we choose to ask for, like, “Ooh, I don’t want to ask for that. That might be too much. I don’t want to inconvenience them,” in that sort of a way?

Amy Morin
Anytime we’re afraid of something, the best way to overcome that fear of saying, “Okay, I’m afraid to ask for something. I’m afraid to take care of myself,” it’s just about doing it in small steps. So, maybe you ask for a little less than you actually want just to see what happens as an experiment. I’m a huge fan of saying, “Let’s try behavioral experiments,” and test the waters. Sometimes people will be like, “Oh, I can’t ask for that because my boss might be mad,” or, “I can’t ask my coworker for that favor,” or, “I can’t speak up and say, actually, that’s an unreasonable deadline.” Well, try it and see what happens.

And to know that you don’t have to feel brave to act brave. Just put yourself out there and do it anyway, as an experiment. If something terrible happens, you can learn from it, but I think nine times out of ten, you might discover that the worst isn’t going to happen, people aren’t going to be mad, they’re not going to freak out, they’re not going to look down on you if you asked for what you need.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I like that notion of the little steps. So, that might even just be like, “Try writing the email,” or, “Try writing out the script,” “Try asking for…” instead of saying, “There’s no way that’s going to happen, boss. Forget about it.” It’s like, “No, actually, that’s going to be very challenging based upon these other things, and it may require that I’m up until midnight if we don’t re-prioritize some things. So, how do you think about the priorities?” Like, “You got to stay up till midnight, aargh.” Versus, “Oh, I had no idea. I’m so sorry. Let’s see what we can do here.”

Cool. And if you’re dwelling on the past, how do we un-dwell?

Amy Morin
So, yeah, sometime we dwell on like something bad that happened six weeks ago, sometimes it’s like the conversation that happened at lunch, maybe you got home from work after a bad day and you just keep replaying over and over again, and thinking of all the things you wish you would’ve said, all the things you wished the other person hadn’t said. It’s like this tape that gets stuck in our head and we rehash it over and over and over again.

So, one of my favorite exercises for this one is to distract yourself. We call it changing the channel in your brain, and we’re pretty bad at it at first. So, maybe you had a bad day, you get home from work, and you’re still thinking about that bad thing that happened, and you say, “Well, don’t think about that.” Well, we actually are going to think about it more.

So, I’ll do this exercise with people often. We can do it right now if you like, where I say, “Spend about 20 seconds thinking about white bears. White bears, white bears, white bears. Polar bears, stuffed white bears, how many white bears as it gets.”

Pete Mockaitis
Like a Coca-Cola advertisement?

Amy Morin
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re so adorable unless they’re mauling something, I guess. White bears, white bears, white bears.

Amy Morin
So, then spend the next 20 seconds thinking about absolutely anything you want but, whatever you do, do not think about a white bear.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, it’s challenging. I’m like battery recharging. Recharging batteries. Battery rechargeables, like it’s hard. I’m drifting.

Amy Morin
Okay. And then one more quick thing then. For the next 20 seconds, see how far you can get from the alphabet from Z to A, see if you can get all the way through the alphabet backwards. Ready, set, go.

Pete Mockaitis
Out loud?

Amy Morin
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T, S, R, Q, P, O, N, M, L, K, J, I, H, G, F, E, D, C, B, A.

Amy Morin
Oh, that’s impressive that you just did that. Good work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Thank you.

Amy Morin
So, when I said think about white bears, did a white bear pop up in your head at least one?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Amy Morin
And then when I said don’t think about white bears, think about anything you want, did you find, did a little white bear pop up maybe at least once?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Amy Morin
And then how about when you just went through the alphabet backwards, did you think about any white bears then?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I was trying really hard to impress you and the listeners by nailing it, so I was putting all my mental energy there.

Amy Morin
Well, let me tell you, I was impressed. That was really, really fast.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. That’s what it’s all about, baby.

Amy Morin
And that is an example of how to change the channel in your brain. If you tell yourself, “Don’t think about white bears,” or, “Don’t think about that awful conversation,” it’s going to pop up in your head. But if you give yourself a little task to do at home, you’re probably not going to be like, “Okay, I’m going to go through the alphabet backwards,” but you might give yourself something to do. Like, “Okay, instead of sitting on the couch and rehashing this awful thing that happened earlier today over and over again and staying stuck in a bad mood, what can I do?”

And it might be about calling a friend to talk about a completely different subject, maybe you go outside and do something, maybe say, “I’m going to organize my closet for 10 minutes,” but give yourself something to do, sometimes getting up, moving around. The point is when you’re dwelling on something that already happened, you can’t change it. You can learn from it but when you just rehash it and ruminate on it over and over again, you stay stuck in a bad mood. And then telling yourself, “Don’t think about it,” actually makes it worse.

But if you get up and do something, give yourself an activity, it can boost your mood just a little bit. And even though you’re probably going to eventually go back to thinking about it again, when you feel a little bit better, you might be able to see it from a different angle, and say, “Okay, maybe it wasn’t so bad, or maybe the next time this comes up, I’ll have a different strategy.” But the point is, you just don’t want to sit and dwell on something that makes you feel bad and keep dwelling and then you feel worse.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, I dig it. I dig it. And I’m thinking, in particular, that the alphabet backwards is the example of it has a little bit of a challenge or a game-like quality to it. And I’m thinking about if there’s a quick game, like, I don’t know, Wordle from The New York Times has been a lot of fun, or Tetris, or, I don’t know, online math problems or something. It seems like, maybe it’s just me, but, like, something that it makes a bit of a demand upon you, like, “I’m going to have to try to apply my attention here in order to prevail, and I like prevailing so I’m going to choose to spend all my attention on the thing.”

Amy Morin
Right, because that requires your mental energy. It just gives your brain a bit of a break, and sometimes we need that because sometimes bad things do happen. So, we’re talking about something traumatic because sometimes when people have PTSD, they need to get professional help because it does stay stuck in their brains. But when other bad things happen, and we just keep thinking about it over and over again, and maybe you try to put a positive spin on it or something, but you just can’t get unstuck, sometimes you just need to find something to give your brain a break so you can feel a little bit better before you go back and think about it again.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, if we are making the same mistakes repeatedly, what’s our antidote there?

Amy Morin
So, of course, we just want to learn from our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. And quite often, we shame ourselves for making a mistake, like, “Ugh, I’m such an idiot,” or, “I’m a bad person.” Well, guess what? When you think you’re a bad person, you’re going to think, “Oh, I’m doomed to repeat that mistake.”

We see this with teenagers sometimes. Like, if a kid messes up a lot and his parents shame him, and says, “Oh, you’re an idiot,” or, “You’re a bad kid,” well, guess what? When he’s 15 and somebody says, “Hey, you want to try drugs?” who’s going to try the drugs, the kid that thinks, “I’m a bad person,” or the kid who, when he messed up, was just taught, “No, I mess up sometimes but I’m a good kid”? Well, we know the kid who thinks, “I’m a bad person” is like, “I’m going to make a bad choice because that’s who I am.”

Well, we do that to ourselves as adults, like, oh, when we mess up, we say, “Well, I’m not smart enough. I’m stupid. I can’t ever do anything right.” When you think that way, you’re going to then think, “Well, I’m incapable of doing better next time.” So, just catching how harsh we are on ourselves sometimes, and saying, “Well, how do I talk to myself the same way I’d talk to a friend again?” you do self-compassion. If you end up shaming yourself, remind yourself, “No, I just messed up and that’s okay. I’m capable of doing better next time.”

Pete Mockaitis
And if we’re uncomfortable being alone and with silence, what do you recommend?

Amy Morin
So, this one takes some practice. So, sometimes people will say, “Oh, I love alone time,” and then I’ll say, “Well, what do you do when you’re alone?” and they’ll say, “Well, I text my friends or I’m scrolling through social media,” but they’re not really alone with their thoughts. They’re sort of consuming stuff, they’re listening to podcast episodes, they’re doing something. But this one is really about sitting alone with your thoughts, which can be uncomfortable. Most of us want to be productive. We want to be doing something. And the thought of being alone with our brains is scary.

So, one of the strategies for this one is to just schedule a date with yourself. It might be that you go to dinner, maybe you go watch a movie, maybe you go for a walk on the beach. Go do something all by yourself. And you don’t have the pressure to perform to make somebody else happy. You don’t have to make pleasant conversation. Just go do what you want to do, and make it more pleasant to spend time with yourself, and then that becomes less scary over time.

And people will say, “Well, gosh, this is hard,” or, “It’s embarrassing to do these things alone,” or, “I’m not comfortable,” but start small. Maybe it’s just taking a quick walk. Maybe it’s going somewhere to eat where you at least know somebody, the waitress or somebody there, but just go do these little small things. And as you become more comfortable with yourself, you get to be more comfortable with the things going on in your own brain.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And, finally, if we do feel the world owes us something, well, one, how do I identify that, because I imagine many people will deny that, “Oh, no, I don’t do that, Amy”? And, two, if we catch ourselves, in your description, what do we do about it?

Amy Morin
Yeah, I hear older people say, “Ah, the younger generation feels entitled.”

Pete Mockaitis
“They’re so entitled.”

Amy Morin
Right. But the truth is we’re all entitled sometimes, we think, “Well, geez, I deserve better than this,” and, of course, sometimes we do deserve better. You don’t deserve to be treated poorly by somebody, or you don’t deserve to be abused. But, on the other hand, yes, sometimes you have to wait in line a little while longer than you wanted, or sometimes life isn’t fair.

But when you catch yourself just leaving a little bit of a sense of entitlement, take a step back and just remind yourself, like why you’re keeping score because so many people will say, “Well, I’m a good person. I deserve better,” or, “I’m going to put all this good stuff out in the universe,” but then they’re really only doing it because they expect it to come back to them, like, “Oh, if I earn enough karma points, then good things will happen.”

So, just remember that whatever it is you have to offer the world isn’t a loan; it’s a gift. You have plenty of things to give the world, but if you always expect to get the exact amounts of things back that you’re putting out into the world, you’re not going to be happy. So, just knowing, it’s wonderful that you have gifts and talents and skills and things that you can give to the world but you’re not guaranteed that, just because you’re a nice person, good things are going to come your way.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. And I want to ask you, we had another podcast guest, Robert Glazer, do you know him?

Amy Morin
I know of him, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, he quoted you in his email, so you got that going for you. And I really liked this a lot, you say, “The more you practice tolerating discomfort, the more confidence you’ll gain in your ability to accept new challenges.” Now, that sounds true. Do you have some awesome studies or data or research backing that up as well?

Amy Morin
Yeah. So, I guess when it comes to discomfort, we do in therapy something we teach people is distress tolerance skills. And so often, again, our default is to run from distress, but I see it all the time in my therapy office, when people learn to tolerate distress, the things that they thought were really scary, really aren’t that scary anymore.

So, distress tolerance skills can be anything from developing a mantra in your brain that you repeat over and over, so that when you start thinking, “Ah, I can’t handle this,” or sometimes it’s just about tolerating something a little longer than you think that you can. So often we’ll think, “Oh, I can’t stand this.” Well, you can, and you’ll train your brain to see things a little bit differently if you tolerate it a little bit longer than you think you can.

So, I love to run. One of my challenges is I try to run a six-minute mile every day. I can’t quite do it yet but I do it. I attempt to do it anyway. And it never fails, about the three-quarter mile mark, my brain tells me, “You can’t do this.” But I know my brain is lying, like I can keep running at that pace, and despite the fact, though, that my brain will keep telling me, “You’re too tired. Your lungs can’t hack it. Your legs are going to give out,” whatever it is, we go through this lengthy list of reasons why my brain wants me to quit because it’s uncomfortable to try to run.

But I know, I can trick my brain or I can prove to my brain that it’s wrong. And, slowly, over time, my brain now is like, “Okay, I know that you’re going to keep running, anyway but we’re going to keep trying these things on you,” and our brain will try to trick us and tell us that we can’t stand it, but we can. And the best strategy I know to do is to just prove your brain wrong. Know that your brain will underestimate you, it will tell you that you’re not capable, you’re not competent, but when it tells you that, just say, “Okay, challenge accepted,” and push yourself a little harder and see what happens.

And over time, you can train your brain to see you as a little more competent, a little more capable, and that will give you the confidence to know, “Okay, I can handle being uncomfortable.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that could happen either through doing the thing that is unpleasant, either through physical exercise, running as you mentioned. I’ve actually been…I got on a Wim Hof kick, if you know this guy. I’ve been dunking my hands and face into ice water and, well, actually, it’s rather refreshing in and of itself but it also hurts and is unpleasant.

And so, that’s kind of the challenge, it’s like, “Oh, I really want to take my hand out of this ice water now.” It’s like, “Well, I will do that in 10 seconds.” And in so doing, I don’t have the data here, but I think that this is doing something good for me and the ability to tolerate discomfort and have confidence in my abilities. And so, I guess, Amy, I’m not crazy. Shoving my face and hands in ice water can be helpful in this way?

Amy Morin
Yeah. And that is right along the exact same theory, and that’s one thing that I have refused to do. I grew up in rural Maine where a lot of people don’t have running water. To be honest, there are still a lot of poverty there. My parents both grew up in extreme poverty and worked really hard to make sure that I had hot water. Like, I cannot do that to my parents, to then say, “Hey, guess what? I’m taking a cold shower for fun.” So, I don’t do that but it’s absolutely along the same lines, to say, “Okay, how do I put myself in an uncomfortable situation?” And then prove to myself that, “Yeah, this is uncomfortable but I can stand it.”

And then when you teach yourself, “I’m going to do this a little longer than I would like to,” it just teaches it, “Yeah, I can go out there and do hard things. And although it’s uncomfortable, it’s not the end of the world.”

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

Amy Morin
Gosh, no, I think you’ve covered so much about mental strength. I appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. All right. Well, then can you start with a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Amy Morin
So, something my mother always used to tell me was, “Never let your morals get in the way of doing what’s right.” She didn’t make that quote up but I’m not sure who said it, but it’s something I remind myself quite often. There’s plenty of things out there, sometimes it may not be what I think is the moral decision but then when you really stop and think about it, you think, “No, but this is the right thing to do.”

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

Amy Morin
I think one of my favorite studies is the one where they took a look at older men who were like in their 80s, and they decided to rewind the clock. Most of these men had some physical health issues, maybe some cognitive decline, but what you’d expect from elderly men. And they decided to put them in a situation where they pretended like it was back in like 1950, back when they’d still have been vibrant men in their 40s and physically capable, and they made their surroundings looked like it was 1950.

And they found that, by doing that, some of these men started to stand up straighter, their health got better, their mental health improved, their cognitive abilities improved, simply because they thought this is how they were supposed to be. And I guess what I take away from that study is sometimes we think, okay, whether it’s about aging, or it’s about a person with a certain illness or ailment, or whatever it is, we have this notion of, “This is how I should be when I’m 40. This is how I should be if I have high cholesterol or some physical health issue,” but it’s really our minds that make all of those things happen.

And so, if we can just remind ourselves, “Well, if I want to behave like the person I want to become, I want to be a vibrant healthy younger person,” or, “I want to be somebody who’s happy and full of life. I want to be a confident person,” act like that person now and you could become it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Amy Morin
My favorite recent book is The Gift written by Edith Eger, she’s a Holocaust survivor.

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

Amy Morin
One of the things I do that still probably helps me the most is I keep a paper calendar so I can have it in front of me, and so I can look at dates and things going on, and still writing down lists and having that with me at all times instead of just relying on technology. It helps me feel better.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Amy Morin
I would say running every day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that people quote back to you often, they re-tweet, they Kindle book highlight, it’s the Amy original they can’t resist?

Amy Morin
Yeah, I think I said something to the effect of whomever said time heals everything lied to us. It’s what you do with your time that matters.

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

Amy Morin
My website AmyMorinLCSW.com.

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

Amy Morin
I would say set a goal this week and challenge yourself to do it, and then check in and see what happened, and what can you learn from it, and ask yourself, “What did I do to become mentally stronger this week?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Amy, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success and mental strength.

Amy Morin
Thank you. I appreciate it.

756: Perfectionism: Solutions for all Five Types with Stephen Guise

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Stephen Guise shares how imperfectionism can lead us to leading happier, healthier, and more productive lives.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two-letter shift that stops rumination 
  2. Two tricks to stop caring about what other people think
  3. How to move past the doubt of starting something new

About Stephen

Stephen Guise is an international bestselling author, blogger, and entrepreneur. His books are read in 21 languages. He loves psychology, cats, and basketball, which completely defines him as a person. 

Resources Mentioned

Stephen Guise Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Stephen, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Stephen Guise
Thanks, Pete. It’s good to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into your wisdom, and I’m also curious to learn about your Chipotle habit. How bad is it? And what’s the story?

Stephen Guise
Well, I’m currently seeing someone for that. No, I eat there probably five plus times a week. It’s pretty decent food as far as fast food goes. Like, they use good ingredients. They do put oil in the rice. I’m a bit of a health nut but it’s good enough for me and it’s delicious.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. It is. I get the salad, and with the double meat, and I feel pretty darn good about it in terms of the health profile, what it’s delivering and no tortilla, no rice.

Stephen Guise
Yeah, that sounds like a healthy choice. I don’t always get the salad but it depends on if I’m bulking, trying to put on bulk muscle width.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, when you’re encoding.

Stephen Guise
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you, bro.

Stephen Guise
Yeah, bud.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m excited to talk to you about perfectionism, and your book is called How to Be an Imperfectionist: The New Way to Self-Acceptance, Fearless Living, and Freedom from Perfectionism. All those sound like great things. Could you tell us maybe a particularly surprising or counterintuitive discovery you’ve made along the way when it comes to researching perfectionism?

Stephen Guise
Yeah, I found out that everybody has it, because when people talk about perfectionism, it’s generally in a pretty narrow way. I think people talk about it in terms of performance quality but it’s actually a massive topic with different subsets and there are different forms of perfectionism. For example, one that I thought of that I don’t even think is in other literature is the idea of a perfect goal, like, in terms of exercise, you might only accept 30 minutes or else it’s not good enough. That’s perfectionism.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you want to have a perfect goal in that, it’s like, “Well, if I can’t do 30 minutes of exercise, just forget it. I’m not even going to bother doing anything.” Like that?

Stephen Guise
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. I have been guilty of that. My newfound belief is that one minute is infinitely more than zero minutes per simple division, and that encourages me sometimes to do a little bit which is better than nothing. So, okay. Well, then I’d love to hear some wisdom there in terms of, fundamentally, okay, perfectionism, we’ve all got at least a little bit inside of us. Your book How to Be an Imperfectionist, what’s kind of the big idea or main thesis here?

Stephen Guise
The main idea is not to be perfectly imperfectionist. That’s kind of a tricky area. You can try to be perfectly imperfect, if that makes sense, which it probably doesn’t. So, the idea of being an imperfectionist is not to do it perfectly. It’s to be happier, healthier, and more productive with less stress because perfectionism is misattributed as excellence, quite often, when they’re actually separate concepts. You can strive for excellence. You can be awesome at your job without trying to do it perfectly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s expand upon this benefit here, being happier, healthier, more productive with less stress. That sounds lovely. Can you give us a perspective on just how much unhappiness, unhealthiness, unproductivity does perfectionism bring to us? Any stories or research or studies or anecdotes along these lines?

Stephen Guise
Quite a few of them, actually. We could start with the really dark stuff if you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, you have me intrigued. Let’s do it.

Stephen Guise
Sure, let’s start with death. So, there’s a study on 450 elderly people, and they found that those with perfectionistic tendencies were 51% more likely to die in the course of the six and a half years study, so that’s just like a general thing. And then there are numerous studies linking perfectionism to both depression and suicide, and even more studies finding that that risk has been underestimated.

If anyone is interested, they can look up Kurt Cobain. As many people know, he committed suicide. His quotes are just full of perfectionism. I think one of his quotes is, “I’m sorry that it was never enough,” or something to that extent. I found it really interesting in my research for the book. So, yeah, depression, suicide, death. Anorexia, I would say, is the poster child of perfectionism. One of the most difficult mental disorders to treat and, obviously, people die from that as well.

And then you have lighter things like just performance. There’s a study on 51 undergraduate women found that those who tested high in perfectionism, it was like a writing test where they were asked to re-word a passage as concisely as possible without losing the meaning. Those with perfectionism wrote passages that were “judged significantly poorer in quality” than subjects low in perfectionism. So, that speaks to the whole idea of perfectionism, “Well, at least you get excellence.” Not exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I’m curious, with that particular task, it might be, I don’t know, the stress of knowing, like, “Oh, but I really got to nail this,” or, “Remember that sense. Remember those words. Remember those words,” and these sort of missed the broader idea. I’m speculating here. So, yeah, at times, perfectionism reduces your performance.

We had Tom Curran, a researcher on perfectionism on the show, talking about how, in a number of studies, they just can’t find a correlation between perfectionism and performance. Like, sometimes it helps you a little bit but it hurts you such that it all kind of shakes out to be like, “No.” It’s a very different thing than striving for excellence, indeed.

Stephen Guise
It’s a very difficult thing to study as well because you’re relying on people’s impression of themselves, saying, like their perfectionistic tendencies. I think there’s a lot of difficulty in studying something like it. But I do have a good quote that I wish I had put in my book, and that is, “The more you worry about performance, the less you can focus on performing.” And I think that gets to the heart of what I’m saying. It doesn’t, generally speaking, help you to worry about how you’re performing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is true.

Stephen Guise
Because it only distracts you from the process.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear that. I think, as I reflect on my own experiences, sometimes that worry can be a bit useful in terms of, “Ooh, I better prepare now so it motivates me to stop procrastinating or goofing around and get down to business.” But, yeah, if I’m worrying about how I’m doing while I’m doing the thing, that’s really bad news.

Stephen Guise
Yeah. A good example of that is basketball. If you think about a hot shooter versus a cold shooter, the cold shooter is much more worried about his next shot because he doesn’t want to let the team down. He’s thinking about how he’s missed all of his previous shots. The hot shooter is much more relaxed and confident that he thinks he’s going to make his next shot. So, you have a big difference in them worrying about their performance, and the one who’s less worried is going to perform better.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay. Well, so let’s talk about how does one become not perfectionistic, how does one become an imperfectionist. And I don’t know, you’ve got five subsets of perfectionism. Is it helpful to take that as a route to the anecdote? Or, how would you like to proceed?

Stephen Guise
Yeah, we could do that. You want to start with like unrealistic expectations?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, what’s that all about?

Stephen Guise
So, expectations are a really interesting thing in life. I like to say that we should have generally high expectations for our lives, be an optimist, but it can become very problematic when you have specific high expectations, in which case, like perfectionists, they have unrealistic expectations, and that’s why it’s correlated with depression because they’re always underneath where they expect and hope to be. That’s depressing.

So, someone who struggles with this will have the mindset of like, “I will never have bad days and everything will come easy to me,” so that when struggle inevitably comes, as it does for us all, it throws them off balance, and it can affect them emotionally, which can spiral from there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I guess the prescription there is, I don’t know, stop having unrealistic expectations. And, maybe, in practice, how does one do that?

Stephen Guise
Yeah. So, we touched on the perfect goals, that’s a big one. I wrote a book called Mini Habits, which is about setting very low goals, which is a low expectation, such as one push-up a day. That’s the one that changed my life. For example, I tried ten years the other way of like getting motivated and doing the minimum 30-minute workout. It was only when I lowered my expectations to “I’m only going to do one push-up or more a day but I am going to show up every day.”

That’s what changed my life. And it’s crazy but that’s what happens when you lower your expectations and allow yourself to shatter them and develop positive associations with whatever you’re trying to change, whether it’s exercise or your relationship with your work.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. And you’ve got quite the story with The One Push-up Challenge. We’ll definitely link to that on your website, so inspiring stuff. Okay. So, swap out the unrealistic expectations for a tiny expectation, and you may, surprisingly, end up with fantastic results. So, how about the rumination?

Stephen Guise
Rumination is focusing on past events, namely negative past events, and it’s often defined by self-talk, how you think about your past. A ruminator will say things like, “Oh, I should have done this. Oh, I should have done that,” and that is just loaded with guilt and shame. A solution for that is you can change that “should have” to “could have” which is a lot less heavy and it focuses more on opportunity than the guilt and weight of what you think is a poor decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, could have. And it’s funny, that’s literally two letters of shift there, and yet should is like “Aargh, I failed, I screwed up,” I don’t know, even depending on your language or your operating, you’d be like, “I have done wrong. I have sinned. I have made a grievous error and mistake,” versus, “Oh, hey, that’s another way things could’ve gone, and I prefer it that way, so, okay, noted. That feels a lot better.”

Stephen Guise
Yeah, it’s a lot better.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about the subset, the need for approval?

Stephen Guise
Yeah, this is a pretty common one people have. A lot of people care about what others think of them, and I think that’s somewhat normal, but it can get to a point where it’s problematic. And the solution I give for this one is a little strange, I call it rebellion practice. And it boils down to just embarrassing yourself a little bit in public, so like singing in public. You could just lie down in a public space for 30 seconds. People are going to judge you, they’re going to say, “What’s wrong with that person?”

Pete Mockaitis
Or, be worried, “Are you okay? Do you need a paramedic?”

Stephen Guise
“Send an ambulance, yeah.” But these things don’t hurt anyone, and you can wear a fanny pack.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s hilarious. It is.

Stephen Guise
I know, it’s a funny-looking thing, walk in slow motion.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, power walk with gusto as though you had hiking sticks but you don’t, or maybe bring the hiking sticks.

Stephen Guise
Or, maybe a more reasonable one, just talk to strangers, which is uncomfortable but anything that exposes you to the judgment of others is good because the things we’re exposed to, we get used to. So, someone who needs approval, they’re constantly worrying and thinking, “Oh, what if this, this, this?” When they just kind of put themselves out there and find that they can be embarrassed and that it’s actually okay, and maybe it doesn’t need to be embarrassing. The more they can practice that, the better they’re going to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. And we had a guest talk about just putting…there’s an exercise where you just put a big dot on your face somewhere with like a permanent marker, and so it’s just there, and you know it’s there and other people can see it’s there, and so then you just have that practice. It’s also interesting to see who lets you know versus who doesn’t. Boy, this brings me back to high school. I don’t know why, but I recall we competed in the Future Problem-Solvers World Championship. It’s mostly the US plus Canada and a few folks from Korea, but three countries make it the world championship.

And I think we were surprised, we didn’t realize we had to prepare like a sketch of our solution, so like, “Oh, what are we doing? We have no good ideas.” We sort of spent all of our good creative energy doing the actual problem-solving and now we have to present it. And so, I remember we just did something so dumb. I think one of us was barking out orders like a drill sergeant or something in front of the judges and the other students who were competing, and we got a number of looks, like, “What is your deal? What is going on with you?”

And, afterwards, I couldn’t explain it. Wow, Stephen, you’re really taking me back. It takes 20 years to explain that moment. But part of me thought, “You know, somehow, I think, the fact that we totally humiliated ourselves is healthy and good, and we ought to do this from time to time. I don’t know why but it just seems like this is nourishing something inside of me.” And now I know, it’s helping turn down the volume on the need for approval and, thus, making me all the more free and at peace.

Stephen Guise
Because, prior to that, you were maybe walking in this perfectionistic sort of image.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe.

Stephen Guise
I don’t know the context but a lot of people kind of walk around in these very light perfectionistic shells that they’re scared to break the shells so they play it safe.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s true. And it’s sort of like the self-fulfilling prophecy associated with which opportunities you take on, and because you don’t take them on, you cannot be enriched and expanded and stretched from it. And maybe you’re right, I think we got eighth in the world was wherever we placed, and I felt pretty great about that even though the perfectionist might demand number one.

Stephen Guise
They might.

Pete Mockaitis
But eighth in the world is like, “That’s pretty sweet. I’ll take it.” Oh, it’s really just three countries but…Okay, so we’ve got a couple subsets left. The concern over mistakes, let’s hear it.

Stephen Guise
That is, basically, “If I messed this up, my life will be ruined.” That’s kind of the thought behind this subset. There’s really, one of my favorite stories is related to this, it’s Heather Dorniden. It’s a very popular YouTube video, you can look it up. But basically, Heather was in a 600-meter race, and she was favored to win. So, the race begins and she’s doing great, she’s in the lead, not by much but she’s in the lead.

And this 600-meter race is three laps, it’s basically a sprint. But Heather trips and falls down into last place. And at this point, you hear the announcer is saying, like, “Oh, well, at least her teammate is doing well.” But Heather gets up pretty quickly, she’s still behind a ton because this is a sprint, this is a race, and she starts catching up. And long story short, Heather actually wins the race, which is ridiculous and obviously inspiring.

But I think I took something different from it than most people would. To me, I’m looking at the fact that, “Wow, the person who made the biggest mistake in this race still won the race.” And, to me, that is a big solution for concern over mistakes. The fact that you can make mistakes and still win because everyone does make mistakes whether or not they’re concerned about it, but you can still win despite making mistakes. Meaning, you don’t have to fear them as much as you might think.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, I like that a lot, indeed, because I think most people say, “Oh, yeah, that’s inspiring. So, pick yourself up and be resilient and never give up.” But to truly highlight the notion specifically that when the mistake-maker is the victor, and I think that’s like…isn’t there a famous Michael Jordan commercial with like, “I’ve missed so many shots…” and he’s like, “And I succeed because I failed over and over again”?

And so, okay, that’s kind of inspiring for whatever you’re selling. But I think it’s also true when people say, “Oh, you know, failure is a learning opportunity,” and I go, “Okay.” Sometimes that feels like a cheap consolation prize that’s insincere, sometimes it could feel like that in the moment even though it’s true. It’s intriguing to note that your mistakes truly can provide you with unique wisdom that gives you an edge. So, falling down and recovering, or just learning some painful lessons that have you on guard effectively for next time. Yeah, that’s cool, we can still win with mistakes.

Stephen Guise
Yeah, I think the perfectionistic path is this notion that there’s one path. It’s blowing out the other runners in the race and winning, that’s the only good thing. But real life is full of many different paths, some of which are quite painful, but even those painful ones have value, even those mistakes have value. As you said, you can learn from them and you can win despite them.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And then the final fifth subset, doubts about actions. Can you tell us about this?

Stephen Guise
Yeah. So, this one has to do with projecting, which we all do all the time. It’s thinking about an action and what the results of it might be, what it might entail. So, doubts about action generally involves negative projections. So, for someone about to make a cold call, they’re likely going to think, “I’m going to call this person, they’re going to cuss me out, and they’re going to hang up.” That’s probably what they deal with quite a bit. It’s a reasonable doubt to have.

However, it’s best to test these because they’re very often not accurate. So, one thing you can do if you struggle with doubts about actions is write down what you’re projecting will happen, force yourself to do it anyway, and then write down what actually happened, and compare your projection with what happened. And I think you’re going to notice a lot of interesting differences between your projection and the reality.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Yeah, and to see that happen over and over and over again is going to make a real impression on that. Well, these are some great tools. I’d love it if you could share with us one of your favorite stories. Maybe readers have written them to you and have told you some cool tales with regard to, “Hey, I was struggling with perfectionism and was harmful in these ways, but I did X, Y, Z, and I have seen great results over here.”

Stephen Guise
Sure. So, one email I received, I couldn’t find the email so I can’t be super specific, but I promise I did receive the email. A guy was struggling with his sales job, and then he started a mini habit of one cold call a day, one sales call a day, and he reported back to me that he went over a million dollars in sales, and was one of the top salesmen at the company now because he committed to that imperfect little daily goal, and that’s pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool.

Stephen Guise
I’ve actually done the same in my professional career. I’ve written four books now which have done very well. A lot of people might not know that I did them by writing 50 words a day. That’s about one paragraph which, like any serious writer, that’s embarrassing, but, hey, four books. That seemed to work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Stephen Guise
And then a really cool story, just something that I saw. I was on a cruise and I went to the gym, and I saw this woman working out, and she had a full cast on her leg, and I was like, “Wow, here’s this woman working out harder than I am, and her leg is broken.” That’s just really cool. Obviously, so many people would not even think about working out with a broken leg but she still has her upper body.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. That’s good. And you’ve got a piece about how we look at our floors versus ceilings in terms of sort of high-performing moments and low-performing moments. Can you expand upon that?

Stephen Guise
Yeah, that relates to perfectionistic goals too. A ceiling is the type of goal a lot of people will set where they’re…

Pete Mockaitis
As good as it could possibly be.

Stephen Guise
Yeah, right. Perfect. So, for someone exercising for an hour, or selling ten units in a day, that might be their ceiling. Whereas, a floor is a starting point, and that’s the key difference. A ceiling, you hit the ceiling and you’re happy. But if you don’t hit the ceiling, you’re not happy if you’re a perfectionist. If, instead, you take an imperfectionist look at it, you’re going to be looking at your floor more closely than the ceiling. You’re going to say, “I’m going to at least do this much, this small amount, and then who knows where my ceiling is. I’m going to take it from here.”

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

Stephen Guise
Yes, the binary mindset. So, I’ll use giving a speech for this example because it’s something a lot of people fear. When you’re about to give a speech, you’re going to generally think of it as a one-to-ten situation. A one being you stumble over your words before passing out on stage. That would not be a very good speech. A ten being you actually…your skin begins to glow a little bit as you’re speaking, and you deliver the best sentences anyone’s ever heard, and then you get a standing ovation and snow falls or something.

So, you have this whole spectrum of disaster to perfect. That’s generally how people think going into a speech, and they’re obviously trying to be more towards the perfect end of that spectrum. So, the binary mindset changes that dynamic. It changes the one to a zero and the ten to a one. So, a zero is failure and a one is success. It’s like digital versus analog. If anyone knows about TV reception, a digital signal on a TV, it’s either going to come through perfectly or it’s not going to come through. Analog, you can get those slight fuzzies.

So, the reason the binary mindset is so effective is it changes your idea of victory. The one-to-ten person, they’re going to think of victory as maybe, if they’re a perfectionist, maybe only ten is good enough, or maybe nine or above is good enough. There’s a lot of opportunities to fail in there which can affect their performance while they’re giving the speech because maybe they do slip up, and then they’re like, “Oh, crap, I’m at a five,” and then they’re not thinking about what they’re trying to say, what they’re trying to deliver to the audience. But a one or a zero is like, “Well, I showed up, I’m giving the speech, this is a win. If it does go poorly, I’m going to learn from it. If it does go well, that’s great.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. Zero to one, with the one being realistic, like, “The speech happened. I said the words. People heard the words. All right, speech accomplished.”

Stephen Guise
And it’s really useful for a perfectionist because it kind of gives them that idea of perfect victory with the one being the “perfect victory.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Stephen Guise
Yeah, I came across this quote yesterday. I don’t know that it’s my favorite but it’s my favorite right now. There’s a singer named Jane Marczewski known as Nightbirde, she recently passed away from cancer at 31 years old. Tragic. She was on America’s Got Talent. And she’s really talented. She blew the judges away. And Simon Cowell was getting choked up as he was talking about her performance, and he paused. And as he paused, she delivered this bomb to him. She said, “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” That just blew me away, like, with her situation. And obviously it connects very well with the idea of being an imperfectionist.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, powerful. Thank you. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Stephen Guise
Yeah, there’s a journal study, and they studied actions versus thoughts in terms of how it affects our emotions because we all struggle with emotions at times, and sometimes we would like to change our emotions from sad to happy. They found that…oh, by the way, a journal study is just a study where people self-report, like, “I did this today and this is how it made me feel,” that sort of thing.

So, they found that actions were responsible for emotional change 66% of the time versus only 33% for thoughts. So, that’s meaningful to me because I’m very much an action first kind of person instead of trying to think your way too much through problems. It’s often better just to get going in the direction you want to hit.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. And so, when we’re talking about emotions, feeling happy versus sad and making a shift, well, now, I’m thinking about Tony Robbins’ power moves, beat your chest, say, “Yes! Yes! Yes! And I’ve changed my state.” So, I guess that’s one form of action. But it sounds like you’re talking about, specifically, how you feel about a situation or a problem. Is that fair to say?

Stephen Guise
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, taking an action toward resolving it will be better than thinking about, “Oh, what am I going to do?”

Stephen Guise
Yeah, like if you struggle with anxiety, this is a really big one. A lot of people will try to think themselves through it, like try to think through their anxious thoughts and feelings. It’s often better just to go work out, or go for a walk, or go to a sensory deprivation float tank.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah? I thought you’ll probably do a lot of thinking in there.

Stephen Guise
Oh, yeah. It’s the most relaxing experience I’ve ever had. Highly recommended.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’ve been intrigued. I haven’t actually signed up for an appointment but I’ve been to the website like three times, like, “Oh, that might be interesting,” or terrifying. Not sure.

Stephen Guise
It’s pretty awesome. It’s very different. You might fall asleep, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Stephen Guise
Your Brain at Work by David Rock. He just talks about the brain and how it works.

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

Stephen Guise
Scrivener. It’s a writing tool. I write my books in it. It just helps you to organize all your thoughts. The hardest thing about writing a book is organizing it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Stephen Guise
Exercise. Like, the benefits are crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers; they Kindle-highlight it a bunch or quote it back to you frequently?

Stephen Guise
Well, I can give you the top highlight from my Imperfectionist book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. Let’s bring it on.

Stephen Guise
That is, “Never forget this; it’s easier to change your mind and emotions by taking action than it is to change your actions by trying to think and feel differently.” Kind of relates to that study I talked about.

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

Stephen Guise
StephenGuise.com.

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

Stephen Guise
I do. It is, “Don’t care about results. Care about putting in the work. Don’t care about problems. Care about making progress despite them. Or, if you must fix something, focus on the solution. Don’t care about what other people think. Care about who you want to be and what you want to do. Care less about doing it right. Care more about doing it at all. Don’t care about failure. Care about success. Don’t care about timing. Care about the task.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stephen, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you all the best with your books and adventures and imperfectionism.

Stephen Guise
Thank you, Pete. This is fun.

742: How to Break Bad Habits and Make Good Habits Stick with Wendy Wood

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Wendy Wood reveals recent science behind habit formation and how you can use it to reshape your own behavior.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The trick to building habits
  2. Why context is so crucial for habits
  3. The one question to control your bad habit

About Wendy

Wendy Wood is a behavioral scientist who is Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at the University of Southern California. She is the author of the book, Good Habits, Bad Habits. For the past 30 years, she has been researching the nature of habits and why they are so difficult to change.

Resources Mentioned

Wendy Wood Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Wendy, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Wendy Wood
Great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to talk to you about habits, one of my favorite topics here. Could you start us off by telling us about a habit that has been transformational for you personally?

Wendy Wood
So, it’s hard to isolate any one habit that we have that makes a huge difference in our lives because so much of what we do is influenced by our habits, depends on our habits, much more so than we realize. I’ve done some research on how much of our daily lives is habitual in the sense that we’re repeating things without thinking a lot about them, just sort of responding automatically. And almost 43% of what we do every day we’re doing out of habit. So, habits contribute to an awful lot more than most of us imagine.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is intriguing and I was just about to ask you for any particularly surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made along the way with your research, it sounds you already got one. But anything else leaping to mind?

Wendy Wood
I think that for your audience, the biggest question is, “How do I change bad habits, unwanted habits?” And most of us do it by exerting willpower, making a decision, but habits don’t work that way. Habits are really part of the non-conscious processes in our brain so that habits form as we repeat behaviors, and they change as we repeat behaviors, too. So, changing habits is not at all what we think it is. It’s not what we usually try to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s sort of like a definitional point, like if we’re calling it a habit, it’s not even an effortful initiative of our proactive will that we’re going for, but rather kind of like something operating in an autopilot-y part of ourselves, definitionally speaking.

Wendy Wood
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Wendy Wood
So, we think of our brain as processing information, as a single unit that tells us when we like things, that records memories, but, in fact, our brains are made up of multiple separate systems that only sort of work together. And the habit system is something that is part of our non-conscious. So, you have habits, I have habits, our dogs have habits. We all learn through experience. It’s a very basic way of learning and it really guides a huge amount of what we do, particularly at work.

So, one of the things we found early on is that people who have jobs actually have slightly more habits than people who don’t, and that’s because our job structure our day so that we’re repeating the same things. You go to the same place, at least you used to before the pandemic, if you’re an office worker. Many of us are still not quite back in the office. We go to work at the same time each day. We wear similar types of clothes. We stop for lunch around the same time. So, work really structures our life in ways that make it very easy for us to form habits.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued with research on the number of habits. Tell us, how many habits do we have on average or the rough range for people?

Wendy Wood
I don’t think there’s an exact number. As I said, 43% of the time, you are acting on habit. So, almost half the time you’re doing things automatically without thinking and without necessarily making decisions. And you can see why that would be useful because you don’t have to think carefully about how you’re going to get to work today, or think about where you’re going to go for lunch. Usually, we just do what we’ve done before. That sort of work for us in some way. It might not be the best thing but it’s the easy thing and we just repeat it and do it again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I could see how, sure, conserving mental thought energy is something that we accomplish there. Could you paint a picture for us in terms of for professionals, and maybe all of mankind, like what’s really at stake or possible here? Do you have maybe any startling statistics or inspiring stories showing us what really is possible if we master or fail to master habit-building as a skill?

Wendy Wood
Well, you’re building habits all the time. The skill to master is building habits that work for you, that are rewarding, that are consistent with your goals, and so that’s the skill that everyone needs to focus on. And you do that by repeating behaviors that are productive, that save you money, that are healthy. So, habit memories build as you do the same thing over and over again.

You don’t build habits by decisions. You build habits through repetition. Repeating a behavior in the same context so that the next time you’re in that context, that’s the behavior that springs to mind, and it takes many repetitions for habit memories to form. And that’s why they’re so challenging, is they stick around. So, it takes a long time to form a new habit, and it takes a long time for habit memories to decay.

Pete Mockaitis
You said many repetitions, and I’ve read some numbers cited that are different in a number of places. So, Wendy, could you weigh in on how many reps or how long does it take to form a habit?

Wendy Wood
Yeah, you’ll read lots of things about habits out there because people are fascinated by them. They should be. There’s something that is part of our unconscious that we don’t have access to. We don’t have awareness of how our habits work so it’s really fascinating to speculate, and there’s lots of speculation out there in the literature. But what science tells us is that it takes probably about three months of repetition, almost every day, for a habit to become really strong so that you do it without thinking, so that it becomes an automated part of your everyday life.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, you said about three months, and part of me thinks that that’s a tricky question, like, “How long does it take to form a habit?” Sort of like, “Well, how long does it take to master chess? How long does it take to fall in love?”

Wendy Wood
You’ve got it.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s going to vary wildly based on some contexts and individuals and what you’re achieving. And I’m thinking about when we interviewed BJ Fogg who wrote about Tiny Habits, and his take was, “Well, hey, if it’s super easy and doesn’t require a lot of effortful motivation, you might find that you’re installing habits quite quickly.” Is that fair to say that the time it takes can really vary based upon just how big or small or hard or easy or motivated you feel about something?

Wendy Wood
Well, probably not with motivation because habit memories don’t depend on how motivated you are. Instead, they depend simply on repetition. Repetition and whether you do things in the same way each time. So, you’re absolutely right, it takes a long time to master some things. Playing a Chopin piano concerto, it took me a long, long time to learn how to do that. Playing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star on the piano? That I can do. So, how long something takes really depends on how difficult the behavior is, how complex it is. Your intuition is absolutely right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess when it comes to habit difficulties, I guess it’s true. Like, if it’s wipe off the counter after making coffee in the morning is a lot easier than head to the gym and do an elaborate workout routine each morning.

Wendy Wood
You got it, yup. Yeah, and that’s true in our jobs, too. There are some things we do that are relatively easy and straightforward and we can form habits for them pretty quickly, quickly being several months. But other things are just much more complicated and never ever become completely habitual.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I see.

Wendy Wood
So, let me give you an example, and this is all part of the idea, the evident research evidence that people have multiple components in their brain, multiple systems, that work somewhat separately. So, very productive writers, if you’re a productive writer and you’re pushing out those pages every day, you probably have a habit to write at a certain place, certain time of day, maybe you write for a certain number of hours, or get a certain number of words on the page. Most really productive writers have these habits that get them to writing. But the actual writing isn’t done out of habit.

Habit is too   a mechanism. That’s your creativity. So, habits and conscious thought, conscious decision-making creativity, they both, together, allow us to do very complex tasks but both are required because if you’re a great writer but you don’t have good habits, then you’re struggling to get yourself to write.

You’re struggling against yourself, “Do I want to do it today? Will I be successful? How do I do it?” You’re wasting all that energy before you even start writing. So, that’s why it’s so important to get your habits in sync with your goals, get them aligned with your goals, your conscious desires. And if you do that, then your habits will help you achieve them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that. And I’m thinking, well, the quote that comes to mind, I think, has been attributed to many different writers is, “I write when I’m inspired and I make sure to be inspired at 9:00 a.m. each morning.”

Wendy Wood
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Which I kind of summarize as, “Okay, there are some creative things going on as well as a discipline, habituated thing going on seeded, hands on keys at that time and place.”

Wendy Wood
Yup, “And things are quite and nobody’s bothering me so I have a chance to actually be creative,” which is no guarantee. You’re not going to be creative every day. If you’ve written a lot, you know some days are just crap, you just don’t produce things that you want to keep. But if you have a habit to write, the next day you’ll be back there, and that day, things might work better.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Well, so let’s maybe apply some of these goodness that you lay out in your book, Good Habits, Bad Habits in terms of thinking about some professionals and habits they’d like to make or break, how do we start with break? Let’s say, folks are like, “I look at my phone too much. I’m always scrolling TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, email when I should be unplugged from work and rejuvenating but I just find myself, ‘Whoa, how did this happen?’ Here I am on my Facebook on the phone.” If folks have that habit they’d like to stop, what do we do?

Wendy Wood
It’s very understandable if people have that habit because our phones, and social media sites in particular, are designed to be very habit-forming. They are set up in ways that make it really easy for us to form habits to use them, in part just because we can take them everywhere. You can take your phone on the bus, you can take your phone to the office, you can take it into important meetings, people take it into the restroom. You can take your phone everywhere. It’s always accessible so it’s always available to be used, and it’s very rewarding. You get on your phone and you learn stuff. So, it has the components of habit formation built into it.

And the challenge is we need to control those forces in our lives, as you said. So, one way to do this is to make it a little bit harder for us to use the phone, and that’s not the way most people think about changing their habits. Most people think, “Okay, if I have a problem with using my phone too much, I need to make a decision, exert some willpower, figure out how to control this thing…”

Pete Mockaitis
“Become a hero.”

Wendy Wood
Exactly, become a hero. But your habit memory will long outlast your desire to control this behavior. Habit memories stick. They don’t go away very easily that some researchers think that once you have a habit, it never goes away. So, the best thing you can do is to put some brakes on it. And we call that adding friction to the behavior.

One great way of adding friction, if you’re in a meeting, is to take your phone and just put it face down because that reduces the cues that you will see to pick it up and look at it again. You’re not going to see the alerts in the same way. Another way is to form a habit of putting it in your briefcase, your backpack, your purse, and zipping it so that you actually have to unzip it in order to use it.

Now, all of this just sounds a little too simple, which is, I think, why people don’t do it but there’s great research evidence showing that it does work. In fact, probably the best evidence comes from anti smoking campaigns.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, do tell.

Wendy Wood
So, the last century, middle of the last century, about 50% of Americans smoked, and then we all learned that smoking causes cancer so we all got concerned about it, but our behavior didn’t change a whole lot. It didn’t change really until the government started putting friction on smoking. So, they banned smoking in public places so you can’t smoke in restaurants and bars anymore, can’t smoke in the office, which makes it just a little bit more difficult to keep being a smoker.

They added taxes onto the cigarette purchases so that’s a little bit more difficult to afford to be a smoker. And then they started removing cues, so that it used to be you could just go into the store and pull a packet of cigarettes off of the shelves, but you can’t do that anymore. You have to ask somebody for the brand…

Pete Mockaitis
To show your face in shame.

Wendy Wood
Exactly, for the brand that you smoke.

Pete Mockaitis
“I need nicotine from you.”

Wendy Wood
And you have to remember exactly what kind, and there are five different variants on every brand that’s out there, so you have to describe it to somebody. They make it work. You have to work for it. And anything you have to work for, people are less likely to do. So, that, now, with after removing cues and adding friction to smoking, only 15% of Americans actually smoke, which is an amazing success story but it was done through friction.

And friction on a behavior that’s even more addictive, more habit-forming than your phone, because there is an addictive component to smoking, obviously, it’s that nicotine jolt that you get when you smoke, but friction helps control it. So, thinking about your experience, in terms of friction, helps give you control over habits that you may not want to continue.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s intriguing and I love a good story with numbers, so thank you for that. And now I’m thinking in contrast to e-cigarettes, like JUUL, really proliferating perhaps by just the opposite, like there’s so little friction in terms of, well, high school students like sneakily are using them in their schools because there’s no smell, there’s no need to light something up. It can be done, hide it in the bathroom or a locker, the exhale or whatever. Friends, family, colleagues can’t smell and judge you in terms of like, “Oh, you’re a smoker, huh?” so you don’t have that stigma there. You have a couple puffs without a whole cigarette.

Wendy Wood
Yeah, for high school students, it has all the benefits and few of the downsides until their parents figure out what they’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Until they get some friction, of course.

Wendy Wood
Yeah, parents can be friction in that case. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Some real penalties. Okay. Well, so that’s really handy, so friction. Now, you mentioned in the book, context, repetition, reward. Where do we put friction in the context bucket or we make the context harder to do?

Wendy Wood
Exactly. You set up context that make repetition a little bit harder, require a bit more thought on your part. And it’s amazing how influenced we all are by the friction in our lives. There’s great evidence that people who are closer to gymnasiums actually work out more often, and that’s not how we think about working out.

We think we’re making a decision, we’re being admirable people, we’re showing willpower, we’re concerned about our health, and so that’s why we go work out. But, instead, another important determinant is how easy is it to get there? And if you can get to the gym easily, you’re just more likely to work out and have an exercise habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, that’s so powerful, it’s like, “How can I make this easier or how can I make it harder?” Can you just lay upon us example after example of cool stories you’ve heard of folks doing some clever things to do that? Well, one, you could move closer to a gym, which that might seem dramatic, but, hey, if that’s a priority for you. I’ve known people who have moved close to a gym, to a beach, to a forest, to a church, kind of whatever is kind of important and useful for them. They factor that into the planning because that context, that ease versus difficulty really does shape their behavior.

Wendy Wood
Yeah, it’s surprising how impactful it is in a variety of different domains. So, people who are sitting, so there’s one study where researchers gave people, in one condition, a bowl of butter popcorn and a bowl of sliced apples. And in one condition, the popcorn was right close to them and the sliced apples were way at the end of the counter. They could see them and they could reach for them but it was a bit of effort.

In another condition, the apples were right in front of them and the popcorn was at the end of the counter. Again, they could see it, they could smell it, and they could get there, and everybody was told, “Eat what you want.” So, when the apples were close to them, they ate a third less calories than when the popcorn was close to them. They weren’t any less hungry and it wasn’t like people changed their food preferences. Instead, it was just people eat what’s closer and are less likely to eat what’s farther away. We’re very simple in some ways. We’re very simple creatures. And this effect of friction on our behavior is very powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, more please. Can we think of some other fun stories of professionals who’ve done things to make things easier or harder and seen cool results from it?

Wendy Wood
Well, one of the ways that you can get exercise very easily in your life is to bike to work. And when communities put in bike lanes, people are just much more likely to bike, protected bike lanes. So, so often, you see these stripes painted down the middle of the road, and as a cyclist, I wouldn’t use them because they’re scary. Cars don’t give you much…they don’t stay away from you in the same way as in protected bike lanes where there’s some fence or some protection between you and the cars.

When cities put in protected bike lanes, people are just much more likely to cycle to work than when they don’t have protected bike lanes. And, again, we think that these things are our personal decisions, that we’re either good people or bad people for doing these different things, but, instead, we’re very influenced by the forces in our environment.

One of my favorite studies was done by a group of researchers in the 1980s, and they were in a four-story office building, and what they wanted to do was they wanted to convince people to take the stairs instead of the elevator while they were at work. So, they started doing just what we all do, which is they thought, “Well, I should convince people that this is the right thing to do.”

So, they put up signs all over the elevator, “Take the stairs, not the elevator. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for your health. Uses more calories. Doesn’t waste energy.” No effect. So, what they did is they decided to add a small amount of friction to using the elevator, and they slowed the closing of the elevator door by 16 seconds.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, the whole process of closing the door takes 16 seconds?

Wendy Wood
More than it typically did, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Wendy Wood
They added 16 seconds to it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s enough for me to be like, “Forget this. I’m out of here.”

Wendy Wood
Exactly. And that’s what happened, is that elevator use was cut by a third.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, really. I thought it would be way bigger. It’s like that sounds like an eternity.

Wendy Wood
You’re obviously an impatient person.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I can be.

Wendy Wood
But the really cool thing about the study was a month later, they put the elevator doors back to their original speed, and people kept taking the stairs because they’d formed a habit to do that and they weren’t going to mess with the elevator. They just kept taking the stairs. They’d learn how to do it, they figured out, “Yes, it is good for me. It gives me a little bit of a break in the middle of the day,” so they just continued to do it.

And, again, I’m not advocating people change the speed of the elevator door closing in their office, but simple friction tricks like that can be really powerful, much more so than convincing ourselves that something is right, something is the right thing to do.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s an example of a really easy habit that sort of fits in naturally that lock in within a month, so cool beans. So, in good habits, bad habits, with the three bases of context, repetition, reward, it feels like we’ve hit context pretty thoroughly. Can we hear some best practices in the zone of repetition and reward that are within our actionable control?

Wendy Wood
Yeah. So, psychologists used to think that intrinsic motivation was most important, that there was something unique about intrinsic motivation, feeling good because of an activity while you’re doing the activity itself, finding things that make you feel good when you do them, that there was something unique, important, special about that.

And we’ve since learned that it doesn’t quite work that way. It’s just doing activities and having some positive experience. The positive experience doesn’t even have to come from the activity itself. So, researchers gone into kids’ classrooms – math classes – the kind kids don’t like, and played music, gave the kids food while they were doing math problems, gave them colored pens to use for the math problems, and the kids worked on the problems longer just because they felt it was more fun, it was more engaging, more rewarding to do it.

Those are not rewards that are part of math necessarily but if you add them in, they increase our enjoyment of the activity and make it more likely that we will repeat it again in the future so that we’ll form it into a habit. Those kids were more likely then to do math in the future and might form a habit to do their math homework.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s lovely. So, if we could make something more enjoyable from the ambiance, the lighting, the music, the design, the tools, then away we go. It’s true, I like working more with my PILOT Precise RT pen than some junk they gave me at the bank.

Wendy Wood
There you go. And people use this all the time with exercise. People do it intuitively with exercise. You might hate to work out at the gym but if you can listen to interesting podcasts, like this one, if you can find good music, a good book to read while you’re working out, it makes it much more interesting and much more fun, and you’re more likely to do it again in the future, forming a habit. So, you can add in rewards that don’t have anything to do with an activity, and it functions just like an intrinsic reward, something that comes from the activity itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. So, with context, we can proactively think about how to shape things to make it easier or harder to do in the context. For reward, we can actively shape it so we can make something more pleasant or less pleasant. How do you make something less pleasant maybe? If I wanted to make looking at my phone less enjoyable, is there something I can do there?

Wendy Wood
Yeah, there sure is. You can put it to greyscale, take the colors out, and that does a couple of things. It removes cues because it makes it harder to distinguish the different icons and exactly what they are. Then it also removes the rewards. It makes it less interesting for us to get on social media and see different videos and pictures. So, it removes cues, removes rewards, something you can do to control phone use. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, very cool. And how about repetition? I guess, just do more or just do less, I don’t know. Anything clever we can do to work this lever?

Wendy Wood
Well, repetition is really a function of reward and things that are easy. So, repetition, you’re more likely to repeat a behavior if you enjoy what you’re doing and if it’s easy to do, so it’s a consequence of rewards and context friction.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, if I wanted to get a head start, really turbocharge getting a habit going, would it be worth my while to just try repeating something dozens of times, like, “Okay, I wake up, I put on my running shoes. Roll out of bed, put on my running shoes. Roll out of bed, put on my running shoes”? Like, is that a useful thing to do?

Wendy Wood
Sure, if you go running then.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I was thinking about the actual, like, “For the next hour, I’m going to exit my bed and put on running shoes 50 times.” Is that useful?

Wendy Wood
I wouldn’t do it. I don’t think it’s worth it. I think it is worth it to figure out where to put your running shoes so that you’re most likely to put them on when you have time to go running, and actually walk outside with them and start running. So, finding time in your day, finding a way to structure in to make it easy for you to go running will be more successful.

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

Wendy Wood
I think habits in the workplace are often misunderstood because we tend to think of work as involving both innovation and habitual repetition, and we don’t realize how much our habits enable that innovation so they allow us to get to the point where we can be creative and innovative, and respond to the challenges that we all have at work.

If you have good habits then you’re not struggling with the preparatory stuff. Instead, you’re doing that automatically, and that sets you up to do what is going to be successful today in meeting the new innovative challenges at work.

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

Wendy Wood
I think my favorite quote was an inaccurate one by William James when he claimed that 99.9% of everyday activities are done out of habit. So, William James is a brother of Henry James, if you are an English major, and he is often considered to be the father of modern psychology. So, the fact that he was such a habit enthusiast is great. He didn’t have much data. He didn’t have anything to back up his speculation but he was a real enthusiast.

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

Wendy Wood
I think that probably my favorite study is the one that I already mentioned on elevator use but I can tell you one that we did that I think illustrates how hard it is to change our habits, and it was done at a local movie cinema. We got the people who ran the cinema to allow us to show some shorts at the beginning before people watched the actual movie they came to see, and, supposedly, to thank them for rating all of these movie shorts.

We gave them boxes of popcorn to eat. These were free. Everyone took them. And, unbeknownst to them, half of the popcorn was stale, and it was really stale. It had been in our lab for about a week in a plastic bag, so it was not great popcorn. Half got fresh popcorn. So, you see the setup. At the end of the presentation, we collected the boxes and we weighed them to see how much people actually ate.

And what we found is that people who didn’t have habits to eat popcorn at the movie cinema, and there are such people out there, they ate a lot of the fresh popcorn, they did not eat the stale popcorn because they could tell us, it was awful, and it was. But people with habits to eat popcorn in the movie cinema, they were sitting there, they were holding the popcorn, and they ate the same amount whether it was fresh or stale.

And it just shows that our habits are cued automatically even when we don’t want them to be. These people are telling us, “I hate this popcorn. It’s disgusting.” I actually don’t know that I’ve ever gotten such low ratings of anything in my lab before, so people really did hate it but they kept eating it because they were cued by the context that they were in. It’s easy, it’s what they’ve done before, it was their habit, and they just persisted. They repeated that behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there’s so much there and I believe I first heard of this experiment from Katy Milkman’s book. I think she cited you because I hear her voice in my mind’s ear in the Audible version, “Fresh popcorn.” And we had her on the show, and she was great. So, one, that’s really cool. Hey, that’s you. And, two, it’s like, “Whoa,” if you zoom out and think about it, that is a life metaphor. It’s like, “How much stale popcorn do we have going on in our lives that we’re just kind of mindlessly dealing with because it’s easy and it’s repeated, and that’s the context we’re in?”

Wendy Wood
You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
There’ll be some soul-searching there.

Wendy Wood
A lot of our habit, they work for us most of the time but not all the time, but we repeat them regardless of whether they working for us. And we repeat them even after they’ve stopped working for us most of the time. It’s just easier to do what you’ve done before than make decisions. And, as I said, we’re simple creatures. At least the habit system is quite simple.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Wendy Wood
Well, the classics are easy to identify as favorites because, early on in the field, psychologists were not only researchers, they were also philosophers, and so they like to think broadly about social behaviors, so it’s really fun to read some of the early thinking. William James, for example, his Principles of Psychology are really fun to read, in part, because he draws on personal experience as well as the research.

And one example is he talks about a friend of his who would come home for dinner and eat and then change into his pajamas. And if he got distracted and ended up in his bedroom before he ate dinner, he’d just change into his pajamas anyway regardless of who was showing up for dinner, what he was doing. And we all have this experience of continuing to do repeat behaviors that we’ve done in the past that, really, we didn’t mean to do right now, but it’s the nature of habit.

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

Wendy Wood
I think it has to be everybody’s favorite right now, it’s the computer. I’ve been around long enough so that I was writing before we were writing on keyboards. It makes you really appreciate what you got.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a key nugget or articulation of your wisdom that you share that people go, “Oh, wow, that’s awesome,” they re-tweet it, they write it down, they Kindle book highlight it, they say, “Wendy said this, and it’s brilliant and we love it”?

Wendy Wood
No, there is no such thing.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re so modest.

Wendy Wood
No, although, let me give you an example that I give to people, and this is not brilliant. It’s just practical, demonstrating how much we don’t understand our own habits. And that is all of us can use a keyboard. We can all type on a keyboard, some really proficiently. But if I asked you to list out the keys on the second row of your keyboard, you probably couldn’t do that, can you?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m trying not to look. A, S, D, F, G, H, J, K, L. Yeah, that’s exciting.

Wendy Wood
You’re cheating.

Pete Mockaitis
I was like, “J, K, L all in rows, is that true? Yeah, it is.”

Wendy Wood
You see, you could type those things without any hesitation but actually repeating them back to me is hard because we haven’t stored it in our conscious memory. We stored it in habit memory system, and that shows you the difference, the separation, between the two.

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

Wendy Wood
@ProfWendyWood on Twitter or Instagram. I’m also on LinkedIn and I’d be very happy to converse with people about habits, habit change, challenges they’re experiencing in the workplace with habit.

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

Wendy Wood
Yeah. Be clear about what your goals are, and then make sure that your habits support them so that you don’t have to fight yourself in order to meet your goals. And so often, our biggest challenges are our own habits, what we’ve done in the past. You don’t want to put yourself in that position. You’d be much happier and you’d be much more successful if your habits and goals are aligned.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Wendy, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck with your habits and research and more.

Wendy Wood
Thank you so much. Great fun to talk to you.

741: How to Stop Struggling and Start Thriving with Nataly Kogan

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Nataly Kogan shares how to become the boss of your own brain and beat the negativity bias.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why struggle is optional
  2. The two questions to boost your emotional fitness
  3. How to combat your brain’s negativity bias 

About Nataly

Nataly Kogan is a former VC and the founder of Happier, a global technology and learning platform helping individuals and organizations to realize full potential by adopting scientifically-proven practices that improve their well-being. 

Since launching Happier, Nataly has been featured in the New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, Fortune, New York Magazine and Time Magazine, and has appeared as an expert on Dr. Oz, Bloomberg TV, and “One World” with Deepak Chopra. 

She is a sought-out keynote speaker, having appeared at events that include at Million Dollar Roundtable, Fortune’s Tech Brainstorm, Blogher, SXSW, the 92nd St. Y, Harvard Women’s Leadership Conference, TEDxBoston, and many more. 

 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

  • Athletic Greens. Support your health with my favorite greens supplement. Free 1-year supply of Vitamin D and 5 travel packs when you purchase from athleticgreens.com/awesome.
  • University of California Irvine. Chart your course to career success at ce.uci.edu/learnnow

Nataly Kogan Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Nataly, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Nataly Kogan
Thank you. I love the title of the podcast. I’m excited. I overuse the word awesome more than any other word, so we’re in good company.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s meant to be. In fact, your latest book is called The Awesome Human Project. We’ve got a lot of awesome human listeners. Can you tell us what’s the big idea here?

Nataly Kogan
The big idea is that challenge in life is constant but struggle is optional. So, I’m calling official BS on the meme of “The struggle is real” because struggle is something we can reduce by improving our emotional fitness, and what’s real in life is challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there’s a distinction right there. Challenge versus struggle, can you expand on that?

Nataly Kogan
Yeah, I think it’s one of the most important insights that I’ve gained on my journey. I spent most of my life struggling. I thought that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I came to the US as a refugee. That was a lot of struggle. And I thought to do anything meaningful in life, you’ve got to struggle, it’s got to be hard. And that’s what I did until I completely burnt out and almost lost everything that was meaningful to me, including this company, Happier, that I was building to help people and companies and teams create a culture of gratitude and joy.

So, that taught me a really powerful lesson that challenge is something we cannot control in life. And, as we all know, the times we’re living in right now, there’s a lot of challenge. Challenge is always there. But we can reduce our experience of struggle by creating a more supportive relationship with ourselves, by strengthening our emotional fitness, by training our brain just like we train our body to be more physically fit, by training our brain to help us get through challenges with less overwhelm, anxiety, and stress.

And not only does that feel better, which I think is a wonderful goal, but that actually gives us more energy, more of our capacity to solve problems, make decisions. And so, everything I share in my new book and everything I teach to teams and companies has come from my own experience, but it’s also backed by mountains of research that show that when you cultivate your wellbeing, when you actually reduce your struggle, when you fuel your energy, you’re more productive, you’re more creative, you’re better at helping people, you’re more awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, so then if struggle is optional, I guess I’m curious, if you were to sort of go back in time with your refugee journey, you said there’s some struggle there. So, that struggle was optional. How would you kind of think about it differently in hindsight?

Nataly Kogan
Yeah. So, challenge wasn’t optional, to leave. I grew up in the former Soviet Union, and we left with my parents when I was a teenager with six suitcases and a couple hundred dollars, and we spent months in refugee settlements in Europe applying for permission to come to the US. That’s really hard. That’s a lot of challenge. But a lot of the struggle that I experienced came from my inability to handle my difficult emotions. I had no skills around that. Of course, I felt anxious and I had tremendous loss of identity and self-doubt.

And that went on for decades. On the outside, I became a very successful leader, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, you name it, but on the inside, I struggled because I never developed emotional awareness. I didn’t know how to handle difficult emotions so I just pretended I didn’t feel them. I engaged in tremendous amounts of harsh self-talk and treated myself, to be honest, like a military sergeant who’s not very nice. And those are all things that, in retrospect, I could’ve improved which would have…the challenges would’ve still been there but I would’ve struggled less through them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then, I’m curious, can you lay it on us, what are some of the training approaches if we want to have less overwhelm, anxiety, and stress? What are some of the most effective things we can do to feel better on those domains?

Nataly Kogan
Yeah, this is what my book is about. So, at its core, the way that I think about emotional fitness, it’s a skill of creating a relationship with your thoughts and your emotions that actually help support you. And the thing we need to understand, before I give you some tips, is our brain is not here to make us happy, or to make us awesome, or to help us thrive. The only thing the human brain cares about is to keep us safe from danger. Our brain is here to help us survive.

And because of that, it’s developed certain characteristics that actually can increase struggle. We all have a negativity bias. We see and notice many more things that are negative or could be negative, and our brain ignores a lot of things that are positive or meaningful or okay especially if they’re familiar. Our brain is also afraid of uncertainty. And so, when we’re facing uncertainty, our brain creates a lot more stress and anxiety because it doesn’t know how to keep us safe, and it creates these ruminations on worst-case scenarios as a way to give it control.

And so, I share this little mini-neuroscience lesson because at the core of creating or strengthening your emotional fitness, so you struggle less, is this practice of, what I call in my book, becoming the editor of your thoughts, and understanding that just because your brain gives you a thought, it doesn’t mean it is fact, it doesn’t mean it’s an objective observation of reality, it doesn’t mean you need to go along with it.

So, two questions to ask yourself. When you become aware that your brain is giving you thoughts that are causing you to stress, to struggle, to doubt yourself, to think about worst-case scenarios, two questions to ask is one of my favorite practices in the book. The first is, “Is this thought true?” And, by that I mean, “What are the facts I have to support this thought?”

So, when your thought tells you, “Oh, my God, this project you’re working on, it’s never going to work out,” or, “Oh, my God, your boss thinks you’re doing a terrible job,” well, is this thought true? What facts do you have to support it? Which we often find out when we ask this question, “Well, I don’t have a lot of facts. It’s just a story my brain has made up.” So, that’s the first question to ask, is, “What are the facts you have to support this thought?”

The second question to ask is, “Is this thought helpful?” And by that, I mean, “Does engaging in this thought, does it help me move forward through this challenge? Does it help me bring my best to the situation?” And asking those two questions is a really powerful way to shift your thoughts away from those that cause you stress, anxiety, overwhelm, self-doubt, and actually help your brain be your ally to help you move forward in the best way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that sounds really handy in terms of asking yourself those questions. So, let’s just say you’re in a situation at work, a colleague criticizes or questions something you’ve done such that you’re feeling kind of bummed, like, “Oh, man, I’m such an idiot. That was so stupid. What was I thinking? I’m a moron. Oh, my gosh, am I going to get fired? Or, maybe they are going to fire me.” And so then, you maybe go through these questions, “Is this thought true?” It’s like, “Well, they’ll probably not going to fire me. And I’m probably not a piece of garbage.” And, “Is this thought helpful?” “Well, no, not really. It’s kind of bringing me down.”

And so, we’ve concluded rationally, “Okay, these thoughts are not true and they are not helpful, but, nonetheless, I feel yucky. What do I do?”

Nataly Kogan
All right. So, this brings us to the next skill, which is the skill of what I call acceptance in the book. And the skill of acceptance, I used to hate this word acceptance because I thought it was like being really passive, “Whatever happens, happens. I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a refugee, I’m a fighter.” Well, that’s not what acceptance is.

Acceptance is a skill of looking at the situation clearly, so as you’ve just done, separating the facts from the dramatic story your brain has told you, and then, using that as a foundation to say, “Okay, this is how it is. This is how I feel. What is one thing I could do to move forward in the best way?” And so, in your situation, so you’ve determined that, “Well, my brain is kind of exaggerating. I don’t really have any facts that my boss is going to fire me, and this making me suck at my job if I sit here think about it all day. So, what is one thing I could do to move forward?”

And that answer depends on your situation, but a couple ideas just for the scenario you offered, because it’s a common one. Well, you could focus your attention on working on this project that you’re working on. You could focus your attention on that. You could have a conversation with your boss. Another really important skill that I talk about is emotional openness. So, you could have a conversation with your boss where you can say, like, “Listen, I just want to tell you, in our last conversation that we had, it kind of left me feeling like maybe there’s something I’m not doing. I’d love to talk. I’d love to get some feedback.” Those are all things that you are now in control.

So, you’ve now shifted from being out of control, “My boss hates me. I’m going to get fired.” That feeling out of control is one of the worst things for the human brain. This is how we get into tough spots. And you’ve now shifted into, “Okay, this is how it is. This is how I feel. What is one thing I could do to move forward?” which gives you a sense of control and progress, which brings your best out in the situation. And then, whatever you learn in that next step, you can move forward from there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, we’ve got some strategy sort of in the heat of battle, in the midst of things. Can you talk to us? You mentioned the emotional immune system. Are there some things we can do kind of throughout time, and not just front and center, acutely that will put us in good shape?

Nataly Kogan
Yes. So, if you think about your emotional fitness, again, a great comparison is physical fitness. If you want to be more physically fit, you don’t just like work out once and then you’re done. You have a regular workout, you probably eat healthy, you might take some vitamins. The same thing about our emotional fitness is we have to practice to give ourselves this level of emotional fitness and then we have certain skills for in the moment.

So, a couple things to kind of improve your emotional fitness on a regular basis. One is to practice emotional awareness. We can’t improve something if we don’t know where we are. And most of us have grown up in work environments where emotions are not discussed. I definitely, I worked with some leading companies like Microsoft and McKinsey, and no one ever talked to me about emotions. I didn’t think that mattered. The old idea of “Leave your emotions at the door” is not actually possible. Emotions affect everything we do.

So, we have to get into the practice of checking in with ourselves daily. We check in with friends, colleagues, like, “Hey, how are you? How are you doing? How are you feeling?” We don’t check in with ourselves, and emotional awareness is at the core. So, every day, take a moment to check in with yourself, “How am I feeling? What is my energy level like?”

And research shows that people who practice this kind of emotional awareness actually improve their wellbeing because when you become aware, awareness gives you choices. So, that awareness might tell you, “Wow, I’m really stressed out. Okay, well, how can I support myself? Oh, it’s actually this one thing that’s really stressing me out. Let me go have that conversation.” So, emotional awareness is really, really important.

The other skill that I devote a lot of my new book to is gratitude. So, I think gratitude is one of those things that we all know is good for us, and we think we should do it on Thanksgiving, but I actually mean gratitude as a daily skill. And the reason gratitude is so important – and all the gratitude is, by the way – it’s focusing your attention on things that are positive, that are the moments that in your day of comfort, things you appreciate. They don’t have to be big things.

The reason it’s so important is because of that negativity bias that I talked about that our brains have. Without practicing gratitude, essentially, your brain is lying to you about your reality. You see things much more through a negative lens and that actually drains your energy, increases stress, reduces your ability to be awesome because it makes you use all that energy thinking about all the negative things.

So, having a regular daily practice of gratitude balances out that negativity bias that actually reduces your stress. It helps you have a more centered clear picture of your day so you can be at your best. So, those are a couple practices I recommend on a daily basis to improve your emotional fitness.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you talk about gratitude, I’ve heard a number of flavors associated with gratitude practices. What are some of your favorites and the research associated with them?

Nataly Kogan
Yes. So, I think there are two parts of gratitude that I want to mention. There’s a gratitude practice for yourself. So, my favorite practice, which is also in the book, is what I call the morning gratitude lens. Very simple. In the morning, hopefully before social media has taken away your attention or your reading – your 17th news article of the day, which we know we all do – take a moment, think of three specific things you are grateful for and jot them down in some way.

And this is a practice that counters that negativity bias I just talked about. Really, really important to be specific. So, I work with a lot of leaders and teams, and I ask them, “Tell me something you’re grateful for,” and they say, “I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for my health.” That’s very general. Your brain doesn’t really care about general things like that, so be specific. Ask yourself, “Why? Why am I grateful for my family? Why am I grateful for my health?” Be really specific. So, that’s a way to practice gratitude for yourself.

And then a really, really important part of gratitude is to express your gratitude to others. To look at other people, your family, your friends, your colleagues, your boss, your customers, through what I call the lens of gratitude, and to actually share your gratitude with them by, again, being specific, by saying, “Hey, Pete, I just want you to know, I really appreciate your thoughtful questions in this interview.”

Again, when we are specific with our gratitude, it has this really powerful impact, and it’s a gift that gives to both people. So, when I shared my gratitude with you, I remind myself, “Wow, there’s this person in my life who supports me, who’s meaningful, that helps me,” and there’s so much benefit on the receiving end of gratitude.

I think we all know it feels really good. But in the work context, being on the receiving side of gratitude improves motivation, improves resilience. It actually helps you get through more challenges because, at our core as human beings, we need to know that what we do matters. And when someone expresses gratitude to us, that’s what it reminds us of. So, those, to me, are the two sides of gratitude that I encourage you to practice for yourself, and then expressing authentic specific gratitude to others.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m also curious, I was listening to a podcast from the Huberman Lab, Andrew Huberman. Love his stuff. And he was talking about gratitude practices with regard to some interesting research associated with hearing other people’s stories in which they were helped, and they expressed their gratitude and/or reflecting upon the times that you received gratitude, when someone was like, “Oh, Nataly, thank you so much. That was awesome. You changed everything for me.” And I thought that was kind of a different take and a different kind of vibe and flavor of gratitude. What do you think about those?

Nataly Kogan
Yeah, I love that you brought that up. There is so much research that shows that just witnessing someone sharing gratitude with another person – so it’s not at you, it’s about someone else – improves our wellbeing, boosts our mood, and that is because, at our core as human beings, we’re all connected, and our emotions are connected, our emotions are contagious. And so, a lot of research shows that witnessing or hearing someone talk about, expressing gratitude, actually both boost your own wellbeing and it’s contagious. It encourages you to share that gratitude with others.

And, actually, something I want to mention on that, because a lot of times I work with a lot of teams and companies, and I tell them about this practice that I want them to do this in meetings. So, in a meeting, express your gratitude to someone in the meeting and tell them why you’re grateful for them. And often I’ll get a question of like, “Well, isn’t that like, won’t the other people feel weird that I’m not like expressing gratitude to them? Won’t they feel bad?”

The opposite is true. It actually makes everyone feel good because what you’re communicating to them is, “I am a kind of person who practices gratitude, and I appreciate other people around me.” So, it doesn’t make people feel jealous or envious or annoyed. It actually helps for them to express their gratitude to others. So, sharing your gratitude publicly is always a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Very cool. And you mentioned, and we may have already covered some, you’ve got three mindset shifts that help make happiness and emotional health reality for folks. What are those three shifts?

Nataly Kogan
So, these are my like…what do I call them? Kind of like principles, the core principles, and we’ve actually covered a bunch of them. So, the first is to think of…to recognize that your happiness and your emotional fitness is a skill. It’s not a prize you get at the end. So many of us, and I definitely did this in my life, so many of us live with this idea of like, “I’ll be happy when…”

So, for everyone listening, I’m sure you can relate, “I’ll be happy when I get this promotion,” or finish this project, or launch this thing, or lose weight, or gain weight, or move. And we think that something on the outside can actually give us that lasting happiness, and that can never happen. And there’s a biological reason for that, there’s nothing wrong with you.

The other thing to know about our brain is it’s very adaptable. We get used to things. And so, while you’re working towards that big promotion, your brain is really swimming in a lot of dopamine, it makes you feel good. When you get it, your brain is like, “Yes! Awesome! Got it! What’s next?” And so, “I’ll be happy when…” doesn’t work. Happiness is not a reward.

When you think of it as a skill, when you think of happiness and emotional fitness as a skill, something that you practice – we just talked a bunch of different ways to practice – that actually is what builds that. So, that’s a really important mindset shift. We talked about another one, which is life is full of challenges, and challenges will never go away. Challenge, change, uncertainty is always there, but struggle and your emotional experience of those is something you can improve. You can reduce struggle. So, that’s another core mindset shift which we’ve covered.

And one more, which is so essential, and that is that you don’t need to make any dramatic life changes to feel better to improve your wellbeing. Small shifts in how you treat yourself, in your relationship with your thoughts, in your relationship with other people, small shifts have huge impact when you practice them consistently.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, I’d love to hear then, we got a number of principles and tips and tactics. Can you bring it together in terms of a story of someone who had a pretty cool transformation of doing some of these things and turned things around to become all the more awesome at their jobs?

Nataly Kogan
Yeah. Well, so many examples come to mind, but I’ll use one example of a leader who’s a really amazing woman leader. I do Elevating Women Leaders leadership program for women every year. It’s always virtual. It’s a yearlong program. And when this woman leader came into the program, she’s very accomplished. She was running a huge brand but she was really exhausted, she was on the edge of burnout, and she admitted that she was not bringing her best or anywhere near her best to her work. And she didn’t really quite know what to do. She’s done kind of all the things that she could think of.

And by practicing, first and foremost, just becoming aware of her emotions and developing a relationship with herself that were supportive, so when she felt a difficult emotion, instead of stuffing it down, she actually acknowledged it and found ways to support herself by practicing gratitude. She began a daily gratitude practice on her own, and she began a weekly practice of gratitude with her team where everyone on the team would share a gratitude with other people.

It was an amazing transformation. She talked about how not only did she become, as a leader, better and started to thrive, but she said the entire culture of her team changed. They all began to work much more cohesively together. They were better, more effective. And it was a pretty incredible transformation when you think about these practices. They’re not complicated. But here was someone who went from being on the edge of burnout, not bringing her best, to changing herself in such a way that she encouraged her entire team to elevate their performance.

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

Nataly Kogan
I think the only other thing I want to mention is everything I teach and everything that’s in my book, it comes from my personal lens. I teach things I’ve learned, and obviously I’m a total research geek. And I just want to leave listeners with kind of this reminder that really helped me after I was recovering from burnout, and it’s something I share with teams and leaders and people, and it’s that you can’t give what you don’t have.

We have an epidemic of burnout now going on, and there’s a lot of articles about how things are bad and we’re burning out, but you always have a choice. You always have a choice. There are always things within your control that you can change, and, as we’ve talked about, they don’t require any kind of Herculean life changes. But you can always find ways and practice skills to support yourself, to support your emotional fitness and wellbeing. And there are so many people who consider that selfish or they feel guilty taking care of their happiness or emotional fitness.

And so, I want to break through all that and, again, tell you that you can’t give what you don’t have. If you’re on empty, if you have no energy, if you’re exhausted, if you’re constantly beating yourself up, you cannot be awesome at your job, you cannot show up as a patient, thoughtful, clear leader, you cannot show up in the way that I know you want to, to people you care about. So, it’s probably something I say most often throughout the day, both to other people and to myself.

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

Nataly Kogan
I’m going to share this quote which my teacher, who was my teacher as I was kind of healing from burnout and really going through a process of reinvention. She said to me, she said, “You’re a being, not a doing.” And, at the time, I had no idea what that meant, and I didn’t really care. I was very much to doing. I connected my worth entirely to my achievements for the day. But I find it one of the most inspiring things, and I do want our listeners to hear that.

I think there’s so much more that we can all contribute to the world and to our jobs if we value our being, our essence, our energy, ourselves, and not just connect that to our achievements.

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

Nataly Kogan
Ooh, let’s see. Well, one of my favorite bits of research is…you’ve gone into my favorite area. I’m such a research geek. Okay, let me share one around the negativity bias, gratitude being important because I think it really lands it. So, they’ve done experiments where they have people wear headphones, and in one ear they have negative words coming in, and in the other ear they have positive words coming in.

And even if the positive words are louder and clearer, when they asked people what they recall, they recalled the negative words. Our brain is constantly on alert for anything negative. And I just love that study because it’s so literal that it brings it home this reality that our brain is looking at everything through this negativity lens, and we have to correct it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m a research geek as well. That’s so intriguing. And I’m wondering, hopefully, they rotated the headphones, the left and the right.

Nataly Kogan
They have done. And you can look into it. They did all kinds of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And a favorite book?

Nataly Kogan
I would have to say The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer, which is probably the book I give to people more than my own books. And it’s an incredible story of this very promising economics PhD student who, one day, decides that he needs to figure out why there’s constant chatter in his brain, like we all have this voice in our head that’s constantly chattering, “You’re not good enough. You didn’t do it.” No, you’re just commenting on everything.

So, he quit and decided he was going to be a yogi and he was just going to be Zen and calm his mind. And it’s an amazing story of how that actually led him to run a $2-billion company we’ve all heard of, and an incredible journey of what happens when we practice acceptance, when we actually accept ourselves and the world as they are. So, I absolutely recommend that book.

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

Nataly Kogan
So, in terms of my favorite app, I love Todoist. For anyone who doesn’t use it, I love it. It’s a way I keep track of all my to-dos and projects. And I’m also an artist. You’re looking at some of my art behind me, so I love my iPad. It’s where I draw. It’s where I write things down. I think those are, for me, two tools. And I’m going to mention one that probably has nothing to do with work, but fresh air. I could not be awesome at my job if I did not go outside for a walk every day.

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

Nataly Kogan
Yeah, the thing that I hear back most often is this idea that I shared of you can’t give what you don’t have. And this is for senior leaders and junior employees, and men and women. I think we have this inner martyr that comes out and where we think we have to go last, and that’s the way to be a good leader, a good teammate, a good colleague. And so, when people have that breakthrough, this understanding of in order to give, in whatever way you want to give, I have to actually fuel myself. So, you can’t give what you don’t have.

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

Nataly Kogan
Very easy. Go to NatalyKogan.com. And I’m very easy to find there. I’m on all the social media but NatalyKogan.com is the hub.

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

Nataly Kogan
Well, my call to action is twofold. I actually love giving homework, so I love an opportunity to give homework. I always give homework at the end of my talks and keynotes. So, my homework is twofold. Take one thing that you heard me talk about and make it a practice for the next five days. There’s no magic, by the way, about five days, just like there’s no magic about 21 days. It takes much longer to create a habit. But five days is a really good amount of time to do something, and then check in with yourself and then see if it’s made a difference.

So, take one thing you heard and do it for the next five days. Make that commitment to yourself. And the second part of your homework is, share your gratitude with someone today. It can be someone at work, it can be someone outside of work, but tell someone why you appreciate them. By the way, you never have to use the word gratitude if you don’t want to. You can say, “You’re awesome because…” Tell someone why you’re grateful for them today, and the impact of that will be so clear to you, hopefully you’ll keep at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Nataly, thanks so much for this. And I wish you much awesomeness in the weeks ahead.

Nataly Kogan
Thank you. This was an awesome interview. Thanks for having me.