Focus, Productivity & Overcoming Procrastiantion
If you want to get started with focus, productivity, and overcoming procrastination here are my absolute favorite episodes about that topic.
I would start with our interview with James Clear on habits that will help you crush procrastination and overwhelm. I’ve been a big fan of James’s blog for a long time, and he shares some amazing tips in that interview.
Then, I would listen to our interview with Jake Knapp on Being Busy vs Creating Results, because its so easy to get stuck into the belief that you’re actually doing something, when really you’re just pretending to be busy. It reminds me of one of my all time favorite quotes on the subject:
“Being busy is a form of laziness, lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. The key to not feeling rushed is remembering that lack of time is actually lack of priorities.”
After that, be sure to listen to our interviews with Dr. Taylor Newendorp and Dr. Gabriele Oettingen, both bring a ton of science to the question of overcoming procrastination, and a powerful scientific framework for predictably improving your focus and productivity.
By understanding what is it in [you] that stands in the way, then [you] can also overcome the obstacle. - Dr. Gabriele Oettingen
If you’re still feeling stuck, you may really enjoy our interview with Dr. Bernard Roth where he shares a simple yet powerful question that can blow apart what’s holding you back.
Here’s how Dr. Roth explains overcoming the feeling that you’re stuck:
The point simply is that it's – most of us are bright enough to solve all the problems that come in our lives. The fact that we get stuck on problem shows that they're just the wrong one. - Dr. Bernand Roth
If you know what you SHOULD be doing, and yet for some reason you’re not doing it, then our interview with Dr. Sasha Heinz is exactly what you need.
Lastly, if you’re really struggling for focus and feel like you just can’t seem to focus on what’s really important, our interview with Chris Bailey get to the heart of the issue and shows you exactly how to command your focus and attention on what really matters to you.
(One last thing, if you want to get ALL our episode about Focus, Productivity, and Overcoming Procrastination, check out our full episode catalogue here.)
Emotional Intelligence, Negative Emotions & Self Awareness
For starters, we interviewed the guy who literally wrote the book on emotional intelligence, Dr. Daniel Goleman. Emotional Intelligence is at the cornerstone of managing both your own emotions and understanding what’s going, emotionally, with others.
But that interview with Dr. Goleman may not be the best place for you to start, because it depends on what you want to master.
Emotional Intelligence has four key components.:
We tackle the subjects of Social Awareness and Social Management in our Influence and Communication episodes.
So, do you want to focus more on self awareness or self management (i.e. dealing with tough and negative emotions?)
If you’re digging in from scratch, let’s begin with self management. Click here to jump down to self awareness.
Dealing With Negative Emotions (Self Management)
What does science say about the best way for you to deal with difficult or negative emotions?
Dealing with negative emotions was a very personal challenge for me and so I set out and tried to find as many experts as I could to interview on that subject.
These are the core lessons I learned from talking to them.
What Do Negative Emotions Mean?
Let’s start with two core ideas about emotions and what they mean.
(1) Emotions are unavoidable.
You cannot avoid experiencing negative emotions — and by trying to or by pushing them down, ignoring them, and distracting yourself — you are actually causing these emotions to intensify and become greater. Trying to avoid experiencing negative emotions, paradoxically, makes you experience them more frequently and with more intensity.
Tal Ben Shahar — who taught the most popular class in Harvard’s history which was on Happiness — famously says that only two types of people never experience negative emotions — psychopaths and dead people. He has also shared a number of paradoxical strategies to embrace and accept negative emotions and improve your happiness.
Emotional perfectionism — or the idea that you should always be in positive emotional states — can cause some serious problems — and worsen the experience of going through negative emotions. Cultivating self compassion and a more realistic perspective that negative emotions are inevitable and natural helps tremendously (more on Emotional Perfectionism and Self Compassion in minute).
Your emotions are messengers trying to send you information. The sooner you accept that and listen to what they are saying, the better off you will be.
(2) Emotions are data, not direction.
Negative emotions provide you with meaningful and relevant information that you can use to make decisions, prioritize, and understand that something is going on in your life. Listen to that message. But also know that emotions aren’t necessary correct or right — they don’t mean you have to go in that particular direction, but they are providing you with incredibly useful information that you should listen to and incorporate into your behavior.
In fact, when you look at high stakes performers like stock traders and professional poker players — they don’t try to remove emotion from the equation — they leverage their emotions to improve their decision-making process.
Self Management & Mastering Your Emotions For Peace Of Mind
Let’s look at the two primary tools for mastering your emotions to create peace of mind.
The first is meditation. Meditation is proven again and again in the science to be one of the most effective paths of dealing with anxiety, stress, and negative emotions.
In a recent interview I did with Dr. Rick Hanson, author of the book Buddha’s Brain, which is about the neuroscience behind meditation, he shares a number of insights into how meditation helps deal with stress and anxiety.
The second strategy for mastering your emotions is self compassion. This helps combat emotional perfectionism and build an understanding that it’s OK to experience negative emotions.
The Importance of Self Compassion
Self compassion is at the root of taking better care of yourself both mentally and emotionally. We often reserve the most brutal and severe self talk for ourselves — we say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to a close friend facing the same challenge, and we expect things of ourselves that we would never expect of anyone else.
Self-compassion is not woo-woo or soft — its very much grounded in psychology research. For example, Dr. Susan David, a Harvard Medical School psychologist and author, discusses self compassion at length in this interview including the below statement:
“The idea of being self-compassionate can seem very woo-woo and very soft.People might think, for example, that being self-compassionate is about being lazy or it’s about being weak or it’s about going easy on yourself. In fact, the research shows the opposite. The research shows that when people create a self-forgiving and safe psychological space within themselves, that those individuals tend to be more experimental, more able to take risks and to take chances, because they recognize that if they fail, that they still save their self-face. That individuals who are self-compassionate tend to be less weak, less lazy and, in fact, more honest with themselves and are able to get through setbacksand transitions more effectively.” Dr. Susan David
Dr. Susan David goes on in that interview to discuss specific strategies for implementing self compassion in your life, beyond just the intellectual acknowledgement that it’s important, including the following passage:
“Recognize how you might speak to yourself, because, of course, we all speak to ourselves. We all have inner dialogue. Some studies show that we have something like 16,000 spoken thoughts every single day and many, many, many, thousands more course through our minds. So many of these thoughts are about ourselves. We will have a dialogue with ourselves where we will say, “You’re such an idiot,” or, “You’re being a fraud,” or, “You are not cut out for this.” A lot of our language is lacking in self-compassion, where we would not use that language with people who we truly love and yet we use it with ourselves. A first aspect of cultivating self-compassion is simply become aware. Simply start noticing the language that you use to actually attack yourself, and that’s really critical.
A second part of creating this felt experience of self-compassion, there are many different ways, but one of the ways that’s frequently very powerful is when you’re going through a setback or a difficulty and you’re starting to be really hard on yourself, is to imagine yourself as a very young child running to yourself as, you, the adult and saying, “Oh my goodness! This happened to me today,” and imagine in yourself how you would treat that very young child, that three or four year old who’s failed at something, who’s done wrong at something and to imagine the kind of love that that child actually needs and the experience that that child actually needs of someone reaching out and giving a hug. That can be really powerful.” — Dr. Susan David
One of the biggest things working against self compassion is emotional perfectionism. This is the mistaken belief that you need to be in a positive emotional state all the time and can actually worsen your subjective experience resulting in behavior like “getting anxious about being anxious” or “being angry about being angry” etc.
One of the most profound and personally impactful conversations I’ve ever had about smashing emotional perfectionism was this discussion with Megan Bruneau. We discuss how perfectionism creates an illusion of control and distorts your reality, how to become aware of the critical inner voice at the root of your pain and unhealthy habits, the incredible power of self compassion, and much more.
Cultivating Self Compassion & Mindfulness
Dr. Ronald Siegel, another psychologist with Harvard Medical School, he discusses proven strategies for cultivating mindfulness and self compassion (one of the cornerstones of which is meditation). He share this insight:
“When we are hurting, when we notice that we’ve had a disappointment, we’ve had a failure, something hasn’t turned out well, which [it] inevitably will. Inevitably, we’ll have these moment of defeat, that we can just be nice to ourselves and give ourselves a hug, feel the feeling of vulnerability, feel the feeling of failure, and trust that that’s okay too, that it’s just part of the cycle and we don’t have to identify with that or believe in it. Because as it turns out, none of us are so great and none of us are so terrible.” Dr. Ronald Siegel
Meditation, along with loving kindness practices, can be powerful tools for cultivating and building self compassion. So if you want to take better care of yourself mentally and emotionally, start with the simple act of being more loving and compassionate to yourself.
Self Awareness: Your Ultimate Superpower
I kept hearing self awareness crop up so frequently in my interviews with experts, neuroscientists, and psychologists that I sought out a leading research psychologist who specializes in self awareness — Dr. Tasha Eurich.
She called self awareness “The Secret Weapon of the 21st Century.”
Self awareness underpins nearly every other skill. If you’re self aware, you can grow, improve, learn, and get better. If you’re not, you usually plateau and end up stuck.
Here’s how Dr. Eurich puts it:
“The reason self awareness is the meta-skill is basically our self-awareness sets the upper limit for so many of the skills that we need to be successful in the world right now. Things like communication skills, influence, emotional intelligence, collaboration. We can only be as good at each of those things as we are self-aware. The other thing I call it sometimes is the secret weapon of the 21st-century. So many people think they’re self-aware, but they actually aren’t. So people that work on it are the ones that really I’ve seen reap the rewards time and time again.” — Dr. Tasha Eurich
Are You Self Aware?
According to Dr. Eurich’s research — 95% of people think they are self aware, but only 10–15% of people actually are.
That’s pretty scary stuff. The even crazier thing is that those who have the least self knowledge are often the least aware of it.
The good news is that research also shows that self awareness is an “infinitely learnable skill” according to Dr. Eurich.
So what happen when you don’t have self awareness?
You don’t see yourself objectively.
You don’t understand your own strengths, and much more importantly your own weaknesses.
You aren’t aware of your own cognitive biases.
You aren’t aware of the thought patterns and mental addictions that prevent you from achieving what you want.
You reject criticism and feedback because you don’t like it
You reject ideas because you don’t like them.
You make blame and excuses for your failures instead of taking responsibility for them
You don’t know your own limiting beliefs.
You don’t recognize patterns of self sabotage that repeatedly manifest in your life.
Developing Self Awareness
You have to know your own strengths and weaknesses.
Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater, created an incredible book called Principles that teaches the philosophy of how he views the world. Self knowledge and the search for objective truth are the core ideas of his work. For some bonus points you can also view his TED Talk here.
Here’s a sample:
“Let’s imagine that your goal is to have a winning basketball team. Wouldn’t it be silly to put yourself in a position that you don’t play well?If you did, you wouldn’t get what you want. Whatever your goals are, achieving them works the same way. If you see that you are not capable of doing something, it is only sensible for you to have someone else do it. In other words, you should look down at you and all the other resources at your disposal and create a “machine” to achieve your goals, remembering that you don’t necessarily need to do anything other than to design and manage the machine to get what you want.
If you find that you can’t do something well, fire yourself and get a good replacement! You shouldn’t be upset that you found out that you are bad at that — you should be happy because you have improved your chances of getting what you want. If you are disappointed because you can’t be the best person to do everything, you are terribly naïve because nobody can do everything well. The biggest mistake most people make is to not see themselves and others objectively.” — Ray Dalio
Accepting When You Make Mistakes
We’ve heard it from a billionaire, now let’s see what a research psychologist who’s studied tens of thousands of people has to say. Here’s a paraphrased passage from one of my favorite books of all time — Mindset by Carol Dweck.
“Instead of trying to learn from and repair their failures, people with a fixed mindset simply try to repair their self esteem…by assigning blame or making excuses…You can still be in the process of learning from your mistakes until you deny making them.” — Carol Dweck in Mindset
That last line is extremely important. The only way to learn from your mistakes is to actually accept that you made them. To be self aware enough to say “yeah, I screwed up” and to take responsibility for it.
Without self knowledge, you are constantly ignoring feedback from reality. Carol Dweck explains this further in a recent interview.
“If you’re looking to repair your self-esteem, maybe you’re looking for people who did worse, maybe you’re looking to place the blame, maybe you’re looking to deny the failure, in any of those cases, you’re not going to be better off going forward.
Neuroscience research shows that when people are in a fixed mindset, the part of their brain that processes errors is hardly active. They are just turning away from that error as quickly as possible. As a result, they’re not correcting the error at the next opportunity as much as people in a growth mindset.
In a growth mindset, that area of the brain is on fire, it’s just super active, they’re looking at the error, they’re processing it, they’re learning from it and they’re correcting it.” — Carol Dweck
The resounding lesson taught by everyone from Navy Seals to ancient stoic philosophers is clear — take responsibility for your own mistakes — be self aware that you screwed up and own it — that’s the only way to create a learning opportunity.
Tools To Build Self Awareness
So what can you do to improve your self awareness?
Here are a few simple evidence based strategies you can use starting right now.
Meditate. Yeah, everyone says meditation. That’s because there is a ton of science about how it really does work. One of the first things meditation teaches you is how to be aware of your own thoughts and biases. That’s a key step in the journey of self awareness and self knowledge. This podcast “The Skeptic’s Guide To Meditation” is a great place to start.
Develop a Growth Mindset. Carol Dweck touched on this earlier — and goes much more in depth in this interview as well as in her book. Developing a growth mindset gives you permission to look at your own mistakes and shortfalls without ego or defensiveness getting in the way. A growth mindset gives you the ability to objectively judge your own abilities. This is a cornerstone of self knowledge.
Journal. Journalling helps put thoughts on paper, clear up your thinking, develop self awareness, and lets your return later to assess your thought process.
Check out this interview with Dr. Eurich to learn more. She’s an expert in self awareness after all. Listen to that episode, check out some of her work, and learn the strategies she recommends for becoming more self awareness.
So there you go — this is the first step on the journey towards rationality and clear thinking — start developing your self awareness!
Lastly, check out our full catalogue of episodes about emotional intelligence here if you want to dig in even more!
Influence & Communication
We’ve interviewed some of the worlds top experts on the subject of influencing and communicating with others, with incredible conversations from FBI Hostage Negotiators, Spy Recruiters, CIA agents, and the “Godfather of Influence” himself Dr. Robert Cialdini.
I would start with few strategies that the FBI has used in high stakes environments to master the skill of effective communication.
Chris Voss was one of the FBI’s top hostage negotiators, dealing with high stakes negotiations across the world in extremely dangerous situations. He recommends the strategy of “active listening” (and goes much deeper into the details on this in a recent interview) - which has the following components:
Listen carefully. This means listening to understand and comprehend, not listening to respond.
Understand them. You don’t have to agree with someone to understand what they are saying.
Paraphrase or rephrase what they said. Summarizing their question helps build rapport and generate understanding.
Keep asking questions. Be curious and ask open ended questions.
Robin Dreeke recruited spies for the FBI. Talk about a tough gig! In a recent interview, he detailed all of the core strategies that he used to get people to become spies, defect from their countries, and put their lives at risk to work as secret agents - pretty crazy stuff!
The weirdest thing was that his #1 strategy for influencing people was not some crazy trick, not pressuring people, not convincing them with amazing arguments, not misleading them - but actually just this - focusing on the other person and making it all about them.
“In reality, what I found, both in the Marine Corps and coming in the FBI, especially working [in] counterintelligence where I don’t have the luxury of making mistakes  when you understand  how that works and what’s going on there and you want to be more effective at influence, what happens is, you start realizing that “Wow, I just need to move beyond influence because I need to focus on other people in what their priorities are and the resources for them,” because then what you do is you start moving into a realm of inspiration. When you’re in the realm of inspiration, it’s completely about the other person.” - Robin Dreeke on The Science of Success
How To Influence Others By Improving Your Communication Skills
If you want to dig in and learn more about both of these strategies, I would recommend checking out these three interviews to start:
Learning More About The Science of Influence
If you want to dig even deeper into Ciadlini’s work, you may enjoy the six part series we did on the “Weapons of Influence” which you can find at the below links.
Reading People & Their Body Language
If you really want to go deep on the subject of influencing and communicating with others we have several episodes that dig deep into reading body language and nonverbal communication.
I would start with another interview featuring a brilliant FBI agent “A Beginner's Guide To Body Language & Nonverbal Communication with Joe Navarro.”
From there, check out our interview with Vanessa Van Edwards, The Secret Science of Lies and Body Language, that really digs deeper into the science of reading other people and their body language.
Finally, One of the preeminent research psychologists of the 20th century who pioneered most of the work on body language is Dr. Paul Ekman. In our interview with him, we explore the fundamentals of the scientific research around body language and human emotion. After you’ve learned that basics, dive in and listen to that interview.
Lastly, check out our full catalogue on episodes about Influence and Communication to dive even deeper!
Decision Making & Mental Models
Decision making is a topic that I’m deeply interested in and passionate about, and we’ve sought out and interviewed some fascinating and amazing individuals on this topic from champion poker players to titans of wall street and preeminent psychology researchers.
To start with, listen to our interview with professional poker player and decision making expert Annie Duke. Annie breaks down the fundamentals of good decision making and shares several key concepts including the vitally important lesson of how to make decisions when you don’t have all the information you need.
Next, check out this interview with Shane Parrish where we dig into one of most powerful and important concepts in the field of decision making - mental models. This interview shares the powerful and important concept of mental models and breaks down how you can start using them to massively improve your decision making.
After that, global financial strategist and author Michael Mauboussin shares some phenomenal insights on decision making and the psychology behind why it’s so easy to make bad decisions in his interview.
Then, I would listen to our interview with Maria Konnikova where we share essential lessons in decision making from a wide range of areas (including lessons from Sherlock Holmes!) and break them down into simple hacks you can use right away to improve your decision making.
From there, dig into a ton of fascinating and riveting research on how you can use a few basic thinking tools to be better at predicting the future than world famous experts in our interview with Dan Gardner.
If you want to keep exploring the field of decision making, you might also like a few articles I’ve written about decision making that really break down exactly how to improve your decision making process and take it to the next level, including:
Lastly, check out our full catalogue of episodes on Decision Making for even more!
Overcoming Fear & Being Mentally Tough
Mental toughness is one of the most common traits of top performers. So how do you become mentally strong?
One of the absolute best strategies to become mentally strong is to embrace discomfort. We did a great episode on that that digs into a bunch of the key concepts and ideas, which I will also explain in a minute.
After you’ve listened to our episode on embracing discomfort, I would recommend checking out our fantastic interview with Jia Jiang on the secret weapon to becoming fearless. The stories he shares in this interview are incredible, and can have a transformational impact on your life.
Next, check out the interview with Dr. Andy Molinksy on how to demolish what’s holding you back and push through your comfort zone.
The concepts and ideas in those interviews have had a huge impact on my life and the lives of many others.
Let’s look at the strategy used by a world champion.
Josh Waitzkin is a multi-time national chess champion who transitioned into becoming a world champion martial artist. To put it simply, this guy knows what is takes to perform under serious pressure at the absolute highest levels.
He wrote an amazing book about his journey and what it takes to be a top performer called The Art of Learning. You can also get a great summary of some of the key ideas from The Art of Learning in this incredible interview Josh did with Tim Ferriss a few years ago.
My favorite quote from The Art of Learning perfectly answers the question of how to build mental toughness:
“My whole life I have worked on this issue. Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously. Left to my own devices, I am always looking for ways to become more and more psychologically impregnable. When uncomfortable, my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it. When injured, which happens frequently in the life of a martial artist, I try to avoid painkillers and to change the sensation of pain into a feeling that is not necessarily negative. My instinct is always to seek out challenges as opposed to avoiding them. This type of internal work can take place in the little moments of our lives. I mentioned how my style over the board was to create chessic mayhem and then to sort my way through the chaos more effectively than my opponents. This was a muscle I built up by training myself to be at peace with the unclear and tumultuous — and most of the training was in everyday life.” — Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning
Josh provides some incredible wisdom in that quote. Embracing discomfort and becoming at peace with it is the best way to cultivate mental toughness and resilience — and this is key — that work takes place in your everyday life.
The little moments where you can push yourself beyond your comfort zone and get uncomfortable build tolerance and slowly expand your ability to get tougher and tougher.
The Sphere of Discomfort
I call this the “sphere of discomfort” and it reminds me of this quote:
Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. — George Addair
When you do something for the first time it’s scary. When you do it for the 10th time, you’re staring to get the hang of it. When you do it for the 1000th time, you’re practically getting bored.
When you play on the edges of your comfort zone, those edges slowly expand, and expand, and expand — and you start to be able to do more things, to push more boundaries, to achieve goals you never thought possible.
The strength and courage to break out of your comfort zone happens, as Josh said, in those little moments of your life. Take the opportunity to make yourself uncomfortable. Take a cold shower. Talk to a stranger. Ask the coffee shop for a free cup of coffee, just because. That’s how you start to get more and more comfortable with discomfort. Rejection therapy is another great tool to start really getting out of your comfort zone.
All of those resources, along with the book The Art of Learning, would be a great starting point toward becoming mentally tougher and overcoming your fear.
If you’re interested in mastering another subject, whether it’s memory and creativity, improving your career, money and personal finance, high performance, or just some mind bending and crazy cutting edge science, I suggest checking out our entire list of episode categories here on the episodes page and diving into whatever sounds existing and interesting. And of course, if you have any questions, feel free to email me!