Today, we're excited to have an incredible guest on our show, Peter Shallard. Known as the shrink for entrepreneurs, Peter is a renowned business psychology expert and therapist gone renegade. He works with entrepreneurs from around the globe to help them master the psychology of reaching their goals of success faster, better, and with a bigger impact. Peter, welcome to The Science of Success.
Peter: Thanks for having me.
Matt: So, Peter, tell us a little bit about your background.
Peter: Yeah. So, as you just said, I've got a background in psychotherapy and psychology. I started out actually running a private therapy practice working with civilians back in the day, and since then I've kind of specialized and I found myself as a specialist working with entrepreneurs, which has been a really fascinating experience for the last... almost ten years now, I think. And the practice that I've built, it has me really get this incredible insight through one-on-one consultation some of the brightest and best people doing some of the most crazy, high risk venture pursuit in the world. Along the way I started another company called Commit Action, which is really about helping people who are starting out in business overcome a lot of the psychological obstacles that really prevent them from getting started, and that's been kicking around for the last two years and has gotten me obsessed with, you know, pretty much the title of your podcast: the science of success. We're trying to really look into empirically what is it that moves the dial for helping people turn their intentions, their hopes, that desires, their dreams and all of that into actual concrete results and what really you know makes a difference in a tangible, measurable way. So, yeah. That's the world that I play in.
Matt: So, you work with some of the smartest minds in neuroscience as part of what you're doing at Commit Action. What have you picked up from kind of running in those circles?
Peter: Yeah, that's right. So, along the way, we figured out that we wanted to put together a solution for these entrepreneurs who are starting out. You know, the hundreds of thousands of people who are joining the self-employment kind of movement every year. We know that number is growing and growing and we realized to really get into the science of it we needed to approach some of the folks who are working at the absolute cutting edge in the academic world and who are doing some of this research. So, we worked closely with the professor of positive psychology at NYU. We've worked with some Harvard neuroscience folks to try to really get an insight into the vast wealth of knowledge that these guys have with the research that they're doing, and so, you know, I have all sorts of exciting little nuggets to talk about that we've picked up from some of these people are on our company's Advisory Board. And also, you know, that we we've used to inform the work that we do it Commit Action with our members, and we've actually become a bit of a statistical force to be reckoned with, because in the last, I think, three years, we've conducted of over 10,000 one-to-one phone calls with entrepreneurs all around the world, and when we're doing that, we're collecting all sorts of data about how these people are accomplishing their goals, you know, what sort of intentions they're setting, what the follow-through looks like. We're basically empiricizing the science of achievement and tracking all of this stuff, and so, our long-term intention is actually to be working with some of these incredible academics who are figuring out amazing, amazing stuff through these studies, that to be honest, primarily revolve around undergrad students coming into a lab and playing various games and doing kinds of examinations to figure out these different hypotheses. We're really hoping to be able to take some of the stuff and apply it to the business world, where there's this bottom line metric, which is, can you help somebody who's made it their mission to build a business, who's maybe quit their job with the intention of starting a web design company or finally creating that widget that they've always had as a hobby and they want to see if they can bring it to market and make that their source of income and whatnot, and can these insights into the psychological science that really show that, you know, at least in the lab, this is how you can predict someone's performance, this is how you can improve someone's performance, this is how you can make a goal more achievable. Will this stuff actually move the dial in the real world? We're starting to see some really exciting signs of that happening, and then as we grow our business and get to even more of a significant statistical sample, we'll be working closely with these guys to hopefully be running efficacy studies of our own.
Matt: That's fascinating. So, over 10,000 one-on-one phone calls collecting all kinds of information.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, at this point, we're also... you know, we have a proprietary web app, which is an amazingly powerful tool that our members use to plan out their goals. I mean, I don't want to talk too much about what the actual business does because I don't want to just pimp it out here. It's not my intention. But the thing that we do is we meet with our members every week over the phone and help them essentially plan their goals to the next week, so at a primary level, the service we provide is kind of like personal training for productivity. Just like you'd go to the gym and have someone yell at you and spit in your face to make you do push-ups, we're actually providing a service where these entrepreneurs, many of whom incredibly isolated, they feel, in the real world at least, that there's not too many people and their friends and family groups who sort of understand or get what they're going through. They'll meet with one of our coaches over the phone and also through this virtual experience that our app facilitates, and they'll plan out the week ahead, you know, create incredible clarity around what they should be focusing on, and then leverage the accountability of having a pro help them with all of this to actually make sure that they get it done. So, we've created this kind of revolving seven-day ritual. Now, the exciting thing about that from a scientific point of view is it gives us this amazing snapshot of people's lives and really gets solid data on how many things are people actually accomplishing that they articulate as clearly defined actions, and what is the effect of applying more specificity to go setting, and things like that. You know, any particular question you might have about how an entrepreneur goes about accomplishing a goal, we can basically run a survey out to hundreds and hundreds of people within seven days and get, like, a 99% response rate and have some really interesting data to play with. So, we're really trying to figure out what is it that really matters, what is it it really helps people succeed in an area and an industry, honestly, that I believe there's just so much noise, there's so much BS, to be honest. There's so many people peddling all kinds of, like, we can help you be successful type products and services, and yeah, it's our mission to be the one that actually works.
Matt: So, what are some of the take-aways that you've seen from kind of diving into those snapshots of people's lives?
Peter: Yeah. So, this is the whole reason I was excited to talk to you, and I think that the place that I'd like to start the conversation is to say that what the science tells us is--and this is going to be a big let down for everybody here--is that the truth about achievement, about I guess the science of success, is that it's deeply un-sexy. There's a lot of really cool ideas that are out there kicking around the personal development industry.
You can go out on a retreat. You can pay thousands of dollars to go to some retreat where you do a sweat lodge or some incredible heart cracking wide open ceremony where you're going to have an epiphany and maybe cry like a little baby and have this amazing, almost psychedelic insight into what's been holding you back, uncover limiting beliefs, and really examine the very essence of your soul. What we've discovered is that that stuff very rarely actually makes a difference. The things that really help people actually simply get more done or accelerate progress towards a clearly defined outcome, you know, literally things like increasing profitability of a small business, that sort of stuff, that is actually really deeply un-sexy, that it has to do with a lot of basic psychological concepts, which I'm happy to talk about in a lot more depth, that at first look seem really kind of intuitive and boring and kind of like, "Oh, yeah, I know I should be doing that," but when you look a little deeper I think that where it gets exciting is that a lot of these concepts and ideas are, I guess, things that we might think we know about but that so few people are applying, and that's what we've really discovered. I mean, one of the most shocking things that has kind of come up as sort of a hypothesis that we're brewing and that we're seeing a lot of evidence for is that, initially, when I started this business, when we started working with these beginning entrepreneurs and new folks to entrepreneurship, I sort of believed that success was a spectrum, right. I thought that, you know, just intuitively there was probably people who are really struggling and there's people who are, you know, really, really crushing it, hitting home run after home run, serially successful entrepreneurs, and then everyone in between all the colors of the rainbow. Once we started looking at these psychological dynamics, these kind of core ingredients that seem to really make up, you know, the ability for someone to be able to set a goal and achieve it, I guess as easily as possible. We found that there was an almost binary difference, or at the very least there was a big chasm, a huge gulf between the kind of haves and the have-nots, that there's a huge number of people, the vast majority of people who are aspiring entrepreneurs, which is the only the sample population we deal with. They actually are totally lacking a lot of this stuff that seems very intuitive, and then there's a very tiny fraction of a percent of really high performers who have what I kind of think of as the psychological equivalent of a silver spoon in their mouth, right. Like, they've got this incredible advantage, whether they've picked it up from, I don't know, their parents, their education, something in their life has conditioned them to think about goals in a certain way, to manage their own performance in a certain way, to sort of measure their expectations in a certain way, and they have this ability that helps them from the outside look like absolute wizards, look like people who are capable of just taking a dream or an idea and blowing it up into something extraordinary. But yeah, that was one of the most kind of shocking things, but when we really look at the individual pieces of the puzzle what we actually find is that, yeah, it's pretty un-sexy stuff. There isn't any magic bullet in here that's going to feel like an epiphany to your listeners, so I want everybody who's listening now, as you got through this podcast you're going to probably learn a whole bunch and it's going to be very real and tangible, but there won't be any moment where your mind is blown by some completely foreign and alien concept, because what actually works is the most un-sexy and real sounding stuff, advice, tactics, strategies of all.
Matt: So, I'm very intrigued. Tell me more about these, as you call them, deeply un-sexy concepts that underpin some of the highest achievers' results.
Peter: Okay, cool. So, yeah, the first thing is, you know, one of the things I've always been obsessed with, anybody who's kind of interested psychology loves personality profiles, personality tests, that kind of stuff. Myers Briggs, there's all kinds of... There's a whole spectrum of these, ranging from the ultra-spiritual woo-woo, totally unscientifically validated, but, in my opinion, still sometimes genuinely very interesting systems for splitting up personality and figuring out who you are, right through to the ones that we think of as more scientific. In... I believe it was in the '80s but I'm not totally sure, though, actually, off the top of my head. There was a group of psychologists and social scientists all around the world who got together to try to kind of figure out... They ran a global symposium to figure out, well, what is it about... You know, what is the real personality type? Like, let's get rid of all the noise, let's try to scientifically really dig down and find out what are the traits, what are the fundamental building blocks of personality, and this is the key that we can use to actually predict success, because if you can't use a personality trait or personality type, a label of some kind, to predict anything, then what's the point? Is it actually real? So, these guys got together and they eliminated a huge amount of different systems and basically boiled it down to what are now known as The Big Five personality traits. You're familiar with The Big Five, right?
Matt: A little bit, but tell me more and kind of explain it so that the listeners can really understand the Big Five or, as I think it's also known, the Five Factor model.
Peter: Right, yeah, the Five Factor model. So, the five factors that we're talking about here, and what's really important to preface this with, these are not "types" in the Myers-Briggs sense where you can sort of be one or the other, extrovert or introvert, and it's about what kind of unique beautiful snowflake are you. These are almost like... I think of them as levels, like in a video game when you have a character who levels up. So, we're looking at a high score being, you know, implied as superior and higher-functioning and a low score being implied as lower-functioning. The five factors are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and then the last one is neuroticism, what is kind of a reverse score. I'll explain that. We'll go through them a little bit. Openness, number one, is basically openness to experience. It's really fundamental curiosity. It's the idea that, you know, some people are more just genuinely open to variety, to the experience of the new in their life, and what these guys figured out is that this trait is really, really important for things like self-actualization, at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It's really a big part of that we believe people's ability to ultimately be happy, because seeking out new experiences and being open to new experiences is what really gives us a lot of emotional fulfillment. The second trait, conscientiousness, is the one that I really want to talk about today. Conscientiousness is the big success predictor. You know, at the base level, it can really be looked at as just a tendency to be kind of organized and sort of very deliberate. You know, self disciplined in a lot of ways. But when we look a little bit deeper into it, we start to associate conscientiousness with somebody who's incredibly good at an understanding of and an appreciation for delayed gratification. So, conscientiousness is the hard-working personality trait. People who have high levels of this are incredibly good at present moment sacrifice in pursuit of a long-term outcome. And, of course, as you're listening to this, this sounds like an entrepreneur. This is somebody who is willing to work 16 hours a day so that they can really create something for themselves or make some kind of a big impact down the road. Extraversion. This is an important one to kind of clarify because a lot of people are obsessed with this idea of extrovert/introvert that comes from Myers-Briggs. Extraversion in the Big Five is a little bit of a different concept. It's less about how you sort of recharge your batteries, which is the phrase thrown around in the Myers-Briggs world a lot, and it's more about how outgoing and energetic you have the ability to be, how well you cope with the stimulation of others, of groups of people. The thing about Myers-Briggs is that there's a lot of introverts who have the ability to be quite highly extroverted. They just get really exhausted by it. For the purposes of the Big Five, how your energy responds to being extroverted doesn't really matter. It's about whether or not you have the ability to do it. And so, extraversion is really powerful in predicting things like people's ability of salespeople, all that kind of stuff, and also just predicting help people socialize and play well with others. Agreeableness. These last ones, I'm not... I'm more interested in conscientiousness, but just since we're giving a little bit of a dictionary definition here, we'll power through them. Agreeableness is basically a tendency to basically get on well with others, to be cooperative. It tends to really kind of resonate with people who find themselves matching conversationally with people. So, when they chat with others in a social context, they're more likely to search for shared experiences. They're more likely to say a lot of yeses and make a lot of, literally, agreements in a conversation, rather than seeking to criticize where the other person may be incorrect or sort of analytically pick apart someone's arguments as though conversation is some kind of Socratic dialogue. So, people with a low score in this area are often perceived as very highly competitive, very argumentative people. And then neuroticism is kind of a reverse trait. We actually want to have a really low score with neuroticism. Neuroticism is basically just kind of how solid our grip on reality really is. You know, how well, how good we are at emotional self-soothing, we good we are at kind of controlling our negative emotions and being resilient in that sense. It has a lot to do with emotional stability and impulse control. I often think it's a bit of a shame that they've called it neuroticism. It's because there's a beautiful acronym, OCEAN. Openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Really, it should be emotional stability with a positive score, right, so you want to be really good at that. So basically, these five factors... You know, what these these social scientists and psychological scientists figured out, this is the stuff that really, really matters. This was a while ago. These are the traits that we can say pretty empirically that when people have high scores on all of these and a low score on neuroticism, they're going to be a successful person, they're going to be more likely to maybe make a lot of money, maybe stay in a long-term relationship, maybe raise healthy, well-adjusted children, or whatever it is that you really care about. Now, to finish this massive soliloquy that I'm giving here, where we get really excited is in some of the developments that have happened the last ten, fifteen years, particularly in the positive psychology field, breaking down this idea of conscientiousness and really proving that to be one of the most powerful predictors for success in any particular area of life that really matters. And yeah, that's kind of what we're seeing right now, is that conscientiousness and a bunch of associated traits and synonyms for essentially that thing, that ability to appreciate delayed gratification, that ability to work hard, is something that just straight-up predicts phenomenal success, and probably where this began and was with the famous marshmallow experiment, which I wouldn't be surprised if you've had other guests on this podcast talk about. This is a guy called Walter Mischel, who basically had a bunch of kids come in and do this experiment where, really, the challenge was for them to succeed at resisting immediate gratification. So, what they did is they put a marshmallow out in front of these kids and they told them that if they could wait--I think it was something like 15 minutes--in a room alone with a marshmallow sitting on the table in front of them, they would have two marshmallows. They could wait 15 minutes and not eat the first marshmallow. Now, what they found is that the kids who were able to hold out the full 15 minutes... These are very young children. I forget the exact age, but I'm thinking five, six, something like that. These kids who held out for the full 15 minutes did 210 points higher on their SATs down the road than those who caved within the first 30 seconds. Not only did they perform better academically as they grew up, they were also more popular, and in these studies that tracked kids going through into adult life, they earned higher salaries. They also had lower BMIs. They were physically healthier people. And this all comes from an experiment that just basically measures how conscientious are these kids, how good are they at delayed gratification. So, it's through the Big Five and then narrowing down into conscientiousness that we're starting to see in the last few years the science of psychology and performance psychology be able to actually tell us what are the things that really matters, and this is an exciting time because up until very recently, almost all psychology was theoretical, was based on really, really smart guys, admittedly, having a lot of bright ideas and basically writing down incredible theories and just thinking stuff in an armchair. It was almost, you know, the philosophy of psychology, so it's exciting to be able to see this stuff actually create results in a lab.
Matt: Well, that whole thing is fascinating, and I think that this is definitely the conclusion that people may not agree with or like this message, but the outcome of the marshmallow experiment alone, which I don't think we have talked about before on the podcast, is staggering. How can people really understand or measure their own scores on this test? Is it something you can go out and take, or how can you take a look at yourself as you are today?
Peter: Yeah. It's a good question. It's funny because, you know, the Big Five... This is the thing that's so un-sexy about it, is that when these guys figured out the big five and conscientiousness and all this stuff, they really realized that they had distilled down personality traits to the point where it was no fun anymore, and there really isn't a test anymore. They actually say, I think... I'm not sure. I'm sure if you look up the Wikipedia for the Big Five or whatever, you'll find that it's kind of widely agreed that if you want to get a measure of the Big Five in adults, you literally just ask people to self-score. You know, there are tests out there, but they're not like these really fun personality tests that people really enjoy where they ask you these sort of [00:25:13] questions, right. Like, it's like, do you prefer pineapples or mangoes? Oh, you're an extravert. These are really questions more along the lines of how do you feel about working really hard for a goal that's down the road, that's in the future? So, because they've distilled it down to these fundamental basics, it's gotten to this place where there isn't any mysticism anymore. So, I think just knowing about these things is the real take-away here. Certainly, you can look online and take a test to figure out what your Big Five score is, but I think it's more useful to really think of these as the ultimate indicators for personal growth, and if our mission is to be happy and successful in life, one of the things that we can look at doing is increasing our openness to experience, increasing our conscientiousness, our ability to do this delayed gratification, working to increase our extraversion, our agreeableness, and just generally lowering our neuroticism and increasing our emotional stability. And so, I think that using them as a guide for growth rather than a place to pigeonhole yourself is really important, because that's what the Big Five have really evolved into. It's not like Myers-Briggs or some of these other personality profiling systems, a method for figuring out your identity. That's really the big difference that folks have to understand, is that when you find out you're an ENTP or whatever in Myers-Briggs, it's really telling you, this is your particular unique, beautiful snowflake. Enjoy this. These are your strengths. Maybe you might behaviorally try to, once you find out you're really extraverted, maybe you'll do a little bit more of that, or whatever. But the Big Five is different in that it's more of a recipe, a guide for us to tell us what to improve. So, I think it's less about asking yourself what you are, because I think that at a fundamental level, in our bones, we know if we have a problem with conscientiousness. We know if we have a problem with extraversion, you know. It's more about using these tools to figure out how you can improve.
Matt: So, I really like the kind of description, that these are indicators for personal growth. It's kind of the road map in pointing you in the direction of where you need to be thinking about, in terms of how you can kind of level yourself up.
Matt: And so, do you think that... And I guess, what does the research say about how fixed are these traits? You know, I can hear somebody now saying, well, how can I change my neuroticism, or how can I shift to being more conscientious? Is it something that can actually be kind of improved and leveled up, or is it something that's unchangeable?
Peter: Yeah. So, the science of conscientiousness is something that we're obsessed with at Commit Action. You know, myself and everybody at the organization, this is the number one thing that we're focusing on, because, as I said, where conscientiousness has been proven several times over to be one of the only accurate predictors for success, and particularly for financial success, and obviously we're working with entrepreneurs that care about this stuff. So, we're obsessed with it, and what we're actually doing, you know, we provide a service that's designed to level up conscientiousness, and there are a lot of ways that you can go about doing it. The best and brightest minds who are studying conscientiousness and associated traits, there's a lot of synonyms for it that are kicked around the psychology world like willpower, like grit, determination, that kind of stuff. These guys all kind of agree that this thing... The best metaphor for it, I guess, is a muscle, and a lot of the best researchers are really happy with that as a metaphor, and what that means is that it's a part of our personality. It's a mental faculty that we have that becomes stronger the more we work it out. And to be clear, that also working it out makes it really exhausted, right, as anybody who is a big kind of gym junkie knows. If you go to the gym and you do some crazy leg day workout, tons of squats, that sort of thing, the next day your legs are going to feel incredibly shaky, right? Like, you're going to have trouble getting out of chairs. But if you do this over a period of months, you're eventually going to be able to be objectively stronger. You're going to be able to squat a far bigger weight or deadlift a much bigger weight. That's pretty much exactly how conscientiousness in particular really works. It's something that we can work out, and the way we work it out is by hitting it like we would a muscle, by hammering it, by demanding of ourselves that we use this ability. And so, it doesn't really matter where you are with conscientiousness. What matters, I fundamentally believe, that we approach this, that all of us approach this with a fundamental optimism. You know, that we can, in fact, go and build this skill.
Matt: So, what are some of the practical ways that either you guys use at Commit Action or maybe some of the listeners could employ in terms of actually kind of building that muscle and really working it out?
Peter: Yeah. So, that's a great question. It depends a little bit on where you're kind of at with it. Like, where you feel your ability lies with conscientiousness. I think that it's always best to start small, particularly if you feel like you're a very undisciplined person, that you struggle with delayed gratification. It's something that you can begin to actually exercise with something as simple as actual exercise. Like, working out, at a fundamental level, is an exercise in delayed gratification. You know, going for a run, going to the gym, it doesn't feel good in the moment. It does feel good afterwards, but what you're pursuing is a long-term result, like in a year you get to have a six pack or you get to lose a bunch of weight or whatever it is that you're looking for. You get all of the benefit much further down the road. So, if you've never really done anything like that before, that can often be a really good place to start. Now, for the entrepreneurs we're working with, we're trying to directly apply this to business pursuits. So, we'll do a lot of different things. I mean, we have a one-to-one service. We put one of our incredible productivity and accountability coaches one-to-one on these phone calls with our members. But we'll have them do things like dedicate a certain portion of the day, you know, five days a week, they'll do something that is incredibly scary to them. Like, a really common one, because we have so many folks who are starting businesses, they're in the first few years of getting going, they need to be doing something called cold calling, which is literally jumping on the phone and prospecting for business. Particularly common for people who have business to business businesses that they run, where they're selling things to other companies. And so, this is a terrifying exercise for a lot of newcomers to entrepreneurship, a lot of people who don't have sales experience. I mean, to be honest, it's terrifying even for people who do have that experience sometimes. And so, it meets the criteria of that delayed gratification exercise, right? Because it's painful up front. It's very difficult to pick up the phone and call a stranger and run the risk that you may be horribly rejected in pursuit of maybe opening up an opportunity when one in ten calls is maybe going to go your way, and even if it does, you're not actually going to sell something to that company that you just called, you know, for another month or two or three or six. Right? So, it's this incredible slow process, yet we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it actually works. You know, billions of dollars of business are done this way all around the world every year. So, we'll play little games with our clients. We'll have them do things like take an hour out of every morning where they do nothing but cold call. We'll build an entire ritual around that. We'll have them understand that if they narrow the scope of the challenge down to 60 minutes, or even 30 minutes to get started, or even just kind of making one call, if they're really resistant, that they can build up a habit of sort of doing this thing that hurts, of doing the delayed gratification thing, of conscientiously applying themselves outside of their comfort zone. And what actually starts to happen is this extraordinary thing where the person does it and then creates a psychological feedback loop that gives them this incredible sense of confidence and well-being because ultimately, they feel great because they've started doing the thing. Now, this is the same thing that you'll see when somebody without an exercise habit spontaneously develops one. They start running. You know, a couple of weeks in, they're not getting the results yet, but they really start to feel incredible. I think, because of the internal narrative that we have of, like, "Hey, I'm doing this. I'm finally taking action on this." So, I'm trying to cook this down into a sort of a practical take-away for your listeners, but I think that if you've got something that you're horrifically procrastinating... And that's fundamentally why everybody who works with us comes to us in the first place. They know that there's something they should be doing, and they know they should be doing it. They need to do it. If you've got something like that, you can begin to build your conscientiousness muscle by creating a highly specific challenge as sort of a daily ritual or a very, very short-term implementation goal, but I'm tapping into all sorts of other psychological science, you know, using these sort of buzzwords here, and when you really just focus on that one thing, it demystifies the enormity of the project, right? I mean, just thinking about making ten cold calls a day for the rest of your life is horrifically... You know, it's terrifying, right? But when it's sort of like I just have to pick up the phone today, you look at this from a different perspective and you'll do it, and it will engage that willpower muscle, that conscientiousness muscle, and you'll be depleted at the end of that hour or that half hour. You'll be really worn out. But if you do this enough, you'll come back and get stronger and stronger and stronger before you become, in the case of our members, the kind of entrepreneur who eats cold calls for breakfast. And that's really what it's all about.
Matt: I love the phrasing, kind of thinking about it in terms of the idea of embracing discomfort. That's something that we've talked about on the past on Science of Success. We actually have a whole episode about the concept of how to embrace discomfort, and we actually kind of tie in another thing that we call the sphere of discomfort, which is a very similar sort of concept, that the more you kind of play at the edges of your comfort zone, the more that that expands and broadens, and then you can really kind of create... You know, open up new frontiers and new opportunities that would have been essentially invisible to you before you kind of built that muscle.
Peter: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I think that this is fundamentally... This is the un-sexy truth about real personal growth, about real... You know, I almost sort of wince to say this, but real personal development. Not in the epiphany sort of seminar, raise your hands in the air and scream about it sense, but in a tangible, can you measure this in your business's bottom line, can you measure this on your scales, can you measure this in some way that actually matters. And it does have to do with leaning into these ultimately painful experiences. One of the things that I think is very counter-intuitive that a lot of people sort of don't understand about this is that there is a real drain. There's a real psychological drain that some researchers have kind of pinpointed and described as ego depletion, and this is the draining of the fuel tank. This is the wearing out of the muscles, and one of the ways that we see these entrepreneurs over at Commit Action really kind of shooting themselves in the foot, tying themselves in a knot, creating self-sabotage of all kinds, is that they have these phenomenally high expectations of themselves, and this is true of, I think, anyone who sets out to be an entrepreneur. Almost universally, they have these enormous expectations. A lot of folks in the world have these very high expectations for themselves, and it becomes a problem because the high expectations are 24/7. They sort of think to themselves, if I can do this once, I can do it whenever. I should be performing at this high level. I should be working, you know, maybe 16 hours a day while I'm really building this business, or whatever it may be. What this doesn't account for is this phenomenon, well studied and measured and quantified at this point, phenomenon of ego depletion, and what ego depletion is is when we engage that psychological muscle, we're actually really draining... I sort of hesitate to use the word energy, but that's kind of what it is. We're really draining this mental energy. Now, this has actually been backed up and validated by all sorts of brain science. It's been understood... There was a study out at the University of Toronto, I think, that showed that ego depletion causes a slow down in the anterior cingulate cortex. So, the brain area that's basically cruicial for regulating self-control. And what is actually going on is that when we engage it, when we wake up in the morning and make ourselves go for a run and it takes a lot of willpower, it takes a lot of effort, we have to sort of grit our teeth and go do it, we now have less of that. We are now depleted, in a sort of metaphorical, energetic capacity, and in a real, neurological capacity, and we have less of that fuel to pour into other activities throughout the day. And so, it's this science that is at the heart of every entrepreneur's favorite story about entrepreneurial Jesus, a.k.a. Steve Jobs, and his decision to wear the same black turtleneck and mom jeans every single day, because one of the things that we've discovered is that ego depletion happens at a massive rate whenever we engage our mind in decision making. So, if you find yourself staring into your closet perplexed at what to wear today and thinking about, Well, I'm going to go out, I have this meeting, what should I put on, what temperature is it, blah blah blah, you're actually using this valuable mental fuel to make that decision. If you've ever found yourself low blood sugar, really hungry, trying to figure out a late lunch, and you're gazing into the fridge and you just can't possibly figure out what you should eat, what's going on is that you've had so much ego depletion throughout the day, you've been engaging this mental muscle so much that you now have none of it left. You're kind of running out of that juice, and that's that brain fuzz that people experience in the late afternoon and the evening where even the smallest decisions just feel completely overwhelming, and it's in that state that you're not going to be able to engage your mind to do that cold calling exercise or go on that workout. You know, the thing we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that people who build a habit of working out early in the morning, at least when they're high-performing executive types, they tend to have a lot more success than folks who try to make it happen at the end of the day, and it's for a fundamental reason. Ego depletion happens all day, every day, because of all the different stuff we have to make ourselves do with conscientiousness, with willpower, and the only thing that really resets it... Well, two things. The biggest one is sleep. We get a new tank when we wake up every morning. And the other one is food, but it's vastly less effective. So, there's all sorts of studies that have happened that show that when people consume a bunch of calories, it does give them a boost in terms of decision making willpower. It gives them that mental kind of function back. But the problem is it's temporary and it follows what we are figuring out about nutrition science, which is that if you have a bunch of sugar, you get a short-term lift but then ultimately you pay the price later on. So, really, it's sleep, which means that we have a day's tank every single day and we have to wake up and choose to spend it the best that we can, and this is why you'll see these high-level entrepreneurs who work very systematically to eliminate decision making, superfluous and unnecessary decision making for their lives, for the reason that they're trying to save up, whether because they know the science and they've talked to me or they just intuitively do this, they're trying to save up all the mental juice they can for the ego depletion that really matters. They want to spend that willpower, they want to engage that conscientiousness muscle on making those cold calls or really performing in that negotiation meeting, or whatever it may be.
Matt: And I think another name for ego depletion is also the concept of decision fatigue, which we've, I think, talked about in one or two episodes in the past, and I think it's a critical point and something that's super important.
Peter: Yeah. Decision fatigue is absolutely a part of it. Ego depletion encompasses also what happens when we simply engage conscientiousness, right? Like, when we engage our conscientiousness skill. So, if you need to... You know, decision fatigue happens to... Everybody who goes shopping for their wedding registry, right, like go and talk to any salesperson at Macy's or Sachs or somewhere like that, and they'll tell you that the couples really struggle. It burns them out. They have little fights. They get glazed eyes and they're just zombies by the end of a shopping experience, and the reason is you're basically putting yourself in an environment where you have to go and pick hundreds of things. You have to make hundreds of individual decisions. That's decision fatigue. Ego depletion includes decision fatigue, but it also includes the drain to our willpower that we experience when we try to do anything that involves delayed gratification. So, when the kid at the marshmallow experiment table is trying to resist eating that marshmallow for a full 15 minutes, there's some phenomenal ego depletion taking place because it requires willpower for that kid to literally be good, to be the best version of themselves, right, to follow through and do this good thing, and so it's constantly draining muscle while he's doing that, and a lot of these really fun experiments they do with these undergrad students and whatnot have shown that if you have... There's a great one. I'm going to butcher the paraphrasing of this here, but there's a great one where they had people resist eating... Like, they had people starve themselves so they'd be hungry. They'd come to the lab. The lab would be filled with the aroma of freshly baked cookies, and they'd have these folks resist eating the cookies. Like, you're not allowed to eat the cookies, but they'd just be sitting there looking good, smelling good, and then they'd say, "Now you go watch this movie in this comfortable lounge and there's all these snacks there and you can eat whatever you want. This is your reward. Just chill out." Now, of course, what they're actually measuring is how many of those snacks do people really eat, and what they've found is that the control group, the people who didn't have to sit and watch the cookies and smell the cookies but resist eating them, they would snack. They would have a few chips and M&Ms and that kind of stuff while they watch the movie. But the people who had been forced to engage their willpower and resist the cookies for half an hour, whatever it was, they would just go to town on these snacks while watching the movies, because their willpower had been depleted. This ego depletion thing had happened and they didn't have any of that juice left.
Matt: Fascinating. So, what are some ways that people might be able to kind of eliminate random or superfluous decisions throughout their day?
Peter: Well, to answer that question, I think we should talk a little bit about what we really do at Commit Action and the sort of philosophy behind it. Our hypothesis and the point of our service is to create a weekly ritual for our clients that becomes the place that they make decisions about their implementation intentions throughout the week. So, that's a fancy way of saying we help people set goals for the next seven days on one recurring point, one time, one date throughout the week. Now, the reason that this is important is that it drains us, it engages decision fatigue and ego depletion, to sit down and try to do some work, whether you're an entrepreneur, an employee, or an artist or anything. If you're sitting down at your desk and thinking, Now what should I do?, everything that we know about the science is telling us that that's a really wasteful use of your mental faculties. So, probably the best place to get started for people who are interested in the science of success is by doing exactly what we do, by building a really solid ritual of planning out what it is that you're going to be doing, what objectives you're going to be chasing, with a solid level of specificity every single week. And so, that's the ritual that we do to try and eliminate some of that wondering what to do next, and we've found that this is incredibly helpful at helping people move forward, pick up the ball and move it forward on their most important projects.
Matt: So, what books or resources do you recommend for the listeners who want to dig deeper into the Five Factor model or ego depletion or some of the other topics we've covered today?
Peter: That is a good, good question. I mean, the first... Trying to think of a book before I give a shameless plug here. I'm looking at my bookshelf. There's a lot of different stuff. Look, honestly, the thing that... If you want to learn more about this, if you're interested in particularly the science of success in the sense of helping yourself really move forward, eliminate any procrastination or self-sabotage or overwhelm or anything like that, and basically turn all of your goals and ideas into actual concrete progress, that's exactly what we do at Commit Action. Our marketing philosophy is a pretty simple one. We believe in generosity, so I've given away basically the best nuggets of all of our research and the stuff that we've figured out. We have a series of videos that are a tutorial training program, and it's absolutely free for everybody to come and check that out, and these videos will detail exactly how you can built these kind of concepts--we call them the pillars of this stuff--into your life to become an extraordinarily productive and effective person. Particularly if you're a business owner or you aspire to be a business owner, this stuff is going to be really useful. But arguably for anyone who is interested in success and high levels of achievement, you guys should come and check this out. So, I was excited to come on the podcast today and what I've actually done is set something up special just for the people who are listening to this podcast, because I know that this audience is probably a little more obsessed with the science of all of this than everybody else. So, we have a video training series that's available to the public. You can go to commitaction.com and sign up, but if you go to commitaction.com/science, which is a page that only exists for listeners of this podcast, you can pop your email address in there to get access to the video training platform and unlock all of these videos that we have that are free, that tell you how to do this stuff in your own life. We're also going to send the people who opt in there, the listeners of this podcast, an extra training that will focus on just the best nuggets, the best kind of psychological pieces of the puzzle that have come to us from our advisory board, and yeah. So, you'll get a bit of an insight into the actual research itself and go into a little bit more detail, and also the practical implementation steps, what you can take away from this science and really build into your life. So, I'm really excited to go into even more detail with the folks who are interested in that stuff. So, go to commitaction.com/science, and you'll also hear in that video series from Dan Lerner, who's the professor of positive psychology at NYU. He's going to chime in and talk a little bit about some of the science stuff as well. All and all, it's a really kick-ass program and the intention of it is that you can use that to walk away and build this stuff in your life and be more effective absolutely on your own, and, of course, we do it because we want people to know about our science and our technology and how we might help them, but it's a great resource for everybody anyway.
Matt: Well, that's awesome, and I think the listeners are going to be really excited to check some of that stuff out, so thank you very much for putting that together for everybody.
Matt: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that pretty much wraps up the episode, so thank you so much, Peter, for being on The Science of Success. I think this has been a fascinating discussion and I think everybody's really going to want to dig into some of the science and the research behind this, and in some ways, you might call it an un-sexy conclusion, but at the same time, kind of a surprising twist about what really predicts success and what really people should be focusing on in terms of trying to achieve results in their lives.
Peter: Yeah. And that's ultimately the message that I want to share and what our mission is all about, is understanding that an incredible amount of personal development, personal growth stuff that most people are chasing is a bit of a misnomer. There is a lot wrong with it. But when we look at the science of what actually works, what it presents is this optimistic view that the things that really make humans superhuman achievers are simple skills that we can work to level up and strengthen, just as you would a muscle in the gym. And to me, that's exciting. That's the most optimistic kind of view one could take, because it means that we all have a shot at doing better.
Matt: Awesome. Well, thanks for being on The Science of Success.
Peter: Thanks for having me.