Wendy Swire is an author, speaker, professor, leadership consultant, and certified fitness coach who founded the DC Neuroleadership Group. One of her missions is to guide people in giving their minds a well-deserved break by teaching them the concept of brain hygiene. In this conversation with Adam Markel, she shares simple practices and rituals to recharge and reset your brain, giving it a chance to handle the endless flow of information every single day. She explains the best approach to reducing cognitive load and how to fight negativity bias by embracing a mindset of gratitude. Wendy also talks about how any person can play the role of a coach and empower others just by asking the right questions.
- 0:00 – Introduction
- 8:06 – Super Food for the Brain
- 15:19 – Managing the Massive Cognitive Load
- 20:47 – Simple Practices for the Brain
- 35:01 – Anytime Coaching
- 45:19 – Episode Wrap-up
- 47:32 – Conclusion
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Simple Practices That Help With Brain Hygiene With Wendy Swire
On the show, we have Wendy Swire, an author, speaker, professor, and leadership consultant who is best known as the Brain Geek, an executive coach for her C-Suite clients, is the Founder of the DC Neuroleadership Group and Certified Mental Fitness Coach. She has helped thousands to better understand their brains to create laser-focused results moving from the saboteur to the sage brain. I love this. You’re going to love it as well. Sit back and enjoy.
You’ve got a serious bio right there and it’s always interesting. It’s a fun thing. I riff on this at the beginning of every podcast about the bio, the person’s introduction, and all that good stuff. My question to you is not about your bio or at least the one that I read, it’s what’s one thing that’s not included in that introduction that you would like people to know about you at the outset of our conversation.
First, thank you much for having me on the show. I’m a fan of yours. One of the things I love most is your energy and the enthusiasm you bring to resilience and work. I want to thank you and let me be able to speak to all of your readers. What is not on the bio? I may give two. We all have superpowers and my superpower is curiosity. Even as a little child, I loved reading. I love books. What has fueled my success is I was taught at a young age by my father. I was very lucky to have an entrepreneurial father who had a lot of charisma and he had rags to riches story. He started with nothing and he became a successful entrepreneur. He said, “You don’t need to be the sharpest tool in the shed. You could outwork anybody.”
Work ethic is important, which I have taken to heart, but I have spacious curiosity. That’s what led me to move into what I’m doing. I didn’t plan this career. If you said you’re going to be a leadership consultant, coach, or expert and I’m known as a Brain Geek coach, I would’ve said you’re crazy, but I followed curiosity. What I would want your readers to know is if you have anything that you are interested or, “I want to learn more,” even if it’s a whisper, listen to it, and follow it because curiosity is like a superfood for the brain. The brain loves novelty. A lot of the arc of my career has been because I’ve been curious.
I’m glad that this is what came up. I want to lay out the roadmap for myself for how I’d like to track what you said and see if you buy into this. There’s this voracious curiosity. It is cool to meet somebody who’s curious because a lot of times curiosity is a thing that peaks in childhood and it’s in a process of setting after that for some time. That curiosity and you becoming a brain geek in the work that you do, I want to layer that on the idea that your dad also modeled for you. The way of being the philosophy, even of being successful as an entrepreneur or in other areas of life, is about work ethic. The way that I want to approach this is from the standpoint of our research on resilience in many ways pitting two philosophies or paradigms against one another.
I’m going to call the first one the 20th Century Paradigm. That’s a random way to look at it. That paradigm is one where tenacity, grit, perseverance, the things that me, you, and a lot of people have been raised on this idea that if there was one thing that would help us be successful, it would be our willpower, our ability to grit and grind no matter what. There’s that. I’ll call it the 20th Century Paradigm for resilience. There’s a 21st Century Paradigm that we talk about based on our research, which is not about endurance.
It’s about recovery and restoration. It’s not about how we endure, but how we restore. Those two things were not visibly in conflict until the pandemic. The pandemic shows up and people are exhausted. We have this massive resignation, quiet quitting, and people have anxious levels. Anxiety is never been visible in this way before. All that to say, can you share a little bit about maybe dad’s work ethic programming for you and this idea of how our brains work and ultimately, how we maintain curiosity, especially, if you’re tired, depleted, and exhausted, you’re probably not too curious either.
I love the model because it’s true. This idea of gritted out and work to the bone, unfortunately, I was raised to work hard but do it in a place I had. My father was a role model. He loved what he did. He did it with joy and satisfaction. He felt he was doing something purposeful. Those models and some of the research in Angela Duckworth’s Grit are getting looked at now that it’s not necessarily the best paradigm. You must have a recovery to be at peak performance. You and I are singing off the same seat of music here. The brain must have a recovery. It is not a waste of time. I love what you say, “Self-care is not selfish.” We know that from brain science.
When you want to be at peak performance, your brain must sleep. Otherwise, if you think you can skip sleep, you’re being a fool because the brain is more active when it is sleeping than when you are awake. You must take time to reflect to be at peak performance. I know your readers care about that. Reflection, whether it be journaling or taking a walk in nature and thinking is critical. What I have learned is that you can have both. You can work hard. It’s not working hard and play hard even. You can feel fulfilled because you’re working hard. That’s the work ethic.Self-care is not selfish. When you want to be at peak performance, your brain must sleep. Click To Tweet
Everything I’ve done is because I’ve worked hard, but I’ve also like tapped into curiosity. I honor them that the brain needs exercise, hydration, rest, and having time with friends. I wouldn’t say I work hard and I look to work long because I love what I do but I take my self-care very seriously. You’ll find that people at peak performance and high performers do. They sleep, eat, and fuel themselves. They take time. One of the things you talk about is spiritual resilience. It’s the whole deal.
I want to dive into the superfood aspect of this that you said curiosity is a superfood for the brain. I want to talk about what other superfoods there are literally or figuratively that will help people with their brain recovery. In part, I want to say this to the audience because there’s tremendous research that suggests that we’re going to live longer. You may anecdotally be seeing this already, but people are going to live longer.
That’s the good news. If you’re reading this, you’re going to live longer. It’s likely that with each year that you live some additional time is going to get added onto your clock because of advances in science and technology. Many things are going to continue to elongate and expand what’s possible in terms of normal longevity. What is also shockingly the case is that our brains and our brain health may not make the trip and the journey with us the way our bodies do.
I don’t know about you, and I want to get your thoughts on this. I can’t think of anything that would be more devastating than to see someone you love in cognitive decline, especially if that person is the person sitting in your seat right now because that would be devastating, not just to me, but to all the people that would become your caregivers, your family, the people that would be devastated to see you not be the person you were. We’ve got to take care of our brains. That’s part of the reason why we wanted to have you on the show to talk about this because it’s vitally important. Let’s talk about superfoods to the brain.
Let’s talk about superfoods to the brain or even brain hygiene. Another way you can think about this is we have personal hygiene. We shower. Most of us shower every day. In some cultures, you don’t have as much. We also have good dental hygiene. You need sleep and brain hygiene. Your brain is the most powerful information transfer system on the planet. There’s nothing more powerful than that 3-pound mass. I’ve held a brain and it feels like tofu.
There’s nothing more powerful. You must honor and respect it. There are a couple of things you can do. 1) Curiosity. It’s learning. The brain is starving for new knowledge and information. As we get older, we get patterns and more comfortable. I’ve become a little more inward-looking during the pandemic and introverted like, “I don’t want to go out.” My husband is like, “No.” We’ve gotten into some patterns, but the brain loves novelty and it stimulates brain cells’ dendrites, which are at the end of the cell start to grow and show growth.
We’re not talking, “I play cards once a week. I’ve been golfing for many years. I’m going to go to a new golf club or try a new course.” No. We’re talking, “You pick up pickleball. You’re going to learn chess. Do you want to challenge your brain? Learn Chinese.” You do something hard and challenging. It’s like, “Whoa.” It is going to wake up your brain. We know that. During the pandemic, I’ve never done crossword puzzles.
I’ve always admired people who can do them and I started. Pick up something new. There’s a practice you can take. It’s called the 30-Day Neuroplasticity Challenge. I’ve done it for a while. Challenge yourself to learn something new for 30 days. If you always wanted to write fiction, write a spy novel in 30 days. If you’ve wanted to learn a new sport or something, do it for 30 days. If you want to learn to cook or how to do anything, do it for 30 days. It’s fantastic for your brain. I did cartooning. I’m the worst draw in the world. It was for fun. Bake or whatever. That’s a wonderful thing for your brain. That’s one, the superfood for your brain.
I want people to remember the term brain hygiene because I’ve never heard it before. I’m going to repeat it and I’m going to share it with many people as I can because when it’s simple, we get it. We go, “Brain hygiene, okay.”
2) Sleep. We could do a whole session on sleep. I’m sure you’ve had guests on sleep. Please take your sleep seriously. For parents who are reading, this is critical for our children, particularly if they’re in learning environments. We are competing against the algorithms of these powerful devices. I get it, but prioritizing sleep is one of my superpowers that fueled my success. You have to have sleep hygiene to get ready to sleep, but that’s a whole separate. We could go down that if you want.
Number 3) Hydration. When I’m talking, I sound like things that grandma or your auntie used to say, but it is true. The brain is over 50% water. Hydrate. If the reason why at 3:00 you are tired and you run for the red bull, the cup of coffee, or the donuts, for many of us, it is because our brains are very tired and dehydrated because you’ve been using them much. That is why you need to hydrate. Hydration and water are super important. If you’re not a person who’s drinking water, put some lemon in it. It is for the way the neurons fire. They need water. I can go on with some more, but those would be the three I would start with.
I’m going to add a fourth one. I know you’re going to say it’s on your list, but I want to bring it up because there are two things I heard when it comes to our brain health that we can’t do without. You’ve mentioned water, which I’m glad you brought up the hydration piece because I hadn’t heard so much about that even though relative to 1 million other things, hydration’s been on my radar. Thank you for bringing that up. It was sleep, movement, and exercise.
Movement is a given physical fitness. You need that for part of your mental fitness. The other one I’m going to suggest to you that is important is a gratitude practice because the brain has a built-in negativity bias. The brain is built in and wired to be negative. That’s what kept us alive. There are circuits of the brain that are there to protect you. You have a 24-hour ADT alarm system going in your brain. It’s happening right now. That Is there to protect you. It’s built to keep you on high alert to protect your body, to protect this asset. It’s beautiful primitive wiring. We’ve had it for a couple hundred thousand years, it’s not serving us nowadays. What can you do to counteract the brains’ built-in negativity bias?
People don’t quite get this. Where it became obvious to me that we are not all getting this when you hear, and maybe you have heard this from those around you or others, that 29-year-olds are complaining that their brains can’t keep up. That 30-year-olds feel like their best days are behind them, that they’re feeling as though in the tech space or in some other area that they’re working in might be marketing or some other thing that they aren’t as able to think quickly enough and creatively quickly enough as 23-year-old, the next wave of startup entrepreneurs and folks.
That’s shocking. On one level, it is. It begs the question of, “How did they feel that way? Why would they feel that way?” Our cognitive load has changed. Can you say anything about what that looks like between this decade and decades ago before the smartphone came into everybody’s hands in 2008 or so?
I work with a lot of people in the tech space. They are a large part of my client base. You hit onto something that’s fascinating. I can tell you that that neuroscientists in 10, 20, and 30 years, we will know the impact of devices and multitasking. The research is too new right now in terms of long-term like longitudinal studies and things like that. However, common sense will tell you, and what I wrote in my book, I call it Cognitive Capacity Overload or CCO.
Your brain can only take in a finite amount of information. We are not designed to live in the modern world as it is designed to multitask. It’s that dumbs you down. In fact, if you continue to do these practices, you get signs. If you continue to live with such high levels of stress and this cognitive overload, it shows signs of your brain will have patterns like ADHD. You can’t focus or concentrate. That’s why when you’re working like this and much information is coming into the brain, sensory information, visual information.Your brain can only take in a finite amount of information. It is not designed to live in the modern world to multitask. It just dumbs you down. Click To Tweet
It’s every waking second of your day.
Your brain is processing billions of pieces of information per second. You’re tired. That’s why you’re sick. That’s why all you want to do at the end of the day is turn on a video and veg out because your brain is exhausted. What’s interesting to me on this is that you need to understand that we were not meant to do this. By continuing to do this, society rewards it. For me, you’ve got very powerful tech companies.
I love social media. I’ll get on Facebook or Instagram. I’ll go down a rabbit hole sometimes and look at the algorithms and, “This is interesting.” I’m on it for half an hour. I will never ever get that TikTok time back in my life. Those algorithms are designed to create addictive patterns that keep you engaged. Your brain wants more and more, then it is cognitively overloading. You are swimming upstream if you’re saying, “I’m not going to do this.”
Parenthetically, that statement you made many years ago might have been revelatory. Now, everybody knows that’s what’s happened and that’s what was happening. This is the real true mark of great addiction if you could call it that. It doesn’t matter that people know that that’s what’s happening yet they cannot stop themselves, nor will they will to stop consuming all that content or diving into those rabbit holes. That’s what’s amazing.
Remember you’re fighting, but you are going to battle against algorithms that are there to create a cognitive capacity overload. I want to acknowledge, it is hard and I love doing this stuff as much, but if our theme is resiliency, peak performance, living a life where you feel as we talk, you are alluding to it, I’m going to get the best out of my brain for the long-term and I’m playing the long-term game. I am playing a long-term game here than 3 or 4 of these practices. This movement is critical for your brain, sleep, and fuel your brain properly. All of these things are simple, but it’s not.
You’re tired. When you’re in this constant cognitive arousal state where your cognitive capacity overload is being triggered pretty early in the day, I’d be curious when we hit overload. I haven’t seen too much study around the concept because we all live a little bit different rhythmic patterns, but let’s say we’re on circadian clocks. We are mostly the same. We get up, work, and go to sleep around the same time. When do we hit that overload? You put one out there earlier. For me, it was always 2:00 in the afternoon. That’s when I’d be reaching for the coffee or something.
In my book, Change Proof, we talk about certain practices. I’ll share one with you and I want to get some of the practices for our readers that you use or that when you’re consulting into an organization and you’re talking about, “Are we going to change the fact right now that there is this abundance or even an ever-expanding content that is the stream of content that we cannot turn off, will not turn off? We can know that it’s coming and yet we won’t do anything about it?” The question is how do we recover from that or shield ourselves or what’s the right method? In the afternoon instead of taking coffee at 2:00, I will do my legs up the wall, which is as simple as it sounds.
I’m going to lie down on the ground and put my legs up the wall vertically to create an L-shape with my body. I’ll put something dark over my eyes. I’ll set a timer on my phone. I might listen to like inside timer or some meditation. Twenty minutes is going to be the alarm on it. I’m not going to sleep past twenty if I fall asleep at all or whatever. When I do that for twenty minutes, I will stand up.
For years that I’ve been doing it, people always thought I was out of my mind at the beginning. I stand up from that now. It’s as if I’m back to where I was cognitively speaking. From an energy and an enthusiasm standpoint, I’m back where I was at 10:00. I’m not grumpy. People say, “That sounds like a nap.” I get up grumpy, groggy, and neither of those things. That’s my go-to. I want to know what some of your go-to’s.
That is wonderful. You’re getting much blood flowing. It’s great exercise. It’s a yogic mood. I love it. Readers, this is a great one. There are a couple of things. There is interesting research. People are on different circadian rhythms, but most people in the working world are on a 9:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 6:00 rhythm unless they have that flexibility. Take breaks throughout the day. Non-questionable. It’s one of the questions I will always ask if you work with me as a coach, “How many breaks do you take a day? Are they intentional breaks? Are you working through lunch?” Stop doing that. Take a five-minute break. You must get movement. The body needs fresh oxygen. What you’re describing is you’re getting oxygen to your brain.
There’s some fascinating research on nature, getting outside, and getting some fresh air. Particularly if you’re in an office building, working from home, getting some movement in the afternoon would be exactly what I would say. I would say, “How do you start your mornings? Do you have rituals in the morning? What are they? Are they intentional?” The word is whatever you do it do with intentionality.
When you are taking your shower, are you going through your to-do list or are you taking this as a mindfulness thing where, “I’m going to going to feel the water, relax and think about something wonderful,” or let your mind wander? You will probably do better thinking if you let your mind wander in the shower than if you’re going through, “When I get out of the shower, I got to shave, jump in the car, and get to Starbucks.”
Take that time and let your brain relax or set an intention for the day. I’ve got clients like, “I’m a working parent. I don’t have time for this.” We’re not talking about adding time. You’re going to brush your teeth anyways. Add something positive in there. Do a positive gratitude practice.” The first thing I do when I hit the ground is I have practice. I hit the ground like, “This is going to be an amazing day. I am happy to be alive or anything.” Here’s a little fun one. If you have pets, be with your pets for a couple of minutes.
It sounds silly, but pet your pet. Be present. In my book, I call it being present, aware, and focused. Take a minute and be present of something at the moment. That will quiet and calm your sympathetic nervous system if you don’t have time to get your legs up the wall or take a 15 or 20-minute walk. Why are you in doing this? To be intentional, be at peak performance, be the best person you can be running your business or as a parent or whatever you want to do, this is critical.
Is there also an optimal period for you in your work that you find that a break of this length of time is optimal? Is there any such thing as that for you?
I always take a lunch break and go outside no matter the weather. In the summer, I’ll sit outside. I will always get some fresh air at lunch. As time when I’m not working, that’s one I will do. I don’t have an optimal time because my schedule’s funky. I work on different days and at different hours.
My question was inartful. I apologize. I meant in terms of the duration.
According to the methodology that I use on mental fitness, you don’t need a lot of time. You need 2 or 3 minutes maybe. This one makes sense to me and I’m sure it does for you in your proponent of it. You’re going to breathe anyways. The beautiful thing about your cerebellum, deep limbic system, and autonomous nervous system is you are going to breathe regardless. That’s why your brain is beautiful and magical to me. Your brain takes care of all your autonomic functions. You do not need to worry about breathing. Your brain takes care of it.
You don’t need to worry about blinking your eyes or your liver flushing or for example, all these things, your heart beating. It takes care of it for you. However, if you can take 1 minute or 2 and pay attention, these somatic markers, it’s an interception. If you can spend a minute on it, it’s very calming to your nervous system and it doesn’t take a lot of time. In my methodology, three deep breaths can reset the nervous system.
It’s like box breathing. There are many things that people can do in 60 seconds to reset their nervousness.
When people say, “I don’t have time,” I’m like, “Your energy will follow your focus. Your actions will follow your intentionality. What’s stopping you?” What is stopping you from reading as you are reading this, taking a deep breath and pausing or looking outside? One of my favorites and this is an easy one, the Maestro, Leonardo da Vinci, whom I adore, I went through a period I was obsessed with his creativity, but he said, “You’re supposed to look at the sky seven times a day and notice the color. Look outside and notice the color of the sky or the tree.”
It’s a very wonderful thing to do. Why don’t we do that? “I don’t have time.” You have time. You can look outside. You have time to spend a minute breathing before your next Zoom meeting. Before you get on, take three deep breaths. In your model of that resiliency is also intentionality. It’s not energy management. It’s not even time management. It’s focus management.
I get the honor, and I know you do as well, to be a resilience keynote speaker. They’ll sometimes have me come in to talk about stress management, work-life balance, anxiety even in the workplace, or mental health in the workplace. I love the opportunity to speak on those topics because there are such different areas and yet they have many common threads. There are many things that are the same that run through them. One of them is the idea that our recovery can be simple when we get this one concept. I’m in favor of going and spending a week in Los Cabos. I’m ready to do it. I’ll do it anytime, or go to Kauai. We had a trip there, but that’s not what gets me through a year.
It’s not what creates productivity for me on a day-to-day basis in a year. That vacation was spectacular. We have pictures from it, but in terms of it being in my body, it’s gone. It was gone from my body the day I flew home. We all know what that feels like. These rituals take 30 or 60 seconds or sometimes for us, when I talk about this in terms of like a light switch, we call it a toggle. The toggle method is like turning on and turning off. How many times during the day do you consciously flip the light switch off and then on? Every time you flip it off, it’s that opportunity to recharge. That flip doesn’t need to be one hour. It can be 30 or 60 seconds.
For us, the sweet spot tends to be between 5, 10, and 30 minutes, which gives you that time to be able to put your legs up the wall, take a walker or eat your lunch more consciously, slowly chewing your food like the kinds of things our grandparents would tell us about or as da Vinci, “Get out and look at the sky.” I’ve not heard this once. Thank you so much. There’s a great deal of research when it comes to our sleep. The concept of our nighttime, daytime, circadian or ultradian rhythms, is that what can help you to sleep better at night is simply to get out in the morning and look at the sun at the beginning of the day.
If there’s a sun in the sky, get out and look at it. Look at the sky for five minutes. It’s going to help you to sleep better at night. If you get out around dusk, when the sun is setting or has set and you walk outside for a few minutes and look at the sky when it is setting, it will help you to sleep better at night. These are simple things.
What I love about your approach and methodology is it’s very grounded in brain science. it can be simple. Simple can be elegant. That’s why I’m a huge fan of yours. I don’t want people to think, “This is not that complicated.” No. That’s a myth. You’re swimming against society if that praises complexity. That’s why we love Google’s homepage. It’s simple. That’s why we like an iPhone, it’s simple. These beautiful ancient simple practices are ancient. You can call them contemplative practices, but some of them are coming from ancient wisdom traditions. They are vital and we need them more now than ever. It’s a plea I have with my clients and I’m sure you do with your audiences.
Let’s take five minutes and appreciate being alive, breathing, and all these little things. You’re doing very powerful work. It’s grounded. These little things build up and are life-changing. That’s the key thing I wanted. If you take on some of the practices, readers, that Adam suggest, you will see the brain will start to rewire. It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight unlike physical fitness where if you start running to the gym and doing it consistently, you will see your biceps and triceps. You’ll see muscle gain. You are creating different circuitry in your brain. You don’t see it though. It’s invisible, but it will happen. You’ll notice subtle shifts in resilience and endurance. The change happens. It’s powerful work.
There’s an element. I’m going to use a word that’s not necessarily a word we hear in science very much. I do think that it’s possible for these things to be integrated still further, even without calling, I’m going to use the word faith, but I don’t mean religion. It’s not because I’m bashing religion. I don’t happen to be a big religious guy, but I’m certainly a very spiritual person. To me, that means that I’m not a believer in randomness. I believe in integration and intelligence in the universe and expanding universe.
Regardless of that, I’m not thinking of faith in those terms. Here’s faith to me. You plant a seed, let’s say it’s a tulip bulb or something like that, in the spring and in the fall, there’s something that’s going to shoot out of the ground. You plant it in the fall, there’s something in the spring that’s going to shoot out of the ground. You don’t know what’s happening because you can’t see it. It’s under the ground. There’s an element of faith scientifically speaking that what’s under the ground produces what’s above the ground.
That’s how we know that we can have a crop that we’re going to eat. We don’t have to worry the way our ancient ancestors did that maybe there would be no food. We understand the way cause and effect work that way. That’s faith to me. What you’re talking about that’s powerful is that to do these things, you have to have an element of faith. In our resilience quadrant, mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, the spirit part is in many ways that understanding that because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not. You can believe it even if you can’t see it.
I didn’t think we’d talk about faith. I’m happy to go there I love the metaphor of the tulip bulb. I had never thought of that and I’m going to use that. That’s nice. I don’t know how electricity works. Most people don’t, but it works. We love it and we know when we turn on the light, it works. I love the fact that you’re bringing in all four of those because those are critical to resilience, but I also think that when there’s balance like that, it’s good for overall brain health to think in those different quadrants and different domains.
What is your book called? Will You Share?
My book is called Anytime Coaching. It’s a book that I wrote that is a manager for manager’s coach. I come out of the coaching field and there is some neuroscience in it. I was very happy with the second edition. We were able to get some neuroscience in the book and I will send that to you. I have something for your readers, more information that they’ll be able to find it. Another interesting thing if you want to pivot and go there is how you are with other people, that emotional piece, your interactions, the questions you’re asking, the company you keep, whether you are around a lot of toxic people. What conversations are those? Those kinds of things also are important because they will create those emotions and emotions we know will create different neurochemicals.
That is also something to be mindful of the company you keep, whether it’s toxic, and the conversations you’re in. One of the things about coaching is that you can engage in coaching conversations. You don’t have to be a coach to ask powerful questions and have meaningful conversations. The book is meant for anybody. Anybody can learn to coach. I went to Georgetown Leadership Coaching School. You don’t need to go to Georgetown or to a coaching program. There are common sense things that you can do to help you have more meaningful conversations and relationships.
Personally, that drops deeply from me because in many ways there’s this thing that happens. I tell a bit of this story from stage two because I make a bit of a joke of it. I put up a picture of Joey Tribbiani. We all know him from Friends. The funny, famous thing he would say to people is, “How are you doing?” There was a time I had longer hair than I do now. I have a beautifully shaven head now.
Back then I would get mistaken. People would say to me, “You look like that guy from Friends.” I could do the whole, “How are you doing?” thing. That’s a problem in the workplace because while many organizations are becoming more conscious of the need for well-being and in many ways, our organization is committed to corporate well-being, the bigger brand promise of our company is that we help create more well-being in the workplace.
Part of that is to talk about this way of doing that, “How are you doing?” thing. They say they want to know more. They want to understand their workforce. Their people want to support them to be more productive, happier, and not have to feel like they need to quit or whatever, try to find the grass being greener elsewhere. I say to them, “Stop asking this question that no longer works,” and it may never have worked again anyway because when I ask somebody, “How are you doing?” or you do that, what do you normally hear people say?
Fine. It’s a weak question.
Where I grew up, it’s always usually with the same question when nobody ever answered. It was like ping pong. You go, “How are you doing?” I go, “How are you doing?” Nobody answered the question anyway. If they did, it was like, “Hanging in there. Fine. Good.” That was the answer. It’s the wrong question. The next thing I show is a picture of the guy that I get compared to, which is like Stanley Tucci.
That’s a great compliment.
I love Stanley Tucci. I wish I could cook like him but I can eat like him, for sure. The question for us is, “What are you doing?” That’s a level of inquiry that is quite a bit different like, “What are you doing for your weekend?” They go, “What are you talking about? What weekend? I don’t have a weekend.” “What are you doing in your free time? What are you doing to pursue something that you’re passionate about outside of work? What are you doing with your family, kids, or loved ones? What are you doing to find that special person in your life?”
The what questions lead to this thing. The reason I’m bringing this up is because of what you said and because of your book. Sometimes what I hear back is that, “I,” meaning me, as a manager, as a leader, whether it’s a senior level or junior middle-level manager leader, they’re not equipped often. They don’t feel they’re trained to ask that question. If they get the response, “I’m struggling. Frankly, I’m not sleeping well. I’m having almost mini anxiety attacks happening throughout the day and I’m barely white knuckling hanging in there,” they don’t know what to do.
That’s great training for a manager to be able to have those conversations with people. The distinction, the wall between work and non-work is being torn down because it was artificial, to begin with. I call BS on a whole work-life balance thing anyway. It’s the harmony we’re after. There’s no balance. That’s utterly nonsensical to the degree that like, “How do you season your food? Do you take an equal amount of pepper and salt and that’s how you season everything?” It’s ludicrous.
“It’s a little bit of this and that.” That’s how you have to integrate these two areas of your life more effectively. People have to be coached in that area because it’s not something we grow up learning. We’re not trained. It’s not in school. That’s why people like you help in any of those areas. I imagine people are taking your work and using it to help other people as well. That’s your ripple.
That’s my mission. I’ve been a coach for many years and I’m credentialed. I want to Georgetown and all of that. There are some simple coaching practices. That’s why my co-author and I wrote the book. I have a special page on my website for the readers. I’m going to give that information. Anyone can ask simple open-ended questions. I would even take, “What are you doing now?” and we can expand it, “What does success look like for you? What’s important to you about this? How can I set you up for success?” Simple questions. The book is particularly written for managers, but I have heard people from all walks of life are using the book, which is gratifying.
You ask questions. You meet people where they are, listen, slow down, and quiet that part of your brain. That’s like, “I’ve got to solve it. Let me tell you what to do.” Questions are a gateway to opening up to those conversations that can lead to change. In a minimum, how professional, executive, or trained coach handle the conversation? What do you do? Why is that important to you? That’s what I want to know. How can we build upon success? These are the questions that you can add.
I started as a Wall Street banker and I’m an economist by training. When I had to start with these questions, I had to write them on a notecard. but then I learned because of my curiosity and now I compile questions. I love compiling questions. If you hear someone ask a good question like Adam, you ask a good question on this show of the guests and readers, that’s a great question, write it down and copy it because he’s throwing out some amazing questions.
If you hear something and the workplace or in a meeting. I’ve sat in meetings where someone like, “Why strategically? Tell me why that’s important.” That’s a great question. It’s not a threatening question. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. People, if you could get into the power of questions, that’s a whole other hour, how people can use questions because it is something that gets the brain.
When you ask me a good question instead of telling me what to do, in my book, Anytime Coaching, are you an asker or a teller? We want you to be more of an asker. For parents, as your kids get older, are you asking or telling? If you’re more of an asker, you are going to untap and unleash people’s thinking. The whole goal is to get people to do their best thinking.You can connect with other people and unleash their thinking if you're more of an asker. Click To Tweet
It could be another hour on questions. In fact, to me, questions in many ways have a cause-and-effect relationship, meaning questions to answers. In my faith and experience in this is that you can’t ask a question and not get an answer. The only answers you don’t get are to questions you never asked. That’s a big challenge and why. We say, “Why do we do that?” Go back to childhood. I learned to not ask questions when I was embarrassed in school or when I asked a question that somebody says is a crap question. Usually, that was the teacher.
That could be that they said that’s a dumb question or, “You should know the answer to that,” or the class would see the face and then laugh. We get why we stop being curious. We’re taught very early that curiosity somehow is associated with people with humility. That is a shame. Its own separate show. I’ll get you a copy of Change Proof as well because the whole through a line of this book is the methodology called Pause as Choose, and the ask part is what you’re talking about.
We’re back to curiosity. This has been so much fun. Thank you so much. What a privilege. I’m excited to read the book. Readers, if you’re interested, there’s a special page where there’s more information and questions that you can play with. I’ll give you that. It’s https://SwireSolutions.com/BecomingChangeProof. On my website, there’s a special landing page for readers where they can get more information. It’s for your readers. What a fun conversation. I could talk to you for hours over water and herbal tea. I would love to.
We hydrate and keep going. Folks, if you know somebody that would love to read some of the insights that Wendy shared, please feel free to share this episode with a friend, a colleague, or somebody that could benefit from it. We love to get your comments. I’m the one that will answer those comments. We don’t have a bot set up to do that. You can go to AdamMarkel.com/Podcast and leave a comment.
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There’s no cognitive load being added to you. I promise to get your baseline score in all four of those zones. Most importantly, what are the rituals? What are the things that you can do to start making these micro changes and pivots toward a healthier mind, body, spirit, ultimately developing your own resiliency? Thank you so much for your time, Wendy, and for all of you out there reading. We appreciate you very much and we wish you the most beautiful and blessed day.
No mistake. The conversation with Wendy Swire was phenomenal. I personally enjoyed this conversation. We talked about brain hygiene, what a crazy awesome term that is. It’s one that I’m going to be paying forward and sharing with other people, but we got into the details of what brain hygiene looks like. I was able to unpack with Wendy some of her own personal rituals for brain hygiene as well as the things that we can all think about doing, whether it’s better sleep, time to reflect, how we reduce our cognitive load, the way that our brains work with new information and novelty in particular, and how our brains are often competing with the algorithm of big tech and what we can do about it.
I love that. We talked about the 30-day neuroplasticity challenge. To start, I’ll give you a suggestion on this one. When Wendy talks about this, you can think about changing the hand that you brush your teeth with like you brush your teeth with your right hand, switch it up, and for 30 days, brush your teeth with your left hand. Inside the book Change Proof, we call that the toothbrush challenge, but it’s this 30-day Neuroplasticity Challenge. We learned something new. Teach ourselves something new.
It’s very important, and how we hydrate. I wasn’t thinking much about how our brains require hydration. I often talk about rest and exercise when it comes to brain health, but not often am I talking about hydration in connection with how your brain functions. It’s fantastic. We talked about gratitude practices and how we have a negativity bias. Nothing about us. We’re not negative people. We’re not a glass half full or glass half empty necessarily. We have a negativity bias that is built from our history. Our prehistoric selves had to have a negative bias. It’s like we’ve got a 24-hour ADT service that’s built into our primitive wiring, and that’s important, but we can also recognize it, override it, and be conscious about it.
Ultimately, one of the best ways to do that is through gratitude practices. We talked about cognitive capacity overload and why it is that we’re tired and seemingly more tired and tired earlier, even in the day. We talked about oxygen, oxygenating the brain, and how it is that we use our breath. Somatic intelligence was a topic that we also covered a little bit. We talked about Leonardo da Vinci, our massive complexities as a society, and how that is contributing to our depletion as well.
There is so much to unpack in this episode. I know you’re going to love it and enjoy it. If you do, please share it with a friend, somebody that you think might gain from this insider inspiration. If you’ve got comments for me or Wendy, feel free to go to AdamMarkel.com/Podcast and leave a comment. If you’ve not yet discovered your own resilience score, like a credit score, but for your resilience, all you have to do is go to RankMyResilience.com.
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- Wendy Swire
- Change Proof
- Anytime Coaching
About Wendy Swire
Wendy Swire, an author,speaker, professor, and leadership consultant who is best known as the “Brain Geek” Executive Coach to her C-Suite clients. As founder of the DC Neuroleadership Group and Certified Mental Fitness Coach, she has helped thousands better understand their brains to create laser-focused results by moving from their “Saboteur” to the “Sage Brain”.