Dr. Jim Loehr, co-author of WISE DECISIONS, is a world-renowned performance psychologist, Co-Founder of the Human Performance Institute, and author of eighteen books, including The Only Way to Win. He also co-authored the national bestseller The Power of Full Engagement. Dr. Loehr is well known for his work with top-flight athletes and Olympians. He holds a master's and doctorate in psychology, serves on several scientific boards, and is a full member of the American Psychological Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology, and has been inducted into three Halls of Fame.
Always trust your gut, right? Not necessarily. Your inner voice, aka Y.O.D.A. — Your Own Decision Advisor — can lead to poor decision-making. So how do you fix it? Dr. Jim Loehr talks about your inner voice to make the right calls. Among other tips, he advises writing down your purpose in life, your life's mission, how you want people to remember you when you're gone, your two most important values, and your personal credo.
[00:00:00] JIM: It's not the Yoda of Star Wars, although there is some similarity. This is about accessing a repository of wisdom, making sure that when you have an opportunity to make a choice that your inner private voice is giving you great instruction. That's actually a voice that is really, really something you can trust and take you in the right direction.
[00:00:25] INTRO: Welcome to The Power of Digital Policy, a show that helps digital marketers, online communications directors, and others throughout the organization balance out risks and opportunities created by using digital channels. Here's your host, Kristina Podnar.
[00:00:43] KRISTINA: Today, we have with us, Jim Loehr. Jim is the co-author of Wise's Decision, a book he wrote to help us understand what frequently derails the decision-making process and what steps to take to make the best choices with the information we have. Jim is a world-renowned performance psychologist, co-founder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, and author of 18 books, including The Only Way to Win. He also co-authored the national bestseller the Powerful Engagement. Jim is well known for his individual work with top-flight athletes and the Olympians. Business leaders often turn to Jim for insights on how to lead with integrity. Welcome, Jim to the Power Digital Policy podcast. How are you today?
[00:01:32] JIM: I am great, Kristina. It's really great to be with you and I hope we can create some behind for your audience.
[00:01:39] KRISTINA: Well, I know that we can because I personally am really excited about this topic. I anticipate a lot of people have been thinking about it, maybe not in the structured way that you've written about it, but I imagine it's top of mind for lots of folks. So, tell us a little bit first about your book.
[00:01:57] JIM: So, you know, I have written 18 books, and they all represent a kind of a breakthrough in thinking. I was part of this living laboratory at the Human Performance Institute where we had; I co-founded it with Dr. Jack Rockwell and his Ph.D. in bioengineering. And we, for the time we finished, we had some 400,000 people go through, and they were all high performers from every aspect of high-performance life. And I had never really come to grips with the importance of decision-making in a direct way. I serve on a board with Dr. Sheila Olsen Walker, who is the co-author of the book. She's a brilliant scientist. Has her Ph.D. in, behavioral genetics senior scientist at Tufts University and John Hopkins and on and on. And we were commissioned as part of this board to look into we're, this is called the Youth Performance Institute, which is an offshoot of the Human Performance Institute. We wanted to apply everything that we had learned in this living laboratory that spanned 30-plus years to children. And so we began to look at what are the really critical things that happen to kids that almost have no equal. And we began to realize this, the decisions that they make in their life that actually often set a trajectory either tragically or in a fantastic way. And so we were the more evidence we pulled together, the more we realized that was kind of a center-stage issue. And so we wrote a book first for adults. And then we're now translating that into how do we make a difference in the lives of children if this is the single most important competency, and I now believe it is that human beings possessed to make a decision at the right time and in the right direction with all that's going on in our lives. So this book really represents, for me the most important stake I've ever put in the ground. To try to help people understand this is the sacred space in our life. And most people don't think about it. They don't really consider exactly what is this process where we can pause between the stimulus and a response and, and change the direction that we're moving in, and hopefully, it's the right one.
[00:04:32] KRISTINA: So the central part of your approach to decision-making is what you just talked about, it's, it's the Yoda, your decision advisor, the inner voice; what is Yoda? Can you talk a little bit about that?
[00:04:45] JIM: So it's a really interesting area. I've spent a lot of time talking about this inner voice and worked with 17 number ones in the world of sport and on and on, and we realized this voice that no one else hears but ourselves is the most important coach you'll ever have. And we began to realize this is the coach that's actually being recruited when you make a decision. And so we came up with this notion of your own decision advisor. It could be a good one or a bad one, depending upon, you know, the content, the tone, the direction that that voice is sending. And it actually came out Yoda, your own decision adviser. It's not the Yoda of Star Wars, although there is some similarity. This is about accessing a repository of wisdom, making sure that when you have an opportunity to make a choice, that your inner private voice is giving you great instruction that is actually a voice that is really, really something you can trust and take you in the right direction.
[00:05:57] KRISTINA: So Jim, how does that work in the work environment today? Because I'm thinking about every listener that we have out there, they're living in a fast-paced corporate world with enormous information overload. How do you navigate through the decision process? How do we work our way through that?
[00:06:16] JIM: So it's really critical I think number one is to the most important part of leadership. That's why people lead is to help make good decisions for the business. It's the most important asset that parents have because kids learn how to make decisions by watching their parents make decisions, and they watch how they actually play out. So we were shocked when we got into this space. First of all, parents don't know how to teach it. They just assume it's gonna happen. And then it's not taught in grade school. It's not taught in junior high or high school. It's not taught in college for the most part. It's not taught in graduate schools. Very rarely taught in corporate universities. Although it's, it's really interesting to me that, that this is the case because it's the most important part of leadership is helping people make good decisions. And so this book really tries, we put a microscope, this is a science-based approach. We went through every conceivable aspect of decision-making from a science perspective and try to come up with something that's really practical for people in learning how to make decisions. And so I would say the first stake in the ground is an understanding that this might be the biggest single issue in your life and one bad decision can change the trajectory of your life or years maybe for the rest of your life, a, a decision for a young person to drink and drive to take drugs to, they could, you know, actually change the, the, the really, the course of life in a tragic way. So the biggest issue is to understand that we have, we'd probably make, in a single day, you could make hundreds and hundreds of decisions, most of which are made purely automatically. Daniel Kahneman in his book Fast and Slow really talks about this. Our brain operates in two ways, one very fast, and it really conserves energy. And then there's this deliberate mode. We prefer the fast mode because we don't have to really think about it. And most of the decisions that we make are just, they happen so fast, they don't even know them. And yet we do know that if you really want to make sure that you get it right, you're gonna have to dip into this deliberate mode. Go from automatic to intentional, and you need to have a vetting process. Yoda needs to be informed as to what the priorities are in any decision that you're gonna make. If you don't inform it, it's gonna make really just, off the wall decisions because it's like whatever you feel in the moment, whatever your instinct might at that time, make decisions and maybe you're angry or frustrated. We looked at the role of emotion, the role of physical health, of spiritual health. It actually found that spiritual health might be the single most important source of input into the decision-making process, your sense of purpose, and your values. Your sense of where you want to go in life, what's your real end of life, you know, a real priority. Where do you want to be at the end of your life? If you don't know where you're going, it's very hard to figure out the roadmap for debt in there. And so all of these issues become critical in preloading Yoda so that it actually is a treasure trove of great wisdom. And helps you to make the decisions, but it's a lot harder and takes more time. But great leadership is not off the cuff. It actually, and then I really believe that mentoring, every corporate leader should be spending time and looking at how do we teach this to our people. How do you make better decisions? And the book is filled with all kinds of examples of exercises. People can do it. And then once you've made a decision whether it's a good or a bad one, let's go back and let's revisit that and see what kind of input did we give to that? Did we do a good job? How did we miss that? And what was the process by which we failed? Let's get it better. It's the whole, it's really the most important part of who we are, and it's what separates us from other species. Other species cannot pause, they don't have control of their future. We can take control of the future by controlling the present moment in the decision-making process.
[00:11:05] KRISTINA: Several things that you mentioned, Jim, are fascinating to me. I've been around the block enough now in the industry that I know we don't traditionally talk about things like spiritual aspects of the corporate world, right? In fact, it's only been within recent times that you can actually say emotions in the corporate. There hasn't really been a space for that. Things like purpose, that notion that you actually have a purpose in a corporate setting. It has been historically taboo. We don't talk about that. And yet your book is titled The Wise Decisions, a Science-Based Approach in Making Better Choices. So this isn't some soft, squishy, can't put my feelers around it. It's science-based. It's a thing that I can actually put my arms around, that to me is really an interesting place because you're coming from a scientific approach to this kind of squishy things into an environment that isn't used to kind of talking about these things. How do you help corporations understand that it's okay to do that, and how do you get leaders to a place where they can help their people strengthen their Yoda skills?
[00:12:14] JIM: So not everything that matters can be measured in the way you would like completely. There are things in our life that it's very hard to measure of value and the impact it has on your life. Very hard to know how to measure your purpose and the importance of it. But if you don't have your address pretty well established and your, you get in your car and you're trying to get some help, you're recruit. Your nav system to help you there. If you don't know where you're going, it's gonna be completely useless, and Yoda cannot help you. Your own decision advisor can't help you get there if you don't preload exactly what it is you would like to see. So one of the exercises in the book is called the Tombstone exercise. We have everyone go to the end of their live and really create their own tombstone and what they want on that tombstone etched in, as representative of the most important parameters in light for them of their ultimate destination. This would be, for them, the most beautifully successful life imaginable. Well, we're gonna set that. That's where we call that metaphorically getting home. And now we gotta work back. And all the decisions that you make in probably one form or another are gonna help you get there. So a lot of things, I believe the first time that the word spiritual was ever allowed in the Harvard business was when we wrote the making of a corporate athlete. Tony Schwartz and I wrote that article, but we defined it in a way that actually made sense. It's the energy associated with your deepest values and belief. It's the energy of the human spirit. And, we may not be able to measure it as precisely as you like, but we know it has an impact. And has a huge impact in the corporate world. So now, purpose and the spiritual dimension is everywhere. But it's really, I think critical for leaders to understand. This is probably one of the most important parts of their; they're asked to lead. And lead means you have to help make good decisions for the business and every decision. Whom to hire, who not to hire. When someone fails, what's the decision you make about that, and how are you gonna reconstruct the outcome? How do you fix or repair something? And it's all about really investing energy in something. Investing energy more deliberately in getting it right. And it's probably better to get it right than it is to be off the cuff and to conserve energy. We are energy conservation preachers; we want to conserve energy, so it's, we just let it go. I was driving yesterday on a very, very ingested superhighway in Denver, Colorado, and I realized that I don't wanna be automatic here. If I was ever intentional about every, I must have made 200 decisions before I got to my destination. Shall I pull into that lane? How fast should I go? Here comes somebody. I better pull to the right. You're making decisions constantly, and had I not done that, I could have well ended up in a really serious accident. There was a lot of crazy stuff going on, so I didn't want my automatic system to dominate, and I wanted to be conscious and deliberate, fully engaged and responsible for every decision I made. And that made me feel good, even if I'd gotten in an accident. I felt like I was doing the right thing, I was not listening to the radio. I wasn't thinking about something else. I was thinking about every decision I'm about to make and making sure this is the right decision at this moment.
[00:16:08] KRISTINA: And that's very interesting because when I think about that from a business perspective, we often deal with this concept of risk and opportunity, which are two opposite forces. So, when making decisions, what is your advice for going bold in one direction as opposed to another, because we have that tension between risk and opportunity? And for businesses, it seems they have to make some decisions.
[00:16:35] JIM: So you have to trust your ability to see the world as it is the reality of things. We, unfortunately, are fiction-making machines and we tend to make stuff up to make us feel good, and it's really hard for us to wrap our arms around the truth. But if you're gonna make good decisions, you have to, and we know that when you're in a, when you're gonna threat model, you see the world in a very different way than if you're in an opportunistic mode, in a mode that is like, you see all kinds of adventurous opportunities to make advances forward. You're always looking forward as opposed to protecting what you have, but you need to be sure there are sometimes when protecting is actually appropriate, there is a real threat here. Now we have to figure out where the opportunity is in the threat? How do I get as quickly as I can from being in a very defensive mode and move to an opportunity that maybe no one else is seeing? And that we can make decisions here that is kind of counterintuitive, but we've really looked at this in a very unique way, and we actually found something that's actually gonna advance the business. So we have, we're a very interesting creature. We're either in a threat mode or we're in an opportunistic mode, and we're, a lot of that is a choice, but we have to make sure we're embracing the truth if we're making stuff up and we are not really able to handle what's really happening, we're gonna make bad choices based on faulty data. Your Yoda can't make good decisions. Just like with in an app system. If it doesn't have real clear and precise coordinates to work from, it's gonna make very bad judgment. You're gonna not end up where you won't end up.
[00:18:28] KRISTINA: You're talking about the importance really of aligning that decision-making with a value and purpose. What do you mean? What are some of the questions people can ask themselves to identify their fundamental values? What pushes should be the kind of thinking to ask themselves if we're making important decisions?
[00:18:47] JIM: So it's really interesting. Let's just take a real practical example. Let's say that you really intentionally and consciously decided that, let's say your family and the welfare of your family, the growth of the business and protecting all the human assets of the business are, is priority number one. So you have opportunities, let's say, to buy a house that is way out of your price range and, but you love the house, and you go in, and you think, I've fall in love with this house. I want this house more than anything. And then you go back and you realize, wait a minute, let's just think about this for, let's get, let's wrap some. As opposed to just instinctively saying, this is the house I've always wanted, but you then begin to dig into the numbers and to more importantly, what is the most important priority. It's not your home. It's being able to take; you want to get your kids to the right schools, to pay for college. You don't want to be under duress making it. If you buy that home, it's gonna jeopardize a lot of the things that at the end of your life, are more important than living in the best home, the most imaginable home that you possibly would love to live in. And the same in business. If you set the priority of your business to do good in the world and actually protect your people, and actually, rather than making risky decisions that might end up really advancing the business in some important ways. But also could result in the loss of a fair number of your most important leaders because you're gonna lose a fair amount of market share. If, if you didn't get that right, you may temper a lot of those choices because you're trying to align what you have said as most important. What is your credo as a company and what is your credo as a person? And let's make sure that whatever decisions you're making, they have, there's consistency. They are fully connected in a way that if you make the wrong decision, you can go back and look at it and say, wait a minute, I did the best I could with the information I had, and I did act according to the values that for me, are most important. I can live with myself, but if I jump out and just go with guts, or I'm really angry this particular area of the business or with the leader of that business. And I make a very quick and very emotional response. We talk about the hot emotions in the book. You never wanna make a really important decision when you're emotionally hot, when you're angry, frustrated, threatened, or when you're depressed, sad, or just morose. Really thinking the world is about to collapse around. We need to get some distance, and we've got all kinds of suggestions in ways to clear that emotional computer before you make that decision and that there's a 360 vetting process. You check with what does your logical brain have to say about it? What does your emotional brain, which is a kind of second intelligence, there's such wisdom in your emotions if you get your emotions balanced. I look at what's really the emotion saying to you. And then what does your gut say? There's this instinctive, intuitive sense. What does your heart say? What is your compassion, your warmth, your sense of real connection and caring for other people? And you vet all that very thoroughly, and then you come up with a decision that's aligned with that consistent with. And if you get it right, you're gonna feel good about it if you get it wrong. And the decision turned out not to be right. You did everything you could. You didn't just fly off the handle and make a decision, and now you seriously regret doing it. But even more importantly, you regret not doing your homework. You didn't act in a way that actually is truly connected to the best part of your, to your best.
[00:22:52] KRISTINA: I'm really enjoying listening to this methodology because it just seems like a great way to position the corporations of the future. And I'm wondering, do you see all leaders and at what level a corporation needs to think this way? Is it from the C-suite down to the director level? Is it at the managerial level? Is it everybody? Where, where, tell us where.
[00:23:18] JIM: I believe that this decision-making process should be vetted throughout the entire organization, all the way to janitorial staff, all the way up, even cafeteria for the decisions that people make about the food that they're gonna serve, and that they all have a cradle that they're all living. You want that janitor to think in the same way the CEO does about the business. This is a special place. We want you to be on fire with the purpose. You're not just cleaning the offices. You are helping everyone here do a better job. You're a critical element in this and every decision you make, if you're a little sloppy, you don't really think about the impact that you're having in this way. We have you're short-circuiting the process. It may reverberate up to decisions that are actually being made at the highest level. Decisions are everything, and you want everyone vetted properly and educating their own Yoda, and taking responsibility. I don't want you to have the voice of someone else. I want your own voice. The most important voice you'll have. The only one that anyone, no one will be able to get to you all the way to the end of your death. That's the real critical decision-maker in your life, and it would be a gift to everyone in that organization. We should always be talking about decision-making and see it as the most sacred, most honorable, most important asset and competency that we value in this company. We want everyone to take responsibility and do it right.
[00:25:01] KRISTINA: I know there's somebody out there listening who's going to say, wow, that sounds like Nirvana, Jim, but it's just not a good idea in terms of cost. It's gonna be too costly. I don't have the time or money to invest in that. What's your rebuttal?
[00:25:15] JIM: I would say if we say what is the cost of a single bad decision? What's the cost of a janitor who doesn't put a little sign-out and says, be careful, the floors are slipper? And all of a sudden, someone falls, and now you have this massive lawsuit by one of your employees. Every single person is important in the corporation, or they shouldn't be there. And down to the valet attendant, all the way to the CEO, we're all making decisions, and they all are important. You cannot afford the cost of bad decision-making, and that is what ruins businesses. And I've gone through in this book all the tragic decisions that were made by the biggest companies when they failed to see what was really going on. And I wrote a book called Leading with Character And The Only Way To Win, and I'm all over the decision-making, but this one actually takes it right to what I think the nexus of, of the most important issue is. And it really takes us to the core of what makes us human is we have the ability to make those choices. Well, we tend to fly off the handle, and make everything automatic, fast, and furious because it conserves energy. But the cost might be unbelievably tragic in terms of the trajectory that puts this company on, my life on, my family, my children, and so forth. So for me, I would love to see it all the way down in schools and that we make this a big deal, decision-making that's not equal in my judgment. And if you don't have a good Yoda to advise you, you're gonna end up in trouble. Trust me.
[00:27:01] KRISTINA: Well, and I love that you mentioned schools. Jim. I have a teenager, and I loved reading Wise's decisions because I have that teenager; you have an entire section on helping children and teens develop their own yodas.
[00:27:14] JIM: As if you've never really come to look at this as a parent with your children. It's actually tragic, and what happens is parents go, I don't know how to teach decision-making. I, no one, taught it to me. It just woke up, and I started making decisions. Well, yet, not a lot of those decisions are we look back on; we go, oh, I wish we'd never made that decision. But if you started very young. It, it, I mean, even the earliest years, I want you to share those toys and you can make the decision to either share it or not share it. And you start making consciously of making it conscious that every time you do something, in a sense, even if you said you're gonna out, that's a decision. To throw a temper tantrum is a decision. Now you'll have to live with that decision, which means I'm gonna have to step outside with you. We can't disrupt everybody here. We will be able to heat with the rest of the family. And you allow them to, it is your decision, but there is a consequence of those decisions. And now let's think, was that a good decision or bad decision to throw a tantrum there and to let them know their life is going to be reflected in the decisions they make. So as I said earlier, the most important really understanding that kids get about decision-making is watching their parents. Maybe they see their parents flying off the cuff. Getting in a rage and making really stupid choices, or really getting really angry and then, you know, just making some really poor decisions about things, about the family, about punishment, about everything else. And the kids watch that. And what you see is those are often repeated in their lives. So you are teaching your children how to make decisions every day you are with them. And we just we want that to be extrapolated into their work environments all the way to the end of their life. And if you quip their yodas properly, they will make better decisions because they're just flying off the cuff. Let's make Yoda real. Let's make it something that you are every day you're with them. You're giving a little bit more inside and wisdom and reflectivness. Having them pause rather than just reacting. We want them to be proactive and to actually think about what's the right thing to do here? This is something that we all have the capacity for, but if we don't train it, it doesn't show up at the most important times in our lives that may be the difference between real success and failure.
[00:29:50] KRISTINA: Well said, Jim; I appreciate you summarizing it so well. More importantly, I appreciate you taking the time to write such an impactful book for everybody who's listening, Wise decisions, and the science-based approach to making better choices. I love it. Appreciate it. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insights.
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