Category Archives for Podcast

Hiatus – Season 1 Conclusion

LIFT will be on hiatus.
EDIT: Season 2 return date TBD.

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to LIFT, a podcast for you – the entrepreneur, the leader, the creative – who leads change with heart. If you don’t have it all together, you’re in the right place. I’m your host, Sharlene Sobrepeña.

Hi! Sharlene here. Just wanted to let you know I’ve decided to introduce ten episode seasons into the podcast. So what that means is, since we’ve just finished ten episodes, LIFT will be on hiatus – or taking a break from publishing new content – possibly for the next month. That way, you’d be able to catch up on old episodes or even just take a breather, like I am.

On my end, I’m going to shift my focus back onto my main project, which is the Rudder Planner. It’s been a huge part of my life for the past three years at least, and it’s really close to being done, so I really just would like to get back on track. If you’re curious about that project, I invite you to visit rudderplanner.com, so that’s rudderplanner.com. 

Thank you so much for your support, I’ll see you in about a month.

Thank you for sharing your time with me and listening to LIFT. If this episode resonated with you, I’d appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a review. That way, more people can discover this resource, and together, we can accelerate good change in the world. Thanks so much. Until next time.

010 – From Entrepreneur to Miracle Worker with Nick Snapp

In this episode, I chat with Nick Snapp, an online entrepreneur who has transitioned back to full-time work and a higher calling of creating miracles on the streets. Nick shares some really interesting experiences, as well as how he’s handled the internal and external struggles along the way.

Overview
[00:00:58] Mission and vision
[00:02:10] The big switch
[00:07:12] The trigger
[00:09:30] Nick’s new calling
[00:12:54] A crazy story
[00:16:06] Business parallels
[00:18:04] How it works
[00:22:37] Full circle
[00:23:43] Difficult conversations
[00:32:20] Biggest lessons

Resources mentioned:

Miracles and Atheists
Nick’s Facebook
The Make it Snappy Productivity Show 

Note: Some of the resources above may be affiliate links, meaning I’d get a commission if you use that link to make a purchase (at no cost to you).

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to LIFT, a podcast for you – the entrepreneur, the leader, the creative – who leads change with heart. If you don’t have it all together, you’re in the right place. I’m your host, Sharlene Sobrepeña.

In today’s episode, I chat with Nick Snapp, a former online entrepreneur who has found a new calling as a witness and creator of miracles. We talk about the internal struggles he faced, how he communicated with his family before the transition, and some incredible things he’s seen. My biggest takeaway is that there are some unexpected parallels between entrepreneurship and “miracle making” (for lack of a better phrase). I’ll let you discover them for yourself. Let’s get to it.

Sharlene: What’s your mission with your work and what’s your vision for the world?

Nick: My mission with my work is to be able to do the things that I want to do for my vision for the world. So, yeah, I used to look at work a lot differently and now I look at it as just a tool. It’s just a tool. It doesn’t define me. It’s just something that I need to do to be able to bring in enough income to be able to do what I really, really want to do. And the ultra-lucky – not even lucky – with the ultra, I guess just –  creative people that are able to make that work completely align with their vision and that defines them, that’s everything they want to be – that’s awesome, but it’s not me. So, work for me, my vision is just to be able to support what I want to do in life. The vision for the world is to – for me, I am a faith guy. I’m a Christian and I have a commission and it’s not really my own. So, my vision for my faith is to be able to spread the message of Jesus and the way that I feel called to lead to do that. 

Sharlene: And you weren’t always in this place. It’s quite a big switch from when I first met you. So, where are you right now and what are you doing right now in your life?

Nick: Yeah. So, taking a step back, probably I’d say it’s a year ago where I really started to feel like something’s just not aligned. I had this business and the business was doing okay. I had this online business. I poured everything I had into everything online and it was a lot of fun. I learned a ton. I met with some awesome people. I met you and it really was a good time. But it was kind of misaligned with – it was getting in the way of a lot of things in my life. It was getting in the way of my relationships and just my perspective. I just felt like I kind of got sucked into things that weren’t – they were just a little bit off. It wasn’t really meant for me at the end of the day. So, I laid it down and I said, ‘You know if this really isn’t meant for me, I need to figure out a way to kind of get over that and get over myself and walk into a place of humility.’ So, I kind of forgot what the original question was but I think it had something along the lines, to do with where am I at now. So, being an entrepreneur and having this online business and then actually, in addition to that, I have a consulting business that I was doing where I do a lot of different things from an engineering perspective. But I defined myself around this idea that, ‘Wow, I’m an entrepreneur. I left corporate three years ago and I’m making it, and life is good. People should look up to me.’ I don’t know, just this perception that I created for myself. And I realized after about three years into, that this is all about me, and it’s not. Being here in this world is not about me at all. I need to get to a place where I could actually humble myself and be accepting of the fact that maybe I need to go and look at things a little bit differently. So, I ended up finding a contract project, still on the right company and everything but it was basically like going back to work. I was embedded on site and financially, it was a really, really huge blessing. It got me to kind of take this focus off myself and onto really what’s more important. So, yeah, from that perspective, I’m working now as a contractor but I’m doing some amazing things that are more aligned with really what I envision for the world. So, I can get into those things if you’d like to. 

Sharlene: Yeah, sure. Actually, before we do, I did have a question. How hard was it for you to let go of that perception of yourself and to also let go of your business? Because you’d worked so hard, you put in so much time and resources.

Nick: It was tough. It was tough and it was a process. It was a process that probably took nearly two years. Just to kind of like, ‘Hmm I wonder if this really isn’t right for me? But no, I’m going to keep pushing forward. I’m going to keep going harder and I must keep putting more and more energy into this thing that I’m starting to have these feelings that it might not be the best thing for me and my family’ and everything like that. So, to get over that? Because I had this dream. You know how these things start? We’re fed into the hype, right? The online hype is, whenever I look at it – the location independence, break away from the man. You work from your laptop, anywhere you want to, do anything that you really want, just have this lifestyle of not being tied down by a corporate job or a location, or all these different things. And me being a father of three and a husband, I knew it would be difficult I guess to achieve that, but I looked at the reasons for why I wanted to do all those things. They were all based on me and what I wanted. It wasn’t really based on a higher type of purpose. So, giving that up, I had this dream. I wanted to travel the world with my family and be able to do whatever I wanted to do. That was really, really difficult to come to terms with. And I look at this from the perspective – I don’t look at it like I failed at what I was doing online because I really could have made something out of whatever I was doing, but there was this massive disconnect that just was grinding at me. For me, like I said, being a man of faith, it felt it was God telling me, “Look, this isn’t the right place for you. This is where you need to be. I have bigger plans for you.” And I did humble myself and really followed what I felt was the right thing to do. It was extremely difficult because I’m very strong-willed, very stubborn. But I gave in and as soon as I gave in, really, really cool things started happening. 

Sharlene: So, before we get into the cool things because I know you have a lot of cool things to talk about and to share, how did you realize that what you were doing with your business wasn’t aligned? Was there some sort of internal trigger? 

Nick: Yeah. The trigger, I guess, was I kept shifting the business concept, the model to try to meet what I thought that people wanted versus what I originally kind of envisioned when I set out to do it. I started finding things that I thought were maybe easier and popular. At the very end, I got into course creation. I had done courses and I had mild success with them and I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll be able to really focus on this course creation thing.’ I had a unique spin on it with accountability and productivity, and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, I thought about, ‘Okay, now I’ve just created this world out of my own doing, of something I don’t care all that much about to be perfectly honest with you. I don’t really care all that much about helping people with their courses.’ It was like a lot of friction. I kind of convinced myself, ‘I know this is where I need to be, possibly to open up something that I really want to do long term or just be a stepping stone of something else. And it’s kind of like this – I remember back when I was doing coaching, I used to do productivity coaching, I had these conversations with people about, okay they have these ideas for the types of business they wanted. They’d start this little business as a stepping stone to get them something they really wanted to do. I was like, ‘Why won’t you just do the things you really want to do? And I kind of saw myself, a reflection of my own conversations in the past, and I’m like, ‘What am I doing here?’ I had put so much time and effort to it and on top of that, letting partners down that I’ve been working with and partnering with their businesses, kind of contributing to each other, letting them down. So, it was a scary thing. I just saw this misalignment that eventually I couldn’t get away from. I finally gave in and did what was right, and laid it down. 

Sharlene: So, what are you doing now? What is your calling now? And actually, how did you recognize it?

Nick: I can go into the whole long story or I can go into probably the short version. So, my calling started probably a couple of years ago, but I really started taking action along those lines in late-2017 where I started finding out that there’s miracles for today, miraculous healings and that sort of thing. I started seeing these things on documentaries or Netflix and started to get the wheels turning about what is this thing about miracles? I’ve been a Christian my entire life and I’m seeing people that are doing these things. I’m like, ‘What am I missing? How come I haven’t learned about this sort of stuff?’ So, I started to try and just kind of get the wheels turning on this whole thing about miracles. I was like, ‘Let me find people that have had this experience and let me throw them in front of an atheist and have them ask them tough questions, and see how that works out, in a respectful way. It was a really unique experience and it was about seven or eight months where – maybe it wasn’t quite that long, maybe more like six months – where somebody had experienced a miraculous thing in their life. One guy had experienced somebody’s nose growing back. He was on a mission in Honduras and he and his mission companions prayed for this guy and he apparently had no nose. And a couple of days later, he came back and he had a nose. That’s kind of a cool story. He had that story and then I had an atheist asking questions about those stories. It was a really interesting dynamic and you’d think it’d be really heated and stuff, but it wasn’t. It was respectful and I think that I found out I have this gift of disarming high-tension situations, I guess. That was a really good way to kind of do that. So, I did that for about six months, the “Miracles and Atheists” thing. And towards the end of it, I felt like it started becoming again more about me instead of getting a message out that’s positive. It’s like, ‘Okay, Nick’s putting this together and he’s getting a lot of views.’ I kind of got sucked back into that world and caring about that, versus why I started this whole thing because I never tried to monetize it. I did it because was a passion. And then I also felt like, ‘Okay now I need to go out and really start doing something, try to really understand, if miracles are real, then why don’t I go out and try to see if they are actually real.’ So, alright, ‘Okay, let’s get this thing going.’ I started this thing on Friday nights where myself and another guy would go out to the 7-11, wait there, and start asking people that were limping around, ‘Hey, you got this pain, can I pray for that pain there,  so I can see what happens?’ So, we started doing that. And after – we started seeing results actually pretty quick, but now having done this thing on the streets – every other Friday night for now, I think we’ve been doing this since July of 2018 – we’ve seen a lot of things that I can’t explain other than the supernatural, which is what I was after. So, I have stories upon stories, upon stories now and I never really used to have any cool stories other than what I was doing online with my business, how I left corporate. Now I have all these cool things to talk about. 

Sharlene: What’s the craziest story you can share with us?

Nick: The craziest story happened about six weeks ago. We were at the Walmart parking lot and now – by the way, I started this thing with one other guy. Now there’s 14 of us that go out, which is pretty amazing in itself. And we were at the Walmart lobby and we’re kind of just hanging out. And this lady is like, “Hey, are you having a meeting?” We were like, “Yeah, we kind of are. We’re here in the Walmart lobby just praying for people.” She’s like, “Really? Oh I got this pain here and this thing. So, she’s really excited. So, we prayed for her and she started feeling better. She’s like, “Can you go see my mom? She’s out in the car. She can’t walk. She’s got a bad knee.” We were like, “Yeah, we’ll go talk to your mom. It’s crazy. You’ve got ten guys, I think it was ten guys or something at the time following this lady and her mom in the car. It’s a little different. People don’t do this sort of thing. But she was there and the lady got to her mom. She’s like, “Mom!”, screaming at her, right in her face. “These people want to pray for you!” Her mom was like, “What?” It was just this crazy thing. So, anyway, after a little bit of time, we learned that she was deaf in one ear, completely obviously hard of hearing in the other ear. So, we came there to pray for her bad knee and we ended up, long story short, it only took a couple different times but we prayed for this woman’s ear and the deaf ear opened up in the Walmart parking lot. And she could hear. So, then as the conversation progressed in the parking lot, we were standing six feet, seven feet away and just talking normal like you and I are talking now, and she’s hearing us and she’s answering. It was awesome. So, that’s probably the most tangible thing I could give you at this juncture. 

Sharlene: That’s insane. What were their reactions like, especially that woman when she got her hearing back?

Nick: Yeah, usually like a lot of tears, a lot of tears not only them, but myself. It’s just this amazing experience, when you realize that you’re doing something that’s greater than you. It’s almost, in some ways it’s indescribable. I have all kinds of reactions across the board, to be honest with you. In that instance, it was pretty powerful. Other instances, somebody’s walking around, limping or whatever and you ask them if you could pray for them. Most people give you attitude. They’re like, “What do you mean?” Most people expect that you’re trying to just have some sort of alternative agenda. But no, we do a lot of cool things. Sometimes we just meet needs. Some people just don’t have stuff, so we’ll just come and chip in, fill their grocery cart up with groceries or anything that they need. We’re here just to meet needs and try to be a light in a world where this doesn’t really happen too much, in a world where people are just out for themselves, what they can accomplish. It’s actually pretty refreshing to go out there. I look at this now as the most important thing I could ever do. The only second thing and that would be a husband and a father, really. So, it’s changed my life because I took a position of humility and took the focus off myself. 

Sharlene: I’d imagine it’d be a little bit difficult in some cases. Do you think that being an entrepreneur helped you?

Nick: Yeah, sales. It’s kind of like a sales thing, a little bit, just the way that you approach people and talk. I remember when I was doing idea validation, I was really into idea validation. I had a program and stuff, I was helping people. Okay, you have this idea. I go out and talk to people and see what they think. One of the things that you would do is talk to strangers about your business idea, which is super terrifying. Well, not even remotely as close as terrifying as talking to people about your faith in Jesus because people – they’re already on their guard. They’re already annoyed at all the corruption stuff that’s happened in the church. You have the cards stacked against you when you’re going out and doing that sort of thing. As an entrepreneur, you have a unique way of putting things together and approaching things that the average person doesn’t. I’m kind of leading this group. I have an opportunity to be a lot more bold than I think a lot of people who just kind of sit behind a desk all the time are because I’m not a risk-averse person. Leaving corporate and putting everything on the line, that helped contribute to that, right? So, I think that risk-taking, for me, faith is all about risk-taking and entrepreneurship is the same way. It’s not an easy road and you’ve got to take risks to really take it to the level it needs to be in. I think faith, if you’re not all in as an entrepreneur, you’re not willing to lay everything down for that and push and believe that what you’re doing matters and go after it and achieve it – it’s the same thing with faith. If you don’t believe you’re going to put your hand on somebody’s knee or somebody’s back and they’re going to get healed, then it won’t happen. The battle is between your ears and it’s the same way with business. 

Sharlene: Yeah. So, how does that work? Do you just pray for them? What gave you the idea to just pray? 

Nick: Yeah. Like I said, I started digging in and researching. The idea comes from the Bible. It’s basically, the message has been really, really watered down over the years from the church. It’s like a feel-good, self-help kind of mentality now at church. I’m going to worry about my marriage, my relationships, my finances, just the different things that people talk about; which is good. It’s good to worry about that sort of stuff and get a handle on that stuff because if you’re angry, you have a bad marriage and all that kind of stuff, it’s hard to really take the focus off that and do other stuff. But yeah, at the end of the day, it’s a matter of how did Jesus do it and let’s do that. What Jesus did, he basically put his hands on people and he commanded things to be healed and they got healed. It all kind of happens, okay you can do that but you’ve really got to learn how to trust that process versus just hoping. Like the prayers, “I’m going to pray for you” – somebody’s in the hospital – “I’ll pray for your mom.” But there’s nothing behind that. It’s just like, “Oh, I’m going to do that.” ‘Oh, that’s nice, thanks.’ “Maybe God will fix them. Maybe He won’t.” But no, we get aggressive with it and we attack the things. It’s a completely different way to look at it. And once I learned that that’s actually – that people were doing it, I’m like, ‘Well, if I believe in this, then I might as well go all the way and try this. Why not? If God’s going to heal somebody through me and this is what I need to do, then why not take a risk and do it?’ It’s kind of how I look at it, and over time, I started caring less and less about what people thought about me and just like, ‘Let’s just do what’s right.’ Yeah, that’s it. And with an entrepreneur too, you’ve got to stop caring about what people think about you. Your friends aren’t going to get it. Especially if you’re a corporate person, you’re looking to leave and you have these great ideas. I know what it’s like. I remember that. I had these conversations all the time with people. I tell them what I want to do and they look at me like I had two heads. “What are you talking about? You want to give up this, what you have here? You’re making six figures and you have a beautiful family. You’re doing it. You’re moving your way up the ladder.” But there was something. “I don’t like it. I don’t want to be in this environment.” I remember trying to get out and people didn’t get it because they were so risk-averse and I think there’s a special spirit around entrepreneurship, and around people that have real, bonafide faith. It’s just different. You don’t just follow the herd. You take risks and you do what you really think is right. 

Sharlene: What was it like the very first time you put your hands on somebody? Did it work?

Nick: The very first time I did, it was my father-in-law. I just felt this, you’ve got to do it. It wouldn’t stop. I don’t want to do it. I’m scared. And it was my father-in-law. I know this guy. I’ve known him for 15 years or whatever. But I’ve never even really talked about my faith with him. I’ve never done anything like this, but he had bad knees. He’s had bad knees forever and I remember just, it wouldn’t go away. He came over and I was on my computer working, the online thing. And he’s in the other room with my kids and stuff and I’m working. I went out to him and I was just like, “This is going to sound kind of weird but can I just – your knees, they’re still bothering you, right?” He’s like, “Yeah.” “Can I just pray for your knees?” And so, I prayed for his knees and I was like, “How do they feel? Check them.” He’s like, “Huh? They feel a little better.” I’m like, “Are you serious? Really, they feel a little bit better?” He’s like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “Well, let’s keep going then, if you feel better.” I got pumped up. So, I kept doing it and by the end of it, he was kind of jogging around and stuff. It was actually pretty cool. Yeah, actually the first time I did it, that tugging, I knew it was the right thing. I’ve got results now. It’s not always like that, for sure. I guess at some point, it’s a level of obedience to just doing what you’re called to do. And sometimes, you put your hands on people and it doesn’t happen. So, does that mean you stop? For me, no. It means to just keep on grinding away because you get into a position where it’s just kind of fun. It’s really fun, especially when you see amazing things happen. Yeah. 

Sharlene: I can see the parallels with entrepreneurship. 

Nick: Yeah. The iterations, for sure. The cool thing is I have received a vision about how I could apply this to more of a business type thing. If you were to have me on again as this thing kind of progresses, I’ll tell you more about it, but I definitely have a vision for how this is all kind of coming together full circle with entrepreneurship and faith. But yeah, it’s been a really interesting time. It’s been the most interesting time in my life. I just feel like it is completely counter to everything that society tells you as far as how to operate. Now, I feel like I’m kind of along for the ride now, which is completely different than the control that everybody else wants to tell you that you need to have in life. I have peace. I’m content. I know I’m being taken care of. I’m seeing cool stuff along the way. It’s like, ‘Okay, I’m done being a control freak. I’m good. Let’s just go with the flow now.’ And really cool things are happening because I really do feel like this is what I’m made to do. 

Sharlene: That’s a huge change. How did it affect your relationship with your wife and how did your wife take this change initially?

Nick: Yeah. It was tough. From a “Nick’s all in for Jesus type thing” was a little bit tough. Just being lukewarm, in my entire walk I’ve been a Christian forever but I’ve just been lukewarm, not doing anything about it. And my wife has been kind of the same way, but maybe even a little bit further lukewarm. I guess that’s one way to put it. So, that was a little bit of an adjustment. “Okay, this is all you’re talking about, Nick? There’s nothing else? Are you out of touch now with society? Are you watching the news anymore?” That kind of stuff. We had to work through that and I had to kind of just learn temperance. Okay, there are other things around that you kind of need to be aware of and have other interests in, that sort of thing. But, from a relationship perspective, it saved my marriage for sure. I took the focus again off of myself and the things that I wanted and I was able to really – it’s about being a servant. The first ministry, I believe, is in your home. So, I learned to be a servant to my wife. I stopped worrying so much about her not letting me do this and this with the business, which really what we kind of got in arguments about, like having to sacrifice things that come up in life because of what I was doing with the business. Now, it’s like, “No, I’m here. I’m focusing on you. I mean it.” And over a period of time, it really helped me build a lot of things that were broken down. 

Sharlene: So, it took a lot of action on your part. 

Nick: Absolutely. Yeah. The only thing that we can change is ourselves when it comes to relationships. So many people want to change the other person, but it’s spitting in the wind. You can only focus on yourself, and that’s it. And no matter what they’re doing, the only thing you focus on is the self and the way you respond, the way you treat them. So, that’s what I did. And over time, it really does work. 

Sharlene: So, you’ve, by now had a lot of difficult conversations with people. You also mentioned that breaking down the high-tension situations is a gift of yours. Do you have any practical tips for us on how to manage those conversations?

Nick: Listen, for sure. Listen and reiterate. Because all I found is people flail around and they’ll just pontificate and just say all these sometimes harsh, mean things or whatever. But I really try to get to the heart of what’s going on behind that because there’s always something behind that. And if you’re willing to spend a few minutes to listen – not to listen, but a few minutes to dive in – maybe I can give a more tangible example. I think people just want you to hear their perspective. Most people. So, if they have a really high-tension angry response to something you said as a believer. Like for “Miracles and Atheists”, I’ll give you, as a believer, if one of the believers said something that just really hit a chord with the non-believer or the atheist, then it’s like, ‘Okay, that struck a chord. There’s something going on there. Let me investigate that a little bit more.’ And as a facilitator for that particular show that I was doing, I was able to do that in a beautiful way because it’s my show. I can cut the tension and I can be that sort of mediator person to help each of the sides see that viewpoint in a way that maybe they wouldn’t have, had I not been there because it’s almost like being a filter almost, even though they can hear each other. But you develop as an interviewer – and you’ll learn this obviously as you get more and more into your interviewing and stuff. I know you have a bunch of experience but as you grow in your podcast, you’ll learn to hear certain keywords and the ones to really key into, that will reveal more than what they’re telling you on the surface level. I like having deep relationships. When it comes to superficial relationships, I’ve actually shed a lot of friends that were more like acquaintances that only cared about the superficial stuff because it doesn’t do it for me. If somebody says something in passing and I can tell that behind that there’s something more, I have a way of digging into that thing without maybe them even knowing that I’m digging in. I don’t know if that makes much sense, but I’m sure if you watch “Miracles and Atheists”, maybe you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. 

Sharlene: Do you ask questions? I guess I’m wondering if you have an example of a tense situation that you were able to diffuse. 

Nick: Yeah, sure, for sure. When you’re out on the street, you get a lot of attitude about I don’t know, anything. So, people all of a sudden, they understand you follow Jesus. Then they go into this mode of just trying to prove why the Bible’s ridiculous and foolish, and why this, this and this. They’ll go, okay where did the Word of God come from, and all these kinds of questions. When they’re saying and asking these sorts of questions, I try to get to the heart of the issue, which isn’t necessarily intellectual argument. It’s usually something that happened. For example, I remember on the street with this woman who was just broken. She had been raped as a kid and I think she’s had a really bad experience with the church with hypocrites and judgmental people, all these kinds of stuff. And little pieces of that will kind of come out slowly under the heated stuff, even in just moments of time, even if it’s just a really short period of time. That stuff comes out. I remember one time when I was talking and she was getting into, “Where did God come from?” I remember saying, “Before I answer that question, can you just give me an understanding as to how does it feel to not believe in something right now? Can you just tell me a little bit more about that and why that’s where you’re at in your particular position?” And it completely reversed, I don’t even know if I said it like that, Sharlene. I just said something along those lines. “Let me just get more of an understanding of where you’re at and why that’s working for you. Honestly, I want to know. Why is not believing in something work for you?” And I haven’t really – at least with that particular example, it wasn’t. And that peels back layers and all of a sudden, she was broken and she was crying. It was just like, that sort of stuff happens all the time. Probably not the best example I could’ve given you, but that’s the one that came to mind. 

Sharlene: I guess what struck me about what you just said was a sincere curiosity about the person. 

Nick: Absolutely, yeah. And if it’s not genuine, people see right through that. There’s evangelists out there – they call themselves evangelists – they go out there and start preaching the Word. “Do you know what it means to be a sinner and do you know what the wages of sin are and that you need a savior?” – they just go by the script. Go with the script. And for me, it’s like, yeah that stuff is important at some point but when you’re meeting people on the street, you just meet them where they’re at and figure out where their needs are at. Are they hurting? Are they broke? Are they sick? What is it? And for me, I believe now that I know what it means to be a real, true believer, I know what it means, so I have the ability in the group to address those things. So, why not do that in love? If there are more people that represented the church who did it in love, we wouldn’t have so many people hating the church. Yeah. I’ll get off my soapbox. 

Sharlene: Once again, I see that parallel to entrepreneurship, but listening to your audience and all that sort of thing. 

Nick: Yeah, and do it genuinely, right, like in love. With everything, in business, especially with some of the products and things that you’re trying to sell people. If you’re listening to really what they’re looking for, what they’re missing in life and you really can help them, then you can do that in a loving sort of way versus just pushing your script and manipulating them. I think in sales there’s a lot of manipulation that gives sales people a bad rep and it doesn’t necessarily need to be like that. 

Sharlene: So, I have one more question. What are the biggest lessons that you’ve learned in this transition?

Nick: It’s good to be confident. It’s good to go after goals. Hopefully you didn’t take the things I’m saying as it’s wrong to go after goals. It’s totally awesome to go after goals. I would say if you have a goal though, look at the root and intentions behind that goal. And be real with yourself. Be honest with yourself because if you can’t be honest with yourself, you’re never going to be able to be honest with anybody. And if your goal is rooted in self-centered, self-glorifying type stuff, it will be fun for a while. I get it. It will be fun for a while, but that’s going to be fleeting. So, I just recommend for everybody, if you have some sort of goal that you’re going after, really be honest with yourself and make sure it’s rooted in a higher purpose, something that’s bigger than just you, something that’s going to help somebody else. And that’s what’s really sustainable. Because you can go after that fleeting type stuff and you will achieve it and you’ll probably get success and you’ll have fun for a little bit of time, but then you’ll be in the same position. You’re like, “Okay, what am I doing with my life?” So, you might as well go after the stuff that really matters initially and you’ll set yourself up for a blessing versus just an emptiness. 

Sharlene: I love it. Thank you. 

Nick: Awesome. 

Sharlene: So, where can people find you online or how can they connect with you?

Nick: I mean if they want to go and check out some of the “Miracles and Atheists” archives, that’ll be awesome. I do have a plan to kick that back off at some point in the not too distant future. But it’s just miraclesandatheists.com. That’s where they can find that stuff and then if anyone wants to connect with me on Facebook, then Nick Snapp, not too hard to find. If you go Google me, you’ll see “The Make it Snappy Productivity Show” and all the stuff that I’ve done. So, you can find my contact information out there. But yeah, I really was in-depth into the online world and I still love the online world. I love the people that I met and the relationships, but yeah, just on a different track now. 

Sharlene: Yeah. I’m really eager to see where this all goes. So, good luck, Nick. 

Nick: Thanks. 

Thank you for sharing your time with me and listening to LIFT. If this episode resonated with you, I’d appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a review. That way, more people can discover this resource, and together, we can accelerate good change in the world. Thanks so much. Until next time.

009 – Recognize the Signs of Burnout with Zack Arnold

In this episode, I chat with Zack Arnold, a Hollywood film and television editor, and creator of the blog, Optimize Yourself. Zack shares his experiences with burnout, how to recognize the symptoms, and how to pull yourself out.

Overview
[00:01:09] Mission and vision
[00:06:55] “Disabilities”
[00:08:32] Going through the darkness
[00:15:47] Depression and burnout in creative fields
[00:17:15] Symptoms of burnout
[00:19:40] Climbing out of a mental hell

Resources mentioned:
optimizeyourself.me
Go Far (Christopher Rush documentary)
23andMe
Ancestry.com
Move Yourself
Focus Yourself
The Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Productivity 
Cobra Kai 

Note: Some of the resources above may be affiliate links, meaning I’d get a commission if you use that link to make a purchase (at no cost to you).

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to LIFT, a podcast for you – the entrepreneur, the leader, the creative – who leads change with heart. If you don’t have it all together, you’re in the right place. I’m your host, Sharlene Sobrepeña.

In today’s episode, I chat with Zack Arnold, an award-winning film and TV editor, and creator of the blog, Optimize Yourself. We talk about how “disabilities” can be turned into strengths, the difference between burnout and depression, and how to recognize the signs of burnout in yourself. My biggest takeaway is that you can pull back from burnout if you develop the awareness to recognize the symptoms, and then take extra care of yourself. You don’t have to completely succumb to burnout. Let’s get to it.

Sharlene: So, I want to just dive right into the deep questions. I like to ask my guests these two questions.

Zack: Oh, I’m unprepared. Let’s see if you can surprise me.

Sharlene: The first one is, what’s your mission with your work and the second one is what’s your vision for the world?

Zack: Oooh, wow. Those are hard questions. So, the mission for my work – it’s funny, I spent years trying to figure out how do I give the elevator pitch for this because that’s all part of being an entrepreneur. And there are all the little fancy copywriting things you can put in your website. You get opt-ins and all those other things. But for me, after doing years of deep personal introspection to understand who I really am and why I do what I do, and what my purpose is, I found that I am here to inspire other people to step outside their comfort zones, so they can achieve their fullest potential. And I know that might sound like some copy jargon, but it took me a long time to dig deep into my past, doing therapy, working with coaches to really understand the experiences in my life that shaped who I am. And I found that I have a tendency to always stick up for the underdog and I always have a tendency to fight back against the bully. And in this case, the bully would just be life and improbable success that most people don’t end up getting because they just feel like they’re up against it and the world isn’t giving them what they need. And what I’m trying to show people is that every single person in the world has some form of disability. Right? So, that’s saying specifically was not mine. That was a saying by somebody named Christopher Rush. He was a good friend of mine. He was a subject of a documentary film that I created. He was actually the first quadriplegic to become a licensed scuba diver. He was the national poster child for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He did a lot of things despite his disabilities. And when you look at a guy that’s quadriplegic in a wheelchair, you say, “Oh, that guy’s disabled,” right? But so many other people have disabilities that you don’t see and they just assume that they’re weak. But what I’m trying to teach people is that every single person on the planet has some form of disability somewhere. But rather than focusing on your disabilities, if you focus on the things that you can do and do well and accelerate those, then you can be successful in whatever makes the most sense for you. So really, my mission is to just empower people to really achieve their fullest potential. But in order to do that, they have to get uncomfortable and they have to do things that are hard, that they’re scared of. So, I like scaring people just a little bit out of their comfort zone, to push them farther than they thought that they could go. So, that would be the first question. The second one is, what impact do I want to see in the world or make in the world? Rephrase it for me again?

Sharlene: What’s your vision for the world?

Zack: Okay. So, my vision for the world, that’s a big question. And I think that – and this is probably something that a lot of entrepreneurs, especially new ones, can relate to – as soon as you jump into the world of entrepreneurship, you feel this duty to change the world. And it becomes this heavy weight of, ‘Oh well, I’ve only got ten subscribers or 20 subscribers. I can’t change the world with 20 people. I have to get on the biggest platforms and have a list of a million people and get out on all the biggest stages.’ And that literally was just pushing me into the state of depression and despair, feeling like I was failing every day. And then I kind of turned it around and I said, ‘Well, it’s not about changing the world. It’s about changing the world for one person.’ So, if I can go one person at a time and I can change their world and their life is better because of it, my vision of the world is just being able to do that for one small person at a time. But with everything that’s going on, on the planet right now, whether it’s globally or politically, whatever it is, it is so ridiculously overwhelming and so negative that I honestly shelter myself and I try to block new sites and all this other stuff, and just live in my own little world. And in that version of the world, I’m reaching out and I’m helping people get where they want to get. So, I don’t know if that’s a cop out or not, but I guess that would be my best vision of the world.

Sharlene: I like it, changing the world for one person. And that actually starts with you.

Zack: It certainly does and you can’t help others until you’ve been through all the darkness. The metaphor that I’ll use is – we were talking before we started about the fact that I’m training for American Ninja Warrior and have been for a little over a year – and part of the training is I run obstacle course races and I love Spartan races. And there’s no way that I could help other people run their first Spartan race and overcome the obstacles and drag themselves through mud and under barb wire and getting sprayed in the face with fire hoses – nobody’s going to trust me to do that until I suffer through it first. So, I feel like the only way for me to be authentic and genuinely talk about my experiences and help others, and change their world is I have to have really been through the darkness first and, assuming that I escape the tunnel and I come out the other side a better person, people say, “Hey, I’m in the dark part of the tunnel right now. Show me how to get out.” And I feel that’s a really, really big part of any form of entrepreneurship is, ‘I’m not going to follow you or I’m not going to download your stuff or buy your courses or your product or whatever it is unless, number one, that product just solves an immediate need and I don’t care about your story at all.’ But most likely, if it’s somebody who’s an influencer or a speaker, your journey is everything. So, it’s not just about the message. It’s so much about the messenger. So, I’ve been focused so much more on the quality of the messenger and I’m still very focused on the quality of the message. But I feel like I have to come from a strong place of authenticity, sharing my story and my struggles which is actually one of the reasons that I chose to go after American Ninja Warrior as a 39-year-old non-athlete with two kids that spends his entire day behind a computer, because I figure if I can tackle that, people are going to believe me when I say, “I know how to teach people to overcome difficult obstacles.”

Sharlene: So, you mentioned disabilities. How would you define disability because our general definition of it is, I think, a bit different than how you’re describing it? Is it like a weakness?

Zack: Yeah. I would say that it’s something that is an obstacle that you cannot overcome. So, for example, if you’re quadriplegic, your disability is that you cannot walk. You cannot run. You cannot move your limbs and it’s very visible when you have that disability. But another way to look at it is if you desperately want to play in the NBA, but you’re 45 years old and you’re 5’2’’, your height has now become a disability. So, you’re never going to overcome that. That is an obstacle that you cannot change; that you must instead of trying to overcome, you must circumvent it. It’s the same thing for that person that might be 45 years old and 5’2”. They can’t be in the NBA. That’s a disability. But guess what? If they wanted to run the American Ninja Warrior Course and they were a gymnast, now their height is an ability. So, it’s the exact same thing that was a disability, now becomes a strength simply by reframing it. So, disability in my mind, is something that you cannot change, but it’s all based on context. So, even though Christopher Rush had the disability of being quadriplegic, he found something that he could excel in which is scuba diving. Because once he goes in the water and he’s weighted down and he has people around him for safety, he can walk and he can move his limbs because he’s practically weightless. So, now it’s no longer a disability. In my mind, it’s something that you can’t overcome, but it’s all based on context.

Sharlene: I like that. So, you mentioned going through the darkness. What kind of darkness did you go through, if you don’t mind sharing?

Zack: Oh boy, I know you said we only have 25 minutes. I’m not sure I can do it in that amount of time. Yeah, I’ve been very vocal about my multiple experiences with depression, suicidal depression, burnouts, severe anxiety. And I found, after doing a lot of introspection and analysis and therapy, and many things over the course of the last 15 to 20 years, that in my case it’s a combination of two things. One of which is it’s just a genetic predisposition. I’ve had my genetics tested. I actually talked a lot about this in one of my podcasts with a genetic expert, that I have certain genetic disorder called SNPs. It’s something – anybody can get this tested now through 23andMe or Ancestry.com – it costs $100. And if you had this analyzed, you can find out, ‘Do I have a genetic predisposition to some of these things?’ I do, but I didn’t know that until a year ago. So, I spent a long time dealing with constant lethargy and always being in a bad mood, constantly being anxious, never having energy. I just couldn’t string two creative thoughts together, even though that’s my livelihood. But I assumed I was just broken and I was weak, right? I figured everybody else is doing this, why can’t I? Why is it that I can’t work a 16-hour day and not go outside and see the sun and not take walks and not exercise? Why can’t I still do my job, when it seems like everybody else is? What I started to learn is that everybody is experiencing the same things. It’s just because it was considered a weakness, so to speak, everybody tried to hide it. So, the first time this happened to me is when I was 25 years old. I was editing my first feature film – by trade, for the last 20 years I’ve been a Hollywood film and television editor. And I was doing my first feature film at that time. And during one of the stretches, during the director’s cut, we worked – I don’t remember the exact amount of time, this is all a blur – but it was essentially seven weeks straight, seven days a week, no days off working from 9 am to 1 am, with somebody sitting on the couch behind me telling me how to do everything. When you’re in it, you just don’t know how bad it is, but as soon as you’re out of it, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I cannot believe how awful that was.’ And I just had this severe crash, where as soon as the pressure was off and I had time away from the job, I literally couldn’t function. It was at the point where I spent 10-12 hours a day on the couch, doing nothing, eating very poorly. You really got to the point – as far as my anxiety was concerned, the thing I remember more than anything was my wife asking me to take the trash out and I just broke down in tears. Just the mere thought of having to wake up and go outside with a bag of trash, and go downstairs and back upstairs was too much. It was just, ‘I can’t do it.’ That’s when I knew that I had a problem. That was the first time. I’ve had probably two or three other bouts with severe depression since that happened. The most recent – which I think is one that you might be able to relate to based on our conversation before we started – is that I spent, I don’t know, probably four to five months working on a big online product launch. So, I have a program online that’s called Move Yourself, which helps people that work sedentary jobs build healthier habits into their day so they can be less sedentary. So, it’s not exercise per se. It’s just, ‘How do I get more steps during the day? How can I be more creative? How can I feel more energetic, if I live behind the computer?’ And I ran what was called the 5X Challenge. And it was a challenge I was running and advertising all over the world, to people that were in my industry and it was a free challenge. It was a five day free challenge and basically what happened was, when I first ran challenges like this, I got 15 to 20 participants if I was lucky. This time, I got 1100. So, I had 1100 people in this free challenge and I was completely overwhelmed. And while I was running the challenge, I was still finishing the online product. I would send people to landing pages that I had published five minutes before I sent the email. I was basically going 21 hours a day. And the launch went pretty well. I didn’t hit the targets that I wanted to hit financially, but a lot of that is because my projections were unrealistic; just because it was like, ‘That’s the number I want so that’s the number I’m going to hit.’ But it wasn’t really based on any sound conversion numbers, all the kind of standard metrics. It was just because I really, really, really wanted to hit it. So, in my mind, my launch was a failure. And it really wasn’t. When I had done post-mortems with other people in business groups and online groups, they looked at the numbers and they’re like, ‘Dude, great launch’. I’m like, ‘Yeah, but you don’t understand. I wanted it to be more.’ So, in my mind, I had spent four months building this and on top of it, I had turned down eight high-profile jobs on big TV series. So, I basically told the world I’m unavailable. I’m living in a cave. I’m living my dream. I’m not going to be a film editor anymore and this product launch is going to save my life and is going to make me a rich entrepreneur. It’s how we all talk. So, after that happened, and I didn’t sell what I wanted to, I started to think about ‘why did I make these decisions. What were the repercussions? Well, I turned down all this work. I turned down a lot of money. So, if I just had gone to work, I would have made more money than the product launch.’ But the thing that really hit me more than anything was the fact that my whole goal for building an online platform and helping people, my goal for me, personally, was that I want to be able to work from home so I can see my children grow up. In my industry, most people just miss their kids’ childhoods because they’re working six to seven days a week for 12 to 16 hours a day. And I said, ‘That’s not going to be me. I want to be able to be a big part of my kids’ lives.’ So, here I was spending five months building an online product from home and never seeing my children and getting annoyed when they were coming in the door because I was building my future. And when I looked back at that, I said, ‘This is absurd. This is the exact opposite of what I should be doing.’ So, that sent me into this giant depression, where I just felt such a tremendous amount of guilt for having made such a stupid decision to launch this product, that I basically went into a state of being completely frozen. I couldn’t write a post, I couldn’t even write an email to my list. I was petrified to even write an email to my list. And this is more coincidental than having to do with that specifically, but I was in the process of a rebrand. So, I basically just sent one email saying, “I’m rebranding the site and it’s going to take a while.” I think I actually did the rebrand in maybe one to two weeks. But to the outside world, it took me four months. What they didn’t realize is I was doing nothing four months other than feeling sorry for myself and asking, ‘Why was I doing this? Should I even be putting up a new website? Should I do this at all?’ Until I really started to unpack a lot of the deeper fears that I had behind what I was doing – because like I said, you look at the spreadsheets and you’re like, ‘Yeah this is pretty good, especially for somebody that’s just starting.’ But to me, it wasn’t enough and I wanted to do more. Once I understood where those thoughts came from and that it really was the guilt that was causing so much of the depression and burnout, once it started to lift, that’s when I started to “climb out of the cave”, so to speak.

Sharlene: Thank you for sharing. How common is depression and burn out in creative fields?

Zack: I wish I could give you statistics and tell you that I know all the research and I don’t. But I can tell you pretty confidently that it is rampant. It is everywhere. I mean just for example today, there’s a Facebook post that I saw from another – I don’t know if it was an editor or it was a designer – somebody in my industry had posted an article that they wrote that was very private about their experience with depression and burnout. And it just exploded. It went viral. And the responses were unanimous: “This is me, too”, “I go through this myself”, “Thank you for sharing”, “I can’t believe somebody else is talking about this.” And I remember when I posted one of my first blog posts, I think it was probably about four or five years ago now, it was just a very – and this was before I knew anything about getting traffic or sharing – I basically just put it up on my site, not even really knowing what I was doing and it was just called, “The classic case of post-production burnout.” I just put it up there and it exploded. And I instantly, overnight, became a household name in my industry because nobody talked about this before I did. Now more people are coming out and talking about it and there’s not as much of a stigma. But the response was just overwhelmingly positive, of people saying, “Oh my god you just described my life.” So, I can’t speak for all creative fields, but I can’t imagine there’s anything special about film editing versus graphic design or all the other creative fields that are out there. So, I would guess that it’s probably rampant in all of them.

Sharlene: How can we pull ourselves out of burnout and how can we recognize the symptoms?

Zack: These are two very difficult questions. I wish that I could give you “Five Quick Tips to Overcome Burnout” PDF and I’d even written stuff like that, but I realize it’s a lot more difficult. To recognize burnout, I think the first couple of things that I always tell people and that I always recognize in myself is when you start to feel like you can’t recover every day. In my industry or any industry, there are going to be days where you work long hours, you have deadlines. It’s “crunch time” and you’re going to be tired for a few days. That’s not what I’m talking about. That exhaustion, in a way, is almost good exhaustion because when you’re working towards something that you’re passionate about, that can actually be fun. It’s kind of like running a marathon. You run a marathon, you’re exhausted. You’re really sore for a few days afterwards and then you wake up a week later and you’re like, ‘Oh man, I want to do that again.’ With burnout, it’s a lot different. With burnout it’s just this feeling of lethargy every single day where you feel like you’re losing passion and energy for something that you used to love. So, I know that I’m starting to experience burnout when I dread the thought of writing a blog post or I absolutely dread the thought of recording a podcast. Or I have to cut another scene, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t do it.’ You start to feel this tightness in your chest. Some people feel it in their stomach. Other people feel it deep in their throat and they feel really emotional. And you think to yourself, ‘It’s not like I’m being asked to do something horrible. I used to love this but why am I feeling this?’ This to me is a really, really acute sign that you’re burning out and you need to take a break, and you need to step back because you’re practically terrified of doing something that you love in a situation that you put yourself in. So, that would be the first one. And then I think just more from a physical level, if you really find yourself having trouble sleeping, if you’re eating patterns have changed, if you’re just chronically anxious, if you’re shorter with people, if you find that you feel less attraction for somebody that you might be with but it really has nothing to do with less attraction. It just has more to do with the hormones in your body and you’re just kind of being all over the place. These are all signs, over the course of a lot of time, like I said again, everybody’s cranky every once in a while, and everybody’s tired. But if it just doesn’t go away, that’s when you know that something is wrong and you start needing to pay attention.

Sharlene: So, how can we pull ourselves out of burnout?

Zack: Again, I’m not an expert. I don’t play one on TV, so I’m just coming from this from my perspective of having gotten myself out of it and having helped other people get out, but I don’t want to pretend like I’m playing one of these pseudo experts on a podcast that has a website. So, I want to be clear about that. I think from the multiple journeys that I’ve had trying to climb out of the deep dark hole, at the end of the day, the most important thing is digging in and understanding how you get there in the first place. What are the behaviors that you chose? What are the habits that you have that led to this place? So, for me it wasn’t, ‘Oh man, well I was getting very little sleep and I wasn’t eating well when I was working on this launch. Therefore, if I sleep better and I eat better, I’m automatically going to get out of the state of burnout and depression.’ Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t get better sleep and eat better and exercise. Of course, those are all physiological things that you can do to get out of burnout. But it’s so much more often the psychological component and understanding ‘What is it that really put me in this place?’ And what I realized is like we talked about before, first of all, number one, it was the weight of the guilt of knowing that I had five months to spend with my kids working from home and I basically threw all of it away because I was so driven towards a goal. That guilt was the first big reason that I was in a state of depression and burnout. But the second was that I discovered that I actually was more afraid of success than I was of failure. So, in ways, I was actually sabotaging – in very subtle ways- I was sabotaging my success, which started from a deep-rooted history in my family with not only me, but other members of my family, my parents, just seeing this pattern over and over, and over of people having these grandiose visions, not following through and going into these giant pits of despair and then just recycling over and over and over. That’s a common theme rampant in my family. I was repeating those themes. So, as I discovered, I’m developing the same patterns. That, coupled with the guilt, I was like, ‘Oh, now this is actually starting to make a lot more sense.’ And once I learned the source of it, so it was no longer, ‘I suck. I’m a bad businessman. I’m going to fail the rest of my life and I’ve wasted my life and what’s the point?’ Those are some of the surface level thoughts, but those are coming from somewhere else. Once I realized that, I thought ‘Okay, that means that that’s a part of my past. How do I change those patterns of thinking?’ And then I started to think to myself, ‘Well if I reframe this experience not as a failure, but I reframe it as a learning experience, I can actually help a lot of people.’ So, there’s this little voice in the back of my head – and it wasn’t there right away, but fairly soon – as I was sitting there binge-watching Shark Tank for eight hours a day, eating Oreos and popcorn, thinking to myself, ‘You know, this is going to be a good learning experience for other people when I get out of it, because then I can talk about it. And I know it’s going to take some time, and I know I need to be patient, but there are a lot of other people that are going through what I’m going through right now and my business and my site is helping these people.’ So, it’s one thing to read books and do research. It’s another to be stuck in the same mental hell that they are and figure out, ‘How do I climb out of this dark hole?’ So, once I reframed it and I saw that teaching experience – it didn’t make it any less painful, but it helped me dissipate some of those nasty horrible voices that you try not to listen to, but you sometimes listen to anyway. That’s where I would start, is really digging into the deeper reasons why that happened. Once you have a better idea of that, then it is really just about choosing one small thing as far as your health is concerned to get you out. For me, it was sleep. When I went through this phase, my sleep was just destroyed. I’ve never had any trouble sleeping my whole life and I became an insomniac. And it was all because of fear and anxiety and guilt. So, once I said to myself, ‘You know what? I don’t care if my diet’s horrible (which it was). I don’t care that I’m not exercising (which I wasn’t). I’m just going to focus on one thing. And my one thing is getting better sleep because I know if I get better sleep, it’s going to be a little bit easier to start exercising, taking walks around the block and eventually going to the gym again if that time ever comes.’ Once you start sleeping better, you start moving better, guess what also becomes a little bit easier? Eating. Because your appetite hormones become a little bit more balanced and you don’t feel like eating everything that’s made from sugar and high fructose corn syrup and red dye number 5. Those are the best drugs on the planet for somebody dealing with depression. You just want to eat everything that isn’t healthy because for a very small moment, it makes you feel better. So, it’s just one small domino at a time. I went from the point – and I don’t remember exactly when but maybe mid-2017, May and June – barely being able to take a walk around my block without getting really winded and tired out, to now training for American Ninja Warrior ten hours a week. It’s one small step at a time.

Sharlene: What is the difference between burnout and depression?

Zack: Oh man. These are great questions. You’re really making me think. These aren’t just like the little canned answers that you answer over and over. I think that with burnout, it has a lot to do with exhaustion and it has a lot to do with lack of passion. And I’m not saying that you don’t experience those things with depression because you certainly do, but I think that those are more than just symptoms. They are connected to the underlying cause. You could look at it with circular reasoning and say, ‘Well, the exhaustion and the lack of passion caused the burnout. Now the burnout is causing more exhaustion and more lack of passion for the work.’ Right? And I think when you’re talking about depression, there of course is lack of passion for the work and there is exhaustion – and again, this is not coming from a place of science at all. This is just me, one person, talking about my own experiences and thoughts. But I feel like those are more symptoms of depression and I feel like the underlying cause of depression is usually a lot deeper and a lot more emotional. And one of the best things that I’ve ever heard said about depression was that “Depression is just anger turned inwards.” And for some reason, you’re angry at yourself. It could be about a decision that you made. It could be about the fact that people are treating you a certain way, but underneath you know that maybe you handled it the wrong way. It could also just be that it’s a complete imbalance of neurotransmitters. It has nothing to do with your behavior whatsoever. But, in general, for most people that don’t have that form of imbalance, it’s more emotional. It’s more deeper rooted than just burnout, which is that combination of exhaustion and lack of passion. So, that’s the best way that I can put it, that I really think the underlying cause of depression – at least in my own experiences and the other people I’ve talked to – when you really peel the onion back and you get to the core, it has something to do with some guilt or anger towards yourself that you’re turning inward instead of outwards.

Sharlene: You mentioned earlier that some people are predisposed to getting depression. And you’re one of those people. Do you find yourself still slipping back into darkness sometimes?

Zack: I don’t find myself – let me put it this way – do I slip backwards? Yes, all the time. But if we’re looking at it as a spectrum or this long slope, I don’t slip backwards nearly as far as I used to before I notice it. So, what I found through this journey is that obviously my genetics hasn’t changed. My DNA is what it was two years ago and ten years ago and 15 years ago when I experienced this. But what I’ve learned is that it’s much more about the awareness. I never saw this coming the first time. I had no idea what was going on. And then the next time, maybe I saw it coming and I just kind of ignored it, and it was kind of this thought of, ‘I can push through and I’ll be fine. And as soon as this project is finished and it’s successful, I’ll feel better. I’ll have time to rest and recuperate.’ One of the jokes in my industry is that, “Oh yeah, I’m going to get healthy when hiatus comes.” But hiatus just never comes, so you just never get healthy. That’s always the excuse. But what I found, especially through the latest journey, is that it’s not so much about figuring out how to get out of it. It’s about recognizing when you’re starting to slide. So, for me, I went into – I wouldn’t say depression – but it was just a fairly low grade of lethargy that was the precursor to depression. But I recognized it immediately and I’m like, ‘Oh I know what’s coming. I know exactly where this is going.’ So immediately, I kicked in all the systems that I needed to, knowing that I didn’t want it to get any worse. Which meant that I worked less hours. I slept more. I didn’t do quite as intense exercise, but I did more general activity to keep myself active. And I tried to stay away from sugar as much as possible because for me – and a lot of other people – but for me especially, sugar is gasoline for depression. As soon as I started to feel it, the more sugar I eat, the worse it gets, the worse my anxiety gets, the more depressed I get, the more irritable I get with other people. So, I need to stay away from sugar and refined carbohydrates. So, it’s just like I turn on all these switches and levers and I’m like, ‘Yep, I feel it coming. Now I need to change some of these behaviors because I don’t have the guard walls up.’ I can go and have a few Girl Scout cookies when I feel great, and there are no real repercussions. I go have a few Girl Scout cookies when I feel myself slipping into depression, then that becomes a box. Then that becomes two boxes, and that becomes me hating the world and screaming at my kids, and just being a nasty human being. But now I recognize those things much sooner.

Sharlene: That’s really interesting, thanks for sharing. So, I think I want to end the interview there and let people think about that for a bit and self-reflect. Where can people find you and what projects do you want to share that you’re working on?

Zack: Sure. So, as far as projects, as far as film editing is concerned, I actually just spent the last five months working on a television show called Cobra Kai. For anybody that hasn’t heard of it, it’s basically a TV series extension of The Karate Kid movie series. So, I’m very excited about that just because The Karate Kid was my Star Wars growing up. So, if anybody’s listening there like yeah, I don’t care about The Karate Kid, well you don’t care about this project. If you did like The Karate Kid and you haven’t heard of Cobra Kai, you should definitely check it out. I worked on Season 2, so I’m excited about that. As far as projects with my business, which I’m assuming that your audience would be more interested in, the two big projects that I’m working on now are number one, over the last year I’ve been building and expanding my private coaching practice. So, I work specifically with creatives that are struggling with either trying to find a specific path to transition or move forward in their career or they just can’t figure out how to balance their life with their career. So, it’s more about finding work-life balance and changing longer term lifestyle habits. So, I’ve been building out that coaching program and all of the lessons in the curriculum that I’m using with those private students is becoming a self-contained online course, which is called Focus Yourself – which is specifically for creative people that just can’t figure out, ‘How do I balance intense creative work with managing real life and managing things at home? I’ve got a big project and I just procrastinate all the time, and I get sucked into social media and email. And at the end of the week, I feel like I’ve got nothing done but I’m exhausted.’ I teach people step-by-step how I can build the habits and systems in place to focus and get stuff done. So, that’s the big project that I have going on at the moment.

Sharlene: Cool. And where can people find you?

Zack: Sure. So, my website is optimizeyourself.me. I have a whole slew of free guides, but I think that the most useful guide for this audience would be my Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity and that walks through various steps as it pertains to movement, as it pertains to diet, as it pertains to productivity, strategies and as it pertains to sleep – all these things that, in my mind, help prevent entrepreneur or creative burnout. It’s basically a 60-page guide to get people started that really have never dove, jumped into the world of how do I actually improve myself and optimize some of these functions. So, if they want to download that for free, they can just go to optimizeyourself.me/ultimateguide.

Sharlene: Great. Thank you so much, Zack.

Zack: Thank you. This has been a pleasure. Once again, I appreciate the opportunity.

Thank you for sharing your time with me and listening to LIFT. If this episode resonated with you, I’d appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a review. That way, more people can discover this resource, and together, we can accelerate good change in the world. Thanks so much. Until next time.

008 – Build Long-Term Habits with Craig Kulyk

In this episode, I chat with Craig Kulyk, creator of the blog, The Morning Effect. Craig shares why meditation can be fun and some tips on how to build long-term habits.

Overview
[00:00:58] Mission and vision
[00:02:59] “Habitual unconsciousness”
[00:04:20] Deep dive into meditation
[00:10:07] Building self-awareness
[00:12:18] Cues and habits
[00:16:24] More tips
[00:21:54] Craig’s morning routine
[00:25:09] Preventing overwhelm

Resources mentioned:
themorningeffect.com
127 Morning Rituals – The Ultimate List to Customize Your Morning Routine 
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Note: Some of the resources above may be affiliate links, meaning I’d get a commission if you use that link to make a purchase (at no cost to you).

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to LIFT, a podcast for you – the entrepreneur, the leader, the creative – who leads change with heart. If you don’t have it all together, you’re in the right place. I’m your host, Sharlene Sobrepeña.

In today’s episode, I chat with Craig Kulyk, creator of the blog, The Morning Effect. We talk about what he calls “habitual unconsciousness”, why meditation can be an adventure, and how we can make it easier for ourselves when it comes to habits. My biggest takeaway is the idea that meditation can be fun. I’ve read all about its many benefits, and yet, that somehow wasn’t enough for me. But once in a while it can be…trippy? What?! Okay, now you’ve got my attention. Let’s get to it. 

Sharlene:  I’d like to start off with two big questions. What’s your mission with your work and what’s your vision for the world?

Craig: Woah, those are very heavy questions to start. 

Sharlene:  Heavy, I like to start heavy. 

Craig: My mission for my work – I definitely usually don’t lead with this, but I’d say it is centered around awareness and helping other people to increasingly become more aware of their habits, their thoughts, their behaviors and, ultimately, to use that awareness to make change. And one of the biggest things that I found in my journey is that mornings can play a huge role in this and once I was able to really solidify my mornings, I was able to see change everywhere else in my life. And one of the big things about this is that when you start your day and you feel in control, that has a huge impact in developing the awareness through your thoughts and your habits. By starting in the morning, it acts as a bit of a training period for the rest of your day. So, if you can do that for the first 30 minutes of your day, you can even do that in other time periods of your day and it slowly starts to filter out into other areas of your life. That will be my mission, to answer your first question. And the second question, my vision, my vision for the world – an even bigger question. That’s a really hard one, and to be honest, I’m going to struggle with this question a lot because I’m driven a lot more by my mission than my vision. I think that I have a personal vision of where I want to go but there’s so many factors and variables that are beyond my control. So, I really try to stick to my mission and see where that will guide me towards a vision for the world. But I think that doing this work of increasing my own awareness, building good habits and helping other people to do that, things will unfold in a way that will serve great benefit to other people. 

Sharlene:  That’s fair. I like it. So, are you saying that a lot of people aren’t aware, in your observation?

Craig: I think we are naturally not aware. So, until you start to pay more and more attention, which is why meditation is becoming more and more popular, we’re all operating in a state of some sort of habitual unconsciousness. And a lot of this is done so that we can do things more easily. Our brain – it automates certain processes so that we don’t have to use that capacity to think about those things. And that is a huge benefit. Unfortunately, I think we live in a day and an age where it’s just become very common to fall to those habituations and a lot of this, we see with the addictions that we have to technology and the addictions that we have to compulsively checking something related to technology – if that’s email or Facebook or news. All of that is done because of unconscious behavior. So, I think there are a lot of us that are unaware and I think that there’s different levels of it too; that there’s always increasingly more awareness that you can get which is what makes it kind of fun. It’s a bit of a game. You’re like, ‘Oh, okay, just kind of falling into my unconscious state there and reacting out of emotional habit or an emotional pattern, as opposed to really being aware of what’s happening and why I’m acting a certain way.’

Sharlene: I like that you referred to it as a game. It’s almost like curiosity plays a part in it. 

Craig: Absolutely. I’d say, linking this to meditation which has also been sort of in lockstep with my morning changes, was discovering meditation and getting deeper and deeper into it. One of the things that I love about it is that from the outside, it just seems really boring. It seems like, why would you do that? Why would you just sit there and do nothing? And for someone who hasn’t meditated, it’s beyond even the concept of why would you take some time, why would you take days or a week out of your life to just sit and do nothing? But, as you go deeper into the practice of meditating, you start to realize that it’s the farthest thing from boring. Your mind is constantly doing things and going in different directions and you’re really going on a journey. You’re going on this trip into the mind and it’s kind of like backpacking. You’re going on a trip and you’re having these adventures and meeting all these people. You’re doing that and watching your own mind do all these things it does and really start to see how your mind works and how a lot of the things that you may have thought to be true before actually aren’t true. And so, there’s so much to discover in that space, that to me, it is a bit like a game. It’s like, ‘Ooh, what am I going to discover this time?’

Sharlene: So, you said something about you discovered things that aren’t true. Do you have a story about that or an example? 

Craig: Wow, we’re really deep, really quick on this, I guess. I mean, I guess maybe a simpler example to ease into it is that, kind of what we talked about before, thinking that we are aware of certain things that we’re not. I used to not think that I had any addiction to email or social media and I realized that I, in fact, did because if I’m sitting and meditating and thinking about, ‘I wonder what’s happening in my email?’ And then, as soon as I would leave meditation – when something would happen in my life that was putting me into a state that was either annoyed or irritated or angry or frustrated – I would go to check email. I would notice that when I would check email and there wouldn’t be something there or I’d check social media and see if there’s a message or something, if there wasn’t something there, I’d feel just this negative sinking feeling that would come from that. So, just kind of taking the meditation practice and starting to integrate it into my life, is when I started to see all these different examples of how I wasn’t as aware as I thought. 

Sharlene: Thanks for sharing that. So, you mentioned that meditating is like going on a trip. So, speaking of trips, I’ve heard that you can see some really weird things during meditation. Have you seen any crazy things? I’m curious. 

Craig: Well, I did attend a nine day meditation retreat in the summer. I did have some pretty wild experiences there, not really so much in the visuals, but more so in my body. So, there was this one experience where I was sitting with my eyes closed and was kind of just trying to see if I could find a self. If there’s self, where is that sense of self and was just doing a meditation on that and getting just deeper into the meditation and noticing a thought and noticing a sound, and noticing different things that were arising. And after a while, my body – below my neck, I guess – my body just felt like tingling and sensations and energy. I couldn’t really make out where my arms were, where my legs were. It just felt like I was like a blob of sensations. And I was trying to think how my hands were placed and I usually sit, when I mediate, with my palms facing up. So, I thought, okay my palms are probably facing up. That makes the most sense. But as I was sitting there trying to feel it, I was like, well I can’t actually tell if that is true or not. And so, I thought, maybe they’re faced down. And I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that actually feels like that’s probably right.’ And then I had this weird thought of, ‘Well, maybe the thumbs are on the other sides, where they’re not supposed to be, like these weird inverted hands. And that just made no sense, but it felt like that could be equally true in my body. And so, I sat with this for another ten minutes and then the bell ended up ringing. And when I opened my eyes to look, my hands were clasped together the whole time. So, that just blew my mind. I was like, ‘Whoa, I can’t believe that.’ I had no idea how my body was positioned. So, there can be experiences like that. And there were some other experiences that I had that just – when you get deeper and deeper into the meditative state, things start to really slow down. And you go deeper into levels of thoughts, and it gets harder because different thoughts come up that are more challenging, maybe related to some shit you’ve had happen to your life or some long-time struggles, or even past traumas can come up. So, it’s not like a peachy, wonderful time all the time. It’s really difficult work and I even describe it as intensive therapy in that kind of a space. So, there’s a lot to it. And when you start to quiet down, it just seems like there’s almost nothing that’s happening, like I was in the forest and everything’s moving very slowly. But it started to feel like there’s just so much that’s actually happening because everything’s so slowed down and your sensations are quite attuned to everything that’s happening. So, it’s just really fascinating. 

Sharlene: That’s interesting. I didn’t know meditation could be like that. So, I am going to start meditating. So, back to self-awareness; how do we start building self-awareness if that’s something that we’ve never thought about before? How would you get started?

Craig: There are lots of ways that you can develop self-awareness and I would say pick something that you would be interested in doing, that would be fun or it just is something that you would see value in. And these are things that I talk about on my blog about different morning rituals that you can do, because I think the morning is a great time to do these kinds of practices. So, one of them might be journaling. A lot of people like to journal. Or even if you don’t want to write a long form journal or paragraphs, you can just write point form. What are you thinking about? What’s your mood? So, that’s one way. Another way – obviously – meditation, is great for this. Other options, which this is not necessarily a morning ritual, but therapy – having someone else that you’re just talking to, asking you questions and you’re kind of working things through as a way to be self-reflective. And then also, just taking time to actually be self-reflective and that doesn’t have to be with a therapist, but that can just be thinking about where you are at in your life, thinking about what kind of things you typically think about. It’s just really developing the meta awareness of what are your habits of mind, because we all know we have habits that we have with our daily lives, which are often the habits of our conditioning or our body. And really what self-awareness training of any kind is just helping you to develop different habits of mind. So, you can notice certain thought patterns and interrupt those thought patterns or not. Sometimes, you can’t even interrupt them but you can at least see them and you can understand when you’re in a state that is causing you some sort of suffering in some way. With that increased awareness, it helps you to develop other ways that you can cope or change that, or somehow alter those habits so they’re not always the same thing. And one thing that I actually recommend with people that I have worked with or even just on my blog – it’s a blog post – it’s like, what is the first thing you think about in the morning? Just practice that, so every single day, wake up and notice your first thought and it’s really hard – really, really hard. You’re going to forget to do this and you’ll be like, ‘Ah crap, I’m thinking for five minutes.’ But if you would put a piece of paper and your pen next to your bed, you could actually just – that could be the cue to remind you, ‘Oh, I need to think about what my first thought is’ and write it down and do that for a week. And then, after that, when you notice your first thought, decide what your next thought’s going to be. This could be something that is – the questions you asked in the beginning like, ‘What’s your mission?’, ‘What’s your vision?’ – very big picture stuff. Or you can decide to think of something you’re grateful for. You can change the narrative of what you’re thinking about and when you start to really pay attention to what it is that you naturally think about because most people, most of the time, most of us are lost in thought and it’s not until you actually develop practices to not be lost in thought that you can start to see what you’re thinking about and then change what you’re thinking about. 

Sharlene: So, you mentioned cues. How important are cues to developing new habits?

Craig:  Well, cues are the first step in how habits form. So, this was work that first Charles Duhigg put forward in The Power of Habit. And then James Clear and his most recent book, Atomic Habits, built off of that and they’re both fantastic books and I’d highly recommend them. But every habit essentially starts with some cue. That cue could be, and often is, something that’s in our external environment. So, you see a cookie and you’re like, oh I want to eat that cookie so you can go and eat the cookie which is often what I do when I see cookies. And then there are other cues that also can be related to your environment from other people. So, you see someone else who is eating chips and all of a sudden, you want to eat chips, right? Those are very common cues for us. And then there’s also cues that can be internal. So, you might just randomly have a thought that comes to you. And the more that you start to become self-aware, and especially through something like meditation, you start to see that the thoughts actually aren’t as random as you thought they were. It becomes less and less random as you can start to see the association of where that thought might have come from. So, there can be internal triggers and sometimes even triggers from our biology. You might just start to feel sleepy and so, that triggers you to thinking about getting ready to go to bed. So, everything starts with a cue and that’s a really important piece to know how we are influenced because if you can catch the cue, then you can start to really alter the path of what comes next in that chain. 

Sharlene:  And you can create a cue, as you mentioned, because you said something like setting out a piece of paper and pen. So, you’re setting yourself up. 

Craig: Yes, absolutely. This is a great way to build habits, is you want to set cues that are going to make it easier for you to do the habit that you want to be doing. This is something I talk a lot with evening routines. What are you doing in the evening to make your morning a lot easier? And what are some just really, easy simple things that you can do because most people don’t go to bed without brushing their teeth. Everyone pretty much brushes their teeth and then goes to bed. That’s just something we have habituated over the course of our lives. And so, there are other things you can also habituate like, ‘Oh, I’m going to settle my clothes for the next day so I don’t have to decide what I’m going to wear. I can easily just grab them and put them on.’ Or, ‘I’m going to fill up a glass of water and put that out on the counter so that there’s water there. It reminds me to drink water’…‘I’m going to make my lunch the day before.’ Lots of little things that you can do that will help you ensure that you have the habits that you want to have because we are all naturally pretty lazy when it comes to having to do things that are difficult, especially when we’re in a state that is – we’re tired or we’re resisting it. The easier that you can make it to do, especially in the beginning when you’re developing the habits, the more likely you’re going to do it and that’s going to reinforce doing the habit the next time. And that becomes easier the more and more that you do it, which is why we know of people who relinquish bad habits, like quitting smoking. It’s really hard to quit smoking the first day, and the second day, and the third day and the first week. But it gets easier. After years of doing it, you really don’t crave it much anymore. You might once in a while get a craving, but it’s quite rare. So, it’s just a process that you have to invest in and keep reinvesting in. 

Sharlene:  So, do you have any other tips, other than giving yourself cues to create new habits?

Craig:  Well, lots of tips and full of tips – specifically for creating habits?

Sharlene:  Sure. Yup. 

Craig:  Okay. I mean, I would say first thing is read James Clear’s book Atomic Habits – so good. He just really nails all these different ways that you can do this. So, other than making it easy, which is what we’re talking about, he talks about making it rewarding. So, what’s something that you could do that’s going to be enjoyable for you? This is the idea that if you hate going to the gym, don’t go to the gym. Find exercise that you’re going to enjoy doing. And one thing that I like to do often is pairing different activities – so, something I really like to do or something that I have to do but I don’t really want to do. So, doing the dishes or cooking – once I start cooking, I like it, but I resist starting it. So, if I think, ‘Well, okay, I’m going to listen to a podcast while I cook tonight’, then I’m way more excited to actually do that and way more likely to do it. Pairing something you love with something you’re resisting a little bit works really well. And other tips for building habits… starting really small is important and setting the bar very, very low. And also developing some flexibility around, ‘It’s not all or none.’ You don’t have to be always going to the gym every day or always waking up at the same time every single day. Of course, you want to develop habits where you have consistency, but you also want to develop the flexibility for the interruptions that are ultimately going to happen in your life. Talking about mornings, you’re not always going to be at home. You’re going to be traveling sometimes or you’re going to have to catch an early flight, or someone’s going to come stay at your house, or you’re going to get sick, there’s going to be a snow day. There’s just so many things that can come up that are going to interrupt your life, so it’s developing rhythms and flexibility for those times and not beating yourself up so much when you do have to scale down or adjust in some way. So yeah, those are a few more tips for you. 

Sharlene:  So, in regards to morning habits – so what you’re talking about is just having a more flexible mindset towards a morning habit rather than it being a rigid thing? 

Craig: Yeah. You want to have some rhythms. You want to have some structures in place, so that you can have that consistency. But I think one of the biggest challenges that people have is that they have this expectation that they have to be batting 100% all the time. And as soon as that something interrupts it, then it’s all or none. It’s like, ‘Well, I might as well just not do anything because what’s the point?’ And then that just feeds into doing the habits that you don’t want to be doing, which then feeds into the feelings of guilt and shame, which feeds into doing bad habits that you don’t want to be doing because that’s what you think is going to make you feel better at the time. So, it becomes this downward spiral. A big piece of it is just developing a sense of self-compassion and understanding what are reasonable interruptions and what are times when you really need to maybe push yourself a little bit to keep that momentum up. So, it’s a tricky thing. It took me years to really develop my own rhythms and systems where I can be totally comfortable in all those different situations. It doesn’t have to take that long though. I’ve just released a course. It’s in beta right now but there’s 13 people that are going through it and it’s six weeks to go from procrastination and frustration, to being productive and consistent with your morning routines. It hasn’t really surprised me how quickly people have made progress and they’re really developing those structures to be flexible. We’re just starting week four right now. I’ve been able to condense all the stuff that I’ve been learning over six or seven years, and put that into a framework for them to follow which has made it a lot easier. But if you’re trying to figure out on your own –  it’s just like if you’re starting your own business, there’s so much stuff that you’ve got to figure out and there’s always things that are going to happen that you are not anticipating. You have to learn a lot along the way and try and fail. So, having someone that can help you and teach you along the way is what I’m learning – this is my biggest lesson this year – I need to invest more in getting help from people who have walked the path that I want to walk because it just takes too much time when you’re trying to figure everything out on your own. 

Sharlene: I learned that lesson too. 

Craig: Yeah. It’s a hard lesson to learn too. Because if we’re not used to – a lot of us aren’t used to paying for things like that, paying for investing in ourselves. And as soon as I did, it was like, ‘Whoa’ ‘and with meditation too actually, that was where it finally hit me. It was when I listened to some meditation instructors and teachers who when they told their stories about their experience with meditation. And when they finally found a teacher who was just a really good teacher, how quickly they evolved and the growth that they experienced in such a short amount of time. And it made me realize, ‘Okay, yeah, this is why athletes have coaches. This is why business coaches exist.’ And it makes a lot of sense. And so I’ve now converted to being a purchaser of those products and selling something that, I think, I’m seeing can help people to really expedite that process. 

Sharlene:  So, what’s in your morning routine? And have you always been a morning person?

Craig:  I’ll answer the second question first. I have definitely not always been a morning person. The furthest thing from it. I’ve resisted mornings at all costs and when I had the opportunity to sleep in, I would sleep until 8, 8:30, 9 and when I had to get up, I would wake up at the last possible second and then just run around the house like it was a fire drill and trying to get everything together. So, this has been an evolution. My sister still can’t believe it because she used to be the one who would drag me out of bed when we were younger because we had to go to school. So, I haven’t always been a morning person and what was the other question, sorry?

Sharlene: What’s your morning routine?

Craig: Right, of course. What’s my morning routine? Well, I’ve tried a lot of different morning rituals. I’ve tried over a hundred of them and I have a post on my blog, “127 Morning Rituals: The Ultimate List to Customize Your Morning Routine”. I like to change things up and that doesn’t mean I’m changing things up all the time. It means that I’ll go through periods where I’ll experiment with some things and maybe try something new for a little bit, and see if that works. And then try something new for a little bit after that. But the main pieces now which have really stood the test of time are – I keep saying it – meditation (surprise, surprise), some sort of movement (so stretching in some way). Reading is something that I just love doing and I’ve read so many books from reading just 20 minutes, 30 minutes in the morning. I read probably about 45, 50 books in the past two years, two and a half years or so. And before that, I read five books in ten years, so it was a huge jump. And other things, little things, like making my bed and I cross the day off my calendar and just think about the previous day. I think of one thing I’m grateful for. I write down one thing I’m grateful for. These are kind of small win kind of practices that, for me, a lot of it is coming back full circle to where we started this conversation, is about awareness and trying to evolve that insight so that I can just gain a better understanding of not just myself, but how am I showing up in my life and how am I helping other people. One thing that I think people think about in terms of meditation or even other self-awareness practices is that it appears to be selfish, when it’s actually the opposite of that. The reason that you do it is that you’re not such an asshole, so you’re showing up better in your relationships with other people and you’re being more considerate, and you’re being more compassionate, and you’re being more mindful. For me, that’s the drive. It’s not this, ‘I want to grow.’ It’s not all personal development and growth. There’s a quote, “Growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of a cancer cell.” And I think that’s true. You shouldn’t be just trying to grow because of your ego. This is the counter to that. I’m trying to grow so that I can give more to other people and make a contribution, and just develop that wisdom that comes with having or living an examined life. 

Sharlene: I like that. So, you’ve tried over 100 different habits. How can we prevent feeling overwhelmed?

Craig:  Yeah. I mean, don’t try to implement 100 morning habits. This is over the course of seven years, probably. Starts small. Start really, really small. I mean, I started with the first three habits. One of them was flossing because my dental hygienist was telling me that I needed to do that and I just didn’t want to hear that the next time I went and feel the bleeding in my mouth because it was awful. That was one of my motivators and I started literally flossing, ‘I’m going to do one tooth.’ The next day I did two teeth. We hear that all the time, but I actually did it and it totally works. It got me to just get into the habit because it’d hurt when I would floss when I started. So, start very, very small and just get some momentum going. This is a long-term game. It’s a compounding effect and you’re not trying to get to 100 rituals. That’s definitely not the goal. That wasn’t my goal. It just happened over time when I started small and built on top, built on top, and was curious. A lot of these rituals, I tried for a few days. This is not like I developed the habits for them. It was like, ‘Eh, that one’s okay, it’s not really fitting for me right now’ or ‘I don’t want to do this at this time of the day, or at this time of the day or this time of my life right now,’ ‘This doesn’t make sense for me.’ Yeah, in a nutshell, start small. 

Sharlene:  Cool. Thanks. I think I want to end that here. Do you want to talk more about where people can find you?

Craig: Sure. The best place is to go to the blog. It’s themorningeffect.com. You can find a bunch of information there. There’s blog posts and if you’re interested in signing up to my email list, you get a guide book called 5 Simple Strategies to Customize Your Morning Routine and you also get the PDF version of the 127 Morning Rituals, although you don’t need to sign up to see the 127 rituals. That’s a blog post. 

Sharlene: Cool. Thank you so much, Craig. 

Craig: Thanks, Sharlene. 

Thank you for sharing your time with me and listening to LIFT. If this episode resonated with you, I’d appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a review. That way, more people can discover this resource, and together, we can accelerate good change in the world. Thanks so much. Until next time.

007 – How to Laugh at Fear with Marty Wilson

In this episode, I chat with Marty Wilson, an award-winning comedian, speaker, and author. Marty shares his thoughts on why we fear change and some tips on how to laugh at fear.

Overview
[00:00:52] Mission and vision
[00:04:44] Hardwired to fear
[00:07:04] Consequence of giving into fear
[00:09:59] Laugh at fear
[00:17:24] “But I’m not funny”
[00:20:57] Empathy during times of change
[00:26:26] Face your stuff
[00:30:04] ROI of soft skills

Resources mentioned:
morefunnymoremoney.com
martinwilson.com
Marty’s Twitter
Marty’s Facebook
What I Wish I Knew series
Take Funny Seriously (Marty’s TEDx Talk)
Pursuit of Happiness (Barbara Fredrickson)
More Funny, More Money

Note: Some of the resources above may be affiliate links, meaning I’d get a commission if you use that link to make a purchase (at no cost to you).

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to LIFT, a podcast for you – the entrepreneur, the leader, the creative – who leads change with heart. If you don’t have it all together, you’re in the right place. I’m your host, Sharlene Sobrepeña.

In today’s episode, I chat with Marty Wilson, an author, award-winning comedian, and change management speaker. We talk about why many people are afraid of change, the consequences of giving into our fears, and how to laugh at fear. My biggest takeaway is that we become better problem solvers after a good laugh. Let’s get to it!

Sharlene: So, to start the interview off, I’d like to ask you a couple of big questions.

Marty: Sure.

Sharlene: Ready? Number one, what is your mission with your work and what is your vision for the world?

Marty: Wow, okay. The mission for my work can probably be summed up by – so many of us have this little voice that pops into our head at two o’clock in the morning, when something wakes us up and we’re lying there in bed. And they have a little voice that says, ‘Why don’t you try doing this’, ‘You’ve always wanted to do that’, ‘You know you’d love to have a go at it’. Then, we wake up in the morning and the day happens and we forget about it because it’s a little bit scary, so we run away from it. And then later on, two nights later, five nights later, a month later, we get woken up in the nighttime again and that little voice says, ‘Hey, it’s me again. Remember I suggested that you have a go at this? Why don’t you have a crack at that? You’ve always wanted to try this’. And most people let busyness ignore that. Let busyness help them put aside that thing because they’re really a bit scared of it. And the thing that I really love, because I have a keynote called “Change Without Fear” – that is my main, sort of signature keynote that I do when I speak at conferences – and the main thing I love when people come up to me afterwards is say, “Look, I heard you two years ago. And I started doing this, and now I’m a full-timer doing that. And I absolutely love my life.” So, that’s probably the biggest thing that I really want when people see me, is just, they listen to that little voice because I’ve got a book series out there called “What I Wish I knew”, where I ask people if you could go back and give your younger self one bit of advice about whatever that book’s about – there’s one on depression, there’s one on motherhood, there’s one on love, there’s one on health and fitness. And when you ask that many people, over a thousand people I’ve asked for that book series now – “How to do life well” – the idea of sitting on my 80th birthday, I want to look back on my life and say, ‘You know what? I listened to that voice all my life. I had a crack. I lived a slightly larger life than some of the people I knew because I let that little voice guide me and I didn’t let fear get in the way.’ So that’s what my work, when I do my keynotes and my workshops and that sort of thing, is all about. And I guess my vision for the world in these troubled times, when we have so many voices around us that, for wanting to direct our attention –  everything from Facebook to the media, to all these things where they’re all desperately vying for our attention and their business. Facebook has thousands of engineers whose job it is to write code to get and keep our attention. And they know all these – Google and Facebook, and everything, from the various news outlets and everything – they know one of the biggest things that gets people’s attention is fear. And so, we have fear pumped at as again and again and again. I guess if my work has any lasting impact, it would be that we learn how to get through that fear that we’re constantly bombarded with from all around the world and all of our sensory inputs, and instead, listen to our deeper values and our deeper intuition. So, if I can play some little role in encouraging the world to be a bit more fearless and a bit less driven by instincts, and scripting and that sort of stuff. And I would be really, really happy.

Sharlene: Thank you for sharing.

Marty: No problem.

Sharlene: So, what holds people back? Why are many people scared of change, for instance? I know you’ve studied change a lot. A lot of your talks revolve around change. What have you learned?

Marty: It basically comes down to our evolution. Your brain and my brain, our brains evolved to cope with life about 10-20,000 years ago. Our civilization has evolved so fast that our brains haven’t been able to evolve fast enough. The pace of life is pretty slow. The pace of change in life is pretty slow 10-20,000 years ago. And basically, your brain evolved to keep your physical body alive long enough for you to find a partner, have kids pass on your genes; and that’s it. Your brain evolved to keep you withdrawing from things that it found to be different because they might be a threat long enough for you to pass on your genes. That’s why the human race became so dominant on the planet, because our brains got really good at that. We got really good at keeping our physical body safe long enough – other stuff as well, obviously, but the whole thing about living in communities works really well – but the main thing is, your brain evolved to keep your physical body alive long enough to pass on your kids. Now, 10-20,000 years ago, that was a really great survival mechanism. But now, it just makes you live a smaller life because all the things that you perceive to be different are things where you’re really just out of your comfort zone. Your physical safety isn’t at risk anymore. It’s more just, at the job you’re at they’ve asked you to take on a new role that you have never tried before. And so that brings about a bit of anxiety and you withdraw from, going, ‘Ohhh no.’ Or that little voice that I talked about before, at 2am, is asking you to be an entrepreneur – I know a lot of your audience they’re entrepreneurs and creative people – asking you to. ‘Go and launch your business. Try this new idea that you’ve always had.’ And your brain is hardwired to make that really hard for you, to make you really scared of that. And so, we end up just living a smaller life because of these impulses that are buried in that really old part of our brain that just aren’t relevant in modern society anymore. And that’s such a shame.

Sharlene: What are the consequences of holding on to our fears?

Marty: Scientists have worked out that, psychologists have worked out that when we’re scared, and this is particularly appropriate for creative people – I know a lot of your audience are creative people – when you’re scared or when you are overwhelmed in any way, when you’re feeling a little bit too much stress – not that good stress when you’re a bit challenged that they call eustress, but feeling a bit overwhelmed, then our brains very quickly flick back into what worked before to make me feel comfortable, what worked before to make me feel safe. And so, for those in the creative industries listening to this – I was an advertising copywriter for about four or five years and you got to know in the industry down here in Australia, very quickly, you’re going to see, ‘Yeah that’s a Dave Droga ad, that’s a Dan Gregory ad.’ These guys, they have ads that sort of fit with their personality. And in creative fields, if you feel overwhelmed, you’ve got too many things on at the same time, your brain very quickly clicks back into, ‘How did I solve this problem last time?,’ just to get that stress out of your system very quickly. And that is not a great way to be a creative or to be an entrepreneur because when you’re trying to make a living from thinking about new ways to do things, whether it’d be a creative or whether it’d be an entrepreneur, so trying to solve a technological problem or a business problem or something like that, quite often the best solution is one that isn’t how it’s ever been done before, if that makes sense. And the other thing it does is when we’re fearful, it also makes us be terrified of making mistakes. It makes us be terrified of other people’s judgment of our work. And so, we end up not wanting to put ourselves and our creative output, or our business output for entrepreneurs, out there for judgment. Whereas, if you speak to all the successful entrepreneurs, if they talk about if your business idea was perfect then you waited too long to launch it. You should launch it and then very quickly get feedback from the market, work out where it’s absolute rubbish, then put out a version 2.0, then a version 3.0, then a version 4.0. So, the way to be a successful creative and a successful entrepreneur is to keep shipping it and let the market give you feedback rather than keep it down in your basement and keep tinkering away until you think it’s perfect, and then ship it because the market will give you very quick feedback that it’s not, anyway. So, when we’re fearful, we revert back to what worked last time to get me through this stressful time and also makes us very terrified of mistakes, which are two things that are really not great when you’re trying to be a successful entrepreneur or a successful creative.

Sharlene: What are some ways we can quiet our fear?

Marty: There’s my favorite – and there are things like meditation and that sort of thing which I’m happy to talk about for ages. I was very lucky that an old boss paid for anyone who wanted to, in the advertising agency, to learn mediation when I was 28, and it made such a massive difference to my life. But my favorite one – so, I’m a former Australian Comic of the Year. I was a standup comic in the U.K. for eight years. My favorite one is humor. My favorite way of laughing at stress, my favorite way of laughing at fear – of getting through fear and getting through particularly a fear of change – is to laugh at it, make fun of it. And the great thing is that there are oodles and oodles, 25 years of scientific research based on this. My TEDx Talk is all about, “Take Funny Seriously”, where I talk about the scientific evidence behind deliberately choosing to laugh at things that are stressing you out. So, if you deliberately choose to laugh at your stressors, it’s like it flicks a switch in the back of your head that says to your brain, ‘I must be bigger than that if I can laugh at it. If I can make fun of this thing, I must have control over it’. And so, reading through some of the scientific evidence, laughing at your fears helps you reappraise threats and reduce stress. It increases your personal resilience. It facilitates psychological wellbeing and gives you greater positive affect. That’s the psychological term just for happier and more cheerful. And who doesn’t want that, particularly through times of change? And so, partly just, it floods your brain with feel-good neurotransmitters. Having a good old laugh, deliberately choosing to laugh, makes you feel really good. And that gets rid of the cortisol floating around in your body and makes your body feel good and literally lightens your load. But the other part of it is that when, quite often when somebody tells you a joke, there’s a little puzzle wrapped up inside the joke where you have to work out what you thought was happening in the joke actually isn’t happening and – I’m really stuck. I’m trying to think of a joke off the top of my head now and I can’t think of a joke to explain what I mean – quite often, jokes are about misdirection. The setup for the joke makes you think that this is happening, but then when you hear the punch line, you’re like, ‘Haha, that wasn’t actually what was happening at all.’ And so, your brain has to solve a little puzzle to get the joke. When you do that, different parts of your brain fire up. There’s the logic centers in your brain, there’s the language centers in your brain. If it involves a story, there’s the imagination centers, where you create the images of what’s going on in the story in your brain. So, different parts of your brain fire up and that actually encourages your brain to realize there are lots of different ways to solve a problem. There’s actually a wonderful study done by Barbara Fredrickson, who’s one of the founders of Positive Psychology and she got people to solve a problem. Half the group, she got to solve the problem just cold and the other half, she got them to watch two episodes of a comedy show. I think it was Seinfeld, on TV. This was a while ago. And the people who watched the comedy show first were twice as likely to solve the problem. Just getting your brain to deliberately choose to laugh, it actually makes you far greater at problem solving, which now again coming back to your audience of entrepreneurs and creatives, is a wonderful skill to have. It gets you out of fear mode, where I was saying before about gets you into, ‘What worked last time that made me feel safe? What worked last time to solve this problem?’ Deliberately choosing to laugh, deliberately creating funny moments or deliberately watching something that you know will make you laugh helps you solve problems.

Sharlene: How do we laugh at fear when – say we’re in a professional setting and you have to deal with this problem, and we just can’t think of something that will make us laugh. It just seems so counterintuitive, is what I’m saying. Do you have any tips?

Marty: Yeah. Quite often, because I train speakers and train business people to use humor in their business, in their business presentations. I’ve got this book out there called “More Funny, More Money” because – see how I casually slide a little plug into your podcast like the selfish mongrel that I am – and one of the things that I talk about in that, is that one of the things people get wrong in the corporate sense is the targets of the laughter. Quite often, people come into work and they hear that being funny when you’re presenting your work is really great. So, they get up there and make fun of their boss or they make fun of the people below them in the room, or they make fun of a client who happens to be sitting in the room. When you’re trying to bring about humor in a situation at work, there are three targets you can always use to create humor and everyone will always find it okay to laugh at. One is shared frustrations; so, for example, if you’re in an industry that is highly regulated, you can make fun of the regulations in your industry. Common enemies; so, for example, you can make fun of the commute to work. You can make fun of the software that was used to organize the meeting. So, things that people in the room would also find frustrating. But the last thing, of course, is make fun of yourself. You can always make fun of yourself, but the one caveat from that is, don’t make fun of your abilities to do the job you’re in that room to do. So, if you’re an accountant, you don’t go, ‘Oh, geez I’m hopeless with numbers, mate’, and that sort of thing. Make fun of yourself as a dad. Make fun of yourself as a mom. Make fun of yourself as a commuter. Make fun of yourself as a member of a group that people in that room are also members of, if that makes sense. So, make fun of things, make fun of yourself as something that people in the room will relate to. That’s how you can deliberately choose to create a bit of humor. Or search on the Internet. Say you’re talking with Toyota about trying to sell them about something, an advertising campaign or a new entrepreneurial solution or some software, or something like that – search the Internet for funny car videos and see if there’s any videos that you can play at the start of your presentation, car industry bloopers or car bloopers, or car epic fail – and have a think about that. Have a think about how – you don’t even have to create the humor. As long as it’s sort of slightly targeted to the meeting or the situation you are in, you can just tap into some of the stuff that’s already out there. Does that make sense?

Sharlene: What if we’re not naturally funny?

Marty: I have a theory. Firstly, you can use some of the videos that I talked about. There’s even memes. If you’re doing a slideshow in a meeting, you can bring up some memes that are related to the emotions in that room. If it’s a stressful situation or just search for stress memes, or something like that on the Internet and use some photos like that. And then find some videos like that, stressful situations on YouTube and pull up something like that, ‘Who in the room is feeling like this?’, and just show some of that sort of stuff. People say that they’re not naturally funny, but I have a theory that everyone has two or three people in their life that they are naturally funny in front of. But some people are so confronted by the idea of trying to be funny in the workplace, that they shut that down. And they’re so terrified of just having a go that they shut those natural thoughts that come up in their brain when they’re with their bestie or their mom, or their sister or someone in their life they are open to having a bit of a joke with, then they shut that down. But I would suggest – and research backs this up – that even just having a go at lightening the situation is incredibly charismatic. There’s a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, you go on eHarmony or RSVP, or those online websites. What’s the one thing that everybody says their perspective partner simply must have? The thing that everybody says their perspective partner must have is GSOH – good sense of humor. So, firstly we need to accept that we really do all like a bit of funny. But sometimes, these barriers come down and we think we shouldn’t in the workplace, so we don’t. But, the reason that everybody says – psychologists discovered that the reason that everybody says – they would like to be with someone who has a good sense of humor, is that someone who laughs a lot and particularly someone who is okay with laughing at themselves, that is a real concrete indicator to me that that person is healthy psychologically, that they’ve got a fair bit of inner peace going on and they’re pretty comfortable in their own skin. So, straightaway, I know, like, and trust them. I feel comfortable in their presence. So, trying to make some humor in the workplace – as long as that humor has acceptable targets and you’re not trying to put somebody else down, you’re not trying to raise your status by putting other people down – then the study they did showed that, even if only 20% of the people in the room laugh, just hearing laughter in the room makes you more charismatic and makes your perceived leadership capabilities rise. So, people see you as more in control of the situation just because you had a go at trying to be funny. It doesn’t even matter if it really works. Just as long as you have a go and you’re the sort of person who, in a tense situation, you have the ability or the confidence to try and laugh, and try and make people laugh, to put them at their ease, that in itself is incredibly charismatic and worth trying.

Sharlene: So, you shared some techniques on how to use humor in, say, presentations and tense situations. How would we use humor in times of change?

Marty: Yeah. I guess probably the biggest thing that I always say when leaders leading people through times of change, the number one thing they can, and should, do really early on is show that they empathize with the people in the room’s natural fear. I have this quote I say, “Leading your people through new systems, new software, or new anything without addressing their fear of change is like painting over an unprepared wall. Soon, the cracks will appear.” Because you can’t train people who are terrified. There’s actually a couple of different pathways in our brain that when stimulus comes into our brain, there’s a part of our brain called the sensory thalamus that very quickly decides whether that stimulus indicates there is a threat around us or not. If it doesn’t, then it pumps it up to our prefrontal cortex, which is the thinking part of your brain behind your forehead. That’s where we consciously choose our responses. Whereas if the sensory thalamus decides that there is a threat, then it shoots it across to the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is a very old part of the brain that sends signals to the adrenal gland to start pumping out adrenaline and cortisol, and the whole “fight or flight” thing comes out. So, the first thing you need to do when you are leading people through change is to show them that you understand that they are scared, that, “This will be bringing up some fear for you. I totally get that and I empathize with that.” It’s terrible, isn’t it? That in 2019, we have to encourage leaders the benefits of empathizing. But I find when I’m talking with business leaders, that sometimes we really do. You have to understand that if you don’t help them through their fear first – because you know the people you are getting to bring about the change in your industry or the target that you are talking to, they’re people; people with hearts and minds, doubts and fears. They’re human beings whose brains have evolved to not like change. You need them to see that you understand and you’re going to help them through that. Indicate to them, “I understand that you’re scared and we are going to take steps to talk about that and work through that fear because we know that will help you adopt this change much better.” And so, showing them that you understand how they feel is such a powerful first step.

Sharlene: Have you seen the results of people applying this? Has anybody shared their stories with you?

Marty: Yeah, they have. I did some work with a big building company over here in Australia. And it’s funny how some of the things that people get really resistant to.  They were moving from everybody having their own desk and cubicles to going to hotdesking, when you come in you can sit anywhere or you’re at least within your department or your section, “You guys have that bit, we have this bit over here.” The resistance that we were getting from people because people like to have, a friend of mine calls it, “their own little shrine,” at their desk where they’ve got their kid’s photo, they’ve got their partner’s photo. They’ve got their own little waving cat, their lucky waving cat or those sorts of things. People have their own four or five little things and, “This is my space!” People were incredibly resistant to that. What I got them to do, I got them to reach out – because there was one particular section that were the most resistant. I got them to work with them, and get them to be the people who lead the change, who lead the change towards this and say to them, look we think you’re the most emotionally intelligent group of people. We want you – we’re going to work with you to help you get through your fears about this first. Then we want you to be the shining light that shows everybody else how fantastic the system can be. So, they did that and that worked incredibly well. And the other thing that I get people to do when I’m working with them through change is as quickly as you can, start rounding up stories of why the new situation is working better and disseminate those stories as early as you can. So, they’ve got the people who had been the most resistant to keep sending in emails, keep stopping the leadership in the corridor and saying, “Now we’ve got this working better. This is working much better now.” Getting people to share stories really early, of “Why the new situation is actually better for us,” is a really powerful thing to do, as well.

Sharlene: Do people have the tendency to default to past behaviors or are sharing stories enough to move them to the new behavior?

Marty: Anyone who has ever tried to wake up on New Year’s Eve and say, “This is the year. I’m getting healthy this year,” anyone who’s ever tried any type of behavior change, we’ve all stumbled and fallen. We’ve all reverted back to things that we’ve done. The psychological term for these things is avoidant coping strategies, they call it. So, when we feel something that we consider “bad” or “negative”, we tend to start doing something that will very quickly make us feel “good”. So, I’m talking about things like eating, drinking, smoking, shopping, sex, gambling, Facebook-ing; any sort of getting at your phone and reading the headlines on your phone or that sort of stuff, or browsing Facebook or Instagram, or getting on LinkedIn seeing if there’s someone you can see. That’s probably my biggest vice, because I’m on social media a fair bit for my job, I kid myself that I really need to do it for my business. But what I’m really doing is, maybe I’ve got a deadline for an article or something like that and I haven’t quite polished it up enough. And so, that feeling of tension of not having finished is a feeling my brain sees as “bad”. So, I very quickly, ‘Oh I better check my Facebook, better check my LinkedIn and see if someone’s contact me,’ or something like that. So, these things called avoidant coping strategies are something that all our brains do to avoid that fear of change. They’re something so we go away and quickly try and do something. The really bad thing about that is that these things don’t solve the problem in the first place and when left to their own devices, can actually build up their own problems. I’m sure you understand – the eating, drinking, smoking, shopping, gambling, those sorts of things that we very quickly do, they can cause their own problems which actually raise our stress even further. Please, my wife doesn’t mind me talking about this so, don’t feel icky about it. But when my wife was growing up, she grew up in quite an abusive household and she was bulimic for many years. So, her thing was she would eat when she felt bad and there was stress in the household, she would eat and then purge to get rid of that food. She has a saying now, and it’s pretty brutal but I’m going to say it anyway. It’s called, “Face your stuff, don’t stuff your face.” When you’re feeling those bad feelings, that times of change, the way to handle it isn’t “run away” – and I don’t mean stuff your face just with food. I mean with eating, drinking, smoking, gambling, shopping, doing those things that avoid the fear that you’ve got. The key to it is turning around and looking that big hairy, scary monster right in the face and saying, ‘I don’t like how I feel. How can I reach out for help or how can I deal with this myself? How can I deal with these feelings myself?’ Admit what is really going on and don’t run away from it because if we run away from it, that’s when we revert back to the bad behaviors that we were probably trying to solve in the first place.

Sharlene: I definitely agree with that, deal with the feelings.

Marty: Yeah.

Sharlene: So, I think I want to end with one more question. During times of change, a lot of organizations push their employees, “Suck it up, do more, do it faster. What are the benefits of taking a different approach and getting your teammates, your co-workers, the people underneath your care, to take care of themselves?

Marty: Yeah. That’s a great question and quite often, when I’m being put forward for a conference, the head honcho or the head honcho-ess who’s looking to be the person who signs off on me and everything, “Yeah okay, but what’s the ROI of these “soft skills”? – I’m making quotation marks in the air while I say that. They call all the resilient stuff, the soft skills. But thankfully, thanks to about sort of 20 years of businesses like Zappos and those sorts of places that have wonderful cultures doing really well and also “The Great Place to Work” survey that happens every year. It’s all around the world. They interview a vertical range of employees and ask them everything, questions about the culture in the business, about how much time you are given to work on yourself; even things like, “Does your manager have a sense of humor?,” and things like that. They’ve found out that the businesses that come at the top of “The Great Place to Work” surveys outperform the Dow Jones by a factor of two. And another study found that for businesses that spend money on resilience, there was every dollar spent on resilience training, it returned $2.1 back in terms of greater productivity, let alone staff retention. Staff retention is absolutely over the moon when it comes to an expense on a business. If you’re just driving your people harder and just trying to get more blood out of a stone, and that sort of thing, when one person leaves, it costs you half their annual salary to replace them at least. When you’re driving people out the door, that’s costing you enormous amounts of money. So, even if you just have to look at it from that point of view, let alone that motivated and happy employees work harder and earn you more, and that sort of thing; but even just if it’s staff retention, even just that. I could send you through some studies that sort of get more into the nitty-gritty and the nuts and bolts of this, if your listeners would like to get in touch. I’m happy to send those out. But just to search for “Great Place to Work survey” and have a look at the conclusions of that. You make more money if you spend time creating a culture that helps your people work on themselves, work on their values, work on their inner lives as much as just cracking the whip and forcing them to work harder and earn more money.

Sharlene: That is great. I really like that and I hope a lot of our listeners take that to heart. So, thank you Marty. And where can people find you and what projects do you want to share that you’re working on?

Marty: Sure. If you have an event on and you’d like me to come in and speak about resilience through times of change, because I used to be a stand-up comic, the two slots that I get the most on a program are sort of on first on day one, to get people out of fear mode and get them to open up into the nuts and bolts training that’s coming after me. Or after dinner, if you’ve got a dinner on and you’d like to have a very, very funny after-dinner speak that also shares some real concrete insights on resilience, please go to martinwilson.com. If you would like to learn to use humor in your presenting or your speaking or if you’re a new sales team or something like that and you’d like to learn to use humor to build rapport more quickly, please go to morefunnymoremoney.com. They’re the two places where you can find me. Of course, just search for ‘Funny Marty Wilson’ on all the profiles, on all the social media platforms and I’m there too.

Sharlene: Great. Thanks Marty.

Marty: Pleasure, absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me, Sharlene. It was great.

Thank you for sharing your time with me and listening to LIFT. If this episode resonated with you, I’d appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a review. That way, more people can discover this resource, and together, we can accelerate good change in the world. Thanks so much. Until next time.

006 – An Intro to Values with Apryl Schlueter

In today’s episode, I chat with Apryl Schlueter, author and happiness coach to high achievers. Apryl shares her thoughts about the importance of values and how to have fun while getting things done.

Overview
[00:01:06] Mission/vision
[00:05:52] Have fun, get stuff done
[00:07:02] Awareness and action
[00:11:42] Converse with the voices
[00:15:16] Examine your values
[00:21:15] Tips for newbies
[00:22:47] Living your values
[00:26:27] Understanding others

Resources mentioned:
The Cheerful Mind
Accountability Success Circle
Finding Success in Balance: My Journey to the Cheerful Mind

Note: Some of the resources above may be affiliate links, meaning I’d get a commission if you use that link to make a purchase (at no cost to you).

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to LIFT, a podcast for you – the entrepreneur, the leader, the creative – who leads change with heart. If you don’t have it all together, you’re in the right place. I’m your host, Sharlene Sobrepeña.

In this episode, I chat with Apryl Schlueter, an author, happiness coach, and founder of The Cheerful Mind. We talk about how to have fun while getting things done, how to navigate around blocks, and why understanding our values is so important. My biggest takeaway was that when you’re triggered, or feeling a strong negative emotion towards a situation or person, it’s likely that one or more of your core values was violated. And I think when you become aware of your values (or what’s most important to you), you’re in a better position to actively create a life you want. Let’s get to it.

Sharlene: What is your mission with your work? And what is your vision for the world?

Apryl: I think that one of my personal missions is to make, to let people know that they matter. I think that a lot of times, the world places more attention on things that aren’t as important because of just the way that the media is and trying to say, ‘Oh this person is super rich’ or ‘This person is super popular’, or ‘This person wore these shoes’, or something like that. We place a lot of value on celebrity and trying to be famous, and aspiring to do that. And I just feel like I want people to feel that they’re their own celebrity in their own right, and that they have an amazing story to tell, and they have amazing contributions to the world. And I think it ties to something that I’ve struggled with in my life in terms of just feeling like I have to hold to the standard to be somebody. So, I want to inspire people to understand that they matter at all levels. No matter what it is that you do in life, as long as you’re doing something that is based on your passion, then it matters and all that. So, that’s my mission, personally, and I already forgot what the second question was. What is the vision that I have for the world? I think that there’s a lot of negativity that surrounds us and I think because negative thoughts and emotions have such a charge to them, they tend take to overtake the things that we crave most which is more happiness and joy. And so, my hope is for a world that comes with less judgment, less unrealistic standards and expectations and embracing authenticity and uniqueness as much as possible, in hopes that that would bring more positivity into the world. That’s me.

Sharlene: I like it. What are the biggest problems that your clients come to you for? Because you work mainly with entrepreneurs and leaders, right?

Apryl: Yes. So, I think I work with people who self-identify as a high achiever or a recovering perfectionist, or a perfectionist, whichever space in their life they’re in, and people who tend to place themselves low on their personal priority lists because they care so much about serving others. And in that comes this fueling passion by being of service to other people, but sometimes to the detriment of their own happiness, sanity and stress. So, I think what they struggle with is just trying to figure out how to juggle the demands of life with their own drive and aspirations, and trying to make sure that everything, maybe because they have multiple passions and love to be busy, trying to find the calm and the happiness and joy that should come with all of these accomplishments. And so, sometimes it’s more of ‘I have this really big goal and I want to accomplish it, I just don’t really know the steps’, or maybe, ‘I want to do it in a creative way that doesn’t seem normal or just seems like the normal path’, or people who allow their mindset to drive them into feeling like they’re not good enough and having those fears or guilt around whatever it is that they’re doing that they can’t proceed and make progress in the way that they want to. And people who are focused on the more important things in life, and being happy, fostering really great relationships, being successful but also not letting their social life or their relationships, or their ability to be loved and love get in the way or be hampered by their drive and ambition. So, yeah, I think it’s people who want to – and I say this and it’s so funny because my tagline really still sticks with me to this day, but this idea of we’re all going to get stuff done, but how do you have more fun while you’re getting stuff done because it’s one thing to do but another thing to do with passion.

Sharlene: So, how do you have more fun while getting stuff done?

Apryl: Good question, and I think that if you were to ask anyone this question, there should be a very big slew of different responses depending on the person. But for me, I think part of it takes this intention of knowing what is it that brings you joy and going after that, and not allowing the fears of what you feel you should be doing in order to get yourself on a certain path get in the way of having that time to really deeply connect with people. So, I think fostering relationships is allowing yourself to tap into creativity and not just checking the boxes, but really understanding what it is that you want, whether it’s trying to go through that process of searching for what you’re passionate about, but once you know what that is, really leveraging your true personality to just encompass that and doing things in a way that you’re not sacrificing who you are as a person. You’re just doing it because you care about it and you’re passionate about it, and not just doing it because you have to.

Sharlene: So, what’s the first step to knowing what you want?

Apryl: I mean, I think that the first step to doing anything or making any sort of decision is just having awareness about what you know, with the information that you have. Maybe because sometimes we know certain things but we don’t know what we don’t know, right? So, it’s really taking a look back and – one of the things that I’m super passionate about is not going to look at books or scientific facts or statistics to decide your path, but really getting to know who you are as a person and looking back at your history and saying, ‘Okay, I really like this’, ‘I didn’t so much like this’ and using that as a compass to help you craft your next move. It’s always good to have some sort of stretch of a vision, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be. ‘I have to have it all figured out and I know what the next 15 years is going to look like for me.’ Because it might feel that way when you’re younger, where you just have to go to school and just kind of get a sense of what is it that you’re passionate about. But, as you get older, just trying to think about what lights you up and what you’re passionate about, and what’s important to you. It’s really, really important to take your experiences and understand what about those experiences are things that you want to continue to have as part of your life, or do you dive a little deeper, and the things that you don’t like to maybe understand that maybe that’s not your path. And so, really just using this process of awareness and self-reflection to say, ‘Hey, I experienced this thing. What did I learn from it?’ So, taking the awareness and going to a place where you can reflect on that awareness and then use that to then figure out your next move by taking action and making a decision on what’s next. And it doesn’t need to be anything daunting. It could just be the, ‘Here’s what’s my next step right in front of me.’ It doesn’t need to be, ‘Okay I’m eventually going to do this, so, I need to position myself.’ So, just worrying about having that right balance of planning but also allowing yourself to see what can manifest in that unplanned space.

Sharlene: I like that, the importance of space and taking action as well.

Apryl: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you’re so focused on just doing and taking the next step and not almost breathing, there’s a lot of things that can get missed along the way and I speak this out of experience: always feeling like my calendar needed to be filled to the brim – not that it’s not always filled to the brim now, but making the things that I fill my life with more intention, more impactful, more aligned with where I think I want to go. And as soon as I know that there’s something that I experience that maybe wasn’t the smartest idea because I didn’t know any better, making sure that I take that learning and apply it immediately because you can say, ‘Oh yeah, I should work out more’, but you could also just continue to say that and not work out – where you’re not really moving forward. You’re just stating the obvious. And so, being able to take action is that huge thing, to have that awareness and be able to make something of it, right? It’s like if you read a self-help book and you don’t use anything from that book to take action. Then, it’s just an idea. If you’re left inspired but then you don’t do anything with it, then it’s just another idea that you absorbed.

Sharlene: And then let go…

Apryl: Until somebody else has a similar message and inspires you to do something from that. So, a lot of times, whenever I take any action now, I think about what is it that I want to get out this? And maybe I am reading a self-help book and it’s just more to just experience it and potentially not take any action. But if you have intention going into it, then at least you know that there’s an action that’s being taken. It’s like, I might be reading this book just for leisure. I don’t intend to take anything from it. I just want to absorb information, and that’s totally fine. But if you are using inspirational books to help you take action and then you don’t take action, it’s almost like, what are you doing? What is it there for? And being in that inspired place is such a great place to be because it makes you want to take action. It’s just, how do you navigate around anything that might get in your way?

Sharlene: How do you navigate around anything that might get in your way?

Apryl: I think it goes back to just this idea of awareness, but being able to face whatever is getting in the way. A lot of times when we’re afraid of something, we just try to avoid it because we don’t want to think about it. So, sometimes I personally will go overboard and experience something that I have some self-talk that’s happening. I think the usual person might just say, ‘Oh, I’m afraid. But I’m just afraid and I’m not going to go a little bit deeper and understand why is it that I’m afraid.’ But when I get triggered, when I get angry, when I’m sad, when I have some sort of negative affiliated emotion that doesn’t feel good, I will allow myself to go there; which is a really hard thing to do because you’re exposing vulnerability. Sometimes you don’t want to admit that you’re afraid of certain things. So, being able to have the courage to say, ‘Wow, I was really upset by that’ and instead of going into the mindset of, ‘I’m a bad person because I’m feeling this way’, I’m really trying to listen to the voices that are happening in my head that might not be spoken aloud. And asking myself, ‘Okay, I’m going to bring this to the surface. Is this true or how do I want to proceed knowing that I’m having these conversations? So, does that mean that I’m talking to myself? Not necessarily; but it is bringing to light some of these inner voices in our heads that we all have, that bring up some sort of fear, insecurity, lack of confidence and really trying to deeply analyze from both an emotional and a logical perspective, and trying to bring that together so that I don’t get stuck in this place of ‘Oh my gosh I’m not good enough’, ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘This isn’t possible’ because we all struggle through it. But, if we’re not able to have that conversation with those inner voices, they’re going to continue to be there and because of that whole negativity thing where these emotions are so much stronger, then the joyful ones that we want to have is really, really hard to calm them if you’re just trying to keep them there. It’s like, you’re not releasing them. They’re just kind of hovering there. So, that’s kind of how I try to deal with it. It’s not that I’m, ‘Oh, here I go again’, but I can feel that emotion and I let myself sit in it, which is super uncomfortable. But it gives me an opportunity to process and then move on because otherwise, I think the old version of me would have sat there for hours and hours on end just feeling like, ‘I’m in a funk, I’m going to be stuck here for a while.’ And those funk periods would last so much longer than they do now because I allow myself to have a conversation with those voices.

Sharlene: I like that. It’s like giving the dark emotions a chance to breathe.

Apryl: Yeah, absolutely. They need to breathe too. Sometimes they’re just there to protect you, which you want to come at this place of compassion to say, ‘Hey, I know you’re trying to look out for me and I appreciate that you’re there for that. But this is something that I really want, and how can I set you aside a little bit so that I can just go and take that leap, and know that I’ll be taken care of.’ It’s pretty deep stuff.

Sharlene: What role does understanding our values play in what we’ve talked so far?

Apryl: Yeah. So, values is such an important topic to me just because I feel like it drives everything in our lives, all the decisions we make, all the things that we’re passionate about can really come to light when you examine your values. And values at the core of it, is a super simple idea. It’s the things that are most important to you, and the things that are the basis of just how you live. So, I’m not the type of person who has been a self-help junkie since I was a teenager or anything like that, but what’s interesting as I went through coach training and realizing that there was this intuitive nature of just the world – because I’m a very logical person – understanding how my values brought to light all of the conflicts that I’ve ever had in my life, and helped me in those times when I was indecisive, make a decision so much faster which a lot of people that I work with and myself included, struggle with this idea of ‘How can I be more efficient, because I can’t just sit here and spin my wheels and not make any movement.’ That indecisiveness and lack of confidence was sometimes hampered by the idea that I wasn’t thinking about what I valued most. And so, for me, I know that some of my top values are fun, authenticity, accomplishment, connection – all of these things. I love surrounding myself with people. I love doing silly, fun, playful things that may not be seen in a more professional environment as okay, but it’s part of my personality. And so, the interesting thing, even though I loved being employed back in the day when I had my own job or I was working for somebody else. I loved that feeling of contributing to a cause or a project, or whatnot. But it was realizing that when things weren’t fun anymore, the career path that I was in, it would become stagnant. So, knowing that I also like to embed creativity, even though I never saw myself as a creative person, being somebody who graduated with an Engineering degree and was very nerdy about math and science – this whole piece of creativity just kind of, I just assumed that that wasn’t part of me. But as I’ve grown older and I’ve started to realize that there is a very creative nature about me. I’m definitely not the type of person that likes to do things the standard way. I like giving myself a challenge, maybe sometimes in a way that’s detrimental to productivity. But I have to focus on the fun of it because monotony gets boring and all of that. So, trying to make sure that I focus on the fun keeps everything super exciting, motivating, inspiring. I am definitely a driven, motivated individual, so achievement and accomplishment is super huge too. I like working on projects that have some sort of end goal that I’m working toward. So, I’m very aware of these things and these things that are important to me. I also mentioned authenticity, which is really being fully self-expressed. I like being able to be myself in an environment and not letting the environment mold me, which is probably why I ultimately ended up as an entrepreneur. But I think in terms of values, whenever I got to a point where I was indecisive and I wasn’t really sure how to respond, how to move forward, I could go back and benchmark the decision against those top four values. And it would usually bring me to some sort of resolution so much faster. And not to say that those are my only values, right? I value loyalty. I value prestige in some sense. I like things that are packaged very neatly, but I also like the messiness of just being off the cuff and being real. So, there are other things that are important to me but at the same token, sometimes there’s a priority order and you have to think about the values that are coming to play in any situation if it’s not one of your top ones and seeing what comes up and which direction you’d want to go. And values also help you realize sometimes that when you are triggered or when you are elated, any extreme emotion that you feel, there is a fundamental value that’s tied underneath it. So, the opportunity to be on this podcast and have this conversation with you obviously is one of my top values of connection. Of course, I’m going to say yes to an opportunity where I can have a conversation with people and go deep and talk about anything. But in another sense when I’m triggered, if I am talking to somebody and I’m noticing that they’re very passive-aggressive or it seems like there’s something that they’re hiding, I will get triggered by that because I value transparency. I really like having an open and honest communication and when I feel like there’s a barrier or a wall, it starts to shake me and cause me some frustration and I have to navigate that. So, values are so important because you can see what is truly important to you and you can use this as a really easy decision-maker factor, especially if you’re very indecisive – which sometimes, I am.

Sharlene: So, how do we determine what our values are if it’s something we’ve never done before?

Apryl: I think that example of just watching for those extreme emotions and saying, ‘That really made me upset’. What was the value that was being conflicted? Or, ‘Oh my gosh, this is awesome!’ What about this situation made me so happy? That’s a very easy way to understand what your values are. And I think the easiest thing to do, if you really want to hone in to some of those top values is literally go to Google, type in “values assessment”. There’s so many different kinds of assessments out there that are available, that can help you kind of understand what it is that’s important to you. You can also look at very descriptive words and narrow it down. That’s kind the process that I like looking at sometimes because there’s so many different words to explain certain feelings and different aspects of someone’s personality, and just figuring out what resonates with you. And then your values can also change as time goes on, depending on what’s important. I think family has always been a priority to me and a very big value. But it definitely shifted when I moved from being an adult to a parent. How does that play a role? So, things can shift and some values can come and go, but most of them will stay as part of your values system. It’s just a matter of what is the most prominent, depending on what you’re experiencing at that time in your life.

Sharlene: So now after we’ve discovered what our values are, how can we make sure we stick to them and is it normal to slip?

Apryl: Yeah. I definitely think there’s having the value and then actually taking action on the value. I can say that honesty is an important value of mine. But if somebody asks me if they want me to do something or go hang out with them and I silently don’t want to, but I say that I do, there’s definitely – I’m not walking the talk, right? So, there’s the aspect of understanding what’s important to you and if you’re not taking action in the way that it aligns with your actual values, there maybe some, again this voice of what’s happening behind the scenes. Are you saying yes because you don’t want to hurt their feelings? So, you’re going to lie instead. But if honesty is really important, what would it be like to actually tell the truth and say, ‘I appreciate the offer to spend some time together but no thanks’, so that you don’t have to be in conflict with that value. And sometimes, people don’t do it. Or people say being healthy is a huge value and then they’re eating things, doing things that are a detriment to their body, like just not working out or eating unhealthy food or allowing yourself to stress to the nth degree. So, how can you be more in alignment with that? That’s definitely something that with my clients and even with myself, I go through this annual process of, ‘What are the things that are most important to me, how do I actually live that?’ And not to say that it needs to be, to the nth degree I need to work out seven days a week. I need to eat only kale and go vegetarian, or whatever that is. It’s more of, how can you honor that given everything else that you’ve got going on? Because it’s not just you value one thing and that’s going to be what you base your life off of. There’s multiple values. It’s just going to be what are going to be those top things that you’re going to focus on in that current time period and how do you actually act on it? So, there’s a lot of being intentional, a lot of being very mindful about how you can execute that in a way that works with you. So, I really want to be a healthy role model for my kids and I also have a very busy lifestyle. And while I would love to work out every day, I know that it’s not realistic. So, I focus on things like making sure I try to sleep eight hours a night. I make that goal and sometimes it doesn’t happen, but having that intention to try and do that. Setting myself a bedtime, having routines and habits that are going to foster that desire that I want to have to be more healthy, and just even focusing on just eating three meals a day, not just waiting until I’m starving and then having to run to the McDonald’s drive-thru because I waited too long to eat. So, different little things that you can take action on to live that lifestyle. I think sometimes people think that it has to be an all or nothing thing and it doesn’t. And that’s where people get stuck, running themselves down because they’re trying to overachieve because it’s either an all or nothing. If they’re not going to work out every day, then they’re not going to work out at all. So, you have to definitely find that healthy balance for you and go for that.

Sharlene: And you mentioned that following your values decreases the time it takes to make a decision. So, what are some other benefits in your work or your life of following your values?

Apryl: I think knowing what your values are, it really helps when you’re interacting with other things or other people. I never thought about this before I became a coach or before I really started digging into personal development. But I love asking other people what their values are because it gives me a direct shot at understanding who they are as a person and if our personalities would align. So, if they say that they care about success and material things, and having the best, newest car – not that that’s bad stuff, but if that’s their value system, they might not align with who I am. And I’m not judging. It’s just a matter of, okay it’s almost kind of a way to connect to people. So, I love that. And even when – and I say this a lot with my clients when they’re trying to look for a job, that either is in line with their passions or whatnot, I ask them to look up the mission statement, look up if they have listed values for that company. Because then you can see if – I think there was one company that one of my clients was looking at and it had some really, really interesting values that as she was working there and she wasn’t… there were things that were conflicting with some of the things that she was passionate about. Once we went back and said, ‘Hey let’s take a look at those values,’ it became very apparent that the focus of that company was not in alignment with what she was passionate about in life. And so, really, really thinking about that, before you step into something – if all they care about is grit and working hard, and making things happen at all costs – do they have regard for family, well-roundedness, whatever that is? And if that’s something that was important to that individual, that could be a potential flag for a tough experience in the workplace. And there are some companies that definitely do focus on the business is the number one thing. And if you’re somebody who wants to care about all the people, then that might not be the job for you. So, it definitely manifests in a way to connect to things that are more like you and help you find your people, help you find your passion so much faster than just meeting somebody and having a sense of who they are. And I mean, you might ask questions. If you go on a first date, you want to ask them hypothetical questions and say, “What is it that you do?” and blah, blah, blah. But then it’s like, “What are you really passionate about?” And that’s when you start to be able to connect. So, values play such a huge role in that, whether you believe it or not because – do you want to have children someday? Do you value having a family? That can be a potential deal breaker if you are somebody who’s absolutely enamored with children and want to have a huge family of your own; and if somebody says ‘No, I’m just okay, just having responsibility for me’, that’s something to think about.

Sharlene: Cool. Thank you. I think I want to end it here.

Apryl: Yeah.

Sharlene: So, are there any projects that you want to share and where can people find you?

Apryl: Yeah. I am definitely just all over the place in terms of the different things that I’m trying. In terms of helping people, I have different coaching options. There’s the private coaching, and I also run – with my friend Gary Ware – we are running The Accountability Success Circle, which is really geared towards helping people focus on what it is that they’re doing, but also building the person underneath that to the strongest that it can be to really maximize the overall individual. It’s more about how do you improve who you are being to impact more positively what it is that you’re doing in the world. That’s pretty much it. You can really – I’ve got a lot of projects that I’ve got in the pipeline, and if you’re a reader and you care a lot about work/life balance, you can check out my book called Finding Success in Balance: My Journey to the Cheerful Mind which is available on Amazon and bookstores nationwide. And that’s it.

Sharlene: Thank you so much, Apryl.

Apryl: Thank you so much for having me. This was super fun.

Sharlene: It was, thanks.

Thank you for sharing your time with me and listening to LIFT. If this episode resonated with you, I’d appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a review. That way, more people can discover this resource, and together, we can accelerate good change in the world. Thanks so much. Until next time.

001 – The Importance of Self-Care with Chris Heuertz

Welcome to the first episode of LIFT, a podcast aimed to support leaders who are committed to making good changes in the world.

In this episode, I chat with Chris Heuertz, founding partner of Gravity, author of The Sacred Enneagram, and all-around kind human. Chris shares his lessons learned from working in the trenches of the international humanitarian field, and how understanding the importance of self-care lead him to his next calling.

Overview
[00:01:04] Mission and vision
[00:03:23] Contemplative activism
[00:04:56] Something missing
[00:06:53] Benefits of self-care
[00:08:52] Compassion and the enneagram
[00:11:17] Moments of doubt
[00:13:38] Choosing yes
[00:15:12] Pain
[00:18:40] Mentored by Mother Teresa

Resources mentioned:
Gravity
The Sacred Enneagram
Chris Heuertz on Instagram

Note: Some of the resources above may be affiliate links, meaning I’d get a commission if you use that link to make a purchase (at no cost to you).

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to LIFT, a podcast for you – the entrepreneur, the leader, the creative – who leads change with heart. If you don’t have it all together, you’re in the right place. I’m your host, Sharlene Sobrepeña.

In this first episode, I sit down with Chris Heuertz. Chris is an author, entrepreneur, and anti-human trafficking activist. We chat about his decades of experience in humanitarian work, the importance of self-care, and how the enneagram can be a tool for personal development. My big takeaway is that taking care of ourselves is really a necessity. It’s not a luxury, or something that only a few people should do if they have time. Let’s get to it!

Sharlene: Thanks Chris for joining us. Let’s ask a big question. What is your mission with your work? And what’s your vision for the world?

Chris: Sure. Well, thanks so much for including me on your podcast. It’s great to reconnect. I, of course, think the world of you and just have lots of admiration and respect for the good work you’re doing. That’s really sort of what drives me. I did 20 years of international humanitarian work. I lived in the Middle East. I lived in South America. I lived in South Asia and for 20 years, a community that I was a part of, we really were trying to fight the exploitation of humanity in every way, but specifically a lot of the work that we did was around helping people who had been trafficked into the commercial sex industry. So, it’s a lot of women, a lot of children. We were helping out kids in places like West Africa that were conscripted and really also, in a sense, a kind of trafficking victim; conscripted to fight in civil wars. We were working with youth that lived in sewers and on the streets, in refugee camps and in slum communities. And really, my first job actually straight out of university when I moved to India was working with kids who were impacted by the global AIDS pandemic. And so, we started the first pediatric AIDS care home in those eight salvation countries, the first home for kids who were orphaned because of AIDS and first home for kids who actually were HIV positive or had AIDS themselves. And that really drove me, that drove me for 20 years. And I think what drove me in that was this notion of hope that there is a better way to live, that there is the possibility of this new ‘we’ that we’re yearning for, that we could belong to, that could allow us to stop hurting ourselves and each other, and really elicit and bring forward true compassion. And so, that was what I did for 20 years and what I’m doing now is also in the non-profit sector, just a little center for contemplative activism that’s helping people who are helping people. And again, I think it’s driven for the same reasons, but I think what we’re doing now is looking back on what we didn’t have for those 20 years in our humanitarian work, accompaniment, support, mindfulness and meditation practices to help us ground and rule our social engagement.

Sharlene: So, how do you define contemplative activism?

Chris: Right. So, my wife, Phileena, says this and I think it’s just such a profound little statement. She says, “In activism, we confront the toxicity in the world. In contemplation, we confront it in ourselves. And I think there is something pretty dialed-in about that. It’s like, most of us are projecting outside of ourselves, of things that we don’t want to deal with inside ourselves. And you see this. You see this in the person that annoys you the most because what they’re actually annoying you is the part of yourself that you’re not wanting to contend with or deal with. Well, my sense is a lot of pain, exploitation, poverty in the world is also the exporting of the parts of ourselves that we don’t have compassion for, parts of ourselves that we don’t love. And we find a vulnerable victim, we find an easy target and we allow it to land there. So, in contemplative activism, I think what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to say, if you can nurture and nourish a mindfulness to a meditation practice as a way of rooting yourself so that you can discern better what your yes-es may need to be so that you can actually discern better how to engage pain and exploitation in the world. What we see in meditation and mindfulness practices is there’s a lot in ourselves that we’re not engaging. There’s a lot of parts of ourselves that we don’t love or care for well. And that’s where we get to begin practicing it, right? If we can’t really love ourselves, we have no business trying to love someone else, right?

Sharlene: And you said that was missing during your decades of work?

Chris: So yeah, for the 20 years I did my work, I think what was missing was the skills to actually reflect critically around the work we were doing. I think what we lacked were the ability to actually hit the pause button and to breathe in the spaces where we were trying to fight for justice and hope. And so, in these 20 years of international humanitarian work, there are a few things that caught up to us. And the first one was that we were doing a better job of taking better care of someone else than we were ourselves, and that catches up to you. And look, everybody’s guilty of that. If you’re a parent, if you’re an educator, a social worker, if you’re in the mental health or the healthcare community, you actually think you’re supposed to take better care of someone else than yourself. But you lose credibility in a sense. Secondly, we had this trouble practicing stability, right? People just kept leaving. They’d show up with these notions of they stay two or three or four years but six months/ten months later, they were out of there and that was really difficult for the community to absorb. But third, we were all sort of teetering on the edge of burn out and when some of us burn out, we left the community badly; friendships were burned. The best parts of ourselves really suffered because of the burnout. And so, I think when I look back, what we really needed was the freedom to realize that actually taking care of ourselves isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. That finding compassion for ourselves actually helps us find compassion for others. That actually stopping for mediation or reflection or hitting the pause button. It’s not an inefficiency. It actually allows us to give ourselves back in even deeper ways to the work that we think we’re called to do or tasked to perform.

Sharlene: That makes so much sense to me. So, now that you have been applying this in your own work, have you seen a difference in the way that you’ve retained people and have you seen a difference in the work you’re doing, and even in yourself and your own relationships?

Chris: Yeah. So, I think the more I move some of my practices, mindfulness and meditation practices to disciplines, I actually do see specific benefits and of course in my most intimate and significant friendships and relationships, and the work that we do, it’s been an incredible and a much-needed correction. And now, the work that we’re doing, we’re working with humanitarians, activists, practitioners, a lot of refugees, human trafficking survivors. But we’re also working with anybody who wants to build a better world and wants to say yes to sort of incorporating these kinds of practices in their lives. It’s remarkable to see just the baby steps of change. And my wife also says, it’s to the extent that we are transformed, the world will be transformed and it’s a simple, simple formula and it doesn’t take a lot. But it just takes the first yes. And the first yes, of course, is always the easiest. We never know what the subsequent yes-es will be and of course often in work and relationships, and doing anything that’s good for ourselves, subsequent yes-es get a little bit harder and cost a little bit more. But when we practice the easy ones, we’re ready for the difficult ones.

Sharlene: So, what would you say the first yes is yes to yourself?

Chris: Yes, and it’s the yes to yourself has to be a yes of seeing yourself, a yes to loving yourself and then a yes to finding that compassion for yourself.

Sharlene: So, how can we train ourselves to become more compassionate not only to ourselves but to others? And second, how would developing compassion benefit our communities and even our businesses?

Chris: Yeah. So, I know this isn’t super street legal leadership 101 or best business practices when you start to talk about developing compassion for yourself and love for yourself. But I do fundamentally believe that change is everything. And I do believe it allows for us to bring integrity into our work spaces, into our professional relationships, our professional lives. So, how do we do that? I’m a huge fan of something called the enneagram and the enneagram is this ancient human character structure tool that basically says there are sort of nine ways of being. And it’s a little bit more complex thanlet’s say simply a personality test that you take. But it does sort of produce nine options that give us, let’s say, the contours for what our personalities have become. When you get into the enneagram and you start to look at this, what you start to see is that all of us are actually suffering the loss of contact from our essence, our purpose, that we’re here for a reason, that there’s a gift that each of our lives is supposed to bring into the world. But somehow, in each of our early holding environments, we’ve lost touch with that. We’ve lost contact with that. And so, what we do is, we build out an ego; we build out a personality, we build out defense mechanisms and we wrap those up around our essence, around the reason we’re here so that we can essentially project the mythology of who we want to be seen as or who we wish people would see us as. So, what the enneagram actually teaches us, actually what the enneagram shows us is this compassionate sketch of possibilities of who we can become when we’re truthful to ourselves and when we confront our fears that we’re not worthy, that we have to earn what it is that we want, or that we’re incapable of being loved in the ways we want to be loved. Well, that really for me has actually facilitated a tremendous amount of compassion and not only compassion for myself, but really compassion for even the most difficult people in my life.

Sharlene: That’s interesting. So, I’m just wondering also, were there times when you’ve maybe questioned yourself or the path you’ve chosen, and how you managed that?

Chris: Yeah. When we left our former non-profit, we were with for 20 years, it was time to go. I needed to go. I had sort of hit a few walls and I think I’d given everything that I could give. I was actually the international director of that organization and I think they needed a change as well. The year in between, leaving that non-profit and starting the organization that we have now, Gravity, that was a pretty tough year. I remember quite a few sleepless nights. Am I going to be able to pay rent? What did I do? At least I had a job before, is this going to work? And I think for a lot of us entrepreneurs, ideators, people who have a vision and maybe your vision is sort of outside the box, my sense is we all sort of need that sort of, that restlessness, that insecurity, that sort of place of questioning and doubting, and even suffering, like is this worth it and should I say yes? Because I think that’s one of the first deposits we make in realizing our visions, seeing the things that we hope to materialize in the world, come forth. It’s always a touch point. It’s always a going back. It’s always reminding ourselves that yes, I did believe in this, and it did cost me something and the insecurity or the fragility or the uncertainty of it actually makes it stronger today. So, of course, I don’t want to relive those days and I don’t want to go back to those days, but I’m really grateful for those. I think back to them and I think, what we’re doing here really is built off of some of the things that sort of were sweated out then. And of course, in all of the great stories that we hear, it’s like there’s always that moment of doubt. There’s always that sort of opportunity you’re faced with a fork in the road and what are you going to choose. But, it’s the first test. Really, it’s the first yes, right?

Sharlene: How did you make that choice?

Chris: Yeah. Well, like I said, I think looking back on the 20 years of the work that we had done and seeing what we wish we had sort of helped us. I think looking back on the 20 years of work that we had done and not wanting to leave that and not wanting to sort of hit the hard reset but to see what that would look like as it evolved gave context, and I think gave it accountability. And so, the work that we’ve been doing now for the last seven years I think really fits in to that first part of our professional life. I think it’s sort of the –it is the evolution of it. It is the growing up of it. And you know, a lot of us will say yes and I know this is sort of uncommon or less common now than maybe our parents’ or grandparents’ generations, but there are some people that will say yes and plug in to the same career for 40 years and that’s fabulous. That kind of stability is remarkable and admirable. But a lot of us don’t sort of have that luxury and I think if you can see the trajectory of your vocational fidelity as something that will constantly evolve, and stay in let’s say your lane, every step just continues to be more effective, more meaningful, have stronger traction. And I think that’s given us the sort of the credibility to do what we’re doing now.

Sharlene: In your work, you’ve seen so much pain and suffering first-hand. And you’ve seen the darkest sides of humanity. What have you learned about pain? And how has your mindset towards pain changed over the years? And I guess, do you have any tips for the listeners on how they can deal with pain and how they can become more resilient?

Chris: So, I don’t want to diminish the suffering of the folks that we worked with because of course, it’s unspeakable how much of the world suffers and the luxury of the non-poor to be an observer of that is a responsibility that we all need to live into and living into that requires a sort of considering what it means to share the access to opportunity resources, the freedoms that some of us have that a lot of folks in the world don’t have. What I’ve learned over the years, as I’ve done work in places that are marked by deep suffering and profound pain is that using the suffering of someone else for your personal formation is another kind of exploitation. And you see a lot of people when they travel to poor parts of the world, and then they come back and they talk about how grateful they are, they realize how much they’ve taken for granted. And then they sort of go back to the old ways of living. I would encourage folks to not be a voyeur of suffering, to spark personal transformation but to really press into friendships for people who are suffering as a way of being transformed together. Secondly, again I don’t want to be cliché and I don’t want to be pithy here but I realize that for a lot of us, we have to recognize that pain can actually be a gift of growth and it can remind us of what’s wrong so that it can push us towards what’s right. So, when we see suffering, we should be moved. When we see suffering in communities or with friends, or people who are at unjust hands of exploitation, it should be a compulsion that drives us. And when we grow dull to that, I think there’s something that needs to be alarmed and alerted in us that wakes us up. And so, it’s tough, man. For the 20 years that we did this international work, it was pretty overwhelming. There were times when I didn’t know what to do with the pain of those that we were working with. And I still don’t know what to do. I mean, my first –when I was still a university student, I travelled to India and I spent two months in Mother Teresa’s House for the Dying and in my first two months there, I attended to 50 folks who didn’t survive that summer. And it wrecked me. That devastated me and as a university student, I didn’t know what to do with it. As a full-grown man, I still don’t know what to do with it. But I do know this, that when we see it, we cannot not respond; that we have to find something in us that allows and compels us to give something of us to make investments in the world that we want to live in. Like I said earlier, investing in the possibility of a new ‘we’ that would lead to the healing of the ways that we’ve caused harm and hurt and suffering.

Sharlene: So, you were mentored by Mother Teresa for three years, you mentioned. What was that experience like? What lessons did you take from your time with her?

Chris: Yeah. So, I was fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time with Mother before she passed away. Every time I’d go up to Calcutta, which was only three or four or five times a year, I’d sit with her. I’d visit with her. I’d bring groups of friends up there to meet with her and she’d share reflections with us. She was incredibly generous. She was incredibly driven and there was an intensity about her. I think one of the best lessons that I learned from her though, and I think this is what we learn from all great mentors. It comes less from the things that they say, and it comes more from watching their lives. And that’s what I saw in Mother. She’s out there along with missionaries to do charity, attending to some of the most graphic human suffering I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. But five times a day, because they were an ordered community of nuns, they would stop for solitude, silence, for stillness. They would stop for their prayers or their adoration. And I used to think that, man that’s how much they have to pray is five times a day to stay in this work. That’s how much they’d have to pray, five times a day, to make sure their work is effective. But what I eventually started to see was they were first and foremost committed to nurturing their inner life to doing their soul work. That was their primary focus. The social and humanitarian efforts was simply the outflow of that. And I think when I had realized that sort of flip, it was shocking. And again, it reminded me that that’s really all of our work, to take care of ourselves. And then when we do that, the best of ourselves allows for us to be creative or imaginative, or faithful to the yes-es that we’ve committed to.

Sharlene: That’s beautiful. I think that’s where I want to end it. That was really powerful. So, thank you again for joining us on this podcast interview. And where can people find you? What are you working on at the moment?

Chris: Yeah. So, you can chase us down at gravitycenter.com. We host meditation and mindfulness retreats really all over the world, but primarily of course in North America. I’m working on a follow-up book, which will be my fifth book actually, but a follow-up book to my first book on the enneagram. I want this book to really be about belonging and I think that’s something that a lot of us yearn for and a lot of us suffer – this sort of notion that we don’t belong. But I think until we can belong to ourselves, we don’t know how to belong to our communities, to our friends, to our partners. And then, you can chase me down on Instagram @chrisheuertz but I’m warning you, it’s just basically pictures of my dog Basil.

Sharlene: Thank you so much, Chris.

Chris: Thanks for having me, great to connect.

Thank you for sharing your time with me and listening to LIFT. If this episode resonated with you, I’d appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a review. That way, more people can discover this resource, and together, we can accelerate good change in the world. Thanks so much. Until next time.