Statistics show that people with a Relentless Solution-Focused (RFS) mindset are significantly happier, healthier, and more successful. But what does it mean to have an RFS mindset? Today’s guest is Dr. Jason Selk, a mental toughness expert and the best-selling author of Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance. In this conversation with Dr. Diane Hamilton, Dr. Jason advises you to focus on things you did well rather than things you did wrong. Why? Because focusing on the negative causes the brain to release cortisol, which makes you feel horrible and prevents you from functioning at a high level. Do you want to learn more about becoming mentally tough? Listen in!
I’m glad you joined us because we have Dr. Jason Selk here. He is a premier performance coach. He’s worked with business titans and superstar athletes. He’s written many bestsellers and one of his books is Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance. I’m looking forward to this because this is behaviorally-based and I hope you enjoy this show because his work is inspiring.
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Relentless Solution-Focused Mindset: The Perks Of Being Mentally Tough With Dr. Jason Selk
I am here with Dr. Jason Selk, who was one of the nation’s premier performance coaches. He’s worked with business titans and superstar athletes. He’s written a lot of best-selling books and one of them is called Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance that he co-authored with Dr. Ellen Reed. It’s nice to have you here, Jason.
Diane, thanks for having me. I’m glad to be with you.
I’m excited to talk to you about this. This is right up my alley of things I’m interested in. You and I have a lot of things that we’ve studied in common. I want to get a little background on you. I know you’ve worked with some famous teams of St. Louis Cardinals and other sports-related areas. I want to get a background on you for people who aren’t aware.
I was fortunate enough. In 2006, I got hired by the St. Louis Cardinals as director of sports psychology and we won the World Series in 2006. They hadn’t won one since it was 24 years. I was lucky enough to stay with the team all the way through the 2011 season. That was my last year with the team and we won another World Series then. I had good timing, first year and last year. People give a little bit more credit than you probably deserve when things are going well. When things aren’t going so well, you maybe get a little bit more blame. I was fortunate to work with that organization because they are, without a doubt, world-class. They’re the second winning team in all of Major League Baseball and there’s no doubt about it. I learned more from studying them than they learn from me. I certainly did my part to contribute to a couple of World Series championships.People with a Relentless Solution-Focused mindset are measurably and significantly happier, healthier, and more successful. Click To Tweet
There are serious fans in St. Louis. My family is from St. Louis. The Hamilton Shoe Company was bought by Brown Shoe Company, so I’ve gone there a few times to see relatives and things. I’ve never seen such crazy happy people going around the streets excited for a game like the Cardinals. When we got the Cardinals here for the football team because I’m in Arizona, that was weird to me because that’s so St. Louis.
Without a doubt, they take their sports seriously here in St. Louis.
That must have been a lot of fun. I’m interested in how you took the sports thinking and use that for business and other people. Who made you want to write Relentless Solution Focus?
In the first 10 to 15 years of my career, I worked primarily in the sports world. I was fortunate to have a lot of success in the sports world, and then I started to move more into the business world. The surprise for me was there are so many more parallels and similarities of people trying to reach high-level performance across business and sport as there are differences. There certainly are some differences, but there are so many more similarities that it was quite an easy transition for me from the sports world to the business world.
The book Relentless Solution Focus has been since the beginning of my career. One of the number one tenants that I’ve talked about. If you take a look at the book, what you’ll find is this book is written essentially for every human being. The research on this is quite strong. This is not just opinion. This is factual information that people with this RSF mindset are measurably and significantly happier, healthier, and more successful. My favorite statistic about RSF is people with RSF live up to fourteen years longer.
I know that when I can learn about the brain, how the brain works, and how it can impact the way a person feels and behaves, I was like anyone else. I was totally normal. The opposite of RSF, Relentless Solution Focus, is something called PCT, Problem Centric Thinking. That’s totally normal, Diane. As you probably know with your background, the human brain is built in a way that it’s totally normal for us to focus on the negative and the problems, and oftentimes, overlook the good and the solutions. It goes back hundreds of years ago to when we were trying to keep ourselves alive without this PCT tendency. It would be quite normal for a person to end up in the lion’s den. You always had to be on the lookout for all the negative and all the problems around you.
It’s more of a survival mechanism than anything else, even with this time that we’re in now in this global pandemic. This is the safest time for human beings to be alive. What hundreds of years ago served as a survival mechanism now has become a real obstacle to our personal health, happiness, and success. To answer the question, this book is written for anyone who’s wanting to improve their life. When I say improve their life, it comes down to if you’re looking to improve your health, happiness, and/or success. This book is something you should probably look at.
I’ve said it on the show before that one of my favorite lines in Star Trek was when Spock was near death and Bones looked at him. They were talking about how he was afraid. He said, “Fear is what keeps us alive.” There are certain instinctual things that we have that worked for us in certain ways, but you have to recognize why they’re there. You have recognized it as part of your three-step process. You have to recognize, replace, and retrain. I want to go through those.
It ties well into what I found with curiosity when I studied about recognizing what it was that held us back from being curious. The recognition of issues is a big part of getting over anything. You got to know where you stand to know where to go from there. I want to talk to you about this three-step process. I know I stole your thunder by telling them what they were, but can you go over why these are important and what each of them entails?
Instead of talking in more academic terms, let me put it in a real-life situation first. This is a perfect example of what happens on a normal day to normal people. You’ll do a hundred things right, one thing less than perfect, and then you let yourself focus on that one imperfection. The issue is once you start thinking about that imperfection, all kinds of negative things happen. Let’s talk about the biology. That’s PCT and it’s completely normal. When I do that and I overlook all the good and zero in on my imperfections, what happens is my brain releases a neurotransmitter called cortisol into my bloodstream. In low doses, hundreds of years ago or so, it’s what we needed to stay alive, but it takes just a small amount of cortisol to become a negative thing in nowaday’s terms.
That cortisol released causes us to feel like garbage, and then it inhibits our brain from functioning at a high level. We start to lose the ability for detailed thinking. That’s why a lot of people get caught up in watching or listening to those negative tapes over and over because the brain loses its ability to move past that. They call that a loop. They get into some cognitive neuroscience. That’s why it’s bad. You’re right. If a person doesn’t recognize that’s bad, they’re going to do that their entire lives. It’s heartbreaking to see that you have a lot of people out there completely unhappy and underperforming on their potential. The first step is you’ve got to understand that when you overlook all the good things you’re doing and zero in on your imperfection, that is a pure sign of mental weakness.
Don’t take that as an insult if that’s something you do because it’s completely normal. Think about your brain just like your bicep. Your brain is a muscle like the bicep is a muscle. When you’re born, the bicep is weak. It’s soft and flabby and you can’t lift anything with that bicep. If you don’t ever do anything to strengthen the bicep, the bicep stays weak the entire lifespan. The same thing with the brain. The good news is everyone can learn to be mentally tough. It’s completely abnormal, but everyone can learn it.
The good news is in terms of making the bicep strong, I don’t know about how other people feel reading this, but it hurt. Doing bicep curls hurts. In fact, I did my arm workout and I was thinking, “This is not enjoyable.” You got to recognize, replace, and then retrain. The retraining aspect takes three minutes or less a day. If you did it three times a week, you couldn’t help but start having your mind become more mentally fit and tough. Here’s the part I enjoy the most. The mental training in those three minutes is not painful. In fact, in most cases, people say it’s enjoyable to go through that three minutes.
What do we do in those three minutes?
There are two parts and I’m not going to get into all the details of the two parts. Number one, something called a success log, and all that is you’re learning to evaluate yourself effectively. Remember, normal evaluation is, overlook all the things you’ve done well and just zero in on the thing you screwed up on. That’s a terrible way to evaluate. It’s not appropriate, not accurate, and it doesn’t work. You simply spend a minute and you answer four simple questions. The first question I’m going to give you is, what did I do well now?
Think about this, Diane. When’s the last time you thought about the things you did well instead of the other negative stuff? My guess is most people, you included, don’t do that. Here’s a phrase you want to remember when it comes to retraining. Neurons that fire together, wire together. Neurons that fire apart, wire apart. Our minds are wired to focus on the negative, but we can rewire that simply by making ourselves think, “Instead of focusing on the garbage that happened now,” take a few seconds and write down three things you did well. That’s the first question of four on the success log, which is about a minute and twenty seconds.
The other piece of that three-minute training is something called the mental workout. The mental workout, when I got hired by the Cardinals back in 2006, is the first thing I taught the team. For the professional athletes, it was a three-minute and ten-second process where they use the top, most effective tools in sports psychology. Some breathing, positive self-talk, and visualization, but it’s not generally speaking. It’s extremely precise. Every professional athlete I worked with, we’d go through the mental workout, and for three minutes and ten seconds, before they take the field, we would put together exactly what they’re going to do every second of that three minute and ten seconds.When you overlook all the good things you're doing and just zero in on your imperfection, that is a sure sign of mental weakness. Click To Tweet
For the people in the business world, for people reading this book, you don’t need three minutes and ten seconds. We only need 1 minute and 40 seconds to complete the mental workout. The reasoning when we do the mental workout with professional athletes, we need to spend a little bit longer in visualization so that we can start having an impact on muscle memory. We, non-professional athletes, don’t need to worry about muscle memory. We just need the mental memory and we can get to it quicker.
The mental workout is a five-step process and it takes 1 minute and 40 to complete. In the book in chapters 7, 8, and 9, in the retrain section, not only do we cover all the questions in the success log, but we also cover all five steps precisely with that mental workout. For each person, it’s going to be a little bit different based on, what are the things you want to achieve in your life? What are those most important things? Specifically, what do you need to do on a daily basis to position yourself for that high level of success? That’s what you spend 1 minute and 40 focusing on those things.
What about people who focus on their health? They have health issues that there’s nothing that can be done for them and they just focus on that all day and start to feel sorry for themselves because you can’t blame them. It’s been probably miserable. Will that help with that kind of thinking or is this for the well people?
No. I got hired in 2006 by the St. Louis Cardinals and in the first year, we win the World Series. In 2007, they reached out and said, “We want to talk about expanding your role. Is there something you can do to help us with the upcoming draft?” In 2007, we put together some items. You’re probably familiar with Carol Dweck and Martin Seligman. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset was just coming out. Anyway, we consulted with some of those folks and we came up with some questions to help identify more optimistic people for the draft. The Cardinals had this unbelievable run with the draft.
In 2008, they said, “You’ve passed a couple of tests for us. You’ve helped us win a World Series and you’ve helped us with the draft. Now we wonder if you can help us with injury rehab.” Think about how much money is won or lost when you have one of those athletes sitting on the sidelines. I looked into some research and realized that we could take the mental workout and apply it to injury rehab easily with a few tweaks in just what we focus on. We don’t have to change the tools as much as we have to put the focus on there.
Derek Lilliquist was the head. He moved into a pitching coach with the Cardinals, but back then, he was overseeing all of the injury rehabs, specifically with pitchers. We said, “We’re going to run a pilot program with this mental workout with our injured pitchers.” At that point in time, in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals, they had a 0% record of any pitcher going through Tommy John surgery with no setbacks. I said, “Let’s apply. Everybody who’s on a 90-day disabled list has to go through the mental workout every day before their rehab.”
You have to do the mental workout, which is part of the RSF training. What happened at the end of the season is they had two athletes that had Tommy John and both of them experienced zero setbacks. They went from 0% to 100%. It’s a small end number, but what they did was they said, “This stuff is powerful here. We’re going to institute this. Any athlete that goes, even on the short-term disabled list has to go through mental workouts before rehab.”
The Cardinals had this unbelievable run of getting athletes back on the field faster. When you ask, is it only for people who are in optimal health? Absolutely not. Nobody knows how powerful the mind is, but science will tell you if we can get our minds involved. We can speed up injuries and improve our overall health conditions by as much as 30% to 50% recovery times if we can get our minds focused on the right things.
It’s interesting because I used Carol Dweck’s work a lot in my work in curiosity because you have to have a growth mindset to that. As you’re talking about this, there’s a lot of cynical people that’ll say that mindfulness, meditation, and all of this stuff are woo-woo to them. How do you get to people like that who are negative saying, “I’ve gone to everybody that given me cognitive behavioral therapy and they’ve done all these things, but nothing works. Why would this work when all the other stuff doesn’t work?” Do they have to have a sense of faith? Do they have to have something that gets them past that? What would you tell those people?
First of all, I would say it makes no difference whether you’re spiritual, have faith or not. This is all pure science. People reading, I want you to understand I grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This is about as blue-collar place as you can ever come from. When I was going through graduate school and I started hearing about this stuff, I felt the same way. I was cynical. I said, “This stuff seems awfully goofy to me,” and then I looked at the science. The deal is on the science, you cannot intelligently argue against it. That was the first thing that caught my attention.
I’m a big believer in proof. Prove it. If somebody can prove something, I’m going to at least give you a second look. The science is absolute proof. What I started doing was I was an amateur coach myself and I started working with my athletes with some of these techniques and tools. I also then started working on my own mindset as a young person trying to do graduate school, start a business, become successful, become a father and a husband, and do it right. I was as lost as anybody. When I first put the mental workout together, I was the guinea pig.
I was as cynical as anybody about this stuff and the science had me say, “It’s proven, so I’m going to try it.” I tried it on myself. From where I used to be to where I am now, people say all the time, I had to stop going to my high school reunions because people thought I was making this stuff up. They’re like, “You didn’t write books. You don’t work with all these professional athletes, high-level business people, actors, and musicians.” I said, “That’s embarrassing that I must’ve been that bad when I was younger.”
Somebody says, “What’s the difference between having the RSF mindset and not having it?” Life is easier now. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I’m saying that when life does throw me curveballs, I respond more effectively. I’m a heck of a lot happier, healthier, and successful than I used to be. To the cynics out there, just try it. Trust me on this. Everything in that book is 100% research-based. You can’t argue against the research. You give it a short period of trial and what you’ll find like me, personally, is, “This stuff makes life better.” Anything that can improve the quality of life is worth the read.
The positivity of it is great. I’ve had Tom Rath on from StrengthsFinder and a lot of people who’ve been on cognitive-behavioral specialists like Albert Bandura and all these people. We’ve talked about the value of learning baby steps towards the goals that you’re trying to reach. Focusing on the positive sounds good, but a lot of people have that voice that sneaks in. It’s almost like when you’re trying to meditate, you’re supposed to be focusing on your breath, and then you’re like, “Would I buy the milk and eggs?” You start going off. Is this the kind of thing like that where you have to keep your mind on it or is it easy to get distracted? I’m curious about that.
Life always gets in the way and of course, it’s easy to be distracted by anything. There’s an important distinction between RSF, our Relentless Solution Focus, and being positive. I know when I was going through graduate school and this is my contribution a little bit to the field, there was a lot of discussion on being positive. That’s good advice and here’s why. I want people to understand the biology of it, but it’s not the best advice. It’s good for this reason. Anything other than focusing on the negative is a positive.Everyone can learn to be mentally tough. Click To Tweet
The rationale or understanding of that is when I focus on the negative and I let myself zero in on that one imperfection and overlook all the good stuff, the cortisol gets into my bloodstream and that cortisol is toxic. That’s what causes people to die fourteen years earlier than people who learn not to get focused on it. Anything other than the negative is a positive, but I’m not a big believer in act like everything is okay when you have problems. That didn’t work for me. That’s why I said, this is different than writing down in a journal the three things you’re grateful for.
That’s a great exercise but I don’t prescribe it. There’s a better way to do things and to me, the better way is don’t act like you don’t have problems. Instead, meet those problems head-on and realize there’s always something you can do about it. It’s one of my favorite lines from the book. There’s always a solution if you break the problem down into small enough bites. That’s the part that I want people to realize. This is not a book on just think everything’s wonderful and nothing negative exists. That’s not it at all. I’m a realist. I come from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and there’s a lot of pain in the world.
We’re experiencing a difficult time and that’s why this book is perfect because if everyone would read this book, I promise what’s going to happen is as a culture and as a society, we’re going to become healthier, happier, and more successful. Instead of saying, “Don’t worry about the problems,” we’re going to go to work on those problems. One of the big issues with going to work on problems is what’s called the entirety perspective. Let’s say I’m trying to climb a mountain. It’d be normal. You and I are standing at the base of that mountain.
I look over at you and I say, “Diane, look how tall that mountain is. I can’t believe we got to climb this mountain. The bad news is not only do we have to climb this thing but halfway up, there’s snow on. Once we get to that snow, we’re going to have to have warmer clothes and we got all kinds of problems.” The whole time we’re talking about how big the problem is, what haven’t we done? We haven’t taken one step forward. That’s what this book does. It trains your brain to, instead of look at how big, bad, negative, and horrible your problems are, let’s figure out when you have a problem. What’s that first step? It’s called the plus one solution.
Here’s what we know. If you can get your mind focused on the solution, your brain starts to, in that moment, release a whole new set of neurotransmitters. Instead of that cortisol that comes out and makes us feel terrible and is poisoning us, you start to release things like serotonin, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Biologically speaking, yes, those make you feel a lot better, but they also make your brain work more functionally at a high level. We become smarter and stronger.
If we can continue to get our mind focused on that plus one, one step at a time, next thing you know, you find that you’re maybe 1/3 of the way up the mountain, and then maybe a half in a way. Who knows? I’m not worried about it. It’s one thing I tell people. Don’t worry about perfection. I don’t care if you climb the mountain all the way to the top. I’d like to get some movement toward where you’re trying to go. If you can train your mind to think like that, that’s when you start to do things that are somewhat remarkable and unbelievable. It’s such a more enjoyable experience as well.Life is easier when you have a Relentless Solution-Focused mindset. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting because I’ve studied perception and some of this ties into that. I look at how some people could be like Stephen Hawking seem happy and I would have the same thing. Shoot me. You can look at certain people who can look at one thing and handle it one way, and not freak out over it and not get that cortisol rush. Other people, it overwhelms them. It stresses, in general. You’ve got eustress and distress. There’s a certain amount that maybe makes some people feel good and some people feel horrible. Did you measure the cortisol before and after doing this? Is that something you have on the plan for later on or anything like that? I’m curious.
I’m going to leave that to the scientists. I didn’t want to get caught up in the weeds, but I’ll tell you something. This is a story that I talk about in the book and it’s exactly what you’re talking about here. A lot of people recognize the name Nando Parrado. Nando was the one in the movie Alive where the plane crashed in the Andes mountains. They were 40 miles from civilization. All the professionals and all the models around said there was no way they could hike off that mountain.
Nando, in his book, Miracle in the Andes, talked about what was going on in his head as he was going through that experience. Remember, his plane crashes. Fifteen of his best friends and teammates die upon impact and then 72 days later, they’ve gone through starvation. They’re using the perished teammates as food so that they can survive. There are all kinds of examples of him being relentless about finding solutions. They’re on the mountain for 72 days and they realize, “They’re not coming for us. The only way we can get off this mountain is to hike off.”
They’re at this base of a mountain and he thought that if they climb to the peak of this mountain, what they’re going to find on the other side is civilization. It took them days to get to this first peak of this first mountain. The experience he has when he gets to the first peak is he looks from miles and miles, as far as his eyes can see. It’s peak after peak after mountain and no civilization. His first thought was, “We can’t do it. We’re going to die. What we did, we can’t do another 50 times. There’s no possible way.” This is the fascinating part. When he realized that there was no hope, his experience of life was bad, he went into depression. It was horrible.
He thought to himself, “I do not want my last hours of life to be miserable like this. There’s got to be something I can do.” He wasn’t even worried about saving himself. He didn’t even necessarily look at it as a realistic option. He didn’t want to live his last moments in despair. He said, “I’m going to focus on what I can do. What’s one thing I can do? It’s just one inch. Move one inch in the right direction.” Diane, it took, sometimes, hours to move one single inch. He said that it was in moving the one inch that his mind moved from despair to hope and enjoyment. Every time that he would win that one inch, it would be somewhat like a victory. Instead of dying in depression and despair, at least he was going to die with hope, energy, and excitement. In the end, after ten days of focusing on that one inch, he sees a man sitting on a horse who then saves his life and fifteen of his best friends’ lives.
Whoever built this, if this is a spiritual thing on your end or whatever, I don’t want to get into that. In my mind, the PCT trigger was given to us to stay alive. This was put into our brains so that we could survive but we should have been taught. This is one thing that drives me nuts. They didn’t teach me this in school. That negative thinking that you can normally fall into, that’s good for safety and life but you should never let yourself be there for more than 60 seconds. If you stay there more than 60 seconds, what happens is, biologically, your brain releases cortisol, it traps you in that, and you’re going to be bound to live in that despair or underperforming part of life.
I wish they would have taught me that when I was a young person. The thing is if we can learn to shift our negative thinking to solution-focused thinking and do it within 60 seconds, we stay on the positive side of the biology, and life becomes much easier. Most people don’t know this. I don’t know why it’s not being talked about more often but I know it’s not. This book is going to teach people exactly how to train their brains so that mental shift within 60 seconds becomes normal.
That sounds amazing. A lot of people could use this help. A lot of people are reading would want to know how they can find your book and find you and learn more. Is there some site or something you’d like to share?
My website is JasonSelk.com. We try to put several things on there for free. If you want to become more robust in your training, there are several things you can sign up for. There’s a lot of stuff on there for free. This is my fifth book. It’s in all the bookstores. It hit the bestseller list before it even came out. You won’t have any trouble finding it on your online bookstore, Amazon, any of those resources. If people are searching for ways to improve their life or work on mental toughness, find me on the web, Jason Selk. Jason@JasonSelk.com is my email. We’re here to help. I love the work I do. I’m one of those rare people that found the perfect job. When I work, it doesn’t feel like work. I know this is something that most people struggle with.
If there’s anything I can do to help, please reach out. This book would be a great resource for anyone. I challenge you to start teaching your family this stuff as well. ￼Having gone through this before, I recognize my children have an advantage over their peers because they’ve been taught this RSF mindset from an early age. It’s a good thing to see your kids, instead of focusing on all their negatives, to be able to identify the things they do well and to be relentless about finding ways to get even better. That’s what this training does for you.
That’s awesome. I hope that everybody takes some time to check out your site. Thank you so much for being on the show, Jason. This was fun to talk about and it’s important.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it a great deal. I appreciate what you do too, Diane.
I want to take a little bit of time to talk about some of the research I do. I’m going to talk to you about perception and some of the work I did with Dr. Maja Zelihic who is also one of the people I’ve worked with at the Forbes School of Business. She’s been great in this process of researching how perception process in our minds, our opinions and our version of the truth and our biases and how we live. What’s in a rose? Would it smell as sweet? Is there any other name? All that we read about.
We looked at what can we do with the perception in the workplace to discuss it. We looked at it as a combination of IQ, EQ, CQ for cultural quotient, and CQ for curiosity quotient. We thought, “This is something that they’re not talking about enough in the workplace.” We talk about, is perception reality? To what extent are our perceptions true? They’re our perceptions. What is a reality to us may not be a reality to them. There is a truth to some extent but what’s real and all that? We start to get into this analysis paralysis thinking about it. We thought, “If we’re thinking like this, we need to showcase what others have done to try and look at this.” The world’s changing.
We’ve seen The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman. It’s a great book. What we used to think is the reality of everything that we thought we could do now is different. We’re becoming more connected. We know that there are a lot more issues with global tragedies. As companies are trying to do work in a global dot-com industry, it’s a lot different from how we look at things when I originally got into the workplace or when Maja got into it. We’re looking at our belief systems of what shaped us, both consciously and unconsciously. If we know that, we can be more responsive and respond to this multicultural and multilanguage world in which we’re living.
If we can monitor our perceptions and guide them towards where we want to go or where we don’t want to go, understand what other people believe, and not necessarily agree with everything that they believe in. We can understand it and see where they’re coming from. In that way, we manage our perceptions and we’re able to build empathy, which is a big part of emotional intelligence. You can’t walk a mile in my shoes but we can have a better appreciation for what it would be like to do that.
We looked at what was available in terms of assessments out there and how can we test and validate and do all these things with that. We came up with a Perception Power Index, which goes along with the book The Power of Perception. Those are the things that we’re going to talk about. We come into this world with this predisposition of how we view and interpret things. Imagine if you’re born where you are now compared to if you were born somewhere else. We know that with twins, they’re different if they were separated at birth. There’s a different upbringing.
We have this cultural impact on how our behaviors, beliefs, and everything that we relate to is impacted by our social, ethnic, and age group, everything. We’re seeing that there’s a lot more conflict in the world. A lot of it is because we don’t understand each other that well. Something that we don’t even think about is acceptable or not questionable here in the United States might be something questionable in another culture. If you’re wearing a miniskirt in Brazil, it’s a lot different than if you’re wearing that in Saudi Arabia for example.
We have to appreciate where other people are coming from. Maybe we’re allowing our culture or our society to dictate what we’re thinking and what we’re perceiving. I’ve had Joe Lurie on the show. He’s got a great book, Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures, where he writes about all the different perceptions of things that he’s found in different cultures. Eye contact in Western cultures is candor and confident but if you go to Africa, they don’t want to do that. If you eye contact with a person of authority, you’ve got to worry about respect. There are a lot of different issues when you’re talking about Western culture versus other cultures. In Asian cultures, they might use a calculator to negotiate the price of things but you might not want to do that in some other areas because it may seem disrespectful.
Looking at different areas is fascinating, even how certain hand gestures mean one thing. A-OK in one language may be insulting in another culture. A lot of studies look at Western culture versus other cultures. That is worth reviewing. We know that there’s a lot of stereotyping going on. We’re trying to get away from that. We’re trying to get away from biases. We have biases. Beau Lotto talked about that on my show. I hope you read that episode about how you can’t live without some bias to give you some decision-making ability. We have to pay attention to unconscious bias. We got to be careful that we don’t come across as arrogant or condescending. Saying something like, “Keep it simple, stupid,” might mean one thing in one language. We have that as a saying and it’s not meant to be insulting but if you tell it to somebody else, it could be insulting.
These are the things that we were looking at when we decided we needed to look at cultural quotients, IQ, CQ, our drive, our motivation, knowledge, cognition, metacognition, and all those things to look at how we come up with these actions or behaviors. Do we have to adapt to customs, should they adapt to ours, or should we be more tolerant of differences? Change is a big thing that we teach in business classes and being proactive about it is also important. We know that we have these teams where there’s in groupers or out groupers and we want to try and get people to get along.
I’ve had Amy Edmondson talking about teams and teaming and how people get along. Collaboration is about having the curiosity to ask questions and learn from each other. We want to look at the path that we’re on that’s similar but also understand the path that we’re on that’s not similar. Some of the things that impact that sometimes are things like spirituality, and whether you’re religious or not, it can be different. Some people have this impact of how important their spirituality or their religion is to them where other people might be agnostic or atheist. That could completely shape your whole perception of the situation at hand where you might accidentally insult someone without even realizing how important something is to them.
I don’t think a lot of people give a lot of thought to the differences of how so much strength they can have in their ideas and their things that they question or don’t question. It can have a big impact because we inherit a lot of beliefs from our family. We personalize our beliefs. We take things that work for us or maybe don’t work for us. We make something around what works in our situation. That can make us think we’re right and they’re wrong and vice versa. That is a problem in the business world if we don’t examine what is shaping what these people are coming up with or not coming up with.
Even though Stephen Covey says, “Spiritual renewal is one of the habits that are essential to effective leadership,” we have to look at what’s your greater purpose? What do they think is their greater purpose? What are our values or our ethical principles and what are theirs? What will our legacy be and what are theirs? Those are the things that we researched in terms of how people use their religion and spirituality in that.
It was also fun to look at gender and to see the differences in how people look at paintings. There was a comment we put in the book. Two strangers, a man and woman, were visiting an art gallery and found themselves standing next to one another staring at a painting of an old country estate replete with an elderly man sitting in a rocking chair on a front porch of a mansion with various barns and outbuildings and serving as background.
The woman, without prompting, commented, “What a beautiful painting. It’s serene and peaceful. A beautiful blend of man and nature.” The man commented in response, “That barn looks like it’s in dire need of a paint job.” We both looked at the same thing but we see different aspects. There’s not that one’s right and one’s wrong. It could be the opposite way round. It could be the man seeing the great thing and the woman saying the opposite. We don’t want to stereotype necessarily but it’s interesting to see that men and women do see things a little bit differently. There are psychological differences. These have been documented, including differences in their brains.
We hear gender bias and we know studies show women viewed differently, treated differently, paid differently. We know there’s a predominance in the number of men compared to women in executive positions. Those are the things that are important to leaders to recognize. We have to know the origins of all this and why we see things through these different lenses. We know that men’s brain is structurally different than the female brain. That’s a fascinating thing to look at in itself. We’re not going to see things in the same way exactly.
There’s a book, a New York Times bestseller, called The Female Brain. It’s by Dr. Louann Brizendine. She’s a neuropsychiatrist. She also later wrote The Male Brain. She guides you through how the brains of each gender differ and how they shape our behaviors from the time we’re infants into adulthood. The women’s perceptions and behaviors are different from men’s mostly due to hormones. We do have different hormones. We know the women have more estrogen-progesterone. Even though we have testosterone, it’s not as much as men. It’s how we are influenced by them.
I talked to Tom Peters on the show. That’s a great show if you get a chance to look at it. He talked about the female brain. He recalled an article from Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. It was The Sunday Times Magazine section and he described how that coach, often referred to as Coach K, would bring his wife to all the team meetings. The reason was that she would see what was going on in the player’s lives that he didn’t notice. She would notice a problem of a girlfriend a hundred miles away or some distraction. He didn’t think that men psychologically saw those things. He found it fascinating as an observation.
There are differences. If we pretend we’re not different, that doesn’t work. We get uncomfortable. If we look at that as one thing being better than another, that’s also uncomfortable. It’s important to recognize that these things are part of us. We’re intended to be different. We’re not intended to be the same. Life would be super boring if it was that way. I thought that would be something that you talk about in the workplace. We know that the percentage of women in the workplace is increasing. We know that the rate of women occupying key roles in the workplace is on the rise. We know that women are being hired into leadership roles more often than they were, as CEOs, of course, at an increasing rate. We’d like to see it higher. We know that women are bringing different perceptions into the workplace. Those are different aspirations.
It is an interesting thing to look at how genetically we’re wired differently right from birth. These differences are spawning this ground for this history of beliefs and stereotypes of how we’re taught to view each other. We’re carving a different road for ourselves, the women versus the men. It’s important to know that we’re evolving. When we’re doing that, we’re impacted by our intelligence in this process. We talked about IQ and EQ. If we’re thinking of intelligence as what we know and how we apply what we know, we need to be able to use our intelligence to understand how to relate with one another. We know that our intelligence evolves in different ways and our perceptions evolve in different ways. There’s this perceptual intelligence of fluid versus crystallized intelligence comes about. There’s some great work by Raymond Cattell, who talked about that if you ever get a chance to read some of his work. What we learn and how it changes over time is an important thing to look at.
Also, Howard Gardner is heavily cited in the area of types of intelligence. It used to be we thought we had one kind. He studied all these different types of abilities that we have. You could have naturalistic intelligence, music intelligence, logical and mathematical intelligence, existential intelligence, body kinesthetic, verbal-linguistic, interpersonal, visual, spatial intelligence, and interpersonal intelligence. The list goes on and on. To say if somebody smart is a hard thing to do because there are these different types of ways of being smart. How do you value that intelligence? What’s important in your culture for that type of intelligence?
That was interesting to us as we went through all the different ways that we grow, learn, and apply what we know. We also looked at emotions as in emotional intelligence in that aspect as well because I had written my doctoral dissertation on emotional intelligence and that’s such a huge area. It was great to have Daniel Goleman on the show to talk about emotional intelligence. If you haven’t read that episode, I highly recommend it. Emotions play a big part in how we make decisions. Empathy is a big part of emotional intelligence. If we have empathy, sometimes that ties into curiosity. We’re asking questions to learn more about each other.
Our emotions can be different across cultures. You have different studies between Japanese and American subjects. They found facial expressions and non-verbal behaviors vary significantly between them. I had Paul Ekman on the show. The TV show Lie to Me was based on his work. There are certain expressions that we all make that are the same, whether you’re blind or not. I thought that was fascinating. My father was born blind. It’s interesting what things we have similar and then other things that are completely different. It’s conceptually different based on the way you grow up and the influences around you of how you respond to your emotions.
Your emotions can make you perceive failure differently. Some of us have fight or flight responses. Some of us will run from it and some of us will run to it. Most of us have that sense that failure is not our favorite thing. Our perception of failure can influence how much we explore things and ask questions. It gets back into curiosity again. I tell a story in my talks and Maja and I write one in the book about different experiences. Sometimes, you’re in a sales presentation where you get your rear-end handed to you. You might be on a call with your partner and your partner thinks it’s the worst thing in the world where you might think it’s the best thing because you’ve learned everything you need to know to fix your next presentation.
If you don’t learn these things, sometimes your perception will get you down and you’ll quit. You have to learn from failure and if you don’t, you’re going to end up being the glass–half-empty person and you won’t move forward. You’ll stay where you are and move backward. That’s what we’re trying to avoid by understanding perception. The other thing that we looked at when we were looking at perception was whether it’s your reality or not. Looking at some of the perception experts, especially Beau Lotto. I love his TED Talks.
I know he was on the show and he talked about a lot of great things on the show but if you’re wanting to know perception versus reality, I would look at some of that because it’s fascinating. Talking about perception, you need to talk about collaboration because collaboration is a required skillset now in the workplace. If you’re being hindered by your perceptions, there are so many variables. Think of the questions we ask ourselves. Does this project intrigue us? Does it motivate us? Do we like our teammates? Do we like our leader? Do we like the role that we’ve been given? You look at all this and if you’re getting mixed reasons for why you like something or don’t like something, a lot of it could be your perception of it.
When we talk about collaboration, I always think about Amy Edmondson’s TED Talk, because that of course ties into how they got the Chilean miners out in that disaster. These people were able to work together and collaborate because they maybe had different perceptions but they knew that it was life or death, literally in this case to help people get out from under that rock. Understanding that perception is critical to collaboration and to getting people to work together and being innovative and creative is interesting because we’re talking about how much we have problems. Gallup says we’re losing 500 billion a year on engagement. We know that people want to be collaborative and if we don’t have this ability to get along, that’s going to be huge. We want people to be creative and see things differently.
In the Dead Poets Society movie, Robin Williams got his students to get on top of their desks to look at life in a different way. He said, “To make life extraordinary, you have to make a difference. You must see things differently.” That’s a key point that a lot of people always are looking at things from their vantage point. They don’t get on top of their desk. They don’t look at things from another way. I know I’ve done a lot of training classes where we’ve given Legos and we’ve had people build things as teams in collaborative ways. It’s fun to see them get ideas from each other and go, “I would have never looked at it that way.” Maybe they aren’t big fans of teams. Sometimes, it’s helpful to get on a team with people who are completely different than you are because if everybody thinks the same way, life is boring.
It helps to look at things from a critical thinking standpoint to do research. How did these people do this? How have they made it successful? What facts support their argument? What’s the source of their information? How did they come to that conclusion? We’re back to curiosity again. Those are the kinds of questions we need to ask ourselves and I don’t think we get enough of that. There are a lot of people who want to take things at face value based on what they’ve always known and what supports their values that they’ve always had. That’s common for people. You watch the same either CNN, Fox, or whatever that supports your values because it makes you comfortable, but it is important to get curious and get outside. Our perception suggests we know something, but our curiosity proves that we don’t so we need to know what we don’t know.
A lot of people aren’t asking enough questions. That’s the thing that in the book Cracking the Curiosity Code is a huge part of changing the culture in organizations. I often talk a lot about that to groups because if we can ask more questions, we can get better at decision-making. Decision-making can be challenging. I love a quote by Deepak Chopra, where he says, “If you obsess over whether you’re making the decision, you’re basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.”
If you think about that, you always think you have the right or the wrong thing but it’s not necessarily the case. There are shades of gray, not everything is black and white and that’s what I find particularly fascinating in the research that we did. For trying to fix all the things in work, we’re trying to fix engagement. I mentioned before that you’re losing 500 million a year according to Gallup that when people are financially invested, they want to return.
When people are emotionally invested and invested, they want to contribute. That’s what we need to do. We need to get people emotionally invested at work and contributing and part of that is to ask questions and to understand each other better. If you’re asking questions again, we’re back to empathy, which is a big part, emotional intelligence and we’re getting that perception of the other person’s ideas. We’re seeing it, not from our own standpoint, but from theirs. Some of the questions that we need to ask to improve engagement, are my employees growing in their work? Are they being recognized for their work? Do they trust the companies on the track? Those are some of the things that lead to great communication.
I had Kevin Cruz on the show and he has a great book and information about engagement and that’s helpful. All this is so we can be better leaders and better employees, both. We have to sometimes suspend our beliefs and be agile and look into some of the words that we hear a lot about vulnerability. Brené Brown has made a lifelong career out of that and that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable doing that. That’s what led to, uh, our interest in maybe looking at what the perception process is and how can we manage our perceptions. We looked at creating an assessment that would be important and an epic decision of how can we help people understand what they go through?
What does the process look like? We found it’s about evaluating, predicting, interpreting, and reshaping, and/or correlating one’s perceptions. The EPIC acronym we came up with is evaluation, prediction, interpretation, and correlation. Those are the things that if you take the Perception Power Index, that you will find out how are you doing in those areas, and what could you do to improve our Epic process? If you’ve taken The Curiosity Code Index it’s simple. You get your results away, and you can find out a lot more about how well you go through this process and what kinds of things are holding you back. If you get a baseline of, “This is how I am at this,” then how to move forward.
Let’s look at some of these because, in an evaluation, you’re going to examine, assess, and you’re going to do a lot of these different things that you can recognize if you’re open to thoughts or ideas that you look at it from your own perspective of your self-awareness. I think of this one as more in that respect. If you applied this element of emotional intelligence, this self-awareness, then you’re going to get along better and be able to be more aware of how you come across to other people because that’s a lot of a problem that I see a lot of people don’t recognize body languages, issues, tone, or they’re typing in all caps.
There are all these different things they can do have, how they come across and they don’t realize it. They could predict how the other person’s going to act in a way that’s another part of emotional intelligence is their interpersonal awareness of, are they able to understand the other person on where they’re coming from, what their perception is, their capabilities, their abilities, and how they make decisions.
That is challenging to predict what other people are going to do if you don’t look into what they’re doing and have empathy, ask questions, and have that sense of emotional intelligence. It’s only then that you can make your interpretation. In your interpretation, you have to consider how all this impacts their decision. Curiosity comes into this. You’re making assumptions and you’re looking at how their fear is impacting them. A lot of this ties back into their culture of how they were raised. We know that behavior and different things are rewarded or not rewarded in certain systems so we need to look at that and how did their culture shape them? How did the company culture shape them?
It’s about assessing and understanding your own emotions for the EPIC part, but the I part, that part is more about putting it collectively together to interpret what you know. You end it with your conclusion as your correlation as your final C of the EPIC process because now that you have all this, you can come up with your solutions, your conclusions, after researching your facts. This is the critical thinking aspect of it all. We know that there are so many great ideas that come out. If you don’t go to the part where you ended up coming up with the idea and taking what you’ve learned in this group setting and changing a little bit of your behavior so you can have a win-win situation. You haven’t come to any conclusion that’s going to be good for everybody.
Those are some of the main points that we make in what we’re talking about in this EPIC process and in this Power of Perception. I thought that this would be something critical to share. You can take the Perception Power Index at DrDianeHamilton.com. All the assessments are there. You can take the Curiosity Code Index, the Perception Power Index and you can even take DISC and Emotional Intelligence Tests. A lot of that is all there. If you don’t see it in the dropdown menus at the top, there are more menus at the bottom. I hope you contact me if you have any questions. I hope that this helps you understand perception a little better.
I’d like to thank Dr. Jason Selk for being my guest. We get so many great guests on the show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. You can find everything on the site and I hope you enjoyed the show and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance
- Tom Rath – Past episode
- Albert Bandura – Past episode
- Nando Parrado
- Miracle in the Andes
- Amazon – Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance
- Dr. Maja Zelihic
- The World Is Flat
- Perception Power Index
- The Power of Perception
- Joe Lurie – Past episode
- Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures
- Beau Lotto – Past episode
- Amy Edmondson – Past episode
- The Female Brain
- The Male Brain
- Tom Peters – Past episode
- Daniel Goleman – Past episode
- Paul Ekman – Past episode
- TED Talk – How to turn a group of strangers into a team by Amy Edmondson on YouTube
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
- The Curiosity Code Index
About Dr. Jason Selk
Dr. Jason Selk, one of the nation’s premier performance coaches, has worked with business titans and superstar athletes. As Director of Mental Training for the St. Louis Cardinals, he played an important role in the team’s first World Series victory in more than twenty years in 2006, and they’re second in 2011. Dr. Selk, who earned a Doctorate in counseling and sports psychology at the University of Missouri, is the bestselling author of Executive Toughness, 10-Minute Toughness, Organize Tomorrow Today, and Lead Any Team to Win. His most recent book, co-authored with Dr. Ellen Reed is Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance.
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