Ellen Jackson:
Welcome, James.

James Garrett:
Thank you, Ellen. Great to be here with you.

Ellen Jackson:
I'm very excited that you are here. Now, can you tell our lovely listeners whereabouts in the world you are right now?

James Garrett:
Yeah. I'm in a lovely little town in the state of Utah, [inaudible 00:03:18] state of Utah, pretty close to Las Vegas. People probably know Las Vegas. But I'm sort of surrounded by a bunch of national parks. It's a city called St. George.

Ellen Jackson:
Beautiful. Beautiful. I don't think I've ever been to Utah. I may have passed through. I remember doing a tour of that kind of area, including Las Vegas, many, many years ago, in my very early [inaudible 00:03:39]. But I do believe that Utah is a very, very spectacular place.

James Garrett:
Yeah, it's very beautiful. Yeah. We're in the sort of area, people will often do like the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park [inaudible 00:03:52], these sort of ... I'm right in the heart of those national parks here.

Ellen Jackson:
Wonderful. Wonderful. Okay. Well, it's lovely to have you here, speaking from across the oceans and time zones, and all kinds of things. James, what is Brain by Design, your organization? Can you tell us a little bit about it, and its purpose?

James Garrett:
Yeah. You bet. In a nutshell, I'm really passionate about taking the best brain and behavioral science, and really making that tangible, understandable, practically useful, and relevant for people's lives. You know, I think one of the biggest challenges I saw when I was doing research years ago was that there really wasn't a bridge from getting science out of the labs, and into people's lives. I think positive psychology as a movement has sort of been at the forefront of that conversation, how do we actually implement this, how do we apply this, how do we get it into schools, into homes, into companies? But [inaudible 00:04:54] years ago, it didn't seem like that was ... the conversation was more like, "How do we do more science," which, of course, is always needed, but I could see this gap right between the science and the application. So I've been spending the last 10 or 15 years trying to bridge that gap. I think that's really my passion.

James Garrett:
Brain by Design is trying to help both individuals and organizations to enhance sort of, I think of it almost like an upgrade to your brain, right? Our brains are these incredibly powerful machines, and yet, we're not really that good at, or they don't come with a user's manual, right? So it's really on us to kind of figure out how they work, and science can help us with that.

Ellen Jackson:
Okay. So very much, well, it's a passion after my own heart, this idea of taking what psychologists know, and making that useful and usable to the everyday person. You do that by an online program, which I'm going to ask you about in a moment, but also through consulting to organizations. Is that right?

James Garrett:
That's correct. Yeah.

Ellen Jackson:
Okay. I love the name, Brain by Design-

James Garrett:
Thank you.

Ellen Jackson:
... that there is something about our brains, our minds, that we can take control over through learning these skills, understanding this knowledge, we get some power, and we're actually able to, to some extent, shape the way our brain works, or certainly the way we use it.

James Garrett:
Yeah. I think it's really both, you know? It's definitely the way we use it, but it also, because of that use, and you know this, I'm sure, very well in your plasticity research, we've now learned that the brain is deeply sensitive to experiences, so you wake up with a different brain tomorrow than you had today, just based on how much the brain is constantly changing, depending on what we're learning, depending on the experiences we're having, depending on how we're focusing our attention. So if you can get in the driver's seat of that process, if you can get good at directing or designing that process, as opposed to kind of letting it happen by default, I believe sort of across the board, that we all live well below our potential, and part of tapping into that potential, I think, is getting good at maximizing what we already have upstairs.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. Yeah. I think that's a really empowering way to think about it, isn't it, that these brains don't come with a user manual, which might feel a little disempowering, but by learning these what are, in many ways, pretty simple techniques, and applying these bits of knowledge that, as you said, psychologists and neuroscientists and other researchers have come to discover, and really get a much greater and deeper understanding of over the last 10, 15 years, maybe, that we can then use that, plus this idea of this plasticity of the brain, that we can shape what we learn based on, or how our brain works, based on what we learn and what we do. That does give us an enormous amount of control, or a sense of control, don't you think?

James Garrett:
Yeah. Absolutely. One of the best examples, I think, of this, is our attention, the skill of directing and harnessing around attentional capacity. We know that meditation and other skills or practices help. It's almost like weight training for our brain, right? I sort of think of it as like an attentional six-pack. But attention is this massive ... You know, William James said, "Our experience is what we agree to attend to." So there's this sense in which our entire lives are actually filtered through that attentional lens, if you will.

James Garrett:
So if you know that, and you know that other things, like you can turn on your neuroplasticity by literally just turning up the volume on your attention, then suddenly, things like meditation, of course, they relax and calm the body, which is wonderful, but it's also a pretty intense form of mental training. And it's not just meditation, it's also things like single-tasking, as opposed to multitasking. So given the way most of us sort of interact, for example, with the internet, we've got multiple tabs open all at once, we've got multiple windows. I just read a statistic yesterday about the average person checks their emails 36 times an hour.

Ellen Jackson:
An hour?

James Garrett:
36 times an hour. I know, I read it too, and I was ... This is from Adam Alter's book, Irresistible, which is a fabulous book. Adam Alter's an NYU psychologist. It's shocking, right, how fragmented, actually, our attention is. There's a beautiful quote by Nicholas Carr, the author of The Shallows, who said, "The internet seizes our attention, only to scatter it." Ever since I've read that, I've never been able to get that image out of my mind, that there's this kind of, it's almost like a war for attention, right, because attention is the most precious and kind of priceless thing we have as humans, and to be empowered to be deploying that very valuable resource in very particular ways is how we kind of express our unique humanness, right?

James Garrett:
This is what we have that maybe animals don't, is consciousness, this ability to direct what we're paying attention to, and out of that grows our creativity, our sort of presence, our connection with each other. Out of that grows the effort that we invest in our sort of creative contributions in the world, whether that's building a podcast, or whether that's building a new piece of code or technology. All of that comes out of, it's almost like they're all gifts from attention. So being in the driver's seat of kind of the attentional seat of your mind gives you amazing abilities. Without it, if you're sort of at the whim of all of these other forces that are vying for your attention, then your life, on some level, ends up being lived for you by other people's priorities, as opposed to your priorities, and what you're trying to create.

Ellen Jackson:
So that really is [inaudible 00:11:30] simple, seemingly simple idea that we can really harness something as straightforward as our attention, perhaps using something like meditation, in order to control so much of our experience, both that daily kind of moment by moment experience, but also our pursuit of our goals, pursuit of our projects, our contribution back into the world, which is an amazing way to think about that power that we have over our brain, isn't it?

James Garrett:
Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I think it's under, I think it's sort of, I don't think this is [inaudible 00:12:10], but I think we sort of undervalue it, even things like the way offices are set up. Open-office floor plans are very trendy, at least in the United States. There's few reasons, right? One, they're economical. They're very cost-efficient. But the other one, I think, is it sort of gives the experience of flattening power hierarchies. Of course, there's a lot of trend toward this in tech companies. But the costs of the sort of chronic state of being interrupted is just vast, in terms of our ability to focus. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his books on flow is pretty clear on this, right? You can't really stay in flow if you're being interrupted. Concentrated focus is like a precondition flow.

James Garrett:
So if your colleague is, you know, very kindly, but still interrupting you in the middle of something that you [inaudible 00:13:08] really trying to solve, it can take you ... There's research out of UC Irvine right now saying it takes you about 25 minutes to get back on task, and fully absorbed in that task that you originally work on. So people can interrupt us from the outside, and we could interrupt ourselves by this sort of checking compulsion. There's that sort of dual problem, right? So it's not that people mean ... they're not trying to break each other's sort of flow states, it's simply that we just misunderstand how fragile attention is, and that it's really the heart and soul of things like productivity.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. I think that's a really excellent point, because I know, and similarly in Australia, the move towards open-plan workplaces, and even beyond that now to this sort of activity-based working, and constant kind of, the idea of being able to adapt the way you work to the location that you're working in, which I'm hoping, I'm actually working with a client at the moment on this at the moment, but I'm hoping that by creating workplaces that have quiet pods, and that have separate, you know, they're still open plan, so we get the benefits of that collaboration, and the reduction in that hierarchical structure that you mentioned, or perception around that at least, but by starting to understand some of these elements like the need for quiet, the way our brain operates when we're at our most productive, the need for environments that promote and enhance creativity, starting to understand what those are, and then being able to, I suppose, perhaps, the next generation of an open-plan workplace that creates these particular environments, where these things are allowed to flourish, so that we are more productive, because I think those interruptions, as you said, on one hand.

Ellen Jackson:
And then the second part, which I'm guessing is where you're coming at, in terms of the work that you do, is helping people to understand those self-interruptions, the behaviors, the elements, perhaps of our digital environment, but perhaps, too, just our thinking. Would that be right? Is it partly our thinking that interrupts our processes of focus and attention, and therefore, productivity?

James Garrett:
Yeah, for sure. You know, it's interesting. I've been meditating somewhat seriously for about two and a half years now, and in all seriousness, just from personal experience with the practice, I feel like it's changed my own brain pretty dramatically. Again, I just have experiential evidence, just my subjective experience of how much I do or don't feel in control of my own attention. But from that perspective, it feels dramatic from when I started. But it's a very slow process, right, as it is with physical exercise. The changes are quite gradual, and they're cumulative, they build up over time. I couldn't have necessarily predicted how it would feel when I began, but now that I'm [inaudible 00:16:29] ... I still feel very much like a novice. I know there are others that are well, well-

Ellen Jackson:
Further down the track.

James Garrett:
... well beyond what I can do, but I've been shocked, actually, at how much of a difference it's made in this way, where I feel like I don't have those sort of interruptive thoughts, right? Or if I do, I can at least see them, know what's happening, and depending on my sort of state of willpower depletion or charge, let's call it, my sort of mental energy, I will either realign and refocus on kind of what I was already working on, so I don't jump to a new tab, or whatever that looks like, or if I do go for a distraction or an indulgence in that way, I know exactly what I'm doing. [crosstalk 00:17:26]-

Ellen Jackson:
You're doing it consciously.

James Garrett:
It's very conscious, right?

Ellen Jackson:
It's my choice at this point to go and make that coffee.

James Garrett:
It's my choice that I'm watching some [inaudible 00:17:34] clip on YouTube, or whatever that is.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. Yeah. Okay. That's really interesting. I've done yoga for many years, and I've learned a lot about the mindfulness element and the process of meditation. Obviously, I've done [inaudible 00:17:49] reading and spoken to lots of people about mindfulness and meditation, and the benefits of it, particularly from a wellbeing point of view, but this attentional element is slightly different. I've just started again. I have dabbled and not found the right path to formal meditation for me yet. I've just, one of my colleagues here in Australia who I interviewed for the podcast a little while ago, Dr. Suzy Green, recommended an app called 1 Giant Mind, which kicks off with a, I think, currently a 12-day program. I'm on day 10 of my 12-day program. I'm about two and a half years behind you.

James Garrett:
No, no, no, no, no. Yeah, yeah, no behind or in front.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. Look, I find it interesting, because I think even in that small amount of time, I am starting to notice a difference as well. It's consciousness of my thoughts, not so much the content of the thoughts, but that experience of your brain wandering off when you're supposed to be doing something else, and the ability to notice that, and bring it back to the task at hand. I think I'm already finding that experience, or noticing that experience. I suppose I'm interested from your point of view, being two and a half years down the track, and really feeling that this has made a significant difference, do you feel that you are more productive now than perhaps you have been, or procrastinate less? How does this actually play out for you?

James Garrett:
Yeah. Actually, now that I'm reflecting on it, it's been, I started about June 2016, so it's been almost exactly two years [inaudible 00:19:30]. That's about the time. No. I would say ... It hasn't been a ton. I actually can add up the hours, because I use a very particular app. It's not, when you add up the amount of hours, it's really not that much time, you know? It's, I don't even know. It's been a lot of sessions, but they're really only [inaudible 00:19:49] 10 to 20-minute sessions. They're not long.

James Garrett:
I would say ... You know, one of the things I think it's done in my relationships, is like I'll go to a conference, and I'll be engaging with someone in whatever they're interested in, or whatever the conference kind of goes to. What I've found, is that I feel it reflected back to me a little bit, meaning that I find that people will sort of tell more of their story, right? They'll open up. It's like it sort of sets others at ease when your mind is in that kind of calmer place. And as their kind of, I guess, parasympathetic nervous system kind of kicks in, their calming system, where their body kind of relaxes, all of a sudden, we're in a conversation where it doesn't feel like anybody's in a hurry. It doesn't feel like there's any agenda. We're literally just exploring an idea, which is the best kind of conversations that we all want to be having, right?

James Garrett:
It's the kind of conversations I'm always having with my four-year-old, which, they're just about the world. We're just curious. I just find all of a sudden, I'm getting into conversational flow. [inaudible 00:21:18] World Happiness Summit in Miami a couple months ago. This has never really happened to me, you know? In the past when I would go to a conference, I was like a good conference attendee, I would go to all those sessions and do whatever, but I just found at this conference that I would go and start having conversations, and before I knew it, an hour and a half had gone by, and I didn't even, it literally felt like flow, right?

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. I was just about to say, that's flow, isn't it?

James Garrett:
Blink and it's gone, right? And then suddenly, I'm in another conversation, and I missed half the conference, which is fine with me. I'll just go back and watch the talks that I missed, and that's okay, because I had deep, interpersonal connections with a lot of different individuals, that it felt like we really created the beginnings of a real friendship. I think that's profound. I don't attribute it to myself, I simply attribute it to this practice that really is accessible to everyone, you know? I just use an app called Headspace. That's sort of my tool, or the way that works for me. But it's like, that turning up the volume on those attentional muscles in every brain in the world, this is just a natural, these are like the fruits of that kind of practice.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. Yeah. That's quite amazing. That's something I'm going to watch out for now as I go down my own meditation journey, to see what the impact is. But I can, just from the way you've described it, and I have the benefit of seeing you, which the audience don't, but I can see from your body language and your expression just how powerful those moments or those experiences have been, and that idea that just by being able to reduce some of that mental clutter, [inaudible 00:23:11] stop that kind of jumping around type, you know, what the Buddhists would call the monkey mind, you know, getting rid of those monkeys, and allowing things that is enhancing attention, but also, therefore, enhancing relationships, and everything that flows from that.

Ellen Jackson:
In a learning setting like a conference, it's, I suppose, opening yourself up there to deeper conversations about topics that not only are producing friendships and collegial type relationships, but also opportunities for thinking and learning and bouncing ideas off of each other, which does, again, yeah, amazingly powerful, all from this simple, and it really is pretty simple. Like we said, we both have apps, different apps, and there's plenty of others out there, that allow you to start to take power over your mind, get into the driver's seat, and through a really simple process that also feels amazing when you do it.

James Garrett:
Also feels amazing. Great. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. You know, can have such an incredible impact. I think that's really illustrated, for me, at least, and hopefully for our audience, the power of this idea of you're taking your brain, and using it by design.

Ellen Jackson:
That's given us some wonderful practical examples, James. Tell us a little more, you have a online program that you run called Brain in Mind, which is another fantastic title. I do like your titles.

James Garrett:
Thank you.

Ellen Jackson:
Tell us a bit about the course itself.

James Garrett:
The course is divided into three different modules, one on productivity, one on habits, and one on happiness. They're each four weeks long. Within the next week or two, I will actually have sort of an on-demand version of the course. It'll be sort of a prerecorded, on-demand [inaudible 00:25:07] three separate courses. But as I've taught it, I've taught it maybe 10 times now, I do it live. I'll do another one starting May 29th. I teach them live so they have a little bit of interaction. People ask questions, and that sort of thing. Well, I've spent a lot of years building it, but I've really tried to digest the latest and greatest neuroscience, behavioral science, psychology, around ... In the productivity module, we go into how to get more done by working less, which is crazy idea, but ends up being scientifically true.

Ellen Jackson:
I'm going to ask you about that in a moment.

James Garrett:
We go into ... Today I just did a session on willpower, and in managing that mental battery. We go into distractions in multitasking, how to manage and kind of deal with the realities of the internet and smartphones. Motivation. Self-motivation is now sort of, scientists have discovered it's sort of a learnable skill. Motivation is kind of a mysterious thing, right? We have these on and off days. How do you get better at understanding what's happening when you're demotivated, and then how do you actually get to a place where you can kind of self-propel? This isn't what traditionally has kind of been the, I guess, the domain of self-help or the personal development space. We're getting a lot clearer on what does and doesn't work. I think of it sort of as like the science help movement, instead the self-help movement. So that's productivity.

James Garrett:
We go into habit formation, why your brain loves habits, and why habits are so powerful. If you can get good at that skill of, this sort of meta-skill, I guess, of forming and building positive habits, then you really can get good at almost anything, whether that's learning a language or learning a musical instrument, or being a better listener, or doing, every morning, the first two hours of your day, you knock out the hardest project. Those kinds of workflow habits, other types of habits, really make a massive difference. If you look at writers and artists, they're not so, they live by their routines. They seem a little ... we call them eccentric.

James Garrett:
But interestingly, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues this pretty strongly, that they're not actually that eccentric. What they do is, and Scott Barry Kaufman argues this as well, they're really good at guarding their attention. That's what they do. Their routines and rituals are all about creating space where they won't be interrupted in large measure, and they're very good at being in tune with their own energy, and then they follow the ebb and flow. So there's always paradoxes to creative individuals. But you can get good. It's not random, right? You can get good at actually, again, having more of a say in turning up the volume on your creativity. So that's habit formation.

James Garrett:
And then happiness, we go through positive emotions. We go through mindfulness, flow, and just the general sort of a crash course in positive psychology. I would describe the whole course as sort of a positive psychology course, if you were to ask me how to summarize it, but it does have these different stripes, or these different flavors.

Ellen Jackson:
Which all tie together really nicely. I mean, we know from positive psychology that these all do tie together nicely [inaudible 00:28:44] underlying themes across all of those different areas, but I think it comes across just so practical. Happiness is something that we all aspire to. Habits is a very popular topic at the moment, and again, I think as you say, and I might quiz you in a moment a little more about the nature of habits, but they're relevant and important. I think one of the challenging things about habits is we tend to have a, perhaps, a negative, they have a negative flavor to many of us because we think about bad habits. We don't think about good habits.

Ellen Jackson:
And then productivity being something that many of us aspire to enhancing our productivity, or at least feeling like we're more productive. I know on paper, when I look at what I get through, and I have to remind myself consciously to do this at the end of every week, or even at the end of every day, I can be enormously productive, I do a lot of stuff, and I get a lot of stuff done, but even in the doing of that, I don't always feel that I'm productive. I still, because of my negativity bias or whenever it might be, beat myself up because I'm not using every single moment of every single day as effectively and as efficiently as I can, and that's been part of my learning journey, has been around that self-compassion peace involved in that, you know, celebrating successes, realizing what I have done, having a bit of self-compassion, and paying attention.

Ellen Jackson:
Again, it comes back to that attentional idea of being able to say ... Actually, last week, for example, I had two really, really busy days. I then presented a really big workshop for an organization, which was really successful, got some other stuff done in the afternoon, and on Thursday, I got out of bed in the morning, and I went, "I can't do anything. I am so tired." I had just, I think, worn myself out. I actually spent much of the day working with my laptop from my bed [inaudible 00:30:39] never, ever do. But I, again, that awareness thing said, "You know what? Today, my body is telling me, my mind is telling me that I need to ease off a little bit."

Ellen Jackson:
There was that kind of mental challenge of, "Ooh, this is not good. This is not what you should be doing," and allowing myself ... As it turns out, it was a reasonably productive day, just because I just sat and just caught up on the things that I could catch up on, using my laptop while I stayed in bed. Not sure this is something I really want to publicly acknowledge. But all of those, you know, there's a bit of mindfulness in there, a bit of self-awareness in there, a bit of self-compassion in there, as well as productivity, and the nature of our energy and paying attention to our energy, which I'm thinking, I'm guessing, are probably also themes that, perhaps, you pull in across these three different realms.

James Garrett:
Yeah. Yeah. That's right. You know, it's interesting. One of the things [inaudible 00:31:43] find with people I'm working with is this, it's almost like we need permission to give ourselves self-care, right?

Ellen Jackson:
Yep. I do.

James Garrett:
Yeah. Yeah. You're not alone. You know, there's a ... I'm less familiar with Australian culture, but in the States, we're such a doing culture, right? It's go, go, go, is sort of the mantra for what it means to be successful, or that's the [inaudible 00:32:16] leads to success. At least, that's what we've always believed. You know, when you look at the highest-producing individuals, I'm more and more convinced that the ones who last and the ones who make the greatest contributions don't actually follow that formula. The formula that they follow is something more like go, recharge, go, recharge, go, recharge.

James Garrett:
You know, there's this great story of the CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner. Every day, he takes two hours, and he breaks it into 30-minute blocks, those two hour, four 30-minute blocks. He inserts those 30-minute blocks into his day, and then he tells his assistants, "No interruptions. This is my time to schedule nothing. This is my buffer time. This is my thinking time. This time I go for a walk, I take a nap, I do whatever. But this is like guarded time." He calls it his most important productivity tool. So here you have one of the most highly successful CEOs in Silicon Valley, who has tons of demands on his time, and he takes 25%, assuming he works an eight-hour day, I don't know, but takes 25% of his day, and schedules nothing. And then he calls it his most important productivity tool.

James Garrett:
I think people on this level ... Atul Gawande's another great example of this, very famous surgeon, who wrote, he's a best-selling author three books [inaudible 00:34:03] World Health Organization, he's a MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow, you know, it goes on, list goes on. He founded an NGO. Very, very well-known individual, known for being very balanced, right? So the paradigm shift of go, go, go to [inaudible 00:34:26] go hard, right? You know, when in these concentrated states, and again, that's what we know leads to flow and peak states [inaudible 00:34:34] being all in on the thing, it's sort of like it requires an equal, or at least it's like a pause. It's not really stopping, and I think that's part of the problem, is we feel like if we walk away from our computer, we're not being productive.

Ellen Jackson:
Not working. Yeah.

James Garrett:
We're not doing anything. What are we doing? Psychologists have now discovered that your mind is doing all sorts of things once you walk away, especially if you're not demanding anything from your attentional muscle. So if you go for a walk in the park, we know green space does this in particular now, the evidence is pretty clear on this, moving your body in almost any which, yoga, stretching, exercise in almost any form, taking a nap in the middle of your work day. The historical examples on this are, they're all over the place. Charles Dickens, for example, used to take two to four-hour walks in the afternoons wandering, right? Walter Isaacson just wrote another biography of Leonardo da Vinci, and there's this great quote. There's a story where he's painting The Last Supper, right? Leonardo da Vinci, right, quintessential Renaissance man, one of the most prolific and productive humans the planet has ever seen, and yet, you look at his work patterns, and they look nothing like the modern work day.

Ellen Jackson:
Which is interesting, isn't it?

James Garrett:
Which is interesting, right? And again, Jeff Weiner, that goes against everything. If you were to come in my office, and you were my boss, and I was just relaxing with hands behind my head, staring up at the ceiling, there's cultural workplace taboos that we feel like we can't cross, and yet, when you look at what, again, really prolific folks have done, they just don't bring themselves out.

James Garrett:
Anyway, back to Leonardo da Vinci, so he's painting The Last Supper, and the person who hired him, the patron, or the one paying him to do the painting, he's like, "Leonardo, you're not coming into the office very much. I don't hardly ever see you. Where do you go? You need to be making better progress." This is his boss, essentially. So the story goes, he looked at his boss, and said, "Look," he said, "Sometimes, the greatest geniuses get more done by working less." What Leonardo da Vinci knew by intuition, and stumbled upon, is that our brain is doing all sorts of work while we're letting it relax.

James Garrett:
Most of it's unconscious, so we don't experience it, but what happens is, once you switch from that stay on task mode, that focused mode, which is what most of us are in most of our work day, and you switch, psychologists call it executive mode, and you switch to, I call it creative mode. Scott Barry Kaufman calls it imagination mode. In the literature, it's called mind wandering mode. Basically, you're accessing a totally different part of your brain. They call it the default mode network. So the part of your brain that pays attention, which is right behind your forehead, it literally goes off. If you [inaudible 00:37:56] fMRI machine, it goes quiet. And then you activate the suite of regions kind of deeper in the brain that are your deep problem-solving regions, meaning they're problem-solving in totally different ways. They're much more free associative. They're much more flexible, and they're much more playful. So this is why we have ... 72% of people report having great ideas in the shower. That seems really random, you know?

Ellen Jackson:
It does. It does, [crosstalk 00:38:26].

James Garrett:
It happens to you. It happens to me. I actually keep a, I use something called AquaNotes. I keep a little notepad that are waterproof in the shower because I'm constantly having good ideas in the shower, and I don't want to lose them, right?

Ellen Jackson:
I have been known to jump out of the shower, and quickly record things on my phone [crosstalk 00:38:42].

James Garrett:
But we know this now, creativity happens in relaxed states of mind again and again and again. It's like, here we are, turning up the volume on our workers and our workplaces, the volume on their stress levels, and yet, we're [inaudible 00:39:02] on the other hand, saying we're fans of innovation and creativity. Well, if you know anything about the brain science, you know you've got to keep people in relaxed states of mind to have anything creative come out of their brains.

Ellen Jackson:
Stress is not good for creativity.

James Garrett:
It's not good for creativity. It's not good for mind wandering. You actually can't kick into mind wandering mode. If you want to actually get good at accessing your creative brain and use it as a recharge so that when you go back to your computer, you've got a full battery, and you can do that deep dive again, and get into peak states of concentration. You've got to go between these states throughout the day. An eight-hour day is a marathon for your brain. We know you can concentrate for about 90 minutes. After that, if you're not at least taking a five-minute walk, you might as well just kiss the next couple hours goodbye. I mean, you're going to be highly unproductive, or at least your productivity will be highly compromised. Again, we feel this, right? What happens at 3:00 PM? This is like the deepest, most tired slump of the day, right? This is when our natural, biological rhythms are down, and yet, we force ourselves to keep working. Why? [crosstalk 00:40:27].

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. It's interesting, actually, because I had Dr. Sarah McKay, who's an Australian ... Well, she's actually a New Zealand by birth, but now based in Australia. She's a neuroscientist here. She spoke on the podcast about her napping, and the fact that she is a firm advocate of the nap for, again, that productivity. The way she explained it, which made a lot of sense to me, that we spend a lot of our time fighting the urge to sleep, particularly at that kind of 2:30, 3:00 point in the afternoon, and we fight, and we fight, and we fight, and we tell ourselves we're not allowed to do it, and this is bad, and we force ourselves to kind of push through. She said that for her, when she realized that this was her brain telling her something, and that she should act on that. She therefore went and now takes a 20-minute nap. This helps not only with her productivity, but she said also her emotional self-regulation, so her moods, you know, kids come home from school, and far less likely to be cranky at them because she's just taken this little opportunity to recharge.

Ellen Jackson:
Again, for me, in there, there's an element of this self-compassion, allowing ourselves, recognizing, and this I can understand or I suspect is your purpose here, when you talk about this stuff, is to give us the knowledge and the skills so that we can start to say, "Right, I'm not just going to fall into this pattern of behavior that society tells us is the way we should work, or the way we should study, or the way we should enact our productivity, I'm going to take control here, listen to what my body says, listen to what I know the research says, and actually be more proactive in managing my time, my day, my productivity. I will nap if I need to." Although, again, keeping the naps, I think Sarah said 20 minutes is sort of what we should be aiming for.

James Garrett:
Yes, exactly right. Yeah.

Ellen Jackson:
It's not a four-hour nap.

James Garrett:
No, yeah. Exactly. The optimal time to not feel groggy is 20 minutes. You're exactly right.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. And walking as well, because I know ... I mean, we're talking about giving our brains time to relax. We can force that focus for our 60, 90 minutes, whatever it may be, but then giving our brains a little bit of time off, but my understanding from everything that I've read says that doesn't mean sitting and watching YouTube for 20 minutes as a break, or watching TV, that there are better forms of rest for our minds, if we want to kind of produce this level of creativity and problem-solving.

James Garrett:
Yeah. That's exactly right. So what will happen, is your brain is really good at demanding a break. It's really bad at telling you what kind of activity you should be doing during that break. It will crave distraction. Think of it this way, any time you have the urge to go like an internet distraction thing, whether that's YouTube or Facebook or Instagram, doesn't matter what it is, you should be able to, over time, you'll start recognizing, "Oh, my brain is asking me for a break, but again, it's not good at telling me what's actually going to recharge my mental battery." All those activities I just mentioned all require attention. So they're actually depleting activities. They lower that mental battery.

James Garrett:
But going for a walk, you think of it this way, that you can't go wrong if you feel that urge to actually just, "Oh, there it is," step away from the desk. Just step away from the desk, and go walk. Again, you can kind of decide what you're going to do once you start walking, but again, it's that first moment when you feel it, "Oh, that's the trigger. If I feel my finger wandering up to open a new tab to search social media," then, it's an if-then plan, right, "If I feel that, then I walk away from my desk," and then, again, do whatever you want, go outside, [inaudible 00:44:33] got a little park nearby. Doesn't matter. Just start moving your body. Even five minutes has been shown to boost, when you come back, it reorients you.

James Garrett:
Part of what happens in that afternoon slump, is when your brain gets tired, you start losing sight of what the original goal was for the task you're working on, and so you start drifting into, "Now, what was I doing here? Where was I going with this?" What it does when you, one of the things it does when you go for that little walk and come back, it crisps up your, it reorients your goal. You can see again with fresh eyes, "Oh, that's what I was doing," and suddenly, you have increased boosts of concentration.

Ellen Jackson:
Okay. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, because I do a bit of writing, and I know if I really slog away at an article or a chapter that I'm writing for a long period of time, when it starts to feel like more and more of a struggle, if I do get up and walk away, I can come back, and I can see that not only has my, I suppose, energy, enthusiasm, focus started to wane, but also, more than likely, I've started to kind of wander off topic a little bit.

Ellen Jackson:
And the reason I'm finding it so hard to find the words or to find the ideas that I'm working on, is because I've actually lost the focus, or lost track of what it was I was supposed to be doing. That process of getting up, walking away, coming back, and again, rereading it after a little break, does, yeah, reorients me back to, "Oh, that's right, no wonder it got hard, because I really wandered off topic here, and was getting into areas that I haven't yet thought through, or started to examine the research, or whatever it might be," and having to come back to that helps.

James Garrett:
The crazy thing about it, and this is a really hard paradigm shift for most people, is that when you're going on break, your brain doesn't turn off, right? It's not like a light switch that's turning on and off, like an [inaudible 00:46:34]. It is a light switch, but it's turned sideways. It's just switching between two different modes. It's in executive mode, or creative mode.

James Garrett:
So when you're going for that walk, what you're doing, is if ... Your brain knows what it's trying to solve, if you can clearly and consciously define the problem, or whatever it is, the objective you're trying to achieve, that's what your conscious brain is good at, is getting clear on what it is you're trying to solve, whether that's writing a page or chapter for that day, or a blog post, whatever that is. Get clear on that goal, and then literally just go for that walk. The five-minute walk is sort of like a, it's like a burst. The kind of walks I'm talking about now are a little bit longer, right? You can go on 30-minute walks. When you're doing the sort of deep, reflective work, where you're trying to be generative in your content, I actually recommend people go on kind of a 90/30 rule, where you're 90 minutes on, 30 minutes off, which isn't really off, it's just a different mode. You're just switching side to side on the light switch.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. I actually take, and I haven't done it for a little while, you've reminded me to go back to it, what I call a wellbeing walk, particularly, again, at that sort of 2:30, 3:00 in the afternoon point of the day, because, and it's usually two kilometers, which is about 30 minutes of walking, and I might pop in a podcast or something.

Ellen Jackson:
I'm quite often amazed at how my brain, and I guess it is that mind wandering mode that you spoke about, that my brain will start to not only synthesize, perhaps, what I'm listening to, but with the ideas of things that I was working on, or new things will pop in, and problems that have felt, especially content type, idea type problems that I've been working on, or work type problems I've been working on, solutions, they just sort of pop in there occasionally. [crosstalk 00:48:27] or something that I'm listening to will just add a whole new perspective to a problem I was trying to solve. It feels serendipitous in lots of ways, but incredibly powerful. And [inaudible 00:48:42], you're right, we're not taught to do this. We're not encouraged to do this particularly in conventional workplaces.

Ellen Jackson:
I'm starting to hear workplaces talk about walking meetings, which, when I'm working with organizations, I'm a great proponent of the walking meeting, because it's physical exercise, there's that relationship connectedness component with other people, the nature component, and then this idea that question are more creative, which I think I read some research recently that came out of Stanford that said that we are more creative when we walk, you know, [crosstalk 00:49:15] physically moving from one place to another, and yet, we tend to think that, "Well, to work, I must sit at a computer, effectively, for eight hours a day, possibly even eating my lunch sitting in the same spot," and then we expect ourselves to be productive and problem-solving and creative, but also well, physically and emotionally well. It makes no sense when you think about it, the more you learn about this stuff.

James Garrett:
No, it really doesn't. In fact, one of the questions I'll pose to when I'm doing trainings or talks is, where are you when you have your best ideas? Almost without fail, nobody says at their computer.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah, because no one has good ideas at their computer.

James Garrett:
Right? They're like, "In the shower, on a drive, when I wake up in the morning," whatever, you know? Again, it's sort of like, we think it's random, but it's not. Your brain has a very particular way that it works. If you can get good at sort of harnessing that power it has innate to it, and learning to kind of unleash that creativity, and go between this executive mode, creative mode, executive, creative mode throughout your day, then suddenly, you're like, "Wow, I didn't consider myself that creative of a person, but I'm exploding with good ideas."

Ellen Jackson:
[crosstalk 00:50:38] ideas. And happier for it as well.

James Garrett:
And happier. Yes.

Ellen Jackson:
I think that's one of the other things that we forget often, particularly in workplaces, that it's somewhere we spend such a large proportion of our time. The people we work with, if you work a full-time job, you could spend more time with the people that you work with than you do, perhaps, with anybody else in your life, in terms of quantity of hours, and yet, our focus on wellbeing and ... I mean, it's starting to change. I'm not sure a lot of it, certainly not in Australia, is terribly informed by the science yet, when we talk about workplace wellbeing, but it really is such, and I can hear just by speaking to you, and I know it's a personal passion for me to be able to actually allow people to benefit from work in these positive ways, in these ways that encourage engagement and flow and good relationships and productivity and understanding of ourselves, that work has not traditionally not had a focus on at all.

James Garrett:
Right. Yeah. You start realizing, wait a minute, you could actually get more out of your people, have them be happier and more engaged, have better ideas, allow them to work on ... One of the things that's really restorative when we take these breaks is growth, like whether that's meditation, or whether that's playing a musical instrument, or whatever it is, but [inaudible 00:52:12] some micro growth, right, something in those breaks that you can actually do, all the while, your brain is still processing the problems at work, and get more done. It's like an equation. But again, on the face of it, unless you know the science, it seems really heretical, it seems crazy.

James Garrett:
We have these sort of taboos that run so deep that you really got to understand the science or else it just sounds crazy, but the more you unpack the science, you're like, "Oh, wow." And it is happening, right? Look at the way some of these folks are ... I mean, right now, Google, Zappos, Ben & Jerry's, Uber, Nike, they've all got nap pods in their offices now. It's no surprise. They just know the science, right? Again, 10 years ago, that would have been unheard of, but now, it's like, "Oh-"

Ellen Jackson:
Even five years ago, I suspect.

James Garrett:
Even five years ago, right? Sleep science has matured. It's finally had its day. I think ... Daniel Pink in his book, When, is arguing that the science of breaks is about where sleep science was five years ago, and so we'll see this start surging in terms of our sort of collective consciousness about the value and power of taking mindful, deliberate breaks, that both increase our productivity, as well as our wellness.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. I think, and this is not a conversation for today, because it launches off into another hour or so's discussion, but one of the challenges that I've had when I talk to organizations and workplaces about some of these notions, is still, there's a reticence, I think, sometimes, amongst leaders, to have faith that people will do the right thing, given these opportunities, that if given nap pods are put into the workplace, that people won't just sort of fall about and go, "I'm not doing any work anymore. I'm going to spend all afternoon napping because the boss said I could."

Ellen Jackson:
I know in Australia, that is still quite a mental hurdle for people to get past. I know a lot of it has to do with workplace culture and styles of leadership and all of these other complex factors in organizational systems, but I think having a science basis to it, I think the work that you're doing, and actually being able to lay that out to people, will go a long way to helping overcome come of those hurdles, to help people understand that this is not just someone's wacky idea, that there is significant substance to this that we know contributes to, as you said, all of those things around productivity, but also wellbeing, health, and happiness.

James Garrett:
Yeah. Thank you. Yeah. That's right. I completely understand those concerns. I often will tell people, "Look, I get those concerns. Start small, right? Don't bite off too much here. Take those first baby steps. Do five-minute breaks every hour or so. Just make it sort of a ritual in the company, we just go for a walk every ..." It doesn't have to be [inaudible 00:55:18], right, just that going on walking breaks becomes just a kind of thing. One of my companies I've been working does this now, and they're having amazing results with it. Again, they're not long breaks. Start with [inaudible 00:55:29] five-minute walks so you're not taking too much time, right, and then just see what happens. Just kind of experiment with it at that little level, and then, again, you can kind of explore from there.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. I love that. That's that kind of test and learn. I always talk to people about test and learn, just try something small, see how it goes. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn't work, try something else, see how that goes, which I think is probably ... Well, again, we know as psychologists that when it comes to changing things, you can't change everything in one big leap. It's really interesting from organizational perspectives that when we talk about organizational change, there's this idea that, "We'll just do this. We'll implement this plan, and then the whole of the organization will change from what it is to what we want it to be." And yet, that is so contrary to how change happens, or how we know as psychologists change happens. Change doesn't happen in giant steps, it happens in small increments, as long as there's a process of measuring and monitoring as we go along.

Ellen Jackson:
James, there's a whole heap of other things I'd really love to talk to you about, but one of the things that I did just want to cover briefly, you mentioned in the background that, we get everyone to complete a little bit of background, and you said that you read a book a week. How do you go about reading a book a week? Because I love to read, and I will read all sorts of things, but I struggle. I feel like I don't, again, [inaudible 00:56:54] my own rules, my own shoulds, "I should read more, I should read more." What are your strategies for reading a book a week? How do you go about that?

James Garrett:
I'm so glad you asked this. You know, there's this concept in Charles Duhigg's book, The Power of Habit, where he's talking about, I think these are his words, he calls them keystone habits. The research has its own term for it. But reading, for me, has become my kind of keystone habit. It's sort of the central anchor around which the rest of my morning routine, the rest of my day kind of revolves. When I'm on, everything else goes really, really well. If I'm off, I feel out of sorts. I'm not as much myself. But it wasn't an easy habit to form. Took me about three months until it was sort of stable. It came about, there was [inaudible 00:57:42], for years and years, I wasn't reading as much as I really wanted to, you know? In fact, it was really, really low. I found myself getting sucked into reading The New York Times for hours on end late at night. I was really depleted. I was doing light internet reading, I would call it, right?

James Garrett:
There came a point where I just, I knew I had hundreds of books I really, really wanted to read, and I knew that [inaudible 00:58:21], there was like this moment of choice, and so I said, "I'm just going to try it. I'm going to try to read a book in a week." I know that sounds crazy, but I still remember the moment that I finished. It was about 12:30 AM on a Sunday night, well, I guess it's Monday morning, and I finished a book called The Willpower Instinct. I read that last page on the seventh day, and I said, "Oh my gosh, it's possible." I had this surge in self-efficacy. I had this surge in confidence like, "Oh my gosh, I could do it again, right? It really is possible. I can do this."

James Garrett:
And then, again, I went on this sort of three-month journey, where I really had to ... It's not easy. On some level, it's a little bit crazy. It ends up being about 35 pages a day, depending on the length of the book. So for me, the only way I can get it to work, is I've got to get up at 6:00, and then I spend ... My morning routine is almost purely reading, and then I exercise a little bit later in the day. My four-year-old gets up at about 7:30, so I've got about an hour and a half window in the morning, where I can get about two-thirds of that reading done. Again, I'm not reading fast. I'm reading reflectively. I'm reading. I'm reflecting. I'm writing. It's a in-depth, reflective process for me.

James Garrett:
But I also have a few rules. I never read anything I don't want to read. I keep it mysterious enough, because I know there's a novelty seeking bias in our brain, where I won't choose the book I'm going to read for the next week until Sunday night. I've got my bookshelf. I always keep it fresh. I'm always going to the bookstore. I'll go to used bookstores, different things, just to keep my selection fresh as well. Reading is such a hard chore. It's got to feel fun, you know? I don't do any book clubs. I know that some people really love the social aspect of that. If that works for you, that's wonderful. But for me, it's all about intrinsic motivation. I've got to love what I'm reading. I've fallen in love with the brain and behavior, and so most of what I'm reading is in that area, but I'm pretty particular about what I read and how I read it.

James Garrett:
And then I'm pretty unforgiving about just hitting it every day. What's happened is, my brain's just adapted. So whenever I have downtime, or I'm waiting to pick my daughter up from preschool or whatever, I've got five or 10 minutes in the car, guess what comes out? It's my book. It's not my phone.

Ellen Jackson:
That's great, isn't it? [crosstalk 01:01:00], yeah, how many times during the day you could actually focus. It comes back to all that stuff we're talking about, in terms of attention, and managing your mind, and habits. I can see this is kind of pulling a whole lot of things together, of saying, "Right, I will make a conscious choice here, and create that habit not only around reading in the morning, but also, yeah, then not electing to just randomly and mindlessly scroll through the phone to say, "This is the snippet of time that I've got to do to pursue my reading habit, and reading joy."

James Garrett:
Yeah. I love it. I almost feel like every time I read, I feel like a kid in a candy shop. I'm so in love with what I read all day every day, and I really do enter into these states of flow. I almost feel like I've been living in flow since I started this goal for years. It feels that enjoyable to me. It's hard, you know? There's no question about it, that it's hard at times. So I don't know. You got to figure out what works for you. Sometimes, I say, "If you want to try something like this, start with a book every two weeks, or something which is a little bit more manageable."

James Garrett:
But again, the freshness of it, the going through a book every week, there's something about the system. It's not a complex system. I actually track it. I break down, I have a little bookmark every day. I mean, it's literally, like I have a Post-it Note, and like this is 31 pages a day, you can see. I do the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then I actually, [inaudible 01:02:32] I'll add up what page I need to be on for each of those days. I put a little check mark every time. So there's these little reinforcers of progress, the sense of I'm hitting it every day. I think that [inaudible 01:02:46].

Ellen Jackson:
And it's working.

James Garrett:
And it is working, yeah.

Ellen Jackson:
James, you've given me a little list of, you've mentioned a couple of books that you've enjoyed. Obviously, you are a prolific reader these days, so I can only imagine that your bookshelf would be just heaving with amazing and interesting books to read. You've given me a little list of a couple of your favorites, Dan Pink's When, which you mentioned, and I haven't read When yet. I'm going to. It's on my list of books to read, but I loved Drive, one of his previous books. Adam Grant, who I also love and follow regularly and frequently, his book called Originals.

James Garrett:
Yeah, no, anything by Adam Grant. I'm a huge fan. Give and Take, Originals, Option B, I think was [inaudible 01:03:40] resilience. Yeah. Adam Grant is a master synthesizer. I feel like the sweet spot of the best science writers are the best storytellers. They're masters of [inaudible 01:03:57] stories and data, and they write so beautifully. It's a rare find, right? Daniel Pink is one of them.

Ellen Jackson:
It's a skill, isn't it?

James Garrett:
Adam Grant. The Heath Brothers, [inaudible 01:04:09], Gretchen Rubin, [inaudible 01:04:10]. There's a handful who do this really well.

Ellen Jackson:
Okay. The other one that you've given me is Eric Barker's book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

James Garrett:
Yeah. Eric Barker is, he originally started as a blogger. He still has one of the most well-known science blogs out there. But this is, if you want a crash course in the sort of science of, let's call it success, which is mostly sort of field of psychology and related [inaudible 01:04:43]. Eric Barker will just take you on a whirlwind tour [inaudible 01:04:47] whole world. It's so entertaining to read, you literally [inaudible 01:04:53]. It's an excellent book.

Ellen Jackson:
You've just added that to my long list of books to read.

Ellen Jackson:
James, I'm going to put the details of those books and your course and all of your contact details and your website all in the show notes for this episode. Look, I've thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I know that we could talk for many more hours, and we may get you back on another occasion to talk into more depth about this. I think for me, a mutual passion around helping people to understand their brain, helping them to understand their behavior, helping them to take control of those two aspects as well. I think that's come through really strongly as a flavor of today's conversation.

Ellen Jackson:
I hope people go away with that with a sense that we do have so much more control over this machine between our ears than, perhaps, we think we do, and simple things like habits like attention, like meditation, even just observing your energy levels throughout the day, and saying, "Right, I get a choice in what I do now and how I do it," go for a walk, take a nap, read a book, whatever it might be, and see what flows from that, notice the changes in your productivity, your creativity, your sense of wellbeing, your sense of calm, your sense of happiness, because I think there's a heap in there that you've shared with us that could really make a significant difference to everyday life for, hopefully, every one of our listeners.

James Garrett:
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, Ellen.

Ellen Jackson:
You're very welcome.

Ellen Jackson:
Every time I listen to that interview, and I have listened to it several times now, I learn something that I missed last time. So I hope if this is the first time that you've listened to it, you've learned a lot. If it's a subsequent time, I hope you came away as well with something that perhaps you missed the first time around, because there's heaps and heaps in there, isn't there? James has made a few changes to his online program since we recorded that interview. You can now enroll in the three modules separately. There's Happy by Design, Productive by Design, and Habits by Design. They're 197 dollars U.S. each, and they really are great value.

Ellen Jackson:
As you've heard in his interview, James has just such a beautifully insightful way of describing and teaching this stuff, and making it meaningful. I was a student in his original Brain by Design course, and there's so much great content. It really made me think about the way that I work, and where I focus my attention, so I really recommend it. Just so you know, this isn't sponsored in any way. I don't get any benefit from spruiking James' course, I just really love what he does. You will find the links to James' website, Brain by Design, and his courses, and his bio, and his own new podcast, the Deep Change Podcast, as well as a transcript for this episode in our show notes. They're at potential.com.au/podcast. You can pop over there and take a look.

Ellen Jackson:
One more thing before I sign off for this week, are you on the Potential Psychology Newsletter list? We send a newsletter to our fabulous subscribers once every two or three weeks. I spend a lot of time reading as I prepare for my podcast interviews and client workshops and coaching programs. I try to pick the best of the articles that I read, and include links to these in our newsletter. There's usually three or four really fabulous articles that I think are worth perusing. Recent topics have included some practical tips on multitasking and goal planning, and how to schedule your day for peak productivity, but there's also been some more [inaudible 01:08:50] pieces, such as an article from the BBC Science Unit on whether humanity has reached peak intelligence. So if you like to learn, come and learn along with me. We also include links to our latest podcast episodes, upcoming events, book recommendations, and some fun behind the scenes stuff from time to time. So please do check that out, and sign up at potential.com.au/subscribe, because it's a great way for me to keep in touch with you.

Ellen Jackson:
Okay. That's me over and out for this week. I will be back in your ears next week with another fantastic interview. In the meantime, though, thank you so much for listening. Go forth, fulfill your potential. If I can help in any way, please let me know. You can get me at ellenjackson@potential.com.au, or on the socials. Just search for Potential Psychology.