We have Michelle Gielan and Chris Majer. Michelle is the author of Broadcasting Happiness, positive psychology researcher, former CBS News anchor and married to Shawn Achor. You’ve seen her everywhere. She’s a lot of fun and we’re going to talk to her. We’re going to talk to Chris Majer who helps C-suite executives accelerate their business with Elite Performance Process. He’s also an entertaining guy. This show is going to be a lot of fun.
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Broadcasting Happiness To Others with Michelle Gielan
I am here with Michelle Gielan who is the bestselling author of Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change. She was named one of the Top Ten Authors on Resilience by Harvard Business Review. She’s the Founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research. She’s also the Executive Producer of The Happiness Advantage on PBS and featured professor in Oprah’s Happiness Course. She formerly served as an anchor on the CBS Morning News. It’s nice to have you here, Michelle.
It’s good to be here. Thanks so much.
I saw you speak at WorkHuman. You do a great job with your interviewing style, which you have that as your background. Do you ever miss working in the news?
I do miss it at times. The news oftentimes is negative. It’s rare that I would have gotten the chance to interview someone like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and have such fun. Most of the time the stories are negative and it got to me, which is why I ended up leaving the field of journalism. More importantly though and what I came to see was the power of telling positive, inspirational, solutions-focused stories and what that can do to our brain and our mindset.
I’m fascinated with everything psychology-based in business. That’s why I study emotional intelligence and curiosity. You’re an interesting case study in itself because you have this great job at CBS and then you decide to go off and go in a completely different direction to study in applied psychology.
When I was at CBS, my friends thought I was crazy when I told them that I was thinking of leaving this job that I worked so hard for. It was at the height of the recession. We saw all these emotional stories of people losing their homes, their jobs and their retirement savings. It was at that point that I said, “Is there something different that we can be broadcasting? Can we look at these challenges in our lives in a way that leaves us feeling empowered, ready to take action, ready to overcome these challenges versus what we often feel when we’re exposed to negative news, which is depressed or feeling helpless?” We ran a series called Happy Week. We brought in these experts from positive psychology, the scientific study of happiness and human potential. They talked about ways we can foster happiness in the midst of the recession. If your home stays in foreclosure, what do you do? If you’re having financial struggles and you’re fighting with your spouse, how can you have better conversations? They give solutions-focused advice. We got the greatest response of the year and then I started to see what positive psychology was all about. That’s why I left and that’s why I ended up going to Penn to study the field.Happiness all the time is a disorder. Click To Tweet
You study something that your husband also studies. For anyone who doesn’t know this, Shawn Achor is your husband. I can remember reading one of his books many years ago. I was like, “This is good stuff.” I thought it was exciting. I normally never give book reviews and I have a book review on my blog for his book. When I saw you two were together, I got to know the behind the scenes. Are you guys always happy? I want to watch you fight to see how you do it.
Here are two married happiness researchers and people ask, “Are you happy all the time?” Happiness all the time is a disorder. The difference is since we’re steeped in this research, we know the small things that you can do to train your brain to be more positive, more optimistic and more resilient. It makes it so that when each of us or both of us at the same time are not in that better state, we see it more quickly. We can work to get back to baseline or back to feeling good. We definitely have our stresses and our challenges and we definitely fight.
Everybody’s got to be a little normal. How did you meet? I didn’t see that on anything.
Towards the end of the Master’s program that I was doing at Penn, I had read all the scientific journal articles that were coming out of positive psychology, everything I could get my hands on. I also went down the list of all the popular books that were coming out. His was one of them and I thought it was the most brilliant synthesis of all the research that was available. This is his book in 2010, The Happiness Advantage. I ended up reaching out to him. I sent him an email. I was asking for some professional advice, “How do I turn this into a career? What have you seen?” Little did I know that email would end up getting me a husband out of the deal.
It’s an interesting thing when we were talking about how you guys deal with your fighting because you say sometimes you forget, and you’ve got to remind yourself and all that. What you’re trying to do with Broadcasting Happiness is help people who have forgotten. Can we change other people?
I was fascinated with the research about influence. How you can influence other people around you, how much power we have because it’s obvious to all of us when there’s someone negative around us that are having an influence on us. Oftentimes, I’ll ask when I go out to companies and give talks I’ll say, “I want to see a show of hands. How many of you have ever had someone in your life say to you, ‘You can’t change other people.’” I get pretty much everyone the room raising their hands. It’s this societal belief we all consciously or unconsciously bought into. You can’t change other people so just worry about yourself and work on yourself. Don’t worry about the negative guy at your office, for instance. If the negative guy can change us, the road goes both ways. When we look at more than a decade of research from positive psychology, we see that influence is happening all the time. This is out of the University of California Riverside. They put three strangers in a room and had them sit there in silence around a table for two minutes. They tested their mood before and after. What they found was the person who was most nonverbally expressive of their mood and mindset significantly influenced the other two people.
If that person was being negative, arms crossed, frown on their face, they made the other two people more negative in the room. Meanwhile, if they were light and relaxed or smiling, they made the other people feel more positive. That’s in two minutes in silence. Imagine how much influence we have. The book that I wrote revolves around this idea that you are a broadcaster as you move throughout your day. You’re constantly transmitting information to the people around you. Those small messages either create your success or they hold you back and they definitely influence other people. How can we harness this research to be able to influence them in meaningful ways? Your child goes up to school and they’re about to take an important test. What can you say to them that put their brain in a positive state so that they do better on that test? If you’re a leader of an organization or you have a co-worker who is struggling around something, what do you say to them that don’t just give them a pep talk but helps them see facts in their reality that helps them flourish?
It’s hard sometimes for people to take advice from certain people. I’ve worked with people who will give the same comments to everybody like, “You’re the best. You’re the greatest. You’re wonderful,” and you get too much of it sometimes from people and then you shut down to it. You get people who are negative who give you so much that you shut down. How do you know that right amount of peppy?
Most of us don’t love the cheerleaders. If we get too much constructive feedback but also cause us to shut off. What we look at in our research is this idea of rational optimism. Optimism is maintaining a belief that your behavior matters and expecting good things to happen, especially in the face of challenges. The rational part of it is you need to be able to take a realistic assessment of the present moment. You need to understand what’s happening there. If it’s the markets, how the markets are doing? If there’s a challenge in your relationship, what’s happening? In the midst of that, maintain this belief that if you apply your behavior you can do something to improve the circumstances. When we talk to our friends and we don’t just give them that pep talk but we say, “Let’s look at what’s happening here. What are the resources, successes, the wins, the relationships that you can leverage? That you have at your fingertips to help you overcome this challenge. That’s a way better talk than a pep talk.If the negative guy can change us, the road goes both ways. Click To Tweet
There are markets and challenges. There’s politics, there’s bad news. Even you wanted to get away from the bad news. We don’t want to watch all that stuff sometimes. How do we get news without wanting to shoot ourselves if we watch the news?
I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I have been completely inundated by everything on loop over and over when I was working at CBS. After that, for a period of time, I took a news fast. I didn’t want to hear anything. I needed to detox. I have found what appears to for me, and for many people who I work with, a good balance. We can’t necessarily disconnect from what’s happening in our world because then unfortunately when there is important information we don’t know about it. We also can’t expose ourselves to a barrage of negative news because that feeds our brain this lie that our behavior doesn’t matter. It’s all we do is focus on problems and at no time do we talk about solutions. We’re telling our brain, “Whatever you’re going to do here. Whatever action you decide to take, it doesn’t matter. We can’t overcome these challenges.”
In simple terms, what I do is I get my news online. That gives me the power to click on the headlines that are important and can help fuel a better life for me or for my community or my business. I’m always making sure to skip the garbage. We don’t want sensational headlines. We don’t want things about crimes that are in other communities that would never have any effect on us. We want to focus our brain on solutions-focused content. If there is a challenge, what can we do about it? Then also inspiring stories of people who’ve overcome challenges. The reason I’ve come to this formula is that I did a series of studies with Shawn and Arianna Huffington. In the first study, we found that just three minutes of negative news can increase your chances of having a bad day by 27%. That was as reported six to eight hours later. As you’re cooking dinner that night, you’re still feeling the effects of news from the morning.
The follow-up study was the hopeful study which was that if we don’t focus on problems but we go on to expose our brain to solutions that you can take to those problems. You don’t have a need to take those solutions. You just need to think about it. We’ve found that people were 20% better on creative problem-solving tasks that they were asked to do later in the day. What that means to me is that we can focus on the challenges in our world but also what we could do about them and how we can be engaged, citizens. We make ourselves smarter and better at our jobs or in our relationships or whatever else we’re doing.
You bring up several things that I found in my research. I’ve had people on the show mention the only problem they’ve seen with some leaders is they’d say, “Don’t come to me unless you have a solution to the problem. Don’t just give me the problem.” Sometimes you have to shut people down because they couldn’t come up with the solution, but they saw a problem and then you don’t find out about the problem. I like that you’re getting more creative but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to be able to solve everything. We don’t want to shut people down to trying to solve things. Studying the brain in general though is fascinating to me. When I was studying curiosity, we found that curiosity increases dopamine. What research have you done as far as feel-good hormones and chemicals in your body from happiness? I know Shawn did some work in that area. How do we harness that? You get that happy quality from dopamine and have it last. Is there any research about that?
Dopamine is fantastic along with a handful of other neurochemicals. It turns on the learning centers in your brain. When we can get our brain into a more positive mindset, we fuel every single business and educational outcome that we know how to track. We even have numbers around it as we did. We’ve seen studies where people have become 41% more productive. They’ve experienced a 23% drop in stress-related symptoms like headaches, backaches, and fatigue. 40% more likely to receive a promotion over the next year, that’s all by harnessing that positive mindset. When I talk about a positive mindset, central to it is rational optimism to be touched on. The other piece of it is connecting with what’s most meaningful in our lives. Finding the meaning embedded in the work that we’re doing, the things we’re grateful for about our life, and all the other good things that are happening beyond those simple quick pleasures like the chocolate bar or something like that.Next best is sometimes best because otherwise, we get nothing. Click To Tweet
I’m fascinated by the medical perspective. I was a pharmaceutical rep forever and the cortisol and all the things that are impacted by all this. I was watching one of your interviews with Michael Sandler where he brought up some of the stuff in the book. I wanted to talk to you about some of those things of questions that tied into curiosity. You had four questions you should be asking at work. There’s so much negativity around the dinner table, boardroom, water cooler. You talk about digging for gold, shifting the focus, some of those. Can you talk about some of those because they’re important to curiosity as well?
I love this idea of leading questions and how you can lead somebody, especially when they’re struggling with something, not to a specific answer but getting their brain instead into positive territory. Digging for gold, for instance, is what questions can you ask somebody to get them to see the skills and strengths that they possess or the things that are already working well in their lives? I’ll give you a concrete example. Let’s say we’re struggling with the fact that we have a deadline coming up. We’re completely stressed. We’re not going to hit this deadline. We’re convinced. You sit at your desk and you’re looking at the computer and we feel that overwhelmed foggy feeling. We’re not performing at our best. How can we realize what facts we’re focusing on and then dig for gold for those other facts that can help move our brain forward and let it calm down? Instead of looking at the fact that we are exhausted and our son’s recital is later that week and we have to go and none of our colleagues can help us because they’re swamped on their own projects, instead of looking at that, what else can we see?
Maybe if we have somebody brainstorming with us, they might say, “You’re a natural at writing these proposals. You’ve been at this company for four years. You’ve never needed a deadline extension before. Those three guys are busy, but maybe three other people might be able to help you write small pieces of the proposal. I heard they had a little bandwidth that they could devote to this project.” All of a sudden, our brains start to see those other pieces of the puzzle. It’s not to say that we’re disputing our original story. We’re trying to see those other facts that eliminate a new story. Calm down and move forward. The best ways to use leading questions is if your child comes home from school worried about a bully, what questions can you ask him that gets his brain to remember how many friends he has? It’s not ignoring the problem. It’s also giving him some more information that will help him change how he approaches the mean kid the next day at school.
There’s also the next best situation because you don’t always get your first choice. You’d like to have it always be the perfect outcomes and choices, but sometimes you have to go with the next best thing. People have a hard time sometimes with that. What advice would you give them?
Next best is sometimes best because otherwise we get nothing. I love when people say, “Do you want 100% of nothing or would you like 50% of something?” It’s about asking questions of someone else or yourself that get your brain to expand. To be able to see what other options are there. While I was at Penn I met this brilliant doctor and researcher. He works in one of the most challenging environments which are with terminally ill children. He tries to help guide their family through the process of when there’s no other option. This is one of the questions he asked them like, “We want your child to survive. Unfortunately, we’ve come to the end of the road. What’s next best?” He says he could see the parents’ minds opening up and that’s when he got these beautiful wishes for the final days of their lives. “We want them to die at home. We want to give them these last experiences.” Thankfully, for many of us we’ll never experience something as challenging as that, but we might experience heartache and loss around a job that we didn’t get or an opportunity that we weren’t able to scare. What is next best? When we can see those other options, that’s when our paths change.
Once you face that reality that you can’t always have everything, it helps to focus on the next option. Pointing that out is important. You also pointed out what else. I like that you say in journalism you learn to do that before the camera gets turned off. You asked them, “What didn’t you cover that you’d like to talk about?” and that type of thing. How can we use that at work?
When you have a performance review, ask, “What else? What else didn’t we talk about? What else am I missing? What else could I do?” Sometimes you get the most interesting information at that moment or if you’re having a meeting with a client. What else didn’t we focus on that might be important for me to understand here? How else can I be better at my job or service you better? That’s where you oftentimes get the nuggets where the people didn’t feel they had a forum to speak up about something and now you’re giving them free rein. They can talk about anything. In journalism, it was often where you heard the most interesting pieces of the story. Sometimes it’s completely changed the direction of the story as well.Once you face the reality that you can't always have everything, it helps to focus on the next option. Click To Tweet
It is interesting to see what people want to talk about that you haven’t uncovered at the end. I have had a few people where you expect an interview to be long and then it goes on a lot longer because you’re like, “I didn’t even know we were going to go there.” I like it to be conversational. It can be challenging in this situation sometimes to know what exactly people are working on, what they want to focus on. I know things I want to ask you and one of them is what’s it like to executive produce The Happiness Advantage and be involved with Oprah’s Happiness Course?
They are both such fun projects mostly because I got to do them with Shawn. The Happiness Advantage, he was the talent. He was the host of the show and then I was the EP in the booth with a headset. He had a thing in his ear where he could hear me and I’d talk to him and tell him what to do and boss him around. I’m a big believer in the power of your words. I had said the year before, “It would be wonderful to do something with Oprah’s team.” There was nothing on the horizon. There was no reason why I had any right to be putting this on the list of hopes and dreams other than I would love it. I said, “Wouldn’t it be funny to wake up with Oprah,” because I’d seen something in a magazine that said, “Wake up with Oprah,” so we’re making jokes on that. Cut to about a few months later, Shawn had been on SuperSoul Sunday. The team there had reached out to us about doing a Happiness Course. I woke up one morning at my home and that’s where they’re shooting the course and there was Oprah’s team.
You guys have been super successful. Were you in the audience when Shawn gave his TED Talk that was popular?
I wasn’t. He called me before and after. He was in the Midwest and I was on the East Coast and so I didn’t get to do that.
It’s fun to see the success you guys have had. I enjoy both what you guys are working on and your latest book is amazing. I do have to ask you one last question. What else? What else didn’t we talk about that you’d like to focus on that we didn’t cover?
For me, the most inspiring out of the research that I see is that small habits have huge implications on our lives. As a challenge to those in our audience, I would encourage you to pick one of the following two habits. Do it each day for 21 days. The first one, if you like doing things more personally with yourself, I would write down three new and unique things you’re grateful for every day for 21 days. I encourage you to write a two-minute positive email each morning praising or thanking someone you know, someone new and different each day. Be like a scientist, experiment. My feeling is after day three or four, you will be hooked. It gets your brain to focus on all the ways in which people have invested in you, have loved you, have cared about you, or all the good things that are happening in your life. I guarantee you it will change the way your brain sees your reality.
That’s great advice and your book is amazing. Your work is fascinating and ties into everything I’m interested in. I was looking forward to this. Thank you so much, Michelle. Can you share how people can reach you and get your book and find out more?Mind, body, and spirit is the foundation on which consistent winning is possible. Click To Tweet
Thank you. If anyone’s interested, we have tons of resources available on my website. It’s MichelleGielan.com. Including a free Success Scale where you can test your brain on mindset measures and your stress responder scale, the excerpt of my book and all other fun things that I hope people will take advantage of.
I hope they do too and this was wonderful.
The Practice Of Consistency with Chris Majer
I am here with Chris Majer, who is the CEO of the Human Potential Project where they help C-level executives break into their next level of performance and satisfaction. He is in the cultural transformation business and helps organizations break into a new world of performance. It’s nice to have you here, Chris.
Thanks very much. It’s great to be here.
You do some pretty interesting stuff. I want to make sure I get a little bit of a background on you. If you can tell everybody what led to this point? Tell me more about what you do at the Human Potential Project.
Let me give you a history that will inform the way people listen to how we do what we do in it. Like always, we’ve been shaped by our conditioning and our schooling and our experiences. Ours like everybody’s is unique in our own particular way. We’ve been at this for quite some time. We started off in the early ‘80s, I and one partner who was a sports psychologist. I’d been a First Division rugby player. He was a world-class skier. We got together with the notion of working exclusively with athletes. We don’t come at this from a more traditional academic approach. Ours was pragmatic. We set out with a simple mission. Working with individual athletes, we wanted to isolate and reproduce consistently the elements that led to a consistent winning performance. The key word there was the consistency. We’d seen lots of this. Everybody has flash in the pan performers who couldn’t win consistently. We wanted to get at what was it that enabled that consistent winning performance?
What we did in those days was essentially to ingrain what was then contemporary technology to the ancient Greek model of mind, body, and spirit being the foundation on which consistent winning was possible. We had been Aikido students. We took a combination of Eastern philosophical energetic and meditative practices and combine that with Western physiological practices. When we talk about spirit, we don’t mean religion but more of the human spirit. What is it that gives you your passion, your drive, your values? We were doing extraordinary work in the early days. We were taking our individual competitors and they were setting records and doing this and doing that. We had a little problem which was that this was in the days before Nike and Adidas exist the way they do now. We were doing great work but all of our clients were broke. It was great work, not getting paid. This was a flaw in the business plan.No amount of understanding, curiosity, or motivation ever produced competence. The only way you produce competence is with practice. Click To Tweet
We turned our attention to teams and we saw the same thing that you’ve seen, everybody’s seen, and most of us have participated in. You could take a group of individual players who as individuals were terrific. You put them together on a team, the team would stink. That doesn’t make any sense and yet it happens often, and not just in sports. There’s clearly something for us here to focus on. Mine had been a team sports background so I knew a little bit more about this. My education was a Master’s Degree in Organizational Development. We put together a body of work we called team cohesion. This got out the underlying phenomenon that enabled the group to function as a unity. We did work with national teams, Olympic teams, the Seattle Seahawks back in the day.
To our surprise, we got caught up in a net that the Army had cast looking for help in understanding better ways to train and prepare soldiers. It was never part of our business plan but I found myself at Fort Hood Texas talking to a roomful of officers. A few weeks later we had a sole source contract with the United States Army. We spent a few years helping the Army redesign the way they prepared soldiers and we ended up with a yearlong classified project with the Special Forces. We had a programmatic blank check to push the boundaries of human performance and human potential. What’s possible here? They gave us two A-teams 24 hours a day for a few months. They’ve never done that before since. We set all kinds of records with them and some cases scared ourselves even with what was possible here. At the end of that, I said, “We have been extremely fortunate here. We’ve been able to develop and test a methodology that’s proven effective in two arenas for performance matters and where you can measure it, first with athletes then with soldiers.”
Working with the soldiers was the greatest stuff we ever did. The process of getting to do the work was totally odious. I said, “We’re not going to do that. We’re going to turn our attention to the corporate world.” You’ve talked to some of the great leaders, thinkers, and philosophers in business over the years. Every once in a while, things happen and it has to be providence because there’s no real rational explanation. That was my early days. We set out and I said, “I’m going to go put together a business plan and raise some money. We’re going to start doing these corporate programs.” Everybody told me I was crazy. I was in my early 30s at the time. This was back in the day. There was no venture community, there were no angel investors, none of the stuff that we have now. They said, “What do you know about running a business plan?” Who are you going to talk to? Nobody’s going to understand this. It’s a service thing. Nobody gets it. Being me, I put together this plan. The first person I talked to said, “This is the coolest thing ever.” He wrote us a check for about $500,000 back in 1985. My reaction was, “What’s hard about this? What’s the big deal?
We put together a little corporate program. I needed someplace to test it. We found this investor’s partner owned a little manufacturing company over in Shelton, Washington. This company was 300 people. They took these massive ingots eight feet long, four feet wide, and a foot thick. They’d run them through this computerized milling machines and make doors for Boeing airplanes. According to the managers, the plant was at maximum production but we still needed someplace to try this thing. We put all 300 people in lots of 100 through this program. A few weeks later, production was up 20%. Impossible, but there it was. My thought had been, “We’ve never done a corporate program. I think this will work. If it doesn’t and we’re in Shelton, Washington, nobody’s ever going to know about it. If it does, great.”
My second client was AT&T. I went from business obscurer to center ring in the circus. The net effect was I went from five guys in a cubbyhole office in Pioneer Square in Seattle to 85 guys occupying a whole floor in a building a few blocks away in the space of a few months. As I tell everybody with no fear of contradiction, I pretty much made every stupid mistake you can make in growing the business and yet it succeeded oftentimes despite my best efforts. We turned around the consumer products division, which was our mandate. The project was called Project Miracles. That’s what it was going to take to turn this thing around. This was a division that went from losing $220 million a year under the old Bell System, nobody cared. They got divested by the courts. The first thing they do is call Mackenzie. They got Mackenzie. Mackenzie took them from 40,000 employees to 16,000 employees in several months and was proud of themselves. They’d stop the financial hemorrhaging and blind to the fact that everything else had stopped.
Our job was to breathe some life back into this thing. The net effect is over the following months these guys went from breakeven to generate an accumulative total of $3 billion in profit for AT&T. Outside of long distance, they became the most profitable part of the business. That’s the power of transformation. Over the years we’ve done similar kinds of projects with AT&T, Intel, EDS, Microsoft, Capital One, Cargill and American Airlines. We’ve got a golden client list and it’s been an extraordinary ride. We came out of a performance-based background, not a theoretical background. We work with people who had to perform. We understand what it is that enables people to learn. Unfortunately, everybody else, for the most part, is stuck in a dysfunctional view of what it takes to learn and change. That’s why things don’t change.
It ties into what I research for my work in curiosity of what it takes to get that initial spark for everything else. When you talk about performance and starting with athletes, you’re already with a competitive spirit there. The desire not to fail, that tenacity is in there. In the real world, it’s a little different. I saw your video The Failure Cycle that causes 99% of achievers to burn out before getting the next level of their performance. You spell it out clearly in that video about what people go through in the cycle of, “I’m going to do this. I’m excited.” They got this spark and then they get burned out and they go, “This isn’t working. I’m never going to do it.” Some of it is you got to get that desire to start again and persevere. How do you get yourself back up on that horse when you’ve had many times of buying the seminar, buying the book, and trying and then failing?If you don't have the capacity to let yourself be a beginner, to make mistakes, to get up, go at it again, nothing's ever going to change. Click To Tweet
My answer is don’t spend any more money on seminars or anything else until you take a little break and let’s get at what it is to learn. Most people don’t understand how we as human beings learn. We confuse inspiration, motivation, the acquisition of information, insight, and understanding for learning. It’s not. The problem is we’ve got three different definitions of learning, two of which don’t serve us as adults. There’s learning as in to become aware of. You could read an article about something you go, “I never heard that before. Isn’t that interesting?” and you would go home and tell your husband, “Look what I learned. There’s this whole thing called whatever.” Now you learned about it but can you do anything with that? No. You can talk about it, “Isn’t that interesting?” “Yes, exactly. Look at her. Isn’t she smart?” You could say, “I’ve got this curiosity about this. I want to learn some more,” so I go get a book or I go to a seminar. It’d say, “Get Motivated Seminar,” because there are a million of those. Sure enough, you will get motivated. You’ve seen this before, people coming out of there, “My hair’s on fire. I’m going to take on the world,” and then within a few hours or days, “What happened? Nothing. The seminar sucked. It must be that I suck.”
We begin to diminish our expectations. What we learned with athletes and everybody understands this intuitively is it didn’t matter how motivated they were. It didn’t matter what they understood. I could get them to understand things pretty simply because they’re not stupid, but that didn’t mean they could do it. What we saw with athletes and this is true for everybody else but it was most visible athletes, is that no amount of understanding, curiosity, or motivation ever produced competence. The only way you produce competence is with practice. In the end, your mind can understand, and understanding can occur in an instant. It’s your body that learns. This is the thing most people have trouble with. Your mind understands but it’s your body that learns. The body only learns one way, that’s through practice. No amount of understanding ever produced competence. No amount of motivation, curiosity, anything. Those will get you going, but the actual phenomenon of learning is recurrent practice. If you think about anything that you’re good at, you didn’t get good at it by reading a book. You might have gotten interested in it. You might have gotten curious about it, but you only got good at it by practice. You can take any number of examples. The sports ones are easy to see, but they’re pretty illustrative. Do you play golf or do you know somebody who does?
I do, very badly.
Let’s assume for this conversation that for whatever reason, you watch the Tiger Woods versus Phil Mickelson match. You got inspired. “I want to get much better. I want to take my golf game up to a whole new level.” Let’s assume, “That’s not satisfying. I want to get good at golf.” What are you going to do? Are you going to read Tiger Woods’ book? Are you’re going to buy a bunch of that junk off the Golf Channel and leave it in the trunk of your car forever? Probably not. What would you do? If you’re like most people, your answer is, “I’m going to go to the range and practice,” and I would say, “That’s the problem.” All you’re going to do is get better at being bad. You said your current game was radically inadequate, so all you’re going to do is go get better at being bad. If you’re committed to improving your game, you’re going to go hire a coach. “I’m going to take some golf lessons.” You go out there and you sit there with the pro. She watches you take some shots. She then says, “Here’s what I want you to do. Stand up a little straighter. Move your feet this way. Change your grip this way. Now hit some shots.” What happens to those next few shots?
“It’s uncomfortable. It’s new. It doesn’t feel good. I don’t like it.” If the coach wasn’t right there, what would you and 99.9% of humanity do?
Go back to the old way.
Exactly, go back to the way I did. It may have been crappy but at least I didn’t feel like an idiot. That’s it. That’s why we don’t ever learn anything. We’re not willing to be learners. To be learners is a stair step process. There’s no such thing as a learning curve. The first step is being willing to be a beginner. The beginner is the person who makes all three of the following declarations. Number one, “I see that there’s some domain in which I’m not competent and I’m committed to learning.” Number two, “I’m going to authorize someone to coach me. It’s a big mistake to think I’m going to teach myself. You got a blind person leading a blind person. If I was already great at golf, I wouldn’t need a pro. I’m not any good. The idea that I’m going to teach myself is ridiculous. I’ll authorize someone to coach me.” When you go and hire this pro, you’re not going to show up and go, “I’m pretty good. I don’t need these lessons but it’s for a little tune-up,” because she’ll see right through that. Look at you with that, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” look. You don’t do that.
The hardest one is number three, “I’m going to be at peace with being a beginner,” and this is where adults have trouble because the truth of it is we’re much more committed to being cool than we are to learning. There’s nothing cool about being a beginner. If you’re not willing to go through that, you’re never going to get anywhere. It’s no different with learning new management practices, new communication skills, and new leadership skills. If you don’t have the capacity to let yourself be a beginner, to make mistakes, to get up and go at it again, nothing’s ever going to change. We understand that in the realm of sports, but we somehow think in business or leadership or life it should be different and it isn’t. It’s my body that produces the assessment and others that he/she is a leader. It’s the way that I move, the conversations I have. You’ve got to practice them, not like a script but you have to produce what we call the body of a leader. That doesn’t have anything to do with size, shape, or gender. It’s the way that you carry yourself. It’s the way that you engage with people. It’s the way that you get your ego out of the way and get present and you only learn how to do that via practice.
How you carry yourself, what do you teach people about that? I’ve been in sales forever. We learned some of that in sales. I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence and we’re looking at empathy and interpersonal skills. Are those the things you’re teaching?
We have a body of work. We deal in somatics, which is a derivative of a Greek word and the interpretation is, “The unified mind and body.” We teach people the phenomenon of presence. What presence are you bringing into the room? As you well know from all your work, there’s what comes out of my mouth. There’s what people listen, and they listen to way more than my words. It’s our human biology. We are hardwired to be attentive to different aspects of what each of us is as a human being. We show people literally, “How do you stand? How do you walk? How do you sit? The whole body of work that we work with comes from centering practice. How do you consistently move from center stay and your center be centered?
We tell people, “There are only three practices you ever need to learn if you want to be successful in business or in life.” There’s centering, listening, and speaking. The good news about the three practices is you always do them in that order always. When you don’t do them in that order, nothing good is going to happen. Center is to get present at the moment. When I’m present in the moment, I’m present with you. When I’m present with you, I’m making eye contact. If I’m spun up in my head and I’m all worried about, “Doing the right thing. What happened last Tuesday?” or, “Did I turn off the water?” then my eyes are darting all over the place. I can’t be present and not make eye contact and I can’t make eye contact and be not present. How do I get present with first myself? I got to get me in my body before I can get present with you.
I saw a lot of problems with doctors when I was a pharmaceutical rep. They were incapable of sometimes looking you in the eye. That makes people uncomfortable and I don’t think a lot of people realize the things they do. Sometimes if you videotape yourself in such situations it can be helpful. You do things you don’t even know you do.
First, it’s horrifying then it’s helpful. Like that old adage, “The truth will set you free.” Yes, it will. First, it’s going to annoy you but then it’s going to set you free.Everybody gets hurt. Pain is part of life. However, suffering is optional. Click To Tweet
I love that you’re trying to help people with all this stuff because it ties into what people do. “I want to get that spark going. I want to keep it going and I want to make sure that people make real change.” That’s hard for people. What I was looking at from the curiosity standpoint is the ability to look into things you never even looked into. People are closed off to many ideas from their environment and maybe their boss or past bosses, family, different things like that. Many people deal with so much fear and it sounds like you’re dealing with a lot of the same things, helping people get past that stuff.
To your point, I’m sure you are familiar with the term arterial sclerosis. One of the things that we’re fighting against is what we call psycho sclerosis, which is the hardening of the attitude. As people get older and they have what they interpret as negative experiences, they get smaller and smaller and more closed and more rigid. It’s the opposite of what we want. Our work is all about, “The older you are, the more mature you are. The wiser you are, the more you’ve got to share. The bigger and more expansive I want you to be, not the smaller.” We have a hard time dealing with what we perceive as setbacks or limitations. Everybody gets hurt. Pain is part of life. Suffering is optional. It’s all about the narrative that you craft for yourself about what’s going on. When we do our work with companies, our programs extend over time. There’s no instant anything.
We’ll go in and our programs are six, nine, twelve months. People come out of that completely different and transformed. We’re not some lamprey that sucks on a culture forever. If we do our work right, we’ve transformed the culture and it’s a permanent shift. You don’t need us anymore because we’ve put in place new practices, new ways of being, and new levels of performance. We’re gone. We’re out of here. That process works every time, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to get people to say, “I can see that investing six, nine months is going to completely transform the future of our business,” because they’re used to these, “Give me the ten tips list or an hour over time. Can I get it as an app?”
I dealt a lot with that in education and it’s the time we live in. People want smaller bits and pieces of stuff, but you’re dealing with major problems with people and organizations. I hope people go to your site to find out more. I was hoping you could share how they could do that and find out more about you.
Go to HumanPotentialProject.com. It can’t be any easier than that. In the menus at the top you’ll find one that says, “Video insights,” and we’ve got a whole bunch of them on how we’re revolutionizing the practice of management and what it takes to learn. We’ve built a library over the years of some of these things. We’ve got a powerful one on innovation, which people find mind-blowing. We’ve got all sorts of cool stuff there. It’s all for you. It’s all accessible. You can learn more than you probably ever want to know about who we are, what we do, why it works, and why we’re deeply committed to revolutionizing the practices of leadership and management. If you look at what’s going on, productivity seems to have peaked out. Too many people are living in this low-grade level of fear on a daily basis. That’s never a formula for success.
The short version of this is there’s been a historical epochal shift and most people have missed it. It’s happening, but because it’s so big nobody can see anything except the little tiny manifestations of it. The code words here are we’ve left the industrial era and we’re into what we call the coordination era. The problem is we’re still trying to manage coordination era of companies with industrial era-thinking and practices. It doesn’t work. More importantly, it can’t work and it gets more unworkable every single year.
People will learn a lot from your site and I enjoyed having you on the show. You’re quite entertaining. Chris, thank you so much for sharing all that great information. I hope everybody checks out your site. Thank you for being my guest.
I’d like to thank Michelle and Chris for being my guest. What a fun show. I had a lot of fun. They were wonderful, and we have many great guests. You can also find out more about the curiosity book at CuriosityCode.com. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Chris Majer
- Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change
- The Happiness Advantage
- Institute for Applied Positive Research
- Human Potential Project
About Michelle Gielan
Michelle Gielan is the bestselling author of “Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change” and was named one of the Top 10 authors on resilience by the Harvard Business Review. She is the founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research. Michelle is also the Executive Producer of “The Happiness Advantage” on PBS and a featured professor in Oprah’s Happiness course. She formerly served as anchor of The CBS Morning News.
About Chris Majer
Chris Majer is the CEO of the Human Potential Project, where they help C-Level Executives break into their next level of performance and satisfaction. He is in the cultural transformation business and helps organizations break into a new world of performance.