Chris Bailey shares a toolkit of science-backed strategies for finding presence and productivity in anxious times.
Chris Bailey, productivity expert and author, returns to the show to talk about how to calm your mind and increase your productivity. Bailey shares a toolkit of science-backed strategies for finding presence and productivity in anxious times. So if you're ready to take control of your anxiety and boost your productivity, tune in and let Bailey be your guide on the path to a calmer, more productive life.
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Chris Bailey: Welcome back to the Unmistakable Creative
Chris Bailey: Good day to you, sir. It's been a hot minute as they say
Srini: Yeah, probably
Chris Bailey: probably before
Chris Bailey: I think before even my previous books came out, I think we had paper focus.
Chris Bailey: Yeah. Yeah. That would've been the last kind of tour, yeah. We're gonna have to chat when I have nothing to promote.
Chris Bailey: before we get into the look, I wanted to start asking what was the very first job that you ever had and what impact?
Srini: that end up having on your life, your career, and the choices you've made?
Chris Bailey: Oh, my, my first job was washing dishes at a shitty fast food Italian chain, Canada's version of of Olive Garden called Eastside Mario's, and it was actually a wonderful job. I loved it. And, you'd spray the dishes off and, there'd be like, there, there'd be sometimes food le I would never eat the food, so some of the dishwashers would eat the food.
I, I would never stoop to such a a level. But but it, rinse the dishes, put them in the tray, slide the tray into the dishwasher, pull the handle down. It would automatically clean and sanitize them all. And that was my job. Wash, rinse, repeat times, probably hundreds, thousands of times every night.
And I loved it. The feedback was immediate. The people were great. There was the camaraderie, there was sometimes two people on the dish line, one to wash, one to put away, and it was, and it kind, it did it formed a lot of the work ethic that I have today because if you didn't keep up and you weren't focused and you didn't, and you weren't in that flow, you would fall behind the dishes would start accumulating at a greater pace and he would just feel like you're in the weeds, but working diligently.
That was the skill that had taught me.
Srini: It's funny
Chris Bailey: funny,
Srini: I don't think I've ever heard anybody speak so
Chris Bailey: so
Srini: about a
Chris Bailey: A low wage,
Chris Bailey: a fast food job the
Srini: just have.
Chris Bailey: Way I went McDonald's, so I kinda have an
Srini: you're talking
Chris Bailey: idea from that. Yeah. What is that? Is that like, why do you have such a positive perspective on.
Srini: or is that
Chris Bailey: Something you recognize. Now, in retrospect, I feel I have that with everything,
Chris Bailey: Whatever I do I try to approach it with that positive spirit or whatever you want to call it. But also the people there were great, like good. Down to earth people. I think whoever made the hiring decisions at that place, realized that camaraderie really does create a lot of motivation in, in, in a workplace.
So I was pretty lucky. Thanks, Kevin
Who did all the hiring stuff. Thanks, Kevin.
Srini: It's funny,
Chris Bailey: funny I wrote this article table, vice
Chris Bailey: Fresh, one piece of
Srini: gave in
Chris Bailey: advice that was
Srini: should work in food service
Chris Bailey: to everybody.
Srini: in their life.
Chris Bailey: Oh, a hundred percent The reason.
Srini: think that for me, I found it so invaluable was that it's an incredibly humbling experience.
Chris Bailey: The thing I
Srini: from being in
Chris Bailey: recognize whole is that for me, this was a pissed stop, but for most of those people, this was their
Chris Bailey: life. Yeah. And.
Srini: just makes you so hyper aware of how privileged you are when you
Chris Bailey: How not
Srini: be where you are for life.
Chris Bailey: Oh, it's so true. And I'm even talking about going to college. Because I started there at the beginning of high school, and I started in the scullery, and then I worked my way up to pre-cook, and then I worked my way up to cook. And then when I left the kitchen, I was a, a.
I was talking to customers all the time, and I was just able to relate to different people in different situations and connect with everybody right away. I can only attest to that. I agree with that, especially as a waiter or someone who's actively dealing with customers and if someone's mad, you have to immediately calm them down and find a way to do that, and if someone needs a courtesy, you can make people feel like you're accommodating them. Even if you're in the hustle and bustle of your life and you have to juggle 10 tables at a moment's notice. I think there's an immense amount of skill, and when you find it. That calmness under pressure in a situation like that, where it's definitely about that urgency, because after all, it's dinner at a restaurant.
It's not life or death.
Chris Bailey: it, it does have that urgency bias where, because everything's so urgent, you're running around with your head cut off basically.
You can find calm in that chaos, you can find calming chaos beyond that point too. And I think there's a great skill just being able to relate to anybody in the.
I remember back in the day when I was a, I don't think anybody cares about this, but I'm gonna mention it. Feel free to cut this out of the show. But I would go online and look at server tips when I became a server, like how to make more tips. If you touch somebody on the shoulder, it makes you feel more connected, them more connected with you, and they're more likely to give a bigger tip.
And if you, if there's kids at the table, Ben, bend down a bit so you're on, not on your. What kind of stooped over, you're more likely to get a better tip. And just these simple rituals of relating to people in a more genuine, deeper way, I think is a skill worth developing.
Srini: Yeah. What
Chris Bailey: You mentioned that it's not a matter
Srini: death, and I had to ask, what is the most absurd request you've ever had
Chris Bailey: in a restaurant situation.
Srini: have somebody accommodate you
Chris Bailey: Oh
Srini: or accommodate them? Sorry.
Chris Bailey: yeaI think East Side Maries was the opposite of that. I don't want to just badmouth East Side Marios, but I do at the same time because I think it's like Olive Garden, but much worse, like Italian fast food and. The funniest thing was that there was nothing too absurd because it didn't attract that kind of clientele.
But the most amazing thing was when someone complimented the chef, and when I came out of the kitchen, I found that half of the food was either frozen or came out of a plastic bag. So you're basically complimenting whatever. The chemist concocted the Italian wedding soup or the house breads that came precooked.
But, the compliments to the chef were I found the most amusing because in my head I just thought that came in a bag, man.
Chris Bailey: You don't know what you're missing. Go to a real Italian restaurant. Sorry. Eastside. Mario's
Srini: Yeah. No. Cause I, I
Chris Bailey: I
Srini: cause I remember there were
Chris Bailey: remember there were times I'd get.
Srini: and people would
Chris Bailey: come in and just fake the absurd requests.
Chris Bailey: What's the most absurd one you had? The one that sticks out in my mind, if somebody comes to the Drivethrough, they're like I want just the pat from Burger. I bun I don't The condiments.
Chris Bailey: Yeah.
Srini: how do we
Chris Bailey: Do that.
Chris Bailey: Wrap
Srini: Like it's not for me, it's for my
Chris Bailey: my dog. Shouldn't you be feeding your dog? Yeah. Yeah. Seriously.
Oh, that's funny.
Just stuff like that,
Srini: that was
Chris Bailey: The one that stands out in my mind. Imagine where people change their mind
Chris Bailey: constantly. Yeah. Oh actually I don't things on that. Back then it wasn't all digital, so it was a pain in the ass.
Chris Bailey: Change their mind after you put in the order. The digital could also work the other way cuz now you have all these people stoned out of their Gord at 2:00 AM ordering for McDonald's where they want like only bun or only patty or double everything on the inside.
Yeah, it's, I can't even imagine. That would be actually quite a.
Srini: Yeah. I
Chris Bailey: I think the craziest thing I had that ever happened to me clinic was I was just about ready to go on bay o'clock. I pack up everything and then somebody got shot oh,
Chris Bailey: a few months away. So half the police department shot after
Srini: with this call. And
Chris Bailey: 10 days, I just served like 30 cops.
Wow. Yeah. Doing God's work. They're shredding.
Srini: I dunno about that. But
Chris Bailey: I, I.
Srini: remember talking to Jeffrey Zov about food prep and restaurants and what
Chris Bailey: they taught him about managing
Srini: and preparation. And
Chris Bailey: and the thing that stayed with me the most was this whole idea of getting everything
Chris Bailey: Advance, said the reason that they conserv so many people so quickly.
Srini: everything is actually done in advance. So I'm curious, when it comes to you managing your time and your energy and your attention and all the things that we're gonna talk about as we get into the book, what did you take
Chris Bailey: Take away from working.
Srini: all that?
Chris Bailey: Oh, that's an interesting question, I think the agile nature has taught me how to be agile at work right now. So you're exactly right about prioritization. I wouldn't say upfront, I'd say in the moment. So right now, when I've a lot. What's going on is. I keep an "in the moment" list, so a to-do list and all that, to keep track of everything, but I also keep an "in the moment" list with the things I'm working on right now at the top and the things I'm going to do next.
And the stuff that comes after that, I keep rearranging. It's usually digital because I find that more efficient, and I thought, now that you're asking this question, it's interesting that I never made that connection to my job in food service. But if you. Five or six tables and one needs bread, one needs drinks, another needs salad.
Someone else's main course is ready. Another needs another bill, and they're waiting for the vending machine. You're always juggling this list of what to do next, who to serve, what to take care of, what's done, what to forget, and I think that's a, that's a tactic that I take with me every day, that's who I'm right now.
At the top. Fortunately, the time frames are a little bit longer, and the work these days involves more knowledge. The work is more based on knowledge than this simple automatic repetition that used to be required. But I think we can all learn from this agility.
And the ethic that so informs is the ultimate manifestation of a good work ethic. Making progress at any moment on something that matters, and juggling what's next at any moment so that you can make sure that the next thing you do is important. So I think that on a tactical level, that's what I am doing these days.
Srini: I think that makes a perfect segue into talking about the concepts in the book.
Chris Bailey: Yeah. What was the impetus for.
Srini: this book as your natural follow up to hyper focus?
Chris Bailey: Right. The impetus for this project is a little different than the others. With Hyperfocus, I realized how distracted I was. The productivity project was simply about summarizing what I had experimented with over the course of a year with productivity. On that project, I had a panic attack on stage in front of about a hundred people, and when I got on stage, I felt.
Kind of out of it. I was dizzy, nauseous, that kind of thing. And it wasn't until I started talking that I realized it felt like I had a dozen marbles in my mouth that my tongue had to dance around. I could feel beads of sweat forming on the back of my neck, and I felt that fight, flight or freedom.
I realized I was having a panic attack on stage in this fight or flight mode. And luckily I managed to speak by heart, an automaticity. Fortunately, I had rehearsed and managed to keep the rest of the talk in automatic mode and was met with a lukewarm reception afterwards.
But after that lecture, I basically just stepped back and said, "Holy cow, this is what I've to do. Fix this situation and deconstruct this situation. I didn't do everything right. After the event. It took me a couple of months to deconstruct the situation I was in, but I realized that a) I was very anxious. B: I was technically considered. Burned out was. And these factors were affecting not only my ability to enjoy life, but also to be productive every day. My productivity was affected by these variables, and so I set to work. I read all kinds of studies. I talked to experts. I brought my usual work ethic.
I suppose I can also use the phrase here that I've used in previous books about anxiety and burnout and this idea of what. Serenity even, even though it's an elusive idea. It's taken me to a lot of different places, and I've had to deconstruct a lot of parts of my own philosophy around productivity and performance and the pursuit of more and stimulation.
But I'm grateful for the journey that became this project.
Chris Bailey: Yeah.
Srini: let's get
Chris Bailey: get into one of.
Srini: that really struck me is
Chris Bailey: What you call,
Srini: accomplishment mindset. And you
Chris Bailey: you say that when you were younger, you didn't give much thought for measuring your days felt We progressed through life and accumulate real responsibility. This changes. Yeah. We're talking to measure our time and often even out worth against the benchmark accomplishment as adults, this weight of responsibility drive seren adventure.
Yeah. Such as the nature of the accomplished mindset sector once we began
Chris Bailey: shooting for most success.
Srini: to stop.
Chris Bailey: Yeah.
Srini: What is it
Chris Bailey: is it that.
Srini: us from stopping
Chris Bailey: Stopping.
Chris Bailey: Like
Srini: you. Like I
Chris Bailey: I realized, I like, wait a minute,
Srini: The more just
Chris Bailey: mortgage become the end rather than the means.
Srini: get there.
Chris Bailey: Exactly. Yeah. And I think that is the key that we have this acquisitionmindset that we can enter into that is supported by many interesting regions of our brain. And really, an achievement and acquisition mentality revolves around that idea. Of more and around dopamine. I feel like I have to take a shot for every time someone mentions dopamine in a podcast.
But it has this fascinating connection with the pursuit of more. A lot of researchers even call it the molecule of more, because if you look at the neurochemical underpinnings, whenever we either strive to stimulate our mind, or strive for. After a greater achievement. Regardless of what we are trying to achieve, these behaviors are usually built on dopamine.
And that, I think, is key when it comes to this striving for greater achievement, where we have this general striving, where we strive for more at all costs, no matter what the context. And that, of course, is something that I have done in my. In my work, I have had success by many traditional measures, but I found that the more extrinsic success I had, the less successful I felt.
These measures of success by traditional measures, and this goes back to that dopamine connection where the more we achieve, the more we want to achieve. I, this acquisition mentality actually also leads us to become less present in our life. And this was a fascinating connection that I had the opportunity to make because I found that the more driven I became the.
I was able to focus on what was in front of me. I, and it was this weird phenomenon that really came into it came clear through the research where the networks in our brain that are associated with acquiring more of something, of anything are actually anti-correlated with the brain networks that lead us to become present with whatever it is that we're doing and whomever it is.
It's this dichotomy between the here and now and striving for more, whether it's more stimulation or more power. And dopamine, I should say, isn't all bad. It helps us think logically. It helps us become more creative. It helps our body function. We can't get rid of dopamine, and we shouldn't, but when our behavior is primarily motivated by dopamine, especially when it comes to striving for more performance and stimulation, we can get into trouble. But it's interesting how this drive for performance, often ironically, makes us less focused and present in the present moment. And incidentally, it makes us completely miserable most of the time, because the more we strive for more, the less we're actually able to do.
The life we're already living, the life we already have. And I think that's an even greater cost. Let's leave aside for a moment what we have achieved,
Chris Bailey: we should be able to enjoy our lives and we should have the ingredients to do
Srini: it reminds me, somebody had asked me in one of the mastermind workshops we were doing for a community and so
Chris Bailey: What have you done to suck the things? Yeah.
Chris Bailey: Not a damn thing. I usually go on.
Chris Bailey: That goes back to a productivity idea called the Zeigarnik effect: We remember all the things that are unresolved in our lives and quickly forget all the things that are resolved, including all the accomplishments we've achieved in our past.
So when we finish a big work project, we think: Oh, what's next? That's done. No, take a step back. Celebrate it for a moment. You've earned it.
Research shows that wealthier people enjoy experiences less than people who experience scarcity in their daily lives. Women find it easier to enjoy things than men. I'm sure why, but I find that absolutely fascinating. If we're less able to enjoy our lives when we're rich, what's the point of wealth?
Srini: . Yeah. No, I
Chris Bailey: I remember when we got,
Srini: round of venture funding and I got my term
I called my brother-in-law and I
Chris Bailey: started telling all the plants,
Srini: I was gonna do, and
Chris Bailey: he said, yeah, dude. He was like,
Srini: wait a minute.
Chris Bailey: a minute.
He was like, this is a big deal. Take a moment until, yeah. You savor it. Yeah. Oh.
Srini: And we never do
Chris Bailey: Speaking of this idea more, I wonder if I, back to Cliff broadly
Chris Bailey: set us with financial
Srini: who really
Chris Bailey: who kinda
Srini: made me
Chris Bailey: you rethink
Chris Bailey: idea
Chris Bailey: more. Okay. Yeah.
mediaboard_sounds: What if instead of always looking for more, which is part of the American
Chris Bailey: And you can fill in the blank, whether it's more money, more fame, more status, more house, more car. We focused on optimizing. Our own definition of enough. , and I think with a, that could have such a huge impact on the planet, just from a variety of different global climate change issues that we weren't consuming as much, but big, more important.
I think it would have a huge impact on our happiness.
Srini: What do you think of that
Chris Bailey: ? Oh, I love that. By the way, this is the first time I have been on a podcast and listened to a clip. This is the first time for me. That's great. i could not agree more with that advice. And the goals have endpoints, right?
A goal has an end point where when you reach it, you know you have made it, you have come to the end of that particular journey and hopefully there's a tangible difference in your life or in other people's lives when you reach that point where you have had enough of something.
But that value of progress that we all seem to have, I think that's great. We should always be making progress to get better, to contribute more, and even to achieve more. I am not against this idea of completion. If we do not have an end point with our goals, a goal without an end point is really just a fantasy.
But there are, there are all, there are all these stories that we assume when we assume the default values. In our modern culture, we have this natural tendency to try to maximize all the currencies that we happen to come into contact with. So we get a few followers on a social network.
We want more followers. We get some dollars in the bank account. We want more dollars in the bank account. We get one, a few retweets. We think, why did not we get more? The last one had even more than that, he took that. The value that our modern culture has, that the clip points out, is that we need more to be happy, but if we look around, people are not happy when they have more.
And the last place we should look for happiness advice. Is the modern world. The modern world is not happy. The modern world is not calm. The modern world is not content, it is not able to enjoy the fruits of what it has achieved. And I am speaking in general terms here, of course, but this idea of more is needed.
Boundaries. It needs a target to shoot at, a concrete target that will make a tangible difference in our lives and in the lives of others, otherwise it is nothing but a blind pursuit of misery.
Chris Bailey: Speaking of
Chris Bailey: pursuit, you say that obsessive pursuit
Chris Bailey: activity.
Chris Bailey: effect mental health.
But we do need to
Chris Bailey: set
Srini: a few
Chris Bailey: goals.
Chris Bailey: We wanna say that when achievement drives most,
Srini: we run
Chris Bailey: Run the risk of not taken time to recharge, slow down. Appreciate the principle we, yeah. All of which ironically makes us more,
Chris Bailey: more motivated than not long. We just spend at least some of our timeing or,
Srini: risk of burning out and
Chris Bailey: and it's kinda funny, but as I'm talking to you, I'm getting the sense that
Chris Bailey: paradox of the accomplishment mindset is that it.
Srini: actually diminishes
Chris Bailey: by making us far less present and taking us out of the moment. And that goes back to the idea of the presence network and the acquisition network, which are anti-correlated on a neurological level. On a neurological level, when we're present in the here and now, we feel connected to what we're doing, and we feel a sense of pride.
And when we're pulled out of that, when we acquire more, we feel less present with what we want to do. One of my favorite ways to combat this is to set limits on productivity and goal achievement by simply putting in productivity hours every day.
I actually believe that this energy is. We can channel it so that it doesn't make us miserable and so that it doesn't lead to a general state of striving. But we can divide that striving into what I like to call productivity hours. For example, today, the day we're recording this podcast, I've seven productivity hours that I'm spending on my work.
And when those hours are up, I'm off work, baby. I'm ordering some weird McDonald's orders at 2:00 this morning with some gummy bears. No, that's not really me, but those productivity hours serve as a boundary for this pursuit of achievement. So those seven hours. I'm going to try very hard to accomplish things.
I'll strive hard to be productive. I'll strive for more of that accomplishment, but I'll also use those limits to find a conscious balance between that daily striving and enjoying the fruits of what I can accomplish with those hours. Because in my. Our work, our reward for being productive shouldn't be having more work to do.
But a simple tactic like these productivity hours creates an artificial deadline. So we have an end point in sight. We have that end point in sight so that work stress doesn't have an opportunity to spill over into other areas of our lives.
Again, we're able to do this consciously. To find a balance every day to accomplish as much as we can while enjoying our lives to the degree that we want to.
Chris Bailey: Yeah. There's something you say that,
Chris Bailey: that
Srini: said, when
Chris Bailey: accomplishment matters focused on productivity
Srini: meaning matters, be sure
Chris Bailey: sure.
Srini: set productivity aside.
Chris Bailey: Yeah. I'm thinking about, my day to day
Srini: my family. My sister just had a baby,
Chris Bailey: interact with a baby
Srini: I'm thinking to myself, oh, when
Chris Bailey: and I'm hanging out with them. The last thing I should be thinking about, productive, cause that's meaningful
Chris Bailey: yeah
Srini: that gonna make me more money, make me my career any better?
Chris Bailey: know,
Srini: it add
Chris Bailey: add to my life.
Srini: way? Absolutely.
Chris Bailey: Right. And that brings me back to the basic idea that I think we should all internalize, which is that the core of what it means to be productive is intentionality. The more intentional. The more consciously we live and work, the more we achieve what we actually want.
And that also goes back to the idea of values. We all have different values, and if achievement is something that we really value, then more achievement can actually lead to a more meaningful life. But usually we have values other than just performance. And there's a great theory of values by Shalom Schwartz where he says.
That's the prevailing value theory in the world right now that researchers are studying and analyzing, and essentially we all have 10 different values. Depending on them, we vary a little bit. Depending on our upbringing, depending on how we are predisposed, depending on our culture, our environment, our circumstances, our freedoms, our constraints.
But achievement, success is one of those values, but traditions are also part of it. The same goes for benevolence, universalism, conformity, security, striving for power. Is also one of them. Incentive to self-determination, and I feel like a lot of people who listen to this podcast have that value of self-determination. At least I do, that independent thought and action.
We create, we explore, we have this intention behind what we do, and I think this is ultimately the purpose of productivity. It's to be able. Work and live with greater intention in a way that's hopefully aligned to who we are on a deeper level. Cuz that's the process through which meaning is made right?
When we notice ourselves, when we observe ourselves acting in a way that is consistent with who we are in a deeper sense. That is exactly what beauty is. In this way, we can live a life that is consistent with who we are at that deep level. And that is what matters. And we, the modern world we live in, is structured.
It's largely structured around the idea of achievement, which I think is fine in many ways if we can divide it up. But there are a lot of other things that we can appreciate. Universalism is one of them, which is sometimes at odds with the idea of achievement, but is universal.
It includes understanding, appreciation, tolerance, protection of people and nature. It also includes wisdom, beauty and justice, and protecting the environment also falls into this category. I think we need to understand that there are values that go beyond performance and productivity.
And it may be that we value something that is not valued by the world around us. I found myself in a situation where I valued performance a lot. And I still do, actually. I find that. I am able to make a contribution to others through that achievement, and that contribution can become an achievement in and of itself, but there are other things that we not only value, but that are worth focusing on, not just one of them.
Srini: Yeah. One thing I
Chris Bailey: thing,
Srini: about, Recognizing
Chris Bailey: that,
Srini: actually burnt out because I feel like people can be burnt out and
Chris Bailey: yeah,
Srini: of the
Chris Bailey: back up.
Srini: out. And you talk about the
Chris Bailey: Yeah,
Srini: Cause like I
Chris Bailey: I don't think I would know if I was,
Chris Bailey: and I remember the first sign that I had that I was burned out
Was June, where I took the entire month off of interviews and I realized, oh my God,
Chris Bailey: not stopped
Srini: Since I
Chris Bailey: I started the show. I've never had a full month without
Srini: and I spent
Chris Bailey: month in Brazil.
Just reading, writing was the first, like real
Chris Bailey: vacation was ago
Chris Bailey: actually not gonna win. Yeah. Even though I spent a.
Srini: and writing
Chris Bailey: Yes, of course. And that was a difficult thing that I discovered for myself: I equated burnout with exhaustion. So when I was really tired, even at the end of a day or a week or a month, I'd say, "Oh, I'm so burned out right now.
I need a break. But burnout is a technical construct that is being studied in research, and Christina Malac is probably the world's leading researcher in this area. She defines burnout with three core characteristics, and the research shows that we need all three of those characteristics to be burned out.
We need that exhaustion. In fact, exhaustion is the first characteristic of burnout. We need to feel completely broken and exhausted, like there's nothing left of us to give. That's number one. That's cynicism. We have to feel that this negativity is behind us, that what we're doing just doesn't make sense anymore.
And number three, we need ineffectiveness. So we need to feel deeply unproductive and feel that what we're doing isn't making a difference, either in our work or in other people's lives. And one of those things between exhaustion and cynicism. Feeling unproductive serves as a springboard for a full-blown burnout phenomenon.
And you mentioned in the interviews that the cause of burnout is chronic stress that does not subside when we have enough chronic stress in our lives, the stress that we face over and over again is a big part of the stress in our lives, obviously, but a big part of that chronic stress is also hidden in the depths of our lives.
Our body gets to a point where chemically it just refuses to adjust to a stressful event, and we get this combination of exhaustion, cynicism, and unproductivity. So it's a phenomenon that's hard to understand when we experience it ourselves, but in theory it's simple.
And one of them can serve as a tripwire.
Srini: . Wow.
Chris Bailey: Yeah.
Srini: So you
Chris Bailey: Make this distinction between Cecil
Chris Bailey: ambition.
Srini: which really stood out to me. You said that Cecil ambition
Chris Bailey: Ambition often results over and
Chris Bailey: might transit
Srini: We don't even
Chris Bailey: to a question why
Chris Bailey: we're talking. Yeah. Why we so rarely say.
Srini: our accomplishments.
And I know
Chris Bailey: I know we talked about,
Srini: you say that
Chris Bailey: say that engagement is the process
Srini: which we actually
Chris Bailey: actually become more productive,
Chris Bailey: intentional lives. , and this is especially the case when we're.
Srini: with our most consequential
Chris Bailey: Tasks through
Srini: the biggest
Chris Bailey: difference
Chris Bailey: You, that struck me so much because I remember we had to miss
Srini: was a professor at Stanford here. You're talking to us about the fact that
Chris Bailey: like students coming in with their whole lives out and then
Srini: that's one group and
Chris Bailey: Then the other is basically clueless and I'm like, oh, I'm worried what I'm passionate about.
Your passion follows your engagement
Srini: and this is
Chris Bailey: this is something I'm so like, don't follow your passion. Follow your.
Srini: out what you find engaging, and then
Chris Bailey: Yeah,
Chris Bailey: discover.
Srini: passionate about.
Chris Bailey: Oh, it's so true. And that engagement, that I, if you look at what allows you to actually make progress, and I realise I'm repeating part of that quote, but if you look at what allows you to actually make progress, it's that you're focused, you's being engaged with whatever it is that you're going to do.
There's a story that I really like. When the University of California at Irvine was built, there were no sidewalks there. The planners of the university waited and looked at where people were walking around the buildings that were already on campus and put the sidewalks there.
In other words, the sidewalks at the university are designed so that people walk where they actually want to walk, not where they should walk. And so you don't have to do that. In other cases, there's a sidewalk and then the way that people actually want to walk, and it's dug into the dirt or the grass that's well worn over time.
It's called a desire path because that's where people want to go and that's where they long to go. So I think there's so much value and wisdom in that advice. Engagement. And if you look at what allows you to be naturally engaged in the work that you're doing, it's probably the work that you find interesting and those kinds of tasks that will naturally make you more productive.
And going back to that idea of burnout, the fascinating thing is that engagement on a psychological level is the. Of burnt out. So if you look at those three attributes of burnout, exhaustion, cynicism, and being unproductive. When you're burnt out, you're exhausted. But when you are engaged, you have this fire underneath you.
There's a, this driving force behind what you're doing. Instead of being cynical, you feel like there's a light. Behind what you're doing. And instead of feeling ineffective, you feel as though you're making a profound difference. And that's the definition of engagement. Those are the characteristics of engagement too.
Chris Bailey: I've come to see engagement as a superpower, right? I, if we can be engaged with whatever it is that we intend, , I don't think we need to ever pick up another productivity book again in our lives because we can just set out to do something and then do it. But here's the fascinating thing as well.
There are certain attributes of our work that drive us either to the side of engagement or to the side of burnout, and there are six of them. Workload is the first factor. The more workload, the more our workload exceeds our capacity to get everything done, the more likely we are to be burned out.
But if the workload is about equal to our capacity to get things done, we reach a flow state and are more likely to be engaged. Or a lot of control is the second point, which is about what we work on and how we work on it. When we work on it, the methods that we use, how we collaborate with other people on the work that we have.
The more control we have, the more likely we are to be engaged, the less control we have. The less control we have, the more likely we are to be burned out. Reward is the third point. So the more equitably we are rewarded financially, socially, and intrinsically, the more likely we are to burn out. So if we find our work intrinsically motivating, then the more equitably we are rewarded, the more engaged we will be.
If we are not rewarded adequately, we are more likely to burn out. Is another attribute, another knob that can either be out of balance or in balance. When we feel connected to the people we work closely with, we are more engaged. If we do not feel connected, we are more likely to burn out.
Fairness. Is another, the fifth factor of the six. The fairer things are in our work, in terms of distribution of work, in terms of compensation, the more likely we're to engage, and values is the last factor. So there are 10 values that I briefly mentioned, but the more our work is aligned with what we value, the more we feel like we're expressing our values through our actions and we feel like our work is very meaningful.
And that also leads to engagement and away from burnout. The fascinating thing is that with these six factors, our work can either be aligned with ourselves and what we need to do good work, or it can't be aligned with ourselves and what we need to do good work. And that alignment either leads to burnout or engagement, depending on all these different factors.
So it's a fascinating phenomenon, but when we look at it. What allows us to actually make progress is engagement. And that's another reason why burnout can be such a devastating phenomenon, not only in terms of how it feels when you're going through it, but also in terms of how it leads to us accomplishing far less.
Chris Bailey: Yeah.
Srini: Let's talk about the
Chris Bailey: tighten
Chris Bailey: Oh,
Srini: concept about,
Chris Bailey: about skin and, moving overstimulated.
Chris Bailey: Basically
Srini: called super stimuli, where you say super
Chris Bailey: super
Srini: with more dopamine than everything else. We. spending our
Chris Bailey: time attention on.
Srini: enjoyment is short-lived.
Chris Bailey: Yeah. And obviously I think this is not,
Srini: you not news to any of us, as you joked, we should do a shot every time
Chris Bailey: yeah.
Srini: dopamine on a podcast. But yeah, talk to me about this because you talk about Able to control the amount of
Chris Bailey: So superstimuli we all know because we all tend to them. They're highly processed, exaggerated versions of things that have been biologically programmed. To enjoy. And takeaways are a great example of that. Call up Uber Eats, and you'll see hundreds of examples of super-stimulants, things that are greasy, salty, and sweet, regardless of the time of day.
If you happen to live in a big city, as I do. But you're so right that most of these super stimuli, most of the things that are highly dopaminergic that we. For the sake of the dopamine hit, they happen to be in the digital world. So pornography is a superstimulation version of something, of intimate time with a partner, that we're biologically programmed for.
Social media is a simulated version of social contact, which we're biologically programmed to do, but because these behaviors are primarily rewarded with dopamine. We don't. We feel that presence in everything we do. And dopamine is this fascinating neurochemical that we sometimes think of as a pleasure chemical, but it's really more of a chemical of anticipation, of joy.
That's the feeling that dopamine gives. So when we get a boost of it, we feel like pleasure is imminent. And there's a mechanism in our mind, the novelty bias, where our mind rewards us with a burst of dopamine for every new thing that we turn our attention to, and in fact, those are the contributing factors.
The magnitude of a dopamine hit Novelty is number one. Direct impact is number two. So how much something actually affects our lives. And number three is genetics. So how we're programmed to respond to dopamine also affects the magnitude of the hit. But on the Internet, novelty seems to be the factor that changes the most, relatively speaking.
And so we get a hit when we check Instagram and get a hit of novelty on our Explorer tab there. Then we check our email and we get another boost of novelty and another boost of dopamine. We get another boost of anticipation. But because we're constantly anticipating pleasure, we never do.
Really feel like we've arrived. We never really feel present because there's always this chemical motivation that drives us to keep behaving a certain way, but it never really makes us feel satisfied. We feel satisfied. And you alluded in question E to these different levels of stimulation: Everything that we tend to do during the day has a different level of stimulation.
Depending on how much dopamine it releases. So at the top of the stimulation level scale is social media. Online news and drug use are at the zenith of that stimulation level. But then you start. You work your way down. And in the middle range, there are activities like playing board games with friends, going out for coffee with someone, writing, and creative work.
And, as we go down these heights of stimulation, the. Activities that are plotted on it, they release a bit less dopamine, but they release other chemicals that make us feel connected and actually present and satisfied with how we're spending our time, our attention, and our energy, and generally speaking.
These activities also lead us to rest and away from anxiety and away from burnout, and they lead us to presence and productivity, where productivity and focus feel more effortless. So it's fascinating when you look at the research on dopamine: Dopamine begets dopamine.
The more dopamine we want, the more we crave it. And here's why. Stimulation creates stimulation and distraction creates distraction. The more we get distracted, the more we want to keep distracting ourselves to stay at that high level of stimulation, and it's hard to come back down. But it's worth coming down, not only for the beautiful effects of the column, where we enjoy our experiences much more.
We're able to enjoy them. But also because of the productivity benefits and because of the benefits of being there, where we spend our time in a much more meaningful way.
Chris Bailey: Yeah.
Srini: Let's speak briefly about analog experiences and we will wrap this up because
Chris Bailey: Yeah.
Srini: distinction between analog and digital. you say
Chris Bailey: Say
Srini: We want to do an activity efficiently, we should do it digitally. And when we want our actions to be
Chris Bailey: meaningful.
Srini: do things the analog way.
Chris Bailey: This way.
Srini: internet for
Chris Bailey: Internet. What it's good at
Srini: us time, adding features to our lives and connecting us with others while avoiding pesky digital rabbit holes. And you and I were just talking about the fact that
Chris Bailey: that,
Srini: remarkable tablet as. Reason to basically stop, stimulation.
And the funny thing is
Chris Bailey: people have.
Srini: reactions to remarkable when they buy
Chris Bailey: Buy it. This thing is overpriced. I might as well find an iPad. I think those people missed the phone. Yeah. Yeah. Intentionally
Srini: limited in terms of what it can do.
Chris Bailey: Yeah. Yeah. And I think we have forgotten about the analog world in a really big way. And I, if you look at. Pardon me. How we spend our time throughout the day.
I believe this statistic is from 2021, when researchers found that the average person now spends more than 13 hours a day in front of a screen. When I came across this statistic, I couldn't really believe it. But then I started looking at my life. My life, my own world, and it struck me that in this digital world, I was just bouncing back and forth between screens and never really coming to rest, or perhaps more importantly, coming to rest, and that meaning is to be found in that which is slow and analog, and especially in those things that are analog, at that lower level of stimulation when you're sitting around a campfire with a few people and just watching the flames move in and out of conversation. When you're having brunch with a couple of people who are able to not look at their cell phones while they're eating, when you're playing cards with your family, when you're passing the time on a car ride with your family, those are small moments.
They have an outsized importance simply because we're present with them. And when it comes to presence, that is. Theme that it's difficult doesn't really have handles right, but we know it when we feel it, when we're in the moment in an experience. And research shows that analog experiences lead to much more presence because they release a brew of chemicals that.
They counteract all the dopamine that's in our head. They release oxytocin, the chemical of connection. When we feel connected to other people, real people are one. The most beautiful thing, the most beautiful part of our analog world. Serotonin is released when we do something that makes us proud.
That's why I'm learning the piano right now. I feel a sense of pride when I play something I enjoy. We feel a sense of euphoria. We experience an endorphin rush, like when we play sports. And we also experience dopamine, but only in smaller amounts, which are released in response to these activities.
And we all have activities that we can move, like the tasks on the remarkable. The analog world and the way I think about the activities we do in both worlds, we can think of it as a kind of Venn diagram, where one circle represents the things we do only in analog. Another circle is the purely digital things we do.
Analog things include brushing teeth or spending time in nature. Digital things only. We all know examples of social media, email and so on, and where they are in the. Those are the activities that we can bring into the analog circle without really losing much efficiency.
If efficiency is the only thing that matters, then it might be worth doing something digitally, like keeping a to-do list. I would argue, for example, that slowing down when you are planning will make you more deliberate later. But tasks like. Brainstorming, they feel different on a big whiteboard or a remarkable one that you can huddle over with a cup of coffee and not be able to tab over to another window to spend time with people again, right?
When we spend time with others in the analog world, we feel far more depth of. What in a circumstance like that, reading a book I love, the physicality of a book and not being able to, again, tab over to a different application to rise to a new height of stimulation. Games. Playing board games with people is one of my favorite things to do.
My wife and I love nerding out with each other and with friends over board games, and it's so much more rewarding than than. Playing some mindless game on a phone that moves you from one point in time to another. And so there are so many different activities that we can bring into the analog and so we don't have to tend to them digitally and calm our mind and find that deliberateness at the same time.
Chris Bailey: This,
Srini: as I would be. So I have one final question for you,
Chris Bailey: yes.
Srini: how we finish all of our interviews at the unmistakable creative. What do you think it is that makes somebody, or something unmistakable.
Chris Bailey: What is it that makes something unmistakable? I think when something is so unique and so different, and it is based around novelty that's structured on top of. No novelty is this idea that over time I'm finding myself more and more fascinated with not just for the dopamine connection, but because everything that we tend to do over the course of our day, over the course of our life has a d varying amount of novelty, but also a different.
Type of novelty. Novelty on the internet is so often structured on top of just our basic responses. Whether that's mating with a partner or eating good food, or getting angry or tribal or something like that. I, in fact, Facebook whistleblower, Francis Hogan reduced Instagram to two things: bodies and comparing lifestyles.
And I think that describes much of social media and the internet and the novelty that is to be found there. But I think when something is novel in a way that is not only unexpected, but also unexpectedly deep, that I think is what makes something unmistakable.
Chris Bailey: I'd love to hear my answers, my previous answers to that, but
Chris Bailey: it's probably completely different.
Srini: of my
Chris Bailey: probably one of my favorite answers I've ever heard.
Srini: To that question.
Chris Bailey: oh, that's good.
Chris Bailey: Yeah.
Srini: I can't thank
Chris Bailey: I.
Srini: taking the time to join us and share your story, your wisdom, and your insights with our listeners.
Where can people find out more about you, your work, the book, and everything else? You're up to?
Chris Bailey: Yeah. Thank you so much for if I 'll have to make it so I don't have something to plug next time. The book is called How to Calm Your Mind, Finding Presence and Productivity in Anxious Times. And I think it's the best thing I've ever created and I'm complet. Totally biased. But I'm quite proud of what I learned along this journey and it's helped me immensely.
And so the book is wherever Books are Sold, and my website is chris bailey.com. I also do a podcast with my wife called Time and Attention that we nerd out about this stuff over. But how to Calm your mind is where you can find my latest thinking. These.
Srini: Amazing. And for everybody listening, we will wrap the show with that.