Have you become "lost in your own mind"? Many of us are so bombarded by distractions (external AND internal) that we find ourselves being controlled by our meandering mind instead of in control of it. I talked with author Sir John Hargrave about lessons he's learned the hard way and shares through his new book, Mind Hacking, about how to develop the ability to go into super-user mode and get an 'admin user' passcode for your own mind. In this fast and funny episode, learn how to regain the lost art of concentration for greater focus, daily habits you can easily cultivate to get control of your daily deluge of to-do's, and hear John's personal story of how he learned this the hard way and why you probably don't need to (if you listen to this podcast and follow his tips). Plus you'll hear how John got the 'Sir' title (but it's not what you think). Check it out and share it with your friends, colleagues, and family!
What you’ll learn:
- The three steps of the mind hacking technique and how they can save you from being lost in your own mind
- Why you should play mind games and some ideas for which ones
- What did the word ‘hack’ even mean originally, and why Sir John chose to use a computing metaphor for his self-help book
- Why in the world did he want to spoon his commodore?
- What does Sir John say that gets Halelly feeling all guilty
- What 4 mind hacks you can begin to use immediately to improve your ability to regain control and reprogram your mind
- How did John become a Sir? (It’s not what you think, but it will probably make you chuckle)
- What life experience was behind Sir John’s transformation that helped birth all the ideas he has shared on the podcast and his book, Mind Hacking?
- What’s John’s big challenge to us all? It might steal your breath for a moment, as it did Halelly’s.. (and it if does, it probably means you really, really need it!)
About Sir John Hargrave
Sir John Hargrave is an author and interactive executive with broad experience in online marketing and advertising, both from agency and client side. He has extensive management experience. Sir John specializes in developing new opportunities at the intersection of creative, business, and technology. He is CEO of Media Shower, Inc., a content marketing service provider.
Get Sir John Hargrave’s book, Mind Hacking: A How to Manual for Hacking Your Head, for free here www.mindhacki.ng (as well as the community, the app, and all kinds of other good stuff)
UPDATE 1/13/16: Extra! Extra! Sir John's book is now available on Amazon!
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Intro/outro music for The TalentGrow Show: "Why-Y" by Esta - a great band of exquisitely talented musicians, and good friends of mine.
Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.
Halelly: Hey, hey, hey, welcome back to the TalentGrow Show. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist. In this episode, episode 16, I interview a funny and interesting guy, John Hargrave. You might not have heard of him, but his book which is out for free but also coming out from Simon and Schuster soon is called Mind Hacking and he says it’s a self-help book for geeks, but truly I don’t think it’s just for geeks. John uses a metaphor from the world of computing, and that is something that is a thread throughout his book and also throughout this podcast with the three steps that he suggests for how to take control of your mind. He also talks about mind games we can play. He makes me feel really guilty about something. Right there in the middle of our podcast, we talk about the lost art of concentration. John shares a daily habit you can use in the morning and another one at night to hack your productivity. He shares a very personal story about why the FBI knocked on his door one day and how he turned a very bad situation into something that is not only inspiring, but extra useful. So I hope that you’ll listen to this very funny episode and as always, leave me comments, leave me a review, tell me something about what you liked about this one, what you would want me to do differently in a future episode, topics you would like or guests you would like to hear. And if this is useful to you, please share it with people that you know, people that you think might also find it useful. Make today great. Here we go.
Welcome back to the TalentGrow Show. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist. I’m on with Sir John Hargrave who is the CEO of Media Shower and the author of a new book called Mind Hacking. John, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.
John: I’m looking forward to growing talent with you today.
Halelly: That sounds awesome. That is my aim! Great. Well, before we get deep into the amazing content that you have to share with my audience, I always like to ask my guests some kind of a brief overview of their professional journey. It’s always so interesting how people’s professional careers meander and I’d love to hear a summary, a little bit of a highlight, about yours.
John: I started working at this content company called Ziff Davis, back at the beginning of the internet. They were a big computer publishing company. You may remember all these computer magazines, they used to sell on the shelves. And Ziff Davis published all of these. And so I was there for the birth of the internet. I actually worked on their first websites called zdnet – still around. I’ve been bought by Cnet, and I developed this passion, this love for doing really good content, like the kind of content you do on this podcast. And they really just instilled in us this sense that content is the key to building a successful magazine or website or podcast. You’ve got to put good stuff out there. And that really formed me, that experience, being there. So, later I left, got my MBA and then I started my own company, Media Shower. And we’re a content marketing company. So we basically create great content for companies like Yahoo and Walmart and Intuit and Canon, many, many others. And then at the same time, in building out that company, I’ve really worked to develop the people on our team and to help them develop their own leadership. We actually have a leadership and development program, and a lot of the things that we teach them, we learned about what makes successful leadership is the mental game of it. And that’s what’s really covered in my new book, Mind Hacking.
Halelly: That’s a great leeway to talk about that book. I was really, personally, I love hacking that has to do with self-improvement, and I know a lot of people are using that word now for things that relate to upgrading your habits. And so your title intrigued me as right there, and I’m also a big neuroscience geek, so things that have to do with tinkering with one’s mind and leveraging your capabilities with your mind always do intrigue me as well. So you describe your book as a self-help book for geeks, and you use kind of the computer programming metaphors throughout. So, it sounds like it’s related to your career path, but I’d love to hear more about why you came up with that idea and how.
John: So as you said, we used the term hacking in the traditional programmer sense. So, a hack originally was kind of clever tip or technique that you could do a, shortcut of sorts to accomplish some programming problem. And so that idea of hack – not malicious hacking, but clever, helpful hacking – is what we’re after here. But with the mind. So, with your own mind. What are ways that you can learn to think better and to make positive change in your own life? So this is a little bit like a user manual for the mind. It’s the kind of book I’ve always wanted to read, because I am a computer geek. As I said, I started with this computer publishing company. I had a computer when I was a kid – I had the first Commodore 64, and my parents bought it for me and they let me keep it in my bedroom. And I loved that computer so much, Halelly. I would have slept with it except that it had hard, plastic, angular edges. Otherwise I would have spooned it at night. And I really developed just this passion for technology, and the kind of self-help book I always wanted to read was one that kind of spoke my language. One that was cool and funny and interesting, and really approached it from a scientific perspective, but also a very practical perspective. And that’s the book that I set out to write with Mind Hacking, and the feedback from the thousands of beta readers who have been through the Mind Hacking program have been … yeah, if you’re interested in technology, if you live a digital lifestyle, this is the book for you.
Halelly: Cool. Yeah, makes sense. You’re speaking to a particular audience, and so as a content guy, you understand that probably better than anybody else. You have to write to the audience you have in mind who is consuming your content, and thinking about how did they like to think about things and use their language and their jargon to get through to them or for things to click.
John: Most self-help books, you may have noticed, have like flowers on the cover or galloping horses. Or the Buddha that’s popular. And I did not want to write that book. I wanted one that was very practical and walked people through, as you said, the kind of neuroscience behind it all, but also used really practical techniques and so the Mind Hacking program, simplified, really has three steps. And the first is becoming aware of your mind. We all think we’re aware of our mind, but most of the time throughout the day, we’re actually lost in the mind. In other words, we’re slaves to our mind. We kind of accept whatever our minds tell us. If our minds say, “You’re not going to succeed or that person doesn’t like you or you’re going to get fired,” we just tend to accept those thoughts. So becoming aware of the mind first is the first section of the book. And then discovering our negative loop. So in other words like a programmer debugs code or a program that has problems or bugs, we’ve got to learn to do the same thing with our mind, in order to trace down that negative thinking to its roots. And then finally it’s about reprogramming that positive thought loops with essentially the positive equivalent to really turn our thinking into the direction that we want it to go. And throughout the book there’s all kinds of specific – we call them mind games – specific hacks or tips that you can use to do that three-step process of becoming aware, debugging and then reprogramming.
Halelly: I really like that about your book. You really push people to implement. And there’s always these little call out boxes that say, “Okay, now go to your journal and do this thing and write down this, and then think about that and go do whatever it is that you’re intending to do and come back and reflect on how it worked.” So it really pushes people to move beyond the abstract and theoretical or hypothetical and into real life. Which is the kind of work I know that the people I work with really value. They don’t want just theories. They don’t want just ideas. They want something that they can see as actionable.
John: Right. And did that help you as you were reading through it, Halelly? Did those mind games and exercises prove valuable?
Halelly: I’ll reveal to you I read your book while I was on a flight, and I was trying to read it all at once, especially because I knew that we would be talking and I wanted to be prepared. So I sort of fast tracked through the book and I didn’t get to do the exercises, and I felt almost guilty because you really do implore people to do it! But I think I learned there’s a little thing in there that says, “Okay, if you’re the kind of person who is really now just going to be skimming it, make sure you come back and do it later.” So I felt like, “Yeah, I’m all right.” Thank you for putting it in there!
John: So one of the very first mind games, or exercises, that you can try – and you can do this today, Halelly, and absolve your guilt – it’s just called, “What was my mind just thinking?” Basically, throughout the day, as many times as possible, you just ask yourself, “What was my mind just thinking?” And you give yourself a point – we call them awareness points. We kind of game-ify this – the use of a point every time you remember to ask yourself, “What was my mind just thinking,” and then just kind of cycle back and remember. And it sounds really easy, and it is for about an hour, but most people find it really difficult to play that game for 24 hours. The reason is, again, because we’re not aware of our minds. We’re actually lost in the minds the same way you get absorbed in a movie. And that’s a really useful technique to help pull you out of your mind and start to develop awareness of it, what we call super user mode in the book, where it’s almost like you’re logging in with an admin account into your own mind, and you’re able to start seeing, “Okay, here’s what’s going on, and I don’t have to believe everything I think.”
Halelly: One of your key points is you are not your mind. So I think that, it does sound elusively simple, and it’s probably so hard to do. Especially with everything that comes into your mind throughout the day and all of the people kind of vying for you attention, to be able to stay mindful enough to have that kind of thought, “What’s my mind doing or what is my mind thinking?” is probably a major accomplishment for anybody to just start with. What are some other things you think – people that are listening, they’re in a leadership role or they’re aspiring to become leaders – what are some other things you think will really help them get on top of this game of mind hacking?
John: There’s a lot in the book about developing concentration. And I believe concentration is the lost art nowadays, and something that is increasingly short supply with all of our digital devices. We just upgraded to Windows 10, and everything on Windows 10, when you go to the start screen, there are blinking do-dads everywhere when you hit the start screen. On my Android phone, it tells me all of the notifications and updates about things I could care less about. All these things are vying for our attention. And all of the research shows that we are very bad at multitasking. We humans, every cognitive task we add to our already overloaded attention spans, means we do every one of those tasks worse. And so learning, first of all, how to cultivate your own attention, but second learning how to teach your team to develop their attention and concentration, to me are two fundamental leadership skills. And there’s a number of techniques, hacks in the book, for consciously cultivating not only your power of attention – so your ability to stay focused on one task at a time – and second for crafting a lifestyle or an environment around you that reduces those distractions. And we don’t understand, we’re still at a very young, early stage with technology. We don’t understand how distracted we are, and why it’s not a good idea to allow your text messages to interrupt your work flow or to be subscribed to every email list or to leave on Skype or chat requests. But those things mean a massive drop in your productivity and the quality of your work. And if you can turn those things off and then learn how to develop your mental powers of focus, you can really do so much more. It’s a huge competitive advantage.
Halelly: Really, I agree. I find myself saying that to my clients so often when we talk about challenges and barriers to whatever it is that they’re trying to work on. They say the distractions, or they describe to me that the people they’re trying to talk to are clearly, visibly distracted. And so when we talk about having great conversations, meaningful feedback or delegating or anything like that, all of that is hindered by people’s attention being all over the place.
John: Absolutely. I have a friend and he likes to multitask on his commute to work. So he’ll watch movies while he’s driving. Or he’ll pull up the New York Times on his tablet and sort of put it on the steering wheel.
Halelly: What road does he use? I need to avoid that road!
John: Yeah. He gets in a lot of accidents. And to some degree, though, we’re all like that now, Halelly. We’re all like Pavlov’s Dogs, when our text message goes off while we’re in the middle of an important project. Every one of us stops what we’re doing to tend to the text message, right? And all the research, again, shows that when you can set aside periods of time in your day for deep focus, for really an hour to spend on the things that really matter, that are going to move the needle on your job or your business or your career or your family, then that is when you get your best work done. We all know what that feeling is like. We call it flow, right? That feeling of being immersed or absorbed in an activity, and we all know what that feeling of being interrupted from flow is like. So, again, becoming aware of when we’re in flow and making time to get ourselves in flow, I think that’s an incredibly important skill for leaders and aspiring leaders.
Halelly: I agree. Do you recommend that people schedule in a specific time or a recurring period, or do you recommend that they just aim to have that time during the day at some point when it becomes available?
John: For me, I’ve tried both. And I find it very difficult to schedule the time. However, I find it much more successful if I just try to make a daily habit or routines. One of those hacks, I didn’t invent this, but it’s called the 3-MIT, the three most important things. The idea is as soon as you get into work, or as soon as you wake up, you just say, “What are the three most important things I need to accomplish today, to really move the needle?” And most of us know what they are and they’re kind of difficult and unpleasant, and so what we tend to do is we do the easy work first. We answer email, we stay busy, and we never get the really important stuff done. So make your 3-MIT list, and then you focus on getting one of them done first, and you allow yourself the easy work almost as a reward. So you kind of flip that on its head.
And the second hack I’ve found really effective – I hope this helps your listeners – is the daily review. So just before I go to bed, I look back on the day and I say, “What did I do today that really moved the needle? What did I do that was really important that actually helped my job or business or career?” And you will be surprised that most of the stuff you do doesn’t really matter. It’s really just keeping things going. But only a very few things will really make a long-term difference. So doing that at the beginning – the 3-MIT – and then the daily review at the end I’ve found to be incredibly helpful.
Halelly: I like that. It’s very actionable, and it sounds like something that any one of us can probably do or at least strive to do. Thank you for that. I wanted to ask you something a little, I guess it’s a little tangential. You describe in your book, you start your book with a really personal story. I agree with you, you said something earlier about being funny, and you do write in a very funny style. And so I appreciated that. And so your personal story is actually pretty serious and you made it very funny. Also, really kind of a private thing that most people don’t talk about – you describe your challenges with addiction to alcohol and drugs and you describe how you used this process of mind hacking to help free yourself from that. And I find that to be a very courageous step. Again, most people just don’t feel comfortable enough sharing something like that, certainly it in a book. Here you are, you’re a CEO of a company and you’ve got clients and so what made you decide to be so transparent? That’s one question I have. And then if you could address, also, from this choice that you made to be so transparent, what have you learned that either affirmed that that was the right thing or maybe caused a regret?
John: I appreciate that. Thank you for the compliments, first of all, and for the questions. So the book starts out with a story – I won’t give away the details – but I was visited by the United States Secret Service in my living room, which was not a fun experience. And I realized was directly attributable to my dependency on alcohol and drugs. And so I made a decision to get sober and that was really the birth of this technique of mind hacking for me. And sharing that story, it’s a good question, because it was really scary. It was scary to open up about that, in the same way I would imagine that like coming out if you’re gay or lesbian, you know, is scary. And yet, at the same time, I think the alcoholism and drug addiction is something that is not well understood in our society. Almost everybody knows somebody or has a relative who suffers from it, and I wanted it to be useful for those folks, as well as other folks who are just trying to learn how to do a better job managing their minds. Whether that’s developing new habits or losing weight or finding success in their career, and so forth. And what I’ve really been rewarded by is just the tremendous outpouring of thanks. I mean, people saying, “Thank you for sharing your story. I could really relate to this.” And it feels like that was a great decision. Also, from a practical standpoint, if you’re writing good content, you need a good story to kind of open with, and get people’s attention. And it just happened that I had a pretty good story there.
Halelly: Yes you do. It’s funny, I hope that everybody that’s listening gets your book and just hopefully we’ve created enough of a curiosity for them to at least read that story, and how cool that you have made your book free online. I guess you’re continuing with the internet theme of open source and sharing it before it is published by Simon and Schuster in January. So wow, what an amazing kind of thing to do and so there’s zero barrier to reading it.
John: That’s right. Unless you’re unable to read. And then there would be a barrier. Yeah, Simon and Schuster has been awesome about this, and the idea that we pitched to them was, “Listen, let’s crowd source this and open source it, and let’s make it freely available in the spirit of open source software.” And it has made such a better book and we’ve gotten so many people, this mind hacking movement is growing, because thousands of people have already read the book. They’re telling folks about it. They’re preordering it from Amazon and that’s super exciting to know that when you give it away, if people find value out of it – just like your podcast – they will respond. So people will like or rate or review your podcast or they will sign up to be your clients. Well, we’re betting that by giving it away for free, people will get a lot out of it, they’ll buy a copy for themselves or their friends and pass it on.
Halelly: Yeah. Well, kudos. That’s a neat kind of experiment. I look forward to hearing phase two of it once the book is published and is for sale.
John: And by the way, if you haven’t liked or rated or invited someone else to Halelly’s TalentGrow podcast, you should do that today! Because you’re getting it for free. She puts a lot of work into it, and that’s all you have to do to pay her and thank her, right?
Halelly: Well thank you for that! I appreciate it and it’s true. Thank you. And yes, please do that! If you haven’t, then listen to John. He knows what he’s talking about. Sir John, actually. So I have to ask you about that – how did you get a “sir” in front of your name? I would like Sir in front of my name.
John: Well, you’re a woman, so a woman is called a Dame.
Halelly: No, no, I’m going to be sir woman, but that’s a different story. A different podcast. About you – how did you get that?
John: It’s a funny story. I wrote the Queen of England some years ago and I said, “Your majesty, I would like to be knighted.” Because I just thought Sir John Hargrave sounded kind of classy. Get invited to some picnics. And she wrote me back and said, “Unfortunately you have to do something honorable,” and I was like, “That’s a lot of work!” So I went down to my local county courthouse and I applied to have my name changed, paid a small fee, went before a judge, and here I am today – Sir John Hargrave. It’s kind of a name hack, if you will.
Halelly: That is crazy! So what have you found the results to be like for having done that?
John: Well, I get invited to be on great podcasts like TalentGrow. There’s a funny repercussion of that, Halelly, and it is that you truly want to live up to the name. So in other words, when people are calling you Sir John Hargrave – it’s on my library card – like you start saying, “Maybe I really should do something honorable and noble.” And I have no doubt that mind hacking partially stemmed out of that desire to give something back, and really is something that benefits the world.
Halelly: Very interesting. I did not expect that answer. So now I know anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
John: Also, you get a 10-percent discount at select Arby’s locations.
Halelly: Well there you go. That right there is worth the effort. So now that the book has been out and you’ve been talking about everywhere, what’s new and exciting for you? Do you have a new project or is book marketing consuming you?
John: So it’s funny, the book is out in January 2016. You can pre-order it on Amazon, but we’re right now working on the audiobook. And I’m super excited about this, Halelly, because we’re going to do the audio book with a 21-day program. So in the book, there’s a 21-day program, they did a beautiful job designing it, where you get exercises for each day to teach yourself mind hacking. And in the audiobook, we’re working on an audio version of that, where we’re going to have these mind games and sort of the guided mental exercises each day for each of those 21 days. So it’s going to be a huge amount of bonus material and great for listening on your commute or while you exercise or in the privacy of your own home.
Halelly: Very cool. That sounds cool. And you have an app, too, right?
John: Yeah, so if you go to the website, www.MindHacki.ng, no dot-com, there’s the mind hacking app, which basically allows you to go through the 21-day program, but also join the mind hacking movement, so you get shout-outs and props from other members of the mind hacking community. You can follow them, see what they’re doing, and also ask questions and it gives you email reminders. It’s really slick, and a really powerful way of learning these techniques.
Halelly: Neat. Well, I hope everyone checks it out. So we’re getting ready to wrap up, but before we stop I always ask for listeners one specific action that you recommend that they can take right away – today, tomorrow, this week – to upgrade their own habits or to upgrade their own leadership skills. And you’ve given a lot of actually very actionable things. So is there any other one specific action you recommend people take?
John: We’ll leave you with the one-hour investment. So this is a hack in the section on concentration, as I said. Developing concentration, critical leadership skill, lots of research around this. And what we suggest is to take one hour, put one hour into your schedule this week or today, where you go through all of the attention interrupting devices around you and you turn them off. And I mean permanently off, so if you have a habit of leaving on your Skype or instant messenger, set it to off, by default. Unsubscribe for an email list. Set your text messages to vibrate instead of that annoying tone that you have. So, wherever possible, invest an hour of your time in reducing those distractions and the benefits of that one-hour investment will pay off far into the future through greater focus and clarity.
Halelly: That’s a great suggestion. I think that I can hear all of the device addicts out there having a conniption just thinking about that! “What, you want me to turn off my supply of distractions?”
John: Thus proving their addiction to them.
Halelly: Yes, oh I know it’s an addiction for sure. I am definitely guilty and I know many who are. So, good idea and everybody, just try it. Try it. See if you like it. So how can people learn more about you, about the book – I’m going to link to everything in the show notes, but how can people stay in touch and learn more about the good stuff you’re doing?
John: Sure. You can, again, read the book, download the book for free at www.mindhacki.ng, and you can also check out our company blog at www.mediashower.com/blog, where I blog regularly.
Halelly: Great. Excellent. Well, Sir John, I really appreciate your time today. I think that you’ve shared with the folks listening a lot of very actionable, practical ideas. Your book is a very fast read. It’s full of really good content, and it’s really very funny also. So I hope that everyone does go out and get a copy and read it and join in on all of the great community building that you’re creating to support the mind hacking success of listeners and leaders. And in the meantime, let’s stay in touch, everybody listening. Go out and do that one-hour exercise, and make today great. John, thank you.
John: Thanks so much.
Halelly: Take care!
Was that a riot or what? I enjoyed interviewing John. He had a lot of surprises up his sleeve and kind of a fun style. I hope that you learned from it and that you plan to take action because that’s where the money is – take action so that you can use something from this episode to better your life. That’s my goal, at least. And I hope that you are finding this to be a valuable pursuit of your time. So, as always, share with others, share it on social media, send it in an email to someone that you know, and leave me comments. And if you are not subscribed to my newsletter, why not? Come on over. I would love to share more tips and ideas with you, and for us to stay in touch in this one other way. So that is on www.talentgrow.com. You just look in the right-hand column and you can see the “sign up” box right there. All you have to do is just enter your name and your email and you will be on my list for the newsletter. Plus, you get a free download of a PDF guide for how to influence people, even when you don’t have authority over them. And I hope that that will help you. So I look forward to staying in touch. I hope that you’ll come over to the show notes on www.talentgrow.com/podcast/episode16 to get the links and everything else from this show, and make today a great day. Bye!
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