In this interview we discuss how to finally break through what’s holding you back, take action, and create lasting habit and behavior change. Less than 30% of people succeed in changing their behavior without using the tools and strategies we share in this interview. Uncover the neuroscience of how your brain gets stuck and finally start using strategies that really work to create more breakthroughs and results in your life with Dr. David Rock.
Dr. David Rock coined the term 'NeuroLeadership' and is the director of the NeuroLeadership Institute. He co-edits the NeuroLeadership Journal and heads up an annual global summit. He is the author of the best-selling 'Your Brain at Work', 'Quiet Leadership', and the textbook 'Coaching with the Brain in Mind'. He has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Fortune Magazine, PsychologyToday and many more publications.
The brain gets stuck very easily. What happens when we get stuck?
Its really hard for our brains to break out of their preexisting molds and patterns of thinking
Even breaking out of the smallest mental “schemas” can be very difficult
The mind blowing interpretations of the phrase “Time Flies Like An Arrow"
We do this with EVERYTHING in our lives.
What work we should do
How to deal with customers
How to be successful
It’s REALLY HARD to break through these mental schemas without a lot of hard mental effort
The mechanics of how we get trapped in mental schemas - your subconscious does most of the processing and heavy lifting
Changing your thinking patterns is as hard as changing traffic flow on the freeway
You have more breakthrough moments when your brain is under one of these conditions:
Being idle, relaxing down time
Being internally focused (not listening or seeing)
Slightly positive (vs slightly anxious)
Deanimating current mental networks
The unconscious brain is trillions of times more powerful than the conscious brain
Mental schemas (aka chunks) are very useful for analyzing the world - but they lock you into certain patterns of thought
“Language gives you the ability to alter your experience."
The more language you have for your own brain the more you can notice what is going on. Language connects the prefrontal cortex to the rest of the brain.
When you have more language - whether food, music, the brain, anything - you have a much richer experience, you notice the small subtle details. It’s the same with your brain. You have more “frames” to view the problem or situation.
How do you generate more creative insights?
Don’t check your phone or emails first thing in the morning.
Keep your brain quiet
Do creative work first in the morning, then urgent and important work second, and emails and everything else third.
Don’t schedule meetings until after 11 or 12pm, let people be productive in the morning
Pay attention to and value the quiet signals in your brain
“10% of people do their best thinking at work, 90% of people do their best thinking when they aren’t at work"
Sleep with your phone in a different room.
If you can even get one day a week of spending your mornings doing contemplative routine, your creative output will explode.
Monday morning is the best time for quiet reflection, because you have the least noise from the week.
After exercise or a nap, or after something fun and restful - when you have energy, when you have the urge to write or create - pay attention to those phenomena and try to tap into them when you get a chance.
How do you do a better job paying attention to your mental state and your thoughts?
There is ENORMOUS value in learning socially and learning with other people. “Hundreds of percentage” bump in the likelihood of real change.
The number one reason that people change is because other people change. This comes from hard scientific data, it’s not theoretical.
Letting people know that other people are doing something is much more valuable than logic, positive motivations, and negative motivations.
When other people who are like you do something, that becomes a really big driver of change in your behavior. This is because the brain is wired to think socially before anything else.
The default mode network is pretty much always on - and it focuses socially and thinks about how you fit in socially.
Social factors are a huge motivation driver - social rewards and social threats are huge drivers of human behavior. The strongest carrots and sticks are SOCIAL.
Status - people want to look good, people don’t want to look bad.
The “SCARF” Model for understanding human behavior, threat response, and how people behave.
The brain classifies everything into either danger or opportunity, but it’s a continuum but not binary.
Managing your “threat state” is one of the most important things you can do.
Threat is inversely proportional to cognition. The more intense your threat response, the fewer cognitive resources you have for good, clear thinking.
“Help people think better, don’t tell them what to do"
Coaching is helping people have their own insights. Conversations where you help anyone have an insight is far more likely to create change.
The fastest way to get anyone to have a breakthrough insight
Quiet their mind
Get them more approach/positivity/possibility focused
Lift their thinking to more abstract (get out of the concrete)
Ask people questions that make them reflect and quietly evaluate and look into their thinking
Good question: “What’s your goal?” Start at the high level.
Don’t dig into the problem or the details
Get people to “think about their thinking"
Asking questions that get people to be REFLECTIVE
You are helping someone else build a mental map of what they want and what they are doing so that they can take action on it.
Advice is almost always MUCH more about the giver than about what you actually need.
How do you actually turn your insights into action?
Harness the positive social pressures of learning with other people. The social pressure of learning something together, in little bites, at a time. It helps constantly remind you of the importance of those learning and insights.
What big changes have happened in the psychology and science of insights, motivation, and behavior change in the last 10 years?
The epidemic of overwhelm has taken on an exponentially new dimension.
How do we create organizational change at any scale?
Make things a priority
Build real habits
Install systems that support those habits
Most organizations are pretty good at making priorities, OK on systems, and terrible at the habits.
30% of change initiatives succeed, because they ignore habits and human psychology
HOMEWORK: Start building language, one habit at a time, find something you’re curious about or want to work on around improving your brain, and learn socially with others.
Thank you so much for listening!
Please SUBSCRIBE and LEAVE US A REVIEW on iTunes! (Click here for instructions on how to do that).
This week's episode of The Science of Success is presented by Dr. Aziz Gazipura's Confidence University!
You can learn to confidently connect with others, be bold, feel proud of who you are, and create the life you truly deserve!
Don't Wait and Wonder! Find Out Today!
Want To Dig In More?! - Here’s The Show Notes, Links, & Research
Harvard Business Review - “4 Steps to Having More “Aha” Moments” by David Rock and Josh Davis
Harvard Business Review - “Where to Look for Insight“
CEOThinkTank - “4 CRITICAL FACTORS TO BE A BETTER LEADER (TED TALK #7)” by Cheryl Beth Kuchler
Workhuman - “Understanding Leadership through Biology: Interview with Dr. David Rock” by Emily Payne
Workhuman - “Dr. David Rock: Time to Get Feedback Right” By Aaron Kinne
The Healthy Mind Platter - Dr. Dan Siegel in Collaboration with Dr. David Rock
[Podcast] Creating Wealth w/ Jason Hartman: CW 250: Your Brain At Work with Dr. David Rock Author and Co-Founder of the Neuro Leadership Institute
[Podcast] The EVRYMAN Podcast: Episode 031: Neurobiology of Emotion with Dr. David Rock
[Podcast] Love your Work: Creative Optimization Through Neuroscience: Dr. David Rock – Love Your Work, Episode 165
Human Capital Institute: David’s Conference Keynotes
David’s YouTube Channel
GoogleTechTalks - Your Brain at Work
Resultscoaching - SCARF Model - Influencing Others with Dr David Rock
Beyond Performance - SCARF Animation
Productivity Game - YOUR BRAIN AT WORK by David Rock | Animated Core Message
Coaching with the Brain in Mind: Foundations for Practice by David Rock and Linda J. Page
[00:00:04.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than four million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this interview, we discuss how to finally break through what’s holding you back, take action and create lasting habit and behavior change. Less than 30% of people succeed in changing their behavior without using the tools and strategies we share in this interview. Uncover the neuroscience of how your brain gets stuck and finally start using strategies that really work to create more breakthroughs and results in your life with our guest, Dr. David Rock.
Are you a fan of the show and have you been enjoying the content that we put together for you? If you have, I would love it if you signed up for our e-mail list. We have some amazing content on there, along with a really great free course that we put a ton of time into called How To Create Time for What Matters Most In Your Life.
If that sounds exciting and interesting and you want a bunch of other free goodies and giveaways along with that, just go to successpodcast.com. You can sign up right on the homepage. That’s successpodcast.com. Or if you’re on your phone right now, all you have to do is text the word “smarter”, that’s S-M-A-R-T-E-R to the number 44-222.
In our previous interview, we discussed why creativity is the new literacy and how you can unlock your own creative genius to create the life you want to live. Most people are completely wrong about what they think creativity is and how to be more creative. We dispelled the myths about creative work and showed you how to build your creative muscle, so that you can create breakthroughs, find your calling and live your dream life with our previous guest, Chase Jarvis. If you want to unlock incredible creative energy in your life, listen to our previous episode.
Now, for our interview with David.
[0:02:07.2] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Dr. David Rock. David coined the term Neuroleadership and is the Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute. He co-edits the NeuroLeadership Journal and heads up an annual global summit. He's the author of the best-selling Your Brain at Work, Quiet Leadership and the textbook, Coaching with the Brain in Mind. He's been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Fortune Magazine, Psychology Today and many more publications.
David, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:02:35.4] DR: Thanks very much, Matt. Good to be here.
[0:02:36.9] MB: Well, we're super excited to have you on the show and I can't wait to dig into some of these ideas. To start out, I'd love to just start with the premise of Your Brain at Work, which is this notion of what happens when we get stuck and how do we break through?
[0:02:52.1] DR: Yeah, it's such an interesting question. What's so fascinating, one of the many fascinating things about the brain is how easily we get stuck. As a breakfast this morning with a friend and I ordered an avocado toast and my friend said, “Oh, can I have an avocado toast without the bread?” The waiter said, “Mm. I'll get you two sides. I'll get you some side of avocado and I'll get an egg.” He said, “No, I just want the avocado toast without the toast.” He said, “No, no, no. I can't do that.”
He brought out mine, which was lovely and it had salad and your dressing and some nice stuff on the avocado and some nuts and a bit of toast and an egg. He brought out literally a poached egg and a piece of avocado for this guy. What happened is the chunks in this waiter’s brain is either/or. The brain collapses on look, it's either avocado toast, or it's something else completely. He couldn't just imagine like, “Oh, maybe we could just literally take the toast out and do everything else and put it on a plate.” It would have been much, much nicer, but it would have required breaking out of the way that information is being chunked.
It's amazing, the smallest challenges like this become really big for the brain. Just breaking out of the tiniest ways that you've chunked things is really, really hard. One of my favorite little games is I'll do this with you now, Matt. Like the phrase ‘time flies like an arrow’, right? Five words, time flies like an arrow, five words. Time flies like an arrow. You think about all the different ways you could interpret that, what have you got, Matt? Now I'm interviewing you.
[0:04:26.7] MB: Okay. I mean, I the first thing I see is a visual of an arrow flying through the air.
[0:04:32.5] DR: Right. What’s a different way of interpreting those five words? What's another way of saying time flies like an arrow? Get really creative on me.
[0:04:40.5] MB: I don't even understand the goal of the exercise, so I’m befuddled, but I'll –
[0:04:44.7] DR: I’ll give you an example. It’s basically different versions of the metaphor like, “Oh, time can kill you, or time is –”
[0:04:51.0] MB: Oh. Ooh. Okay.
[0:04:52.6] DR: Time goes in one direction. These are all call different ways of seeing this, right? Time only goes one way, time goes quickly, time moves through space. Do you know what I mean? Time flies like an arrow. What's interesting is that when you give this to people, they come up with hundreds of different interpretations like this, but none of them are actually creative. You're still locked into exactly what you told me, Matt, that your brain did. What your brain did was picture an image of an arrow moving through space, correct?
[0:05:22.3] MB: Yup.
[0:05:22.9] DR: Okay, that's the problem. What you did is you locked into a schema, it's called, of this is about an arrow. The fact that you saw it is bad in a way, because it means you've got a – you activate a really robust network in your brain. Basically what you're going to do is come up with a hundred versions of different things that it means for an arrow to move through space.
Actually, there's completely different interpretations of those five words that your brain completely misses, because you're locked into that one. Time flies like an arrow, actually you could check the speed of flies the way you would an arrow. Time, insects, check the speed of insects the way you would time in arrow. Time flies.
[0:06:04.1] MB: Oh, you just blew my mind.
[0:06:05.5] DR: Right? Like an arrow, right? What the heck? You can't imagine that, because your brain is so lucky. Now this is just five words, right? Oh, here's my favorite one, there's actually five of these. I won't completely explode your brain, but my favorite one is time flies, a type of insect, are fond of arrows. Time flies like an arrow.
Now you wouldn't imagine – your brain doesn't imagine that that's all that important and it discards that interpretation. In the back of your brain, in your unconscious, it goes through all these possible interpretations, very quickly lands on one.
This example basically is an example of how we chunk into the most standard common schema and then we get fixed in that. We do this with everything. Five words, what work we should do? How to deliver to a customer? How this product works? Everything. It really hurts your brain to break out of it, in a way. That's a metaphor, but it's hard. Most people can't do it without a lot of effort.
The mechanics of this and I've looked into this a lot, essentially, your unconscious brain does a lot of reorganizing much more powerful than your conscious brain can. You can't move around three variables, or four variables in your conscious brain easily at all. Even four words, it's really – seven letter anagrams. If you give people seven letters, they can't find the word very easily at all. It's really challenging finding all possible words out of seven letters, if you play Scrabble, or these kinds of things. It's just hard to move things around in your head, right?
What happens is we get stuck all the time, but your unconscious is very good at this. Unfortunately, the unconscious is actually inhibited by the cloudship. When you’re stuck thinking about an arrow moving through space, you can't actually interpret the other ways. You actually have to turn off the solutions you currently have to have new ones come in. It's a bit like moving, like changing traffic on the freeway. You've got to actually stop the traffic going one way before the traffic can go a different way, right? You're going to change the flow of in-direction of traffic.
It's like that in the brain. While everything's connected one way thinking about arrows moving through space, you can't think about insects liking arrows. You can't do both. Part of it is just putting the brain in idle. What we see in lots of studies and I wrote about this in Your Brain at Work, is that that essentially, you have more of these breakthrough moments, cycle moments of insight when your brain overall is quiet.
There are four conditions that facilitate this. One is just literally not doing much thinking, or speaking and just your brain being idle. When you wake up in the morning and you just – you don’t actually think about anything, where you’re just laying there. Quite internally focused is really helpful. When you basically stop listening or seeing, your whole brain gets quieter, because you're not processing all this incoming data.
The third thing is when you're slightly positive, you have a lot less noise in your brain than when you're slightly anxious. What's the opportunity here, versus what's the problem here? The fourth one is the one I just described, which is not directly thinking about the problem the way you have so far. De-animating your current networks. These four conditions, when you activate this, you get a dramatically more insight.
We tend to have these moments of insight in the morning, because our brain is naturally quieter, when we’re walking, exercising, all these kinds of things. The unconscious brain is trillions and trillions of times more powerful than a conscious brain. A bottom line is you want to leave space for these breakthrough. That's the big takeaway. It's really hard to just shift simple things. We get stuck in patterns very easily. What we've got to do is let the unconscious move the stuff around and be able to have it come into our conscious brain, which is quite noisy.
The unconscious solutions are quiet, small amounts of electrical activity. Conscious solutions are noisy and we just don't hear the solutions until our brain gets quiet. It's like hearing a quiet cellphone at a loud party. We've got to turn the noise down. That's the deeper stories. There’s a lot more on that I write about in Your Brain at Work. I think that I've written a blog a couple of times and have a business review and other places. If you look up the aha moment, or how to have more insights, you'll see some of my writing on this space as well. Yeah, back to you.
[0:10:10.0] MB: Yeah, that was fascinating. There's a number of things I want to unpack from that. The example is so good, because it really makes it very concrete. Then expanding that idea out that it's so easy to get trapped into these mental schemas, or these patterns of thought. You made a great point a minute ago where you said, this happens with everything; it happens with the way you work, it happens with how you think about achieving your goals, it happens with how you think about success. It's such a dangerous phenomenon and one that happens almost without us even being consciously aware of the fact that we're locked into these patterns.
[0:10:45.8] DR: Yeah. No, it's fascinating. We do with everything. It's efficient. It helps us be efficient. If you had to categorize everything as you went, you'd be like a baby. You don't have schemas that you can build around. You need these chunks, these schemas to be able to move through the world. Every time you cross the road, you can't work out what these moving objects are, whether they're dangerous or not. You got to know that they're cars and you should stay out of their way. We've only got so much conscious processing power. We need to push these chunks into the unconscious to survive, but then they work against us when we're trying to innovate basically.
[0:11:21.0] MB: Let's unpack that in more detail, this idea of how we start to first become aware of these schemas that are impeding our thinking and then how do we start to cultivate, or create breakthrough moments in our lives.
[0:11:36.5] DR: Yeah. I mean, look, the first thing is language. The more language you have for your own brain, the more you can notice what's going on. Language connects the prefrontal to the rest of the brain. When you have words for an experience, you see that experience. If you have words for flavors, for example – if you have no words for flavors, you don't even know what salt is, what pepper is, what sugar is, you don't know what sweet is, what sour is, all that. You're eating, it's just all noise. As you develop language, you go, “Oh, that’s salt.” Now you spot it, right? “Oh, I like saltier things. I'm going to have more salt.” Well, that's too salty, right? Or, “I like pepper. I want more pepper.”
You don't know what pepper is without language. It doesn't jump out of the background. Then real foodies will have not just salt and pepper and spice, they'll have lots and lots of language, right? For crunch and texture and tastes and sparklings, all sorts of things, right? The same in any domain; music, right? If you're a musician, you understand attack and decay, which is the build up to a note and the dropdown after a note, hitting. You have all this other language, so you'll be literally noticing data strings other people don't notice when you have language, right? A foodie, or a musician has literally a richer experience when they interact with their mental drug of choice.
The more you know about your brain the same way, the more you actually can say, “Oh, I want to turn that up. I want to turn that down. Oh, I like that. I don't like that. Oh, I can see that coming. I might not put so much of that on.” A lot of it is about just building language.
That's what I attempted to do with your brain at work is just develop a language that's very, very science-based obviously, but actually I put equal weight on making sure it's sticky, that people could remember it. I put a lot of work into simplifying the complex stuff, so that people could actually recall it. Because one of the big things that you need to remember about the brain is how limited our recall is and working memory and stuff like that. That's the answer to your first question.
In terms of insight, I mean, some tactical things, you just keep your brain quiet in the mornings especially. Don't check your e-mails till after you shower. That's an amazing rule. They get up in the morning, potter around, don't check your e-mails, don't check in with your phone at all. Interesting thing with the phone is that makes your brain noisy, even if it's off but in the room. Your brain still notices it and starts to animate in the background all the networks involved with what you could be using and seeing, right? It primes you.
It's actually going to be off and in a completely different room for your phone not to affect your IQ, like your IQ. A lot of that is because of the noise it creates. It literally makes your brain more asynchronous. What we've got to do is have these quieter moments if we want these breakthrough. A simple rule of thumb is do creative work first in the morning, urgent and important work second and e-mails everything else third. It's super helpful.
Firstly, don't look at your – any devices until after a shower, preferably after breakfast. That's your best time for insight is in the morning. We did a study some years back, but 10% of people do their best thinking at work. 90% of people do their best thinking when they're not at work. Most of us do our best thinking in the morning. Certainly there are night owls, but generally we do our best thinking. We have most insights in the morning.
If you run an organization, if you run a team, it's don't schedule meetings till after 11 or 12. Let people use the morning time to really be productive. Then just pay attention to quiet signals, these insights are quiet signals, so like a tickle, like a hunch. Pay attention to these things, value them and see what's there. Follow the money, the money this case being a hunch. It's often, your unconscious brain trying to give you a clue as to something.
[0:15:22.3] MB: I love that statistic, only 10% of people do their best thinking while they're at work.
[0:15:26.5] DR: Yeah. Mad, right?
[0:15:27.7] MB: It's pretty crazy. The whole idea of even the simple idea of keeping your phone in a different room is such a great strategy. I've been thinking for a long time about sleeping with my phone at a different room. I think this is actually going to give me the nudge and push me over the edge to actually do that.
[0:15:44.8] DR: I just started doing that actually. It's a couple of weeks ago. I'm really enjoying it. What was missing for me was the alarm clock and the time and stuff like that. Actually, what I did was put an actual clock, an alarm clock where the time is always clear in the room. I could always look over and see the time without having to do anything. That actually was better than a phone, because the phone you wake up, you press the button, you get light, you get all sorts of – actually, if I need to know what the time is, like if I wake up too early or middle the night, this is actually better. There was an upside I wasn't expecting that was not obvious to changing it. Also, there's the there's the reduced noise, which is great.
[0:16:23.3] MB: I also think the whole notion of gearing your mornings towards having creative and contemplative routines and activities is such a great strategy. That's something I've been using for years. The notion of – I really like the hierarchy you gave it. Do create a work first, then urgent and important work and then only after you finish those things, then you get into e-mail and meetings and everything else.
[0:16:46.5] DR: Yeah, it's super helpful. Now some people can't do that every day, of course. Lots of people can't do that every day, but most of us could do that at least one day a week. I can tell you, if you do that one day a week, after a couple of months, your creative output will explode. If you normally write one or two blogs a month, you'll find yourself writing five or six blogs a month. It's huge, even if you could just choose one day a week.
There's also a time in the week there. Monday morning, we do have best quiet writing, right? Tuesday morning, we're pretty good. By Wednesday, a bit noisy. Sometimes we get a second window on Friday, thinking the weekend is coming. Choosing the day when you can do this, if it's not realistic to do it every day, but you could weave it in as a discipline like, “Hey, every Monday I'm going to do this.” Huge difference. Over the year, you'll find a huge, huge impact on your productivity.
The other thing that you can do, I find this is after exercise or a nap, or just something like fun and restful, I often find about a lot of mental energy. I'm paying attention to when I have the urge to write, like when I've got ideas and I can – my fingers are itchy. I'm like, “Okay. I mean, I'm going to sit down and shut everything off. Turn off my phone and everything and just sit down and write.” I try to pay attention to that.
When I was working on Your Brain at Work and other books, I would intentionally write, write, write and then just go and do some exercise and stop thinking. By the time I finished exercising I'd be wanting to write again. I burned myself out before exercising. Then I'd get back to actually wanting to. It's a little bit of that.
I used to fly a lot around the world. I’m originally Australian. Used to fly a lot from Sydney to New York and use the time. What I learned is I could write for an hour two and a half and then watch 15 minutes of comedy. It had to be comedy, because if it was a scary movie, it raises your cortisol and your threat response, which is bad for writing. What you want is more dopamine, which is more pleasant, hopeful, optimistic, open mind. I could do an hour and a half of writing, 15 minutes of comedy, hour and a half of writing, 15 minutes – I could write for 10 hours doing that. A long flight, right?
There's this thing about just watching what your brain does and what does it take to get your brain back into the state where you're actually doing good work again? Pay attention to that. It'll be different for everyone. There'll be different activities that do that, but try to do a lot of those.
[0:19:01.1] MB: Great strategy. A really important point which you mentioned just now about paying attention to when those moments of insight or creative energy strike, and you also said the same thing earlier when you're talking about how do we discover the times when our mental schema are blocking our ability to be creative, or have breakthrough insights. It all comes back to this idea of understanding of paying attention to what's happening with your thoughts. How do we start to develop that ability to pay attention to be aware of what's happening in our brains?
[0:19:32.4] DR: I mean, the simplest answer to be honest is get my book, get a few people together, read a chapter a week together and talk about it. That'll do it. I mean, I literally laid out the key language you most want. Not everything, but the key language you most want to understand, if you're trying to have a better life.
The book walks through basically working memory, which is just how you solve decisions and solve problems and make decisions, then works through managing your emotions and then works through interacting with other people and then just how to change yourself and others. It builds the language.
What I would say is read a chapter a week, or every two weeks, or even every month with a few people and commit to each other to play with it and come back together and share what you learned. That's the very best way to do it, because I mean, I literally built the book for that task. Especially, one of our insights at my institute, we’re researching all the time how do you create change at scale? One of our big insights is there's enormous, enormous value in learning socially, like learning with others. It's not you get a little bump, like a 10%, 50%, a 100%, but it would be hundreds of percent bump in the likelihood of real change.
In fact, the number one variable for why people change turns out to be because other people are. Build the language, but build the language with others ideally and share the language. It's an alive language. There are obscure languages that no one speaks anymore. There’s thousands of languages humans speak, a bunch of them no one speaks. This is a language that should be spoken. As you do that, you see more and more, you start to notice things faster and faster.
[0:21:11.0] MB: Hey, I'm here real quick with confidence expert Dr. Aziz Gazipura to share a lightning round insight with you. Dr. Aziz, how do you become more confident and what do people get wrong about confidence?
[0:21:25.0] AG: I love this question. My life mission is to inform people this one thing, that you can learn confidence. Because the biggest thing that people don't realize is that confidence is a skill. They think confidence is something that you're just born with, that the people that look confident just somehow have some ability that you don't have. That's what I thought for many years, until I discovered that actually, this is something we can learn.
What most people get wrong about this other than thinking that they can't, so they don't even try, is they think it's going to be this huge undertaking and it's scary and they try to just push through and do this thing that I hate the phrase, but it's so common, which is fake it till you make it.
What they don't realize is that there's a much easier way, a simpler way and ultimately a faster way, a gentler way. That is to treat it like any other skill, like the guitar. You want to learn how to play the guitar, you want to break it down into its individual elements, like notes, chords, progression, scales. If you learn each individual thing, all of a sudden you could play a beautiful song.
Confidence is absolutely no different than that. You can break confidence down into its little individual elements, like body language, starting a conversation, how to be assertive, all these things can be broken down in sub-skills. If you just learn those sub-skills one after another, take action on what you learn and practice it just like an instrument, all of a sudden in a pattern, in a period of months, you can be stuck for decades, but in a period of months, you can have more confidence than you've ever had in your entire life.
That's what I'm dedicated to doing. That's what I teach. That's what I create all my programs around and that's really the message that I want to get out there to everyone listening and everyone in the world.
[0:23:01.8] MB: Do you want to be more confident and stop suffering from social anxiety and self-doubt? Check out successpodcast.com/confidence to hear more about Dr. Aziz and his work and become more confident.
[0:23:15.9] MB: I want to come back and unpack a couple of the other themes from how we create insight. Before we do that, you just mentioned something that I think is worth exploring, which is this notion, tell me more about this idea that the number one reason people change is because other people change.
[0:23:31.4] DR: Yeah, it's interesting. Now that this comes from the hard data. This is not theoretical. This is not a direct research. It's from Colorado State University. There's a fantastic department there that – it's a center that's studying sustainability and human change and this stuff that's obviously really important at the moment.
They've been looking at this through lots of lenses, like you're trying to get people to do different things, like put a towel on the bed in a hotel, or – that's the wrong metaphor. It's put the towel in the bath, if you don't want to use it, or put it on the rack if you want to reuse it. Getting people to do that, or getting people to flush the right way with they've got two optional flashes. Now these behavioral things.
Because they're simple, repetitive behavioral things that everyone does, you can collect tons of data and really see what humans actually do. What they find, particularly these kinds of behavioral changes is letting people know that other people are doing this, is much more valuable than giving people some negative motivation, or positive motivation, or – so incentive or threat basically, or anything else that you can do basically.
It's like saying, “Oh, yeah. Other people have been doing this.” 70% of people have been doing this in the hotel, gets a good bump, but 70% of people in this room who have been doing this really gets the highest change. Letting people know that others that are quite close to them in a sense, like socially close, in your network, really does it. That seems to be a really big driver of change.
I think, we correlate that back to the social brain. The brain is wired to think socially before everything else. There's a network for thinking about you and others and how you will interact in the brain. There’s a network for basically animating you. If you're thinking about yourself, a network in the brain animates and it includes all your memories and hopes and all these stuff, right? There's a network for animating other humans. It turns out to be the same network, by the way. Animating you, animating others in the brain, activating this networks, actually the same network.
It turns out, this network is actually on so much, it's – they called it the default network, because it's basically always on, until you switch it off to do a math task, or schedule meeting, or whatever else. This is the background hum of the brain, literally thinking socially. It’s the medial prefrontal cortex, which is the middle of the farad in the brain. It's quite a small network in more ways that’s deeply connected and all this stuff.
Anyway, I digress, but we think social things are so important and social threats are really strong. They feel very salient. Social rewards feel really, really salient as well. In fact, there's lots of studies showing that the strongest threats and rewards, the carrot and stick, are social. The social ones are much more than non-social. That's really what's driving it is people don't want to look bad and they want to look good.
They’re minimizing threat and maximizing reward. Doing that as it relates to status, the sense of status, doing it as it relates to feeling like they're part of an in-group, doing it as it relates to a sense of fairness. These are driving their intrinsic motivations. That's the way we understand it. Other people will explain it differently for sure, but that's how we think about it.
[0:26:47.5] MB: I'm curious, I want you to explore the full SCARF model, which you just touched on a second ago and extrapolate on that idea. Anyway, unpack the notion of the SCARF model, which you touched on some of the components of that and how that interacts with this.
[0:27:01.3] DR: Yeah, for sure. Going back to the point that language gives you an ability to add more, or less salt. In this case, more or less insight, right? Or more or less – language gives you the ability to alter your experience, right? Then one of the biggest things people need to manage in their brain is the level of threat that we experience and other people experience. By threat, I mean, the sense of danger, right?
The brain basically classifies everything into danger or opportunity. Every podcast title that we see, we have a reaction like, “Oh, that's a danger. I shouldn't listen to that. It's going to mess my head.” Well, that's an opportunity. It's a continuum, not binary. There'll be some podcast titles you'll see and be like, “Wow, that's really exciting. I've got to listen to that right now.” Some would be like, “I am never going to listen to that.” Everything's categorized, not just podcast titles, but literally every unit of sound we hear, we have this threat or reward response.
What I wanted to do and I was working on Your Brain at Work 15 years ago. I started working on it. When I was working on it I was like, gosh, managing a threat state is the most important thing for so many people, because basically, threat is inversely proportional to cognition. In other words, the stronger your – particularly, the negative response, the threat response, which is stronger than the positive reward response, but that negative threat response, essentially the stronger it is, the fewer resources you have for good, clear thinking. That's what goes on.
That's what's driving so much dysfunction and unhappiness and everything in the world. I just realized, we needed a language to notice these threats, especially notice them coming. What's the salt and pepper and chili and sour and sweet of emotions, basically. Not everything, but what's the basics that people need to be added, or recognize if they want to intervene?
I was interviewing all these neuroscientist for the book and I started to see a pattern. The first pattern I saw was they're all social. Social was off the charts, more powerful than non-social. Then I kept hearing scientists to say the same thing like, “Wow, we were doing this study and looking at what happened when people had a – ” like the ultimatum game, when they're competing for money.
What we found so surprising was a sense of fairness was even more activating of the reward network than money, or chocolate, or other things, like independent of other variables. Fairness on its own, it was activating the reward network. They were really surprised. Then unfairness was activating the pain network, very similar to physical pain and they're surprised. Anyway, lots and lots and lots of these studies, and what I realized there was some hidden pattern that no one else seen yet that described the biggest, social emotions that were happening.
It took me about three years to find it. Played with a couple different models. In the end, I landed on five ideas, summarized by one word. These five ideas are essentially the five things that create strongest threats and the strongest rewards. They're actually driving human behavior all the time. It's really the – in many ways, it's the neuroscience of motivation, of engagement, of why people do what they do, of the carrot and stick, of so many different things. It's actually a very powerful framework.
Anyways, it spells out SCARF, which stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. Status is literally you compare to others, or you compare to yourself in the past, feeling a little bit better than is very rewarding. Feeling a little bit less than is much stronger on the threat side. The threat is always worse. Certainty is ability to predict, that's why we're addicted to these phones. They give us an increase in certainty and so many domains. Autonomy is a feeling of control, or choice. Relatedness is feeling you have shared goals with other people, you're in the same group. Fairness is equity and fairness.
Basically, these are playing out all the time. In situations, we have really strong threats. You generally have four or five of these under attack. If you feel someone's saying that you did the wrong thing and you don't understand it and you have no control and you used to trust them and it's unfair, then you've hit all five and you'll be really upset, until you find a way to maybe find control, or until you find a way to understand it and increase certainty, or until you find a way to see how it is fair, or something else.
Until you find a way to increase one of the domains, it will send you a little nutty. That's going on the back of our mind. We teach this to organizations. SCARF is many of the big tech firms, more than half a big pharma. Many other firms are learning this language and applying it many, many different domains. We're more focused on the organizational context within individuals, although at one point, we may build something for individuals. We've helped over a million managers in the last year be better through understanding this language across the globe.
[0:31:50.3] MB: So fascinating. I love this whole field of research and endeavor. It's really, really interesting. In some ways, bringing in the social element makes me come back to one of my favorite themes or ideas from the book, which was this notion of how do we also – we talked earlier about how we can create breakthrough insights for ourselves. How do we help create breakthrough insights for other people? I think one of the tag lines of the book was help people think better, don't tell them what to do. Tell me a little bit about that.
[0:32:20.7] DR: Yeah. That's quiet leadership, which is the one just before Your Brain at Work. Quiet leadership was a summary of the way we think about coaching people, which is really the generation of insight. For us, coaching is about facilitating having insight. Coaching without insight is advice and rapport and empathy and other things, but doesn't really create change.
What we found is that coaching conversations with insight are dramatically more likely to create real change. You think of insight as just a moment where your brain really changes in a way that releases a lot of energy, you see things differently. What we did for a long time is essentially unpack what's the fastest way to bring people to insight, bring other people to insight. The cliff notes on that is of course, you want to make their brain quiet. It's a little more than that. You want to lift them up to where they're going, not to the problem. You've got to help people be more approach-focused, or positive-focused, or positively focused.
Again, that increases the chance of insight. That's one of the principles, be positive-oriented. You want to lift their thinking up to more abstract than concrete stuff, because concrete's quite noisy, abstract is quiet. You want to ask people questions that essentially make them reflect. Ask questions that have people quietly look inside their thinking. That's the summary. There’s a lot more to it.
If someone says to me, “Hey, I'm really stuck on this project.” I'll say, “What's your goal?” They'll be like, “Oh, I don't know. I don't know what my goal is. I'm just stuck. Let me think about my goal.” They'll reflect for a minute and they'll come back and say, “Oh, I guess I need to build this relationship better.” Suddenly, they're on the right path. I'm like, “Oh, is there a model for how good you want this relationship to be? Is there a relationship with someone else that is the quality you want?” They're like, “Wow, that's a really interesting question. I never thought about that. Let me think about it.” Then suddenly, they'll have an insight, right?
Asking questions that make people reflect is the heart of it. Not digging into the problem. It’s so tempting to dig into the problem, or dig into the details. What you want to do is get people to think about their thinking. Don't dig into the problem, don't dig into details, get people to think about their thinking. That's the big messaging in quiet leadership and the way to generate insight in others most powerfully.
[0:34:29.3] MB: The idea of, and this is a tool that I've sometimes heard called are called Socratic influencing. The suggestion of asking people questions to make them start to reflect and think about their own – think about where they are, think about their own thinking as you put it is so powerful. It's almost inception, where you plant the idea in somebody's head and then they realize it themselves, as opposed to you trying to convince them.
[0:34:54.0] DR: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. It's also, we need to build a mental map of something to act on it. Anything, we're going to take act action on, we've got to see it in some way and to be committed to it. You've got your map of how exciting an idea is, but they need their own map.
I took a photo years ago when I was visiting New York for living here with two guys in Central Park with a sign up and a couple of chairs. It said, “Free advice.” It's a really funny picture. We all want to give free advice people. Come to us with problems and we just got to give free advice.
That advice invariably is much more about the giver than about the person and what they really need. Someone tells you their problem and you just map onto what your brain would do, given your history and motivations and everything else, because it's a real crapshoot, whereas, insights are often very personal and very unpredictable. What we actually need to do is very hard to just guess at. The individual brain needs to solve it much more.
[0:35:53.4] MB: Touching on this idea of turning insights into action, how do we start to actually do that?
[0:36:00.4] DR: Yeah, it's interesting. My kids just bought some arugula. I call it roquette. It's actually the correct term, I believe. In Paris, they call it roquette. Here, it’s called arugula. Really is amazing, it's really hardy once it's grown. It grows like crazy, it grows really well. It's fantastic in salads. You can get a little – a square foot of arugula in a garden would give you enough for a salad every day for months. It's great. When it first starts growing, if you've – if you plant seeds, you need to water it every single day. If it dries out, it's just not going to make it.
I think, habits are like this. Whatever that habit is you try to work on it, they’re a lot like seedlings in that they'll take hold. Once they take root and they're dug in a bit, they're great. They'll take hold. The first a few days especially, or the first week or two of a new seedling is like the first time of a new habit, is you've got to water it every day. Now watering in the brain means paying attention. Attention grows connections. How do you grow connections every day? It’s like, set an alarm where you're going to spend one minute making a note about what you noticed about this habit. Set an alarm for that. Ask a person to check in with you. Do something that has you be reminded.
The other thing is that the positive social pressure of learning things with others is very powerful. Go back to do learning with people and it makes you keep paying attention. When we roll out big learning initiatives in organizations, we'll design content that people managers will take their teams through, so that the team can support each other, versus putting people into training. What we find is that the social pressure of learning something together in little bites over time is fantastic. It's huge compared to just going in a classroom one-off. It's really this watering effect of being around people that you learn stuff with every day. You're constantly reminded of what you learned and it provides some real accountability there.
[0:38:03.9] MB: The book came out almost 10 years ago. I know you have a revised edition that's coming out soon. What's changed and what's remained the same?
[0:38:13.0] DR: Yeah, it's really interesting. I was quite anxious going into the revision like, “Oh, my God. I'm going to have to rewrite a ton.” The book’s extremely simple on one level, but simplicity is hard. It took me four years to write it. I threw it out and started completely again four or five times, like started from scratch, because I just wasn't happy with how it was working. It's very hard to do. The book is very simple. It's the story of one day for two characters and there's a take one, where they mess up and then the scientist explain why they messed up. Then take two in each chapter, where you see what they would do if they understood their brain better.
Then as you go in to the next chapter, there's another scene between different people. It's a story across the day; a bit like sliding doors of different scenarios, but with the science explaining it. I was really anxious going into it like, “Oh, my God. I’m going to change science. It's going to unravel all this stuff. It's going to make it impossible.”
What I found was very little on the science side that needed revising. I mean, there's definitely been a couple of things that are interesting tweaks. We know more self-regulation, but a lot of it is inside baseball and the general observable instructions for people are not that much different. Didn't find any huge, enormous things. There’s a lot more studies illustrating the SCARF model, which is in the book, a lot more studies explaining status and autonomy and fairness.
I was able to add studies, but not to the science side. What I did find that was surprising and a bit unsettling is when I wrote the book, it talks about an epic of overwhelm. To be honest, looking back 10 years, pretty much anyone that would read this book now would say, “Oh, my God. I wish that the world that had that level of epidemic,” because where we are now is some next-level stuff. When I wrote it, it was all about e-mails and the fact that BlackBerrys were destroying the brain and all the stuff.
Now we have smartphones where it's not just e-mails, it’s social and it's Instagram, it's obviously accessible movies all the time with Netflix and streaming. It's LinkedIn with constant networking, job searching, it's eBay online with – There's so many things you can do constantly all the time that are much more fun than what you might do in your day job, or everything else. It's a huge distraction and people's brains basically need the book much more than they ever did.
The main changes were the level of chaos that's happening and just, we don't really use BlackBerrys much anymore and just the kinds of issues that people were facing. Yeah, the revised edition just feels much more relevant. What I found in writing, it is the book’s more relevant than it's ever been. That was the cliff note.
[0:40:46.8] MB: I couldn't agree more that today's world, the epidemic of overwhelm has increased exponentially.
[0:40:54.0] DR: Yeah, I know it has.
[0:40:55.9] MB: You touched earlier on this notion of driving change in organizations at any scale. We shared some of those lessons. Are there any other key themes, or ideas that you've learned or come across recently in looking at how do we really create organizational change at all kinds of different levels of granularity?
[0:41:16.3] DR: Yeah, it's a big topic. It's a really, really big topic. I mean, we think there's three kinds of work to do, make things a priority, build real habits and then install systems that support those habits. Most organizations are pretty good at the first step, the P, the priorities. Somewhat okay, like give them a C-grade on a – a B-grade on the priorities, that's maybe a C-grade or B to C on the systems. An F on the habits. They're just terrible at actually giving people tools and processes that actually build habits the way the brain digests habits, or not digest, but the way that the brain – the way that habits get actually built.
Pretty much, we ignore human learning science and brain science when it comes to learning and we just throw stuff at people and hope it sticks. A lot of the work we're doing is about working out the fewest possible habits people need in any domain, putting them off in this two or three, putting them in the right order and then working out how to teach them to everyone all at the same time using all sorts of technologies.
We’re somewhat technology neutral, but we're looking at what is the right stuff for people to be doing and how do we get everyone doing that at the right time? Whether that's around having a growth mindset, which is a lot of what we're doing, or it's around being more inclusive, right? Or it's actually about having more insights.
These are some of the big priorities for companies right now. In any of these domains, what you've got to do is make it important, but then you've got to give people the right habits to work on just a few and you need people working on one at a time, then preferably everyone at one. That's the way we're thinking about it and we were able to get some really exciting results where we can work with 10,000 employees the same month around the world all at the same time and see 75% to 95% of them all now doing something very different every week. This is without training programs. This is some really different thing.
We're really following the science and experimenting with this idea of a few habits one at a time in social situations all at the same time. We're experimenting with ways of doing that and getting some extraordinary results. My day job is heading up the NeuroLeadership Institute and we're scientists at the core there, we're working with 30 of the top 100, but we’re constantly experimenting and learning. It's a fascinating thing.
I will just put a plug in and say we're hiring all around the world, particularly in the US, but anywhere in the US, we’re New York based, but anywhere in the states, but also in Emir and AIPAC and many places. We're hiring folks who love this space, ambitious, really smart. We're about 200 fulltime people now and growing fast. Just throw that out there as well. NeuroLeadership.com is the website. NeuroLeadership.com. Or just look up DavidRock.net and you'll see more about me and you'll see some links there.
Organizational change is broken. 30% of change initiatives out there in the wider world succeed. Most of the reason they don't succeed is a failure to change human habits. We're trying to change that.
[0:44:15.2] MB: Another fascinating statistic that only 30% of organizational change initiatives succeed, because they're not paying attention to psychology and habits. For people who are listening, obviously besides checking out the book and we'll provide another opportunity in a second to share some places where people can find you and all these resources, what would one activity, or a piece of homework be for listeners to start down the path of concretely implementing some, or one of the themes and ideas that we talked about today?
[0:44:44.3] DR: I mean, stop building language. This language should be one habit at a time. I don't want people to think I'm trying to sell you my book. I'm not. I make, I don’t know, 5 cents or something if you buy it. It's not a big deal. A lot of the stuff in my book is actually available in blog form. You can just read and share. I've got a blog at Psychology Today, so just look up David Rock Psychology Today.
What I’d say is look through all the different posts and find something that your brain is really curious about and go and work on that. Again, even if it's one or two other people, talk to people about it, rather than work on your own. Find something you want to work on around improving your brain. There's some other great writers in this space as well, but certainly, I’ve tried to make the language really simple and sticky.
Find something to work on. Maybe it's insight, maybe you just want to work on keeping your brain quiet in the morning. Try that. Track the data. Maybe try it for two weeks and see how many big ideas you have. See how many productive hours you have. Try and track the data much you can of what happens when you do this. Then maybe go back to your old way and see what happens. Track the data.
The insight stuff is great. Certainly, understanding SCARF, learning about SCARF can be super powerful as well in terms of managing your own and other people's mental state.
[0:45:56.0] MB: David, for listeners that want to find you, your work, the book, etc., online, can you share again what is the best place for them to find you?
[0:46:02.2] DR: Yeah, for sure. DavidRock.net is my personal website. It's got, so very stuff I'm involved in. NeuroLeadership.com. N-E-U-R-O, so neuro like brain leadership, one word. NeuroLeadership.com is the organization. There's also a blog called Your Brain at Work. It's in the NeuroLeadership site now, but you just look up Your Brain at Work, you'll find a blog and there's tons and tons and tons of things that we've been writing about in that space. That's a good resource.
I also run a conference each year. It's the world's-leading research conference for practitioners. It's really a roomful of 800 change agents from all walks of life, who want to follow the science of change better. That's in November, the 19th and 20th of November in New York. You can also stream that for free. Some of the biggest sessions. Anywhere in the world, I think we have over 20,000 folks streaming that. 19th and 20th of November in New York City, or free online. It's called the NeuroLeadership Summit. It's where we release new findings about all sorts of important topics around organizations today. Yeah, lots of resources.
Then yeah, my book Your Brain at Work on Amazon, obviously everywhere else. If you're interested in the organization and what we're up to, potential jobs, there's a careers – just look at careers in NeuroLeadership.com and you'll see that there.
[0:47:17.0] MB: Well, David. Thank you so much for coming on the show, for sharing all these insights and all this wisdom with the listeners, some really, really interesting points and ideas and tactics.
[0:47:26.3] DR: Yeah, thanks for the interest. Lots of good ideas here as well as we're speaking. Thanks for the interest in the work. Appreciate it.
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