I'm so excited for this episode. We are speaking with one of my favorite people in the world: Michael Bungay Stanier. Michael is an author who's written a bunch of amazing books. He's also the founder of a training and development company, Box of Crayons, that has taught coaching skills to hundreds of thousands of people.
In fact, one of Michael's books has been hugely impactful on my own business, and it's called The Coaching Habit. The Coaching Habit includes a number of questions that you should be asking when you're coaching people. It's guided the exact process I use when I coach my students—you can hear it in action when I'm coaching people on AskPat 2.0. Speaking of coaching, Michael also wrote another game-changing book called The Advice Trap, about how we default to offering advice to people before we know the full circumstances, and how to change our behavior to be more helpful to them. Watching out for that trap is crucial, especially for coaches.
But the big focus of today's conversation is Michael's new book, How to Begin: Start Doing Something That Matters. And this book is incredible because it gets to the heart of why we do what we do. How do we make sure that what we're going to do moving forward is actually something that, like Michael says, matters? How do we have the courage to let go when we need to? And how do we navigate the raging waters that sometimes happen when making these decisions?
The book covers similar ground as Will It Fly?, my 2015 book that goes deep into how to validate and test your business ideas.
We talk about how to know whether or not the direction we're going is one that lights us up. Oftentimes, we're doing stuff that obviously we're not very happy about or we wish we had made different decisions.
You're going to love this conversation because Michael is just a great, genuine person. In addition to his books, he even has a TED talk with over a million views. Oh, and by the way, he's also a member of SPI Pro. He's run a workshop there and he's involved in the conversation. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this episode.
Michael Bungay Stanier
Michael Bungay Stanier helps people be a force for change. He’s best known for his book The Coaching Habit, which has sold close to a million copies and has thousands of 5-star reviews online. His new book How To Begin helps people set Worthy Goals and be ambitious for themselves and for the world. He founded Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. They’ve trained hundreds of thousands of managers to be more coach-like and their clients range from Microsoft to Gucci. He left Australia about thirty years ago to be a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University … where his only significant achievement was falling in love with a Canadian … which is why he now lives in Toronto, having spent time in London and Boston. Balancing out these moments of success, he was banned from his high school graduation for “the balloon incident” … was sued by one of his law school professors for defamation … and his first published piece of writing was a Harlequin romance-esque story involving a misdelivered letter … and called The Male Delivery.
- Why “worthy goals” are at the heart of what Michael tries to teach people about becoming their best selves
- The two “peak moments” from Michael's past that showed him what he was capable of
- The three lenses Michael uses to “explore the future”
- How the “spouse-ish” test, the “FOSO” test, and the “Goldilocks” test can help you figure out if your worthy goal is worth pursuing
- How shifting your motivation to serving other people can make you more likely to reach your goal
- Why a moment with his dad made the process of writing and launching Michael's latest book all worth it (no matter how well the book did)
- Why you need to get clear on the prizes and punishments for taking on—and not taking on—a worthy goal
Note: Some of the resources below may be affiliate links, meaning I receive a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.
- SPI 325: How to Be an Amazing Coach with Michael Bungay Stanier
- The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier: SPI Book Club Issue 42 | September 2017
- The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier [Amazon link]
- Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World by Jacqueline Novogratz
- Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman
- Will It Fly? by Pat Flynn
I'm so excited for this episode. We are speaking with one of my favorite people in the world, and he is somebody who had written a book once that changed so much for me and that book was called The Coaching Habit. Big shoutout to Chris Ducker for forwarding me that book because it was definitely a game-changer. The Coaching Habit, which includes a number of questions that you should be asking when you're coaching people, and this is the exact process that I use when I coach my students and even here on a podcast, when I'm on AskPat and I'm coaching people on the AskPat Podcast. And we're speaking about none other than Michael Bungay Stanier.
And Michael had also written a book that was very game-changing called The Advice Trap, and that speaks to a little bit about the idea that when you are speaking with somebody and they might need some help, we often default to wanting to offer advice even before we know the full circumstances, and it's more about behavior change. And we do discuss that a little bit in this episode because that's very, very important, especially if you're coaching anybody.
But today I want to focus in on his new book, because, I mean, all of his books have been fantastic and I'm sure this one's going to be great too, but we discuss it and it's called How to Begin: Start Doing Something That Matters. And this book is incredible because it really dives into things that are notes of the kinds of things that I talk about in Will It Fly?. Will It Fly?, my book, which was published in 2015, really goes into the specific how-tos about validating and testing your ideas. And that book combined with this one, I would imagine, would be an amazing powerhouse.
And we talk about it. And we talk about how do we know whether or not the direction we're going down is something that lights us up, that gives us spark, that is something that we should do? Often times, we're doing stuff that obviously we're not very happy about or we wish we had made different decisions prior. So, how do we make sure that what we're going to do moving forward is actually something that, like Michael says, something that matters? How do we know and have the courage to let go of something? And how do we navigate that, sort of those raging waters that sometimes happen when making these decisions, right?
So this is what we're going to talk about today. I couldn't be more happy. And I just want to say a big thank you to Michael too, because he has ... Since we've connected, we've become friends. And he is now also a member of SPI Pro and he's run a workshop there and he's involved in the conversation. Just such a cool, genuine person. He also has a TED talk with over a million views. Just absolutely incredible. So I'm really excited. Sit back, relax, let's enjoy this episode. Let's cue the music.
Welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it's all about working hard now so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host, he reads negative reviews and wonders how he can help the other person: Pat Flynn.
What's up, everybody? Pat Flynn here, and welcome to Session 527 of the Smart Passive Income Podcast. My name is Pat Flynn, here to help you make more money, save more time, and help more people too. And I know that you want to help people and I know that you want to make decisions that fit in alignment with where you want to go and do something that really matters. You wouldn't do something or have the drive to do something if it didn't really matter to you, right? But how do you know if you're going down the right direction? How do you keep going? And as you know, things get tough, especially after that, quote, unquote, honeymoon period after you get going. How do you stay going, even if you know that what you want on the other end is what you want? And then how do you let go if it's time to let go?
So let's talk about it with one of my favorite people, Michael Bungay Stanier. And his book comes out in January, so we've got some time before the book comes out, but we get a little preview of it here in this episode, so I hope you enjoy. Here he is. Michael, welcome back to The Smart Passive Income Podcast. Such a pleasure to have you back on.
Michael Bungay Stanier:
Pat, thank you. It is a pleasure to be back on. I didn't know you really the first time you invited me on, when The Coaching Habit book came out, and I'm like, "I don't know, some dude called Pat Flynn thinks my book is good. That's nice." And then I'm like, "Wait. Oh, my God, Pat Flynn?" And since then, I've been involved in SPI Pro and I've been following you and admiring your beard and your wisdom in general. So, I'm flattered to be back, so thank you.
Thank you. Your book, again, The Coaching Habit, was game-changing for me. I've started coaching one-on-one myself to a lot of my students, especially after the pandemic, and unable to meet in person, in groups anymore, I switched to more of a one-on-one model and I just use The Coaching Habit model and people have heard that on Ask Pat and I've tried to pass that on as much as possible. So, I'll make sure to link to our previous episode together because that was absolutely game-changing. And then since then, you've come out with another book called The Advice Trap, which I know comes as a result of a little section within The Coaching Habit. Can you go over that really quick? It's always a nice reminder, this thesis of The Advice Trap. What is it? And just remind us one more time.
So The Coaching Habit says look, here are seven great questions. If you can start making them part of an everyday conversation, the way you show up and change and interact with people changes. And some people do what you did, Pat, which is to go, "Great, I've got these questions and I'm using them and stuff is changing," and that's fantastic. And, of course, there are some people who read the book and go, "This book sucks. I hate it," and they're not using them at all. The people in the middle who are like, "I like the idea of staying curious longer and I like the seven questions, but I'm struggling to figure out what does it take to shift my behavior?" This book dives a little more into the struggles around behavior change.
And, of course, it turns out that for often, learning the tools for change is not enough, you actually need to go a little deeper. And The Advice Trap introduces the concept of the advice monster. Three advice monsters, tell it, save it, and control it. And I think of these advice monsters as the internal drivers we have to protect ourselves, protect our ego and keep us a little stuck in the status quo and the way things are at the moment. So we've all had this change experience. I want to change, but for some reason, I can't change, and it's often because we're more committed to the status quo than we realize. And The Advice Trap goes, okay, here's how we tackle some of that, as well as giving some additional tools around being more coach-like.
I love that. Thank you. It's always a good reminder, because sometimes we do fall into that trap of ... When we're trying to help somebody, we often default to just let's spray them with as much information as possible. And in The Coaching Habit, I learned that asking questions is the best way to go about it. And I've used a lot of the tactics in that book and with The Advice Trap in my family, with my children especially, and we've seen so much growth in the kids as a result of having them almost come up with the ideas. It feels almost like Inception when you do it right. It's like, ha-ha, I knew that that's the direction I wanted you to go down, but now that you discovered it, based on my questions, they're more likely to do those things or execute or really sit in those lessons. So ...
That's exactly right. And it's worth saying, Pat, that this is not to say advice doesn't work and doesn't have its place because it absolutely does, what you're trying to disrupt is our default response to jumping in with advice. So I always say look, the behavior change with those two books, The Coaching Habit and The Advice Trap, is can you just stay curious a little bit longer? Can you rush to action and advice-giving a little bit more slowly? And if you can do that, your relationships with your kids and with your partner and with your team and with your clients, they will shift.
That being said, we're going to ask you for a lot of advice today, and I give you full permission to give us that advice with relation to your next and upcoming book, which I'm really excited about, because it's about how to begin. In fact, that's the title. And starting anything is one of the hardest things. And it's like physics, right? An object at rest tends to stay at rest until acted upon by an outside force. So tell us why you wrote this book about just beginning. Where did this come from?
If you try and get to the core of the work I'm trying to do in the world, it's like how do I help people be the best of themselves? How do I have them fully express themselves in the world and contribute to the world in the best possible way? I just see people often missing out on owning ambition for themselves and ambition for the world. And this book is really designed to go look, here's how you might think about a project or an ambition to take on that is worthy of you. The heart of it is worthy goals, and I want them to be worthy of you and worthy of your life and worthy of our world.
I come from the world of self-help and self-development and at its worst, kind of the dark side of that is it's a bit narcissistic. It's all a bit kind of me and my life and trying to make myself better. I'm like, that's part of it, but I also want you to have the courage to think about what are you contributing to this world? And how do you figure out what the real thing to put your time and effort and energy and courage into?
I'm questioning why this isn't just default for people to think about our ambitions, to think about goals for us. Why is it that we often put our own real, true, worthy ambitions aside for something else? Why do we do that?
Ooh. Life, society. I don't know. Education. It's a big question, Pat. I mean, I think, first of all, depending on where you sit in the world, there's a different level of base permission to owning your ambition. I start off by being a straight, tall, white, overeducated, very good-looking man and that puts me in a position where I get to just more naturally say look, it's okay for me to be ambitious, and that's not true for a lot of people who don't tick some of the boxes that I have. But even if you're kind of dealt the full hand of privilege, like I feel I've been dealt, just the everyday demands of our lives makes it kind of easier to kind of ratchet down and play it safe. We like safety, we like security, we like knowing what's going to happen in the future. Even if you're running your own business, you like that. If you work for a big organization, you've got a structure around you, which encourages similar things.
A worthy goal has three parts to it. It's thrilling, and it's important, and it's daunting. Thrilling means it lights you up. So that's the thing that we can most easily often get back to, which is what would I get excited by? What would make me go, "Yeah, I'd love to do that"? Important means it gives more to the world than it takes, it serves a bigger picture. So this is this idea of getting out beyond just serving you and going, how do I make this world a bit better? And then daunting, and this is one of the reasons that there's this resistance, Pat, is that it's the edge of who you are and what you know and what you've done. It's you moving into being a different person that allows you to take on a worthy goal.
I often think of learning tools and tactics as a bit like you plus. What you're doing is you're adding to who you already are, you're refining. It's like downloading an app on your phone. But I think there are times when we take on a worthy goal where you're like, this is you 2.0. This is you getting a new operating system for your phone. It takes courage and it takes support and it takes some tools as well, I think, to say ... Taking a breath and I'm going to commit to a worthy goal. And I actually think it's why communities like SPI Pro are really important, because in that you get to not travel by yourself, you get to see other people who are taking on similar stuff to you, being brave, stepping out to the edge of who they are, and that community is an essential part, I think, of what it takes to take the leap.
I love what you said about trying to figure out, well, what lights you up? In fact, that's a question that I'm trying to default to when I meet people for the first time. Often times, when we meet people for the first time, you ask, "Well, what do you do?" and then we're defined by the things that we have already done versus our ambitions and the things that, like you said, can thrill us. Whenever I'm having a more deeper conversation with a kid, one of my son's friends or my daughter's friends, I don't want to ask them, "Well, what do you want to be when you grow up?" I don't think that's a fair question to ask a young kid who doesn't quite know all the options yet. But I rather ask, so I can get to know this person more, "What lights you up? What do you get excited about?" and that tells me so much more.
But it's interesting, because with the adults I ask this to, I often find that they pause and they struggle a little bit to find the things that light them up. And I think it's a lot of because of what you said, because what's on our mind is what's happening today or that email we have to answer or the obligation that we have after school and we have to take our kids to practice and that's what's on our mind. We don't really have time to think about what lights us up. How do we fast-forward the decision to choose something? Or how do we discover what lights us up when it can be kind of difficult to just see?
Well, I think you can look forward and you can look back, Pat. So one of the most powerful tools I know, as an adult, is to just cast your mind back into your life and think about moments that were peak moments for you. When it comes to mind, you're just like, "Man, that was exciting. That was me at my best. That was me being stretched and growing in a way that really matters to me." And particularly if you're a parent, kind of not necessarily the birth of your kid or something like that, which obviously lights you up, but it's more about you being the center of the stage. And it's interesting what shows up.
I mean, I've got two stories that light me up. One involves me in law school doing something called synchronized nude male modeling, which is me backing onto stage naked in front of an audience of hundreds of people and going through a mock Olympic routine with another friend of mine, both of whom are naked. And that's weird, but that's a peak moment for me.
Why was that a peak moment for you?
Well, because it was provocative and it was performative and it was a sense of me exploring my own edges and going okay, how brave am I willing to be? There's another quick story. I took a year off in between finishing high school and going to university, taught at a school in England. I didn't know anything about teaching, I was 17. I was teaching a class of 10 year olds, so not that much difference. There's a moment where a kid throws a chair through a window and I'm thinking to myself, "On the outside, this is a terrible day at work." But even now, 35 years later, I remember what it took to manage that classroom and get it under control as a peak moment. And the power of looking back to peak moments is they transcend our training and they transcend our career trajectory and it transcends the certificates we have on the wall and it transcends momentum and it says, where were you alive? You'll remember that. And what do you see there that says something about you? So there's a clue to kind of the essence of what lights you up in your past.
And then I think in terms of where you look to in the future, I think there are different places you look. And you can be kind of exploratory around this. I go look, two basic spheres, there's work and there's not work. And you may go, which way you pull? Pick one. Doesn't matter because you're just exploring. And then I think you might say, what sort of scale do you want to play at? Do you want to be intimate or do you want to be broad in your scale? Intimate could just be saying I'm going to work on my relationship with my partner because it's a bit broken, and I want to be an extraordinary spouse or a extraordinary father or whatever it might be. And you might be like that or you might be the new Greta Thunberg and you're like, "I'm going to try and stop climate change," and it can be any of that. So your work or not work, and then you're talking about scale.
And then, Pat, I think there's three other doors that you can push on. They're all related, but this is emphasis. Is it a project, is it about people, or is it about patterns? Projects are where most people go, which is what's the thing I'm building or launching or starting or wrapping up or doing? People is more emphasis on the relationship. How am I building something there? And patterns is more about you. How am I changing myself? How am I breaking my own patterns of behavior to be the next best version of who I want to be? So I think look to the past for clues as to what lights you up, and then start exploring the future by going through those three different lenses.
I love how you had expressed that question of well, what makes you feel most alive? And I want to present that question to everybody listening. When was the last time you felt alive and truly just present and enjoyous? Why not more of that in our lives? The beginning can be the hardest part, as you said. And I'm curious ... Let's move on from thinking about what to begin and what lights us up and stuff, what makes it thrilling to then what makes it important. I think importance is an interesting term because what's important to one person is different to another. And so how do we define whether or not something is, quote, unquote, important enough to focus on? And where do we even begin with that?
I read a book a year ago by a woman called Jacqueline Novogratz and it's called A Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, and she's a really interesting woman. She leads, basically, a nonprofit venture capital firm called Acumen, so she is providing funding for social enterprise around the world. And she's got a TED Talk about this as well, so you can just ... TED Talk, if you want the 17 minute version. And the phrase from that book that really resonated for me was, "Can you give more to the world than you take?" And that feels scalable and resonant because it's about how do I contribute to the bigger picture? People listening to this podcast, everybody here is going how do I make this world a bit better? How do I, as a legacy, sometimes hidden, sometimes quiet, but a legacy nonetheless, to actually make this important to the world?
Pat, what I often do is I go look, the starting point is to take your best guess and draft something. Because you and I are both writers, we're both writing books, we both know that the first draft is always a bit confusing and a bit miserable and harder than you think. But after you write the first draft, you've got something, because after that, you can write a second and a third draft, which is what I recommend in the book. And what I suggest people do is after they've got their first draft, they put it through three tests, one for each of the attributes.
The first test is the spouse-ish test. So if you're lucky, you've got somebody in your life who just knows you well, who gets your jokes, who knows your patterns, who knows what you're excited by, who knows what you're not excited by, who still laughs at some of your jokes. And for some of us, that's our spouse. I've been married for 30 years and for me, it is Marcella. But for some of us, it's not our spouse or it's a best friend or whatever it might be.
Test number one, tell the person your idea for your worthy goal, and you're going to get a few reactions. One is, "Absolutely. Michael, that's brilliant. Exactly. You should definitely be doing that. Of course. That's wonderful." The second reaction is the opposite, they're like, "You're nuts. That's a terrible idea. You should definitely not do that." And that doesn't mean that that's actually the answer, but it's a way of you just testing your own commitment to the idea. And the third one is somewhere in the middle, which is when they go, "Yes, Michael, but could you stop talking about it and get on with it? Because you have been going on and on about this for years now. Get going with it." So you've got your spouse-ish test.
When I think about how I've worked with Marcella over the 30 years, I've heard all of those answers. For The Coaching Habit book, which is the book that's been most successful for me, Marcella went, "Do not write that book. You've got so many other things you're doing. You personally owe me about 60 emails. I can't imagine where else you're behind on things. Get that done." And I was like, "That is both good advice, and I'm going to ignore it because I need to write this book." So spouse-ish test.
The second test is the FOSO test. It's not FOMO, it's FOSO. And FOSO connects to important, and it's for the sake of. So it's like after you write down your worthy goal, ask yourself, for the sake of what am I doing this? And that kind of gets to what Simon Sinek would call close to the why of the work, the service of the bigger picture. And then for the daunting piece, which is like you're trying to find a goal that's not too big and not too small, not too safe but not impossibly huge, it's the Goldilocks zone test, which is ... You know the story of Goldilocks, not too big a bed, not too small a bed, but just right. In astrology, they call the Goldilocks zone a place in space where planets have liquid water. So earth is in the Goldilocks zone. And you're looking for that kind of right weight of a project for your worthy goal as well. So do a draft, and then put it through these tests. The spouse-ish test, the FOSO test, and the Goldilocks zone.
What's the signal? How do you know that you've found the one?
The fundamental question that I ask myself is I go, is this now good enough? Is this now good enough? And I've got a really kind of mathematical way of doing it. After I've done the second draft, I rate my current draft for the worthy goal against thrilling, important, and daunting. And I give it a score of seven out of each, so I end up with a total out of 21. How would I rate this for thrilling? How would I rate it for important? How would I rate it for daunting? And my rule of thumb is this. If it's 18 or more, you're probably pretty close to being on the money. If it's 17 or less, you may need to keep working this because you need all three legs of the stool. And if you haven't quite got there yet, that's fine, that's useful. You can go back and rework it till you're like, "Yeah, I'm kind of 18 plus on the draft."
And sometimes, when people have done this with me, they've gone, "Ah, man, this is it. I just know it. It rings like a titanium bell." Sometimes people go, "It's not there yet." I'm like, "Great. That's why we're spending time figuring this out." It's the equivalent of what's the real challenge here for you, which you know, Pat, is one of my favorite questions. But there's also this piece in the middle, which is if you've done the work and you're like, "You know what, it's not perfect, but I think it's good enough," then you get to go, "Right, next stage is figuring out how I commit to this."
What do you say to the person who comes up with these ideas? They're important, they are thrilling and they're daunting. In fact, why don't you tell me? Because you've worked with so many people. What is often the pushback, and where's that coming from? What are the kinds of stories that people are telling themselves to talk themselves out of actually beginning and starting and putting a foot in front of the other?
There's the kind of inner game that's being played, which is just am I able to give myself permission to be ambitious, to be ... Ambition to claim my worthy goal? And that's part of it, for sure, which is you know what, you're worthy of this. There isn't a demographic for whom this is a better fit. You can be young. Gen Z, these young 20 year olds, they're on fire to save the world and I'm like, man, I admire your courage and your naivety and your bravery and your determination to figure that stuff out. You can be, as many people are, kind of at the end of their formal career, and there's a writer called David Brooks, he says, "It's time to climb the second mountain." First mountain is your career, second mountain is legacy. So you're in that place there. You can have 80 hours a week to work on this, you can have four hours a week to work on this, it doesn't really matter. The first step is to give yourself permission around it.
And then, Pat, in my experience, people move through the process of figuring out what the worthy goal is fast enough and there's not that much resistance once you get into that kind of part of the process. But crossing the threshold, that gets scary for people because they go, "I don't know where I'm going." And actually, that's one of the great metrics that you're on the path, which is ... A friend of mine, Liz Wiseman, who wrote a wonderful book called Multipliers, she said, "Look, a good project is when you know how to start, but you don't quite know how to finish." I'm like, "That's perfect."
When you cross the threshold, you need a few things. One is you need to know that you should be traveling in small steps. This is not like typing into an address on Google Maps and just kind of ending up at your destination. It's much more like you're in the wilderness, there's a mist-covered valley below you, there's a mountain ridge up the top there that you're kind of aiming for, you think, and you're trying to feel your way forward a bit. So it's this willingness to be in ambiguity and uncertainty as you take small steps in moving forward.
And I think, also, it's about making sure you're traveling with the right people. It's really hard, and I'm going to basically say impossible, to do this alone. You need different types of people around you to help you get across here. And I think one of the things we mistake, particularly in our North American culture, you're in the US, I'm in Canada, which kind of is worship the individual a bit, is to go look, my job is to be the solo hero in this. I'm like, no. You look at anybody who's successfully taken this stuff on, they've built the right people around them. They help them travel like that.
And I think the final piece, Pat, is just that people don't realize that stumbling and finding it hard and it not working is not failure, but actually part of the process. It is a series of gropings as you get the courage to keep going in the work that you're doing.
Definitely a process of trial and error, and getting over those fears of failure is really important. A lot of us have been, especially those of us who are not Gen Z, were conditioned to believe that failure is bad and to avoid it completely. And unfortunately, when we have that thought, like I did when I first started my business in '08, it stunts your growth and it stops you from moving forward and it pushes you toward perfectionism and all these things that can stop you from actually just starting the thing and learning more by just doing and failing and, as I often say, fall forward. You're actually still moving, even if you fall forward.
Here's my follow-up. You get started on something, and then you start to doubt whether either you can do it or it's as important as what you once thought it was. How do we manage those thoughts after we start? Which I know a lot of us who are listening right now, that's where we're at. We've started something, it was a good idea, we had our honeymoon period with it, and now it's starting to feel like a lot of weight, now it's a lot of questioning because we haven't seen the results that we had expected, we're comparing ourselves to others. How do we manage these stories in our head?
I'm going to answer that. I want to turn that question back on you, Pat, because you've started a bunch of projects and I'm guessing that you've had those moments of doubt where you're like, "Seemed such a good idea six months ago. What am I doing here?" How do you manage ambiguity and uncertainty? How have you built up the resilience that you seem to have?
It's so funny when I hear you use The Coaching Habit on me. That's literally one of the questions. I have some ideas, but I want to hear some ideas from you first. It's right out of the book, literally. Thank you. And I can't play that card back to you, it doesn't work like that, so ...
Makes for a terrible interview.
I know. So for me, I think about a few things. Number one, I think about how I felt in the beginning and why I'm even on this path to begin with. A lot of us are so involved in our work, we get so deep into the minuscule, little things that weigh us down that we forget to look at the big picture every once in a while. So sometimes I have to essentially kind of have a out of work experience to think, well, why am I even here and doing this in the first place? There was a reason why I went down this path. Let's kind of remember that. And that might be a reminder thanks to my kids, who are often the reason why I do things, or because of an audience member or people who have expressed the struggles or the challenges that they've had. And if I can remember those things, then I can remember okay, this is why I'm grinding right now, this is why I'm here and that's who I'm doing it for, and that often pushes me through that.
Number two, I often look at how we got to where we're at now. Sometimes we look ahead and we see the path and it's hard, but then we look behind us and we remember oh, that path was hard, too, to get to here. I think a lot of us don't celebrate our wins enough, a lot of us don't realize how far we've come before we have to go even further.
And then the third thing is, and you had mentioned this earlier, traveling with the right people. Sometimes it's hard to read the label when you're inside the bottle. And if you're doing it by yourself, you can sometimes forget how much more you could give or what you could offer that's unique. And then sometimes, and in many times, for me, especially in a couple mastermind groups I'm in, we've been together for over a decade. I mean, sometimes these people ... I feel like they know me better than I know myself sometimes and they can guide me and see things that I can't see myself. So those are three things that I think keep me going.
And then the fourth and final thing is the ... And this is for me. I know this isn't for everybody. But I very much am motivated by the reward on the other end. I almost gamify the things that I'm doing so that I can get that cookie at the end of the challenge, if you will, and that motivates me because the cookie tastes good sometimes.
All of those really valuable wisdom, let me build on it and pick up the last thing you said, which is you're motivated by the reward. I'm not motivated by the reward. For me, I have to do two things. One is what you said before, which is connect back to why I'm doing this in the first place. That's why, when you're creating a worthy goal, important is part of the mix because it is the external motivation, that of service beyond just yourself, that will drive you forward. There's also psychological research that says when you're playing for somebody else, you play harder. The most kind of depressing type of that research is when women negotiate for their own salaries, they will under-negotiate compared to men. But if they are reframed and going, "I'm negotiating this salary for my family," they will negotiate in just the same way as men do. And it's that idea of going how do I serve other people rather than diminish just my own desires and ambitions can be really powerful.
I do a couple of things, Pat, which are slightly different from going for the cookie. I try and remember how I measure success. So maybe this is related, maybe I'm just muddling myself up here. But I get really clear on what a definition of success is and most of the time, every time I've tried to figure out what the cookie is, I'm almost always wrong and I don't even know what the outcome is. So, first of all, I try and go if this fails completely, what's at risk? And understand what it means to lose. Be comfortable with that. So often, we kind of catastrophize around what failure looks like, and I spend quite a lot of time going, if this is a disaster, what's at risk? And I say this with my team all the time.
A couple of years ago, I stepped away from being CEO at Box of Crayons, which is the training company I founded, and a brilliant woman, Shannon, came into run it as CEO. And we spent two years, actually, a year before and a year after the moment of transition, coaching us as a pair and how we're going to manage this without the founder coming back to screw it up, because founders do that. Founder transitions are notoriously tricky. And one of the things that we talked about and I had to come to understand and get in my bones is this company is Shannon's to fail with. She's allowed to have the company not work because that's her job as CEO, and I have to sit with her to go, am I comfortable with that? And I'm like, you know what, I am. If she's on the board with my wife, if she's doing all she can, sometimes companies fail, that's just the nature of the beast.
So I think about ... Thinking about this book and the time it's taken me to write it and the money around the marketing, if it all fails and nobody buys the book, what's at risk? I mean, I'm like, not that much. I lose money, I lose time, my ego is definitely dented, but the process was great. So with the book, this book was won for me without it even getting out into the world because a couple of months ago, my dad died and I was back in Australia as part of that and it meant that I could write the last chapter of the book as a short homage to my dad and I could have him read it, so I could actually have him understand, as best I could, in the most eloquent way I could, just what an important person he'd been in my life and how he'd influenced me as a man and as a person. And that's it. All the time and effort and whatever else that I put into that book, I have won because I had that moment with my dad shortly before he died, and with my mum as well. So it's partly trying to figure out what's failure and what's success, and to hold them lightly. That was a very rambly answer. I'm sorry, Pat.
No, it was great. And thank you for your vulnerability and sharing that story with us. And I'm so sorry to hear about what happened to your pap, but I'm sure he's proud and it's cool that you were able to give him an homage in the book, kind of worked out in that way. As we finish up here ... Again, this is wonderful. Thank you. I think with this idea of risk, we have to fast-forward a little bit, use a lot of these thought experiments that you talked about earlier when we start thinking about our specific goals, thinking about the future of them. And not just the risk of what happens if this fails, but also the risk of well, what happens if I don't go down this path? And this is what I often share.
This is often in marketing and sales pages. If you want to help a person understand that what you have to offer them is actually of value, you also have to share the other side of it, which is here's what happens if we don't take care of this problem or if we don't actually solve this challenge right now. You're going to continue to do this or this might happen. And in some cases, it's very obvious, like if you continued to eat poorly and just sit all day, you're going to have poor health and that's not good and you can focus on that. There's always a risk in not doing something, too. It sounded like you responded to that. What are your thoughts around the risk of not moving forward?
There's three sections in the book and the second section is called Commit, and it absolutely speaks to this and it asks two questions. Question number one, imagine that you've defined the worthy goal, imagine you walk away from it. You decide not to take it on. What are the prizes and the punishments of that decision? And you need to do both, I think. Because it's not just what happens if you don't take this on, because you can talk about that, the impact on you and impact on the people your worthy goal will touch and the impact on the world, but you also have to understand what the prizes are for not taking it on, because there are always prizes. They may be a bit more short-term, but you're like, don't put yourself at risk, don't put money at risk, have more time to do the other things. There's always a way that you're like, there's a benefit to not taking on this risky stuff, which is to keep safe and to maintain the status quo. And you have to ask yourself, does the punishments of me not taking this on outweigh the prizes? And if they don't, then this might not be the worthy goal for you.
And then I think you go to the similar question but different, which is imagine you were fully committed to this worthy goal. What are the prizes and what are the punishments? What's at risk? So the prizes, you get to say look, this is what I dream of in terms of the impact this will have, but the punishment is to take a look and go, what is at risk? What am I willing to risk? And you need to be able to see that and you kind of have to work at that equation to finally cross the threshold. And I don't think that we interrogate ourselves on what's at risk if we take it on and what's at risk if we don't take it on, so I love that you brought that up.
Thank you. I think a big theme here is the fact that we need to be conscious about the actions we take and the decisions that we make. I think a lot of us run on autopilot. That autopilot is controlled by outside forces and we just happen to keep going, and whether you want to call it sheep or the matrix or something. It's like you got to unplug sometimes to then be able to take control and make these decisions one way or another. And I love the prizes and punishments sort of aspect of this.
To finish off here, Michael, I wanted to ask you, you're going down a path where you've made a decision on a worthy goal, a thrilling goal, an important goal, one that's daunting, it challenges you, you light up. It would be silly of us to think that every single person who finds a goal that matches all three of those things has actually found a goal that they should actually pursue. The chances of 100% of people finding the right goal on the first try is very hard. This is the question. How do we know when it's the right time to pivot or to adjust our goals?
That's a really good question, Pat.
It's the million-dollar question.
Which, of course, is interviewee talk for I don't have a good answer for it. It's a little bit like asking how do I buy high and sell low? Or no, sell ... The other way round.
Buy low and sell high. Yeah.
Thank you very much.
I definitely have experienced buying high and selling low, that's for sure.
Yeah. Exactly. And you, like me, probably also have experience of holding onto a goal a little longer than you should and also perhaps walking away from a goal a little faster than you should. There is no, unfortunately, little kind of alert that pops up on your phone and says, "You know what, you should stop doing this worthy goal now. We've calculated it. The algorithm has told us that now's a time to walk away."
I spend a lot of time triangulating. That's why I think this idea of who are you traveling with can be really important. I learnt about this North American, First Nations tradition about calling in the directions. And basically, what happens as a way of often starting a ceremony, and I'll get this as right as I know how, is you call in the directions and you call to the four different directions, north, south, east and west. And each one has a color and each one has a spirit and each one has a totemic animal, but they often represent archetypes. So when you call into the east, you're calling into the warrior or fighter. You call into the south, you're calling into the lover, the healer. You call into the west, it's the magician or the teacher. And if you call into the north, it's the ruler or the visionary. And those are four attributes that if you have them in the people around you, they will help you figure out whether this worthy goal is a thing to continue with or a thing to move away from.
I think probably the answer is, Pat, it's probably never a good idea for you to unilaterally decide to step away from a worthy goal, it's something that you talk to your people who you trust and go, "Man, this is hard. Do I stay the course, or do I pivot, or do I walk away from it entirely?" And you take your best guess and you do it ... No regrets. That's part of it, which is you can never know, so you find out the best you can, you commit to the decision, you go, "Made the best decision I could with the information I had at hand. No regrets," and then you move forward from there.
I agree with that. I mean, there is no perfect formula. I think the big thing is understanding the reason why you are feeling this way about the decisions you've made and whether or not you've actually, truly and can honestly and authentically understand that you put in an effort that at least gave it a chance. I think a lot of people who are in business especially, who have very little patience, are often thinking that things are meant to pivot now because we haven't gotten the results we wanted, when you haven't given yourself time to fail enough to understand how to get in the right lane or you haven't given time for an audience to trust you yet or you haven't learned everything you needed to know about TikTok and how to actually build an audience there, right? We often hope for these magic buttons and when we pivot because the magic button didn't work, you got to realize it's not because you're not good enough or anything like that, it's because you expected a magic button to work.
I mean, I read a story the other day which speaks a little to this. I think it was called the Stockholm bus exchange. I've probably got the Nordic country wrong, but ... And it basically says look, when you leave the Nordic bus exchange, there are only five routes out of the thing. All the buses travel one of these five different routes, and you have to travel five miles before they actually start to branch out and start going off in their different directions and going somewhere interesting. And too often, we get off the bus too soon.
And there's this degree of patience, which is one of the things that you champion so brilliantly, Pat, which is it takes time to build an audience, to get from zero to 10 and 100 and 1,000 and whatever it is that you're measuring. And it's easy enough to look at somebody like Pat, actually, and go, "Pat's at a million. On every metric, Pat's at a million. Damn it. I want to be like Pat, and I want to be there fast," and sometimes it takes more time.
But there's also the equal problem ... I mean, I think impatience is a bigger problem than this, but there's also a time when we're hanging onto something too long and there's a moment of going, how do you have the courage to let go of this? And you go, I need to move on to whatever's next.
That's where the sunk cost fallacy comes into play. "Oh, I've already put two years into this, so I should keep going." And it can be difficult. And I think you said it right, you got to triangulate through other people's experiences, you have to get some other opinions and start thinking about things from all sides in order to at least make a decision, like you said, to the best of your ability with the information that you have currently. And that's the best we could do. There's no perfect formula for this.
But the truth is you have to get started, and this is where we want to start with How to Begin: Do Something That Matters. Talk a little bit about where we can go support you and check out the book. It might be on pre-order or available now, whether you're listening to this before or after. But where should we go, Michael?
HowtoBegin is the website to go to. If it is before January the 11th, which is when the book's coming out, there is a pre-order offer available. What it most likely will be, will be an access to a conference with me and Whitney Johnson and Apolo Ohno, who's the brilliant US ice skater, winter ice skater who won all the Olympics. And we've all got books coming out in January, and it's basically buy one of those books and get access to this conference that we're offering. But when you and I are recording this, Pat, not everything's quite been nailed down, so I may have pivoted and moved onto plan B or C around that. But definitely HowtoBegin, because you'll find access to downloads and extra resources and other bits and pieces. So whenever you're listening to this, HowtoBegin is a good place to check out.
Awesome. HowtoBegin.com. Michael, thank you so much for your work and your wisdom and your stories. You've definitely touched me and helped affect my life and my family's life and our audience's life too. So thank you again, and I appreciate you always. And-
My pleasure, Pat.
See you on SPI Pro.
Thank you so much. Cheers.
All right. I hope you enjoyed that interview with Michael Bungay Stanier. And Michael, just thank you so much for our friendship and for coming on the show again, and best of luck to you and the book. It's really cool to see you doing some sort of collaboration with Whitney Johnson and Apolo Ohno, who I've gotten connected with recently too. He was supposed to be scheduled to come on the show, but he had some scheduling conflict. So, hopefully we can get him in a little bit later. And just very, very stoked for you and the new book and I'm sure more TED Talks and other things.
I hope that we get to cross paths in person and share the stage someday. Until then, I'm so happy to share the microphone with you, and I'm so happy that all of you were able to listen all the way through and I hope you check out his book. You can go to HowtoBegin.com to get access to some of the fun things that he has going on there. And, of course, you can check out the pre-order right now on Amazon. But check out HowtoBegin.com first, if it's ready for you. And like Michael said, it's still a work in progress because the book comes out in January, which is super cool.
And, man, his book, The Coaching Habit, was just absolutely game-changing. If you have been introduced to Michael for the first time today and you're like, "I want to read some of his stuff now," check out The Coaching Habit. It's a, actually, very quick read, but very impactful and it changed the way that I teach and the way that I coach my students, so I'm very grateful for that, again. And the cool thing about that is there's a success story in that book itself and that is the fact that that book was self-published and had just gone gangbusters. It's over 6,000 ratings on Amazon, self-published and it provides a lot of amazing hope for us self-published authors out there.
And as many of you know or may know, I'm actually working on my next book. And so we'll see when that comes out and I'll share more information as it comes along, but it is something that I'm thinking about potentially going traditional just to experiment or actually just see what's even out there, see if any offers come in and what that might be like. Chances are it could be just self-published again. Either way, I need to get it in front of people because it's something that's massively important. So I'm done talking. Thank you so much. I appreciate you for being here. Make sure you hit subscribe so you can get more great content here on The Smart Passive Income Podcast coming your way. We'll see you in the next one. Cheers. Take care. Thank you. And as always, Team Flynn for the win. Peace.
Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at SmartPassiveIncome.com. I'm your host, Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess, our series producer is David Grabowski, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media. We'll catch you in the next session.
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