[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:12.1] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success, the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the Internet with more than a million downloads and listeners in over 100 countries.
In this episode, we discussed the habits of high achievers. Talk about the motivation myth. Dig into the habits, routines and strategies you can use to achieve more in less time. We talk about balancing hostile and hard work versus recovery and much more with our guest, Jeff Hated.
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In our previous episode, we explored the motion and facial expression in depth with one of the world's top experts, the psychologists who pioneered much of the work in this field, Dr. Paul Ekman. We discussed the 6 to 7 major universal emotions. How emotional reactions are unchanged across cultures, ages, even species. We talk about micro-expressions, reading people's faces, how to manage and control your own emotions and much, much more. If you want to learn more about emotion, listen to that episode.
Before we get started today with Jeff, I just wanted to throw out one little thing. We did have a few challenges with the audio quality on Jeff's end and I wanted to give you a heads up about that. We've done the best we could in editing and postproduction to clean it up, but that audio was a little bit rough. I just wanted to give everybody a heads up. We still thought the episode had enough value that we wanted to share the lessons that Jeff brought to us in that episode.
Here's the show today.
[0:02:47.3] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show. Jeff Haden. Jeff is a contributing editor for Inc.com author and a ghostwriter. He's ghostwritten nearly 40 nonfiction books including four Amazon bestsellers and he’s the author of the upcoming book; The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win, and his articles on inc.com alone were read by more than 20 million people in 2016. Jeff, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:13.8] JH: Thank you. I’m excited to be here. One of my favorite things to do is talk to people that are smarter than me, so I'm going to be in hog heaven today.
[0:03:21.2] MB: You’re very kind. Well, Jeff I love you — For listeners who might not be familiar with you, I’d love to start out and hear a little bit about kind of your background and your story and kind of what brought you into the world of personal development.
[0:03:33.1] JH: Wow! This will be really brief, because I'm a pretty boring guy. I worked in manufacturing for about 20 years and worked my way up to where I was running a plant. I thought that was my dream, and it was my dream for a long time, and I got there. Like many dreams, once you're there, you realize that it's not nearly as exciting as you hoped it would be, and it doesn't become your lifelong ambition. Actually my wife talked to me into trying to do something else and I started writing, and I was really, really poor at it at first and had no audience and had very limited success, but I plugged away and just kept working, which in all the successful people that I talked to when I write for Inc., that is the way they succeed. They’re not incredibly talented. They don’t have some flash of special something. They’re the people that I work and outthink and out-hustle other people. So that's what I tried to do.
In the process of that, I guess the best way to put this is in the process of talking to people who've achieved really big things. I got really interested in how they do that, and that's where my interest in personal development really came from. I think everybody’s interested in personal development, but I really got into it because it was fascinating to see people who had done these things and to realize that it wasn't, again, this special something. It was what they did, not who they were. It was what they did.
[0:04:54.3] MB: I think that’s a critical point, and this idea that top achievers don’t necessarily have some kind of super special sauce, but really, it's about the actions that they take and what they do as supposed to who they are or where they started.
[0:05:08.4] JH: Yeah. I’ve met a few that have egos big enough to think that they were just born that way. The vast majority say, “Well, I worked really, really hard and I got lucky,” and I think the luck part is overstated and work hard part and work smart part is understated, but that's really the key.
[0:05:27.2] MB: What are some of the other kind of common themes you’ve seen from interviewing ghostwriting for and studying and working with so many top achievers?
[0:05:35.7] JH: The biggest one to me is the power of process or the power of routine. People that achieve really big things set out to do so by figuring out what it will take to get there and mapping that out and creating a blueprint and then following that blueprint every day, which is what led me to my whole motivation [inaudible 0:05:56.4], which I'm sure we’ll talk about at some point. But it’s the power of doing the right things every day without fail, which is not always easy to do, but if you do that, success may not be guaranteed, but it's really close and you'll probably get to at least 90% or 95% of whatever it is you wanted to do.
[0:06:16.0] MB: How do we determine what the right thing to do are?
[0:06:20.3] JH: My favorite — It is actually a chapter in the book that’s called do what the pros do. I think what a lot of us like to do, we all think we’re individuals. It’s like that Monty Python thing where we’re all individuals and the one guy says, “I’m not.” We all think we’re individuals, and so we all have to have this special process or special routine or special approach that is just our own because we are so unique, and actually we’re not, and I know I'm not. So if you look around and find someone who has done whatever it is you want to do, and it could be personal, it could be fitness, it could be business, it could be whatever you want it to be and really look at what they did to get there and create a blueprint based on that and say, “If it was good enough for them, it's good enough for me.”
Too many people try to reinvent a perfectly good wheel and there are all kinds of good wheels out there. Pick one and start and followed, and if it is hard, that’s okay, because the hard part is what actually gets you where you want to be. Then later on down the road as you get good at whatever it is you're doing, you can start to adapt some of that stuff to who you actually are. I have a couple examples of that, but there's no reason to wait until you figured out this perfect process for yourself when there are all kinds of awesome processes out —
[0:07:40.3] MB: Yeah. That's one of my favorite mental models, the idea of studying what others have done to achieve the goals you want to achieve and then working the process and doing exactly what they’ve done. Many of the things that I've achieved in life are direct result of doing exactly that, studying closely people who have achieved what I want and then trying to emulate and do exactly what they did or follow the process that they did and not spending a bunch of mental energy on reinventing the wheel, but really just trying to cultivate a process based on what has worked for others.
[0:08:10.5] JH: Yeah, a good example of this, and it's a personal thing, but some years ago I was way out of shape and I couldn't run because my knees are terrible and I'm old, but I needed something cardio related. Somebody recommended that I try cycling, and I thought, “Okay. I can try that.” But I hated, hated the idea of it. Hated a bike, hated riding a bike. I went riding the first time and thought it was like hot death. Just hated it.
What I did was I found a local guy, a mountain biker, Jeremiah Bishop. He’s a professional cyclist and has been for about 20 years and he’s won national championships and all sorts of stuff. I just sat down with him and said, “I want to ride your Gran Fondo. It’s like 110 miles, 4 mountains, 11,000 feet of climbing. It’s just a disastrous thing. I said, “If you were me and you had four months to get ready, what would you do?” and he laid it out for me. The first day, I had to go riding for like two hours, and it was awful and I thought I would die, but I stuck with it, and within a few weeks I felt stronger, I was fitter, I was in better shape. I saw that there was light at the end of that tunnel, and so I just followed his plan. Was it perfect? No, because — But halfway through we realize that I don't respond well to lots of recovery time. I'm better if I do things every day. So we quit building in rest periods, and I did well with that, but I still followed his plan. That idea that we’re unique and we have to find that special something. I think that holds a lot of people back because it causes you to wait, and really success starts with action.
[0:09:56.6] MB: To me, that's one of the central ideas of achieving results, this idea that many people get confused and think that you would need to be motivated to start taking action, but in many ways it’s actually the reverse that just starting taking action, getting started, making a little bit of progress is really what ultimately creates motivation.
[0:10:18.2] JH: What happens as we read stories of people who, when they were like five years old, figured out their life's purpose, and that's what they became and we assume that that has to be how it works for us. I don't know anybody like that. I know there are people out there like that, but I don't personally know anyone like that. So waiting for that burst of inspiration that will help you find your passion and will give you all that motivation you need to carry on through the obstacles and the roadblocks and blah-blah-blah, then that means you wait forever. I think it actually works in reverse. I think success, even a really small success, creates — It makes you feel good about yourself. That gives you motivation, and then that causes you to be willing the next day to try again, which leads to success, which leads to motivation, which leads to trying again.
So I think the motivation actually comes from the action and the small bits of success, not from this lightning bolt that you get upfront, and the cool thing about it is that lightning bolt will always wear off no matter who you are, but if every day you're doing the right things and if nothing else you're feeling good about the fact that today you accomplished what you set out to accomplish, even if it doesn't make you feel like you're getting any better. If you did what you said you were going to do, that feels good. If you think about days when you finally sit back after your day is over and feel like, “Wow! I had a really good day.” It doesn't mean that you bought a new car, got a new house, got a promotion, got all that stuff. That's nice, but usually what makes us feel good is, “Hey, I had stuff I wanted to do today and I didn't. I worked hard. I did what I wanted to do. I feel good about that,” and that carries over into the next day. To me, motivation comes from action, not from inspiration.
[0:12:03.5] MB: I think many people fall into the trap of sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike, and they end up wasting a tremendous amount of time. I think your example is a great one, because in maybe a business context, it's easier to think about, “Okay. Action creates motivation,” but for someone who's an incredibly prolific writer. You’ve written almost 40 books. In a creative sphere, people think, OH! I have to wait for my muse to strike,” but it doesn't seem like that's necessarily the case.
[0:12:32.6] JH: No. I think your muse comes from the action. You get ideas from doing things. You get inspiration from actually trying things. I’d never had the blank piece of paper or blank screen syndrome, because every day I get up and my job is to write and I know that. So I have a plan. I know what I'm going to start with and I kind of roll on. Actually, that’s one of my favorite tips for being productive all day, and I’ll give you two really quick. One is the idea that the night before you decide, “What is my most important thing I need to do tomorrow? What matters most?” Set that up the night before so that when you get up and you get to your office or wherever it is you work, that everything is ready for you to do that. You don't do other stuff. You don't check your email. Nothing. That is what you're going to do, and you knock that out, and when you're done, then you can do your other stuff. But by completing what was really important, you get that motivation to work hard the rest of the day and it builds momentum for the rest of the day, because you achieved what you set out to achieve. You feel good about yourself. That's motivating, and that will create the momentum. For me, that creates this really cool cycle of, “Hey, I did that. that was great. Now I’m going to do this. I did that. That was great.” That’s ease your way into the day thing. I guess it works for some people, but I don't know anybody that's really successful that does that.
It's more of a, “Let me do something right away that makes me feel good about myself.” Not in a happy way, but in a success and achievement way. That'll make you feel good and that will give you the motivation to keep going. That is my favorite tip to give people who say they have a hard time getting known.
[0:14:15.6] MB: Yeah. To me, the idea of setting out kind of your most important task the night before is one of the cornerstone productivity strategies that I implement my own life as well. I even will basically set out on Sunday. I’ll kind of do an audit of my previous week and then I'll put together, basically, one to two what I just call MIT's or most important tasks for every day of the week. I’ll set out, “All right. This is Monday MIT. This is my Tuesday MIT,” and the idea, basically, as soon as I start working, before I get sucked into email and all these other busywork and everything else, that I execute those things, basically first thing in the morning.
The goal of that kind of Sunday review process is to figure out, “Okay. What of the big levers that I can pull? What are the big rocks that I need to move? What are the few things that I can really execute on that are going to make the biggest difference in my business and sort of progressing towards my goals?”
To me, even if I do nothing that entire week except for execute those four, five most important tasks, that keeps the ball rolling forward and keeps creating the most amount of results possible despite distraction and lack of productivity and busywork and everything else.
[0:15:26.2] JH: That's a really good point and it leads to — It’s kind of like the same thing as the environmental architecture that people use sometimes to eliminate choices so that they do the things that they want to do. What you’re doing on Sunday night is you’re actually eliminating choices during the week about what you might decide to do, because you know what you need to do. You don't have to sit there and think about it. You don't have to decide, “Hmm. Is this more important? Is that more important?” In that moment, which is in the moment is usually when we make the wrong decision, and so you're creating a system where these are the things you’re going to do and you don't even have to think about it. Just like the guy that brings his lunch to work every day and it's a healthy lunch. He doesn't have to decide what he’s going to eat. He does not choose to make a healthier choice and drain a little bit of that willpower. It’s just what you do, and that's your system.
When you have something like that that is just what you do, it’s really, really easy to follow. It kind of fits into this — There's research around two sets of words. I can't and I don't, and this may get boring, so stop me if it does Researchers tried to experiment where they wanted someone to start or a group of people to start a new habit, a new program. So they each were — Different sets of them were given different things that they would say. Some of them would say, “I can't do this, because I'm trying to do that.” Others said, “I don't do this,” and then another group didn't have any strategy to use at all.
What's funny about it is that 8 out of the 10 people that said I don't actually stuck to the program. One out of 10 said that said I can't stuck to the program, and the people that didn't have a strategy at all, 3 out of 10 of them actually stuck to it. So saying I can’t is actually worse than having no strategy at all, and the theory behind it is if you say I don't, you're identifying with whatever that is. So it fits I don't miss workouts or I don't, let’s say, fail to follow up with people. Whatever it might be, if that's who you are, then it’s not a choice. It's just what you do. If it's I can’t, you're opening yourself up to, “Hmm, I do have a choice.” So I can't have the bowl of ice cream, but you know what? I think I will, because it's okay right now, and you come up with some kind of rationale for why that works.
In a long-winded way, that goes back to that whole choice architecture of if you layout your most important tasks and you decide them when you have time to reflect and it's not momentary decision, you're much more likely to accomplish them because you're not making choices anymore.
[0:17:59.2] MB: Yeah, I think that's great, and we love research examples on the show, so I appreciate you kind of bringing that example in as well.
[0:18:07.2] JH: I have another one then for early in the morning. I talked about I have like my most important thing to do. Some days though I choose to get up and work out first. Again, that's a choice and it’s part of my program. There are a whole bunch of reasons for that. If you're into intermittent fasting, it’s the perfect time to work out. If you have a busy day, it is hard for you to get to the gym in the evening. It's the perfect time to work out, because you can always get up early, but there is research that shows that working out first thing, and I we’re not talking hard. You can do 20 minutes of like moderate cardio, which is getting your heart rate to about, say, 110 beats a minute, which is not super high. If you do 20 minutes of that, you actually improve your mood for like the next 12 hours of the day.
So if you want to feel better and feel a little more like upbeat, not just physically, but emotionally, if you do that first thing in the morning, that kicks off the rest of your day. Whereas if you work out at night, you’re going to go to bed in a few hours, so you lose some of that 12 hours that you could've taken advantage of.
The key to doing that though is if you work out, and even if you work out hard, you have to have a process that says, “Okay. I’m going to do that. I’m going to take my shower. I’m going to eat,” or whatever it is, “and I'm going to roll right into whatever is my most important task.” if you workout and then say, “Oh, wow! That was tough. I better lay back for a while.” You’ve lost all that momentum that you filled by getting something done right away and you don't get that cool little virtuous flywheel of success, equals motivation, equals success, equals motivation. Working out first thing is an awesome way to start your day both physiologically, but also emotionally, but you have to create a routine that allows you to go right from that to other things that will also keep you rolling.
[0:19:54.6] MB: I agree. I’m a huge proponent of morning workouts as well, but you're right. The critical point is you have to be able to transition from that work out right into that sort of MIT, most important task, before you get sucked into the whirlwind of emails and phone calls and all of these incessant kind of nonsense that can end up destructing you from the really high leverage activities.
[0:20:18.6] JH: That leads to an interesting point about that whole rolling into the next thing. There's a book that’s out, it’s fairly recent. It’s called High Performance Habits. It’s by Brendon Burchard, and he studied hundreds of people that have net worths of way more than mine, very successful people, and he looked at how they sustained their energy throughout the day, because the average person, about 2 or 3:00, if you’ve been working pretty hard, you're starting to tail off, and there are tons of strategies out there for people that say, “Hey, you’re going to tail off.” Do stuff that doesn’t require creativity later in the day, and he found that the high-performing people didn't approach it that way. They thought they could sustain energy all through the day, but what they did is they found recharge moments between activities.
If you're in a meeting, if it takes 45 minutes and you’ve got 10 minutes until your next meeting starts, most people will use that time to like catch up on emails or take your phone call or do that other stuff that drains more energy. The high-performance people said, “I'll deal with that stuff later. For the next 10 minutes, I'm going to recharge so that I am back in the right frame of mind and I have the right energy for whatever my task is next.” For some of them, it was meditating. Others was a snack. Some took a walk, but they had something that allowed them to actually generate energy from that intermittent period rather than draining more of it away. He's got guys and women that do 12, 14-hour days and end the day really strong, because they are constantly recharging during those little bursts.
Back to your original point, that's what that morning is for. You get up, you workout. You get the benefits of that, but then you leverage that right into something else that keeps you rolling and not that causes you to just sort of sit back, because if it’s me, if I start that day slow, my whole day is slow. I don't have the oomph to go from vegging for an hour to then converting to high-energy the rest of the day. I have to start strong.
[0:22:25.1] MB: That kind of balance between stress and recovery is something that a lot of people at the top of the performance psychology field really think about and write about. People like Josh Waitzkin, who’s one of my all-time favorite sort of performance psychology expert, or Michael Gervais, we’ve interviewed on the show in the past, talk about these ideas of having these undulating periods between stress and recovery and how vital recovery is to peak performance.
[0:22:52.0] JH: Yeah. It’s the same with like — If you workout — You’re familiar with interval training. It’s the same principle there, where you do a burst. You have a small recovery period. You do another burst, and over time that actually makes you fitter than the person who just grinds it out, and I think with high-performing people, the ability to go in those intervals and to do a burst and a recovery and a burst and recovery is what makes them have greater stamina period, which leads to [inaudible 0:23:22.6]. I mean not stamina, just physically, but mentally and decision-making and everything. That leads them then to be able to do that over longer periods of time without feeling like they've gotten so drained that they need a break or they need a vacation right away or they just have to stop. The antidote I think to burnout is not to work less, but to create more chances to recharge.
[0:23:45.4] MB: How do you think about balancing the kind of notion and the idea of sort of hustle and hard work and he who works hardest the longest wins, versus the importance of kind of stress and recovery and having these recovery periods. What's the right balance between those two things?
[0:24:08.7] JH: If we knew that, we do it. I think that that starts with — That hard-work and hustle, there are plenty of people that work hard, but they're not necessarily working hard at the right things. So I think that it's a little bit like your Sunday night routine where you step back and say, “Okay. What are the right things that I need to do this week?” and you're going to work really hard at them, but you're going to identify those.
I know a lot of people that start businesses that they work endless amounts of hours, but a lot of what they're doing doesn't generate revenue, doesn't create new customers, doesn't create efficiency. It's just work, and there is a difference between the right things and just working. That I think is the place to start.
Like for me, some years ago, I like I got pretty busy and I don't have a staff and I was writing a lot of books and writing all kinds of stuff and I got tied up with lots of things that were ancillary to that, and I finally one day kind of step back and say, “Okay. Where do I create my value? I create value by writing, and all the other stuff is interesting in its busywork, but it doesn't actually generate any revenue and it doesn't create value, so I stripped away a bunch of it and I've farmed out the little bit that was left.
I think that's the first place to start is what are the right things and what leads to success in a predictable way. Then I think you have to kind of take a step back and say, “Okay. What supports that?” For me, fitness helps support what I do and I enjoy it. So I could do that. Clearly family and all the other things around also do that as well. I think if you focus on the right things and do those, you can free up some time that allows you to do to recharge things, but there is no one-size-fits-all clearly. What do you think?
[0:25:52.4] MB: I think it comes down to, kind of as you said, one of the most important things, and this harkens back to sort of the Sunday ritual and all these other pieces of the puzzle that we've been talking about. But it's all about what I call high leverage thinking, which is basically the idea of identifying the leverage points of where it's worth to invest your time and where you should be outsourcing, delegating, etc., and constantly asking yourself that question, “Do I need to do this? How can I outsource or delegate this to someone else? What are the really key things that I personally need to be focusing my time on?”
I think if you can master that, then it's almost a recursive process where you keep applying the same set of questions to whatever current sort of set of problems you have are, and every time you apply this set of questions, you weed out some tasks, you delegate some tasks, etc., and then you do that again and again and again and you keep getting more and more leverage as you apply that.
[0:26:49.6] JH: That set of question things is interesting and there's — In the book I write about Herb Kelleher, he’s the CEO of Southwest Airlines, and he makes dozens, if not hundreds of decisions today, but basically he applies the same framework to each one of those questions. Will this make Southwest Airlines the low-cost provider? Does that in any way help us be the low-cost provider? If it does, then he'll look at it, and maybe it's a yes. If it doesn't, then it becomes a no. I think that's important for people to do, not to be the low-cost provider, but to figure out what is it that you want to be. If you're an entrepreneur, will this help my business grow? If it's yes, yeah look at it. If it isn't, then it's a no. If you’re trying to get fitter, will this make me fitter? Will this help me be whatever it is I'm trying to become? If it will, cool. If it doesn't, well, then you can set that aside.
If you just apply that one question too pretty much anything that comes up during your day, it actually strips away a lot of that fluff and get you to the core of what you're really trying to do.
[0:27:55.0] MB: Circling back to kind of the idea we’re talking about a little bit earlier and just another thing made me think of, when I think about action, creating motivation, one of the pieces that really seems effective for me, it's not just even about — I think the MITs and the daily — Kind of executing those high-leverage tasks every day is critical and I think that's how you make the big moves and the big changes in your business and in your life, but I think to get the motivation even sometimes to get into sort of a productivity mindset, sometimes for me the smallest little things make a big difference, and that's — I think of a couple days ago, I just had a stack of mail that have been sitting on my desk and I was kind of listless and not really doing anything and I just went through the mail. I like kind of answered a couple of the letters. I wrote a check and like put it in an envelope, mailed it. Started doing all these stuff, and then like an hour and a half later I had like done all of these things and it all started with that really simple act of just cleaning up that pile of mail that had been sitting there. Sometimes just cleaning off your desk or just organizing something, those little tiny wins in many cases kind of snowball into a productivity burst that will last, in many cases, for a couple hours.
[0:29:11.6] MB: To me, strikes me — I kind of characterize that as that breaking a sweat principal, where if you're thinking about — Like when I was cycling a lot, sometimes I would have to go on like five-hour rides or something and I would — Ahead of time you’re just dreading the crap out of it. Don't want to go. Don't want to do it, but if you can just get started and break that first swat, then all that stuff goes away and then you're engaged and then you’re rolling.
for you to pick up that first piece of mail, that's all you really needed to kind of get past the hump, but sometimes it's really hard to think about starting, and I think that's because the distance between “here and there” is so great. If you're — I don’t know. Let's go bigger. If you're trying to — Say you want to run a marathon, but you're not a runner. If you go out and run a mile today and that was hard and you’ve let yourself think about the fact that someday you have to run 26, the distance between here and there is massive and it is demotivating and depressing and you will probably stop. If all you decided was, “Hey, I’m going to run on mile today. That's my goal. That’s my routine, and if I run that mile, I get to feel good about myself, because I did what I was supposed to do.” That carries you on to the next day.
For you, you pick up the one. You do something with it. You throw it away or you put it in the mail. That's cool. Let me do the next and the next, and so you just focus on what's next and suddenly you get your really big places. That's the power of numbers to me where you create a routine that just allows you to accumulate numbers, then you can get to a really cool place at the other end.
Last year, like I did 100,000 push-ups, that was something I decided I would do, and I broke it down into 374 a day. If on January 1 I had thought about the fact I had to do 100,000. It would've been hot death, but all I had to do is 374, and I can do 374. By the end of the year, I've done 100,000, which is a meaningless accomplishment other than that it proved to me that if you put your head down and do the work, you can eventually pop up and look around and say, “Wow! I did something really cool.”
[0:31:25.7] MB: I think that's great, and that is kind of the next topic I wanted to dive into, which is you’ve written and talked a lot about this, the power of process and routine and how that — You touched on this kind of at the opening of the conversation, but how these routines in many cases are really kind of the secrets that’s underpinned successful achievers.
[0:31:45.6] JH: I think a routine — When you first start to do something. Let's say you get promoted and you’re a supervisor. Okay, you’ve got the title. Maybe you’ve got the clipboards. You’ve got all the stuff. So you’re a supervisor, but that doesn't mean you're a leader. People who are leaders have actually motivated people, inspired people, developed people, trained people, brought groups, helped people achieve things. There’s all that stuff that goes into being a leader, and by having your routine that allows you to do that, at some point you don't look at yourself as a supervisor anymore. You look at yourself as a leader.
In the fitness world, if you start out trying to run a marathon. Well, you're somebody that’s trying to run a marathon. Somewhere down the road though, you become runner, and that becomes this intrinsic thing that allows you to shape how you see the world and how you see yourself, which is a very motivating thing. When you feel like you’re runner, it’s much easier to go running. When you feel like you're a leader, it's much easier to walk into that room and try to inspire the people that work for you. That routine takes you to really cool places, which I know is not the question that you asked me, but the power of routine is that it allows you to start to see yourself differently, and when you see yourself differently, that informs your actions and makes what you do much, much easier. If you're a parent, you don't have to motivate yourself to take care of your kids. You're a parent. You take care of that. So you can use that power of routine to help you become other things, which will then make it really, really easy to do things that you need to do, because that's who you are.
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Now back to the show.
[0:34:40.5] MB: How do you — For somebody who's thinking about kind of this daunting task or goal, let’s say the hundred thousand push-ups. How do you divorce that end goal from the kind of day-to-day activity so that you stay motivated?
[0:34:57.1] JH: That’s something that I’ve found at least by talking to incredibly successful people. They have that ultimate goal, and it's as if they set the goal, but then they forget that and they focus on all the things that it would take to get them there. So some weird little mental shift you have to make, but you really have to just say, “Yeah, that’s my end goal. That's cool. I know this is where I'm going, but what I really care about is routine and the process that will help me get to that place,” and it takes a little bit of time to adjust to, but if you give yourself three or four days, like with the push-up thing. I gave myself three to four days and I said, “No matter what, no matter how this feels, I'm at least going to get to Friday.”
By Friday, I had started to embrace the, “You know, all I really have to do is check this off on my little calendar,” and that's cool and I've done that and that feels good and I, for the most part, had forgotten about the end result, because I really was just worried about the day. That leads me — It's kind of a tangent, but it leads me to some other research that shows that people who talk about their intentions are much less likely to follow through on those intentions.
So let's say that you planned to hike the Appalachian Trail. It’s from Georgia to Maine, runs up the Eastern Seaboard. Plenty of people have done it, but it’s like 2,200 miles, I think. Let's say you want to do that, and so you say to me, “Hey, I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail,” and you talk about the stuff you're going to buy and you talk about the fact that you’re going to trail name, because everybody gets a nickname and they go by the nickname, not by the real name. You talk about all that stuff. Research shows that the act of just talking about that makes you much less likely to do it, because you have gotten some of the little emotional and mental kick out of imagining it that you would've actually gotten from achieving it. I’ll tell that to people and they will say, “Yeah, but I need the power peer pressure and I need to tell people my plans, because that way they can hold me to them.” That's really cool, and if you need that, that's great. Tell people what you're going to do. Tell people your routine to get there, not the actual getting there.
So if it's preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail, tell people, “Hey, for the next month I'm going to do X, Y, and Z,” and then if they want to check in with you to make sure you’ve done the things that you need to do to prepare, that's cool, and there's your peer pressure, but not, “I plan to do X,” and then talk about it as if you've already gotten there, because that kill your motivation to actually do that stuff. It’s a little bit like the — There's other research that shows that the act of planning a vacation is almost as fun as taking the vacation. People that spend months planning vacation get all that fun and anticipation and enjoyment out of the vacation, and actually once they’ve taken it, their happiness set point goes back down to where it was before they took the vacation. It's the same thing here. Imagining yourself in a certain place or doing a certain thing, and that's fine, and yet that also makes it harder to do the thing, if doing whatever that is requires hard work and dedication and some degree of perseverance.
[0:38:09.9] MB: Yeah, I think the principal exactly as you described it, which is this idea that just by talking about it, you're getting some of the kind of psychological and emotional rewards of dreaming about achieving it. So you're demotivating yourself in some sense.
[0:38:26.4] JH: Absolutely. I know you’ve had Charles Duhigg on your podcast and he's obviously an expert on habits and creating habits and stuff, and one of his methods for building a new habit is you got the stimulus and you got the action, and then you have the reward, and that dreaming and thinking about a thing is a reward or maybe it's a tangible reward, like if you —We’ll use my marathon example again. If you have to go run 5 miles today and your reward the other end is you can spoil yourself. I think that reward wears off after a while, because you're used to.
A much better reward is to — And this is what I used to do when I was cycling a lot. I would come home, get off the bike, sit in a little stool outside, drink some water and just think, “Wow! I just rode 55 miles in X amount of time. That feels awesome,” and I would just sit there and feel good about the fact of what I did, and that became my reward. I sort of had to train myself to see that as the reward, but I got to where I really look forward to that, because it was — I don’t know. It was a chance to kind of sit there quietly in yourself and say, “Huh! I did that. That was hard and I did that and that feels really good.”
If you can create that intrinsic reward rather than, “If I go running, then I get to have a bowl of ice cream kind of reward.” That takes you to that place where you could come something and it makes it much more easy to stick with your routine, because you don't need external reward. You're getting it from inside.
[0:39:59.9] MB: I want to get specific and talk a little bit about your writing habit and your writing process. How did you develop that process and what is your kind of habit look like? Because, I mean, many people fantasize about writing kind of a single book and get overwhelmed and never even complete that task, and writing 40 books is obviously tremendously more, plus all the articles and everything else. How did you go from somebody who was a factory manager to an incredibly prolific writer and how did you develop that process and what is it look like today?
[0:40:34.5] JH: The early motivation was that I left a very good job and went to a job where if it was to be, it was up to me, and if money was going to come in, I had to produce. So that was incredibly motivating, and it cost me to work a lot of hours.
If we talk about books, you can think, “Hey, wow!” book is, say, 300 pages, “that’s so much. I don't know how I'm going to get from here to there,” but a book is really just a series of connected ideas or connected strategies or tips or whatever, whatever it may be that takes you on a journey from A to Z and leaves you at the other end, hopefully motivated, informed, maybe a little entertained, ready to do something. At least if it's nonfiction and if it's in the how to kind of world, which is where I tend to live. It’s just a series and it’s just a lot of little chunks, and so that fits perfectly within my idea of process, because I don't have to write the whole book. If it's today, I have to write this, this and this and I know that that will then lead to other stuff and that will lead to other things that I've mapped out and I'm confident enough now that if I get to a certain place and I say, “Wow! This took a different turn. I found some research that caused me to look at this differently. I talk to someone that caused me to change my perspective on this.” Well, then I can adapt and it all becomes part of a whole, but a book is a lot of little chunks along the way.
My goal with anything that I do, because I am the king of being afraid of the too daunting challenge, I can turn something easy into something that seems impossible really easily in my mind. So I just break it down into what do I have to do today, tomorrow, the next day? What are the pieces and parts? And let's start assembling that puzzle. Each time I get a little piece or part done, I feel good about that, because it’s like, “Okay. Got that. Got that. Connected this. Put that together,” and some day you wake up and you've got a manuscript, which I know sounds simplistic, but it really is that way. I'm all about, “Let me break this down into component parts and then let me start accomplishing the parts.”
[0:42:46.1] MB: Do you set a quota for yourself or X-number of words per day or per week or something like that, or how do you structure that piece of it in terms of it's like the 300 push-ups a day? What is that kind of daily goal?
[0:42:58.7] JH: I used to have daily goals. I don't anymore, because I've gotten good enough at the process part of it and the sticking with it part that I don't need like a quota to keep me going. Some days it comes easier. Some days it comes harder, and if you have a quota and you're thinking, “Well, I need 5,000 words today and I'm only 3,000 and I’ve been at this for eight hours and how am I ever going to get there?” That can cause you to give less focus or attention to stuff that she really should be working harder on. You might give short shrift to something that you should be working harder on.
I don't really do that, and what that means is that some days — Let's pretend that 5,000 words a day is my goal. It's not, but let’s pretend. Then if I hit 3,000 today, but I know that I was doing the right things and what I created was good, then that's okay, because tomorrow I might do seven or eight, because I may really get into the flow and it may come really easily. So I don't do word count totals. When I first started, and I was mostly writing articles for other people as a ghostwriter, I did have some quotas for myself, because it was revenue-based. I knew I was going to get X-amount per article and I knew I needed X-amount of money per day, per week, per month to kind of meet the targets I had for myself. So then I definitely did break it down and say, “Okay. I need to do —” Let's pretend. “I need to do six articles a day, because that's how I'm going to hit my targets,” and so that’s what I’m going to do. If it takes me 14 hours to get there. It takes me 14 hours to get there. If it takes me six, then cool. I’m going to [inaudible 0:44:35.1] or something like that.
I think you have to adapt that to what you're doing, but early on I think it does help to create some quotas for yourself. Otherwise you end up fluffing around and turning the right things to do into things that you think you should do or that are more fun to do that don't actually contribute to your success.
[0:44:57.6] MB: So what would one kind of action or piece of homework be that you would give to listeners to start concretely kind of implementing some of the ideas that we’ve talked about today?
[0:45:08.5] JH: One of my favorite ones is really simple, and it's another one that's based on research. There are a number of studies and one in particular that shows that if you want to be — Let’s say you want to be happier. I think that's a goal we can all probably embrace. If you write five times a day, if you find five ways to say thank you to or to express gratitude or appreciation or to say something positive to someone that you know. It can be, “Thanks for doing this.” It can be, “Wow! You did that really well.” It could be, “You made this difference in my life.” Whatever it may be. If you do that five times a day and you do that for eight weeks, which sounds like a lot, but really shouldn't be if you think about it, then people's happiness set point, which we all have one, increased by about 50% over that 8-week period. So they felt happier simply by saying nice things, making a difference in other people's lives. That's a really cool thing and that is the power of process and that's the power of numbers, and that by doing things and accumulating numbers of those things, you can get yourself to a really cool point. I think that would be a really fun place to start, because who doesn't want to feel like they've made a positive difference in somebody else's life and who doesn't want to be a little bit happier?
[0:46:31.1] MB: Where can listeners find you and your various works online?
[0:46:35.6] JH: The easiest place is probably inc.com. Just search my name and you will find about 1,300 articles or so. My book comes out on January 9th. It’s called Motivation Myth, and it will be on Amazon and everywhere else, and there's an audiobook version which based on my voice. You can tell they did not ask me to read. I don't think anyone wants to hear my southern nasal twang for three or four hours, and that's pretty much it. I’m easy to find.
[0:47:04.0] MB: Jeff, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing all these wisdom with the listeners, tons of actionable insights and valuable ideas.
[0:47:12.8] JH: Oh, you’re welcome. Can I make one more point really quick?
[0:47:15.3] JH: Yeah, absolutely.
[0:47:17.2] JH: This applies to you and it will clearly resonate with you I'm sure. You're doing the podcast, but then you're also at French Hospitality, so you’re an “and” with quotes around that word. You’re a person who does this and this and this, and I think there are so much information out there that says people should specialize and they should focus and they should even hyper-focus and find these really small niches within which to succeed, and I think that's true, but I also think it's true that you can be a number of different things either at the same time or you can have what I call serial achievement moments where you go and do one thing, achieve it, pick something else you're interested in, work hard, initiate that. those are both really, really cool things. If you’re person at home who is not as satisfied with the things you’ve done, want there to be more to your life, want to achieve more things, want to be more successful, however you decide to define that, because you get to define success, then just take something you're interested in and start and create a process for yourself. Look around, find one that someone else has used that will get you started, and then put your head down and do some work.
Even if it doesn't lead to anything that makes you wildly successful, you'll learn a ton along the way. You'll have fun doing it, and it may lead you to whatever it is that you choose to do next. So my best advice is always stop talking, stop thinking, stop dreaming and just start doing, because really good things happen when you start doing.
[0:48:56.2] MB: Great advice, Jeff. Thank you so much for adding that at the end. Once again, thank you for coming on the show. Great insight, great conversation. I really enjoyed having you on here.
[0:49:05.9] JH: Thanks, sir. It was awesome. Thank you very much.
[0:49:08.6] MB: Thank you so much for listening to the Science of Success. We created the show to help you, our listeners, master evidence-based growth. I love hearing from listeners. If you want to reach out, share your story or just say hi, shoot me an email. My email is matt@success podcast.com. That's firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you and I read and respond to every single listener email.
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