When entrepreneurs channel nervous energy constructively, they take the healthy awareness that their business could fail and we use that awareness to stay on their toes.
In this Tough Things First podcast episode, Ray Zinn – Silicon Valley’s longest serving CEO – chats with Dr. Chloe Carmichael, and expert on the psychology of emotional energy for teams and how it can best be channeled away from chaos into success.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D, is a licensed clinical psychologist, known as Dr. Chloe. She holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Long Island University and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude, with a bachelor’s degree and departmental honors in psychology from Columbia University in New York. Her practice in New York City employs multiple therapists to serve high-functioning business executives, people in the arts, and everyday people seeking support with personal or professional goals.
Dr. Chloe is the author of the book Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety, endorsed by Deepak Chopra! She is a member in good standing of the American Psychological Association, as well as the National Register of Health Psychologists, an elite organization for psychologists with gold-standard credentials. She is also a consultant at Baker McKenzie, the third largest law firm in the world. She is an Advisory Board member for Women’s Health Magazine (Hearst), and a featured expert for Psychology Today. Dr. Chloe enjoys relating with the media, as well as public speaking. She has been featured as an expert on VH1, Inside Edition, ABC Nightline and other television; and has been quoted in the New York Times, Forbes, Vanity Fair, Shape, Cosmopolitan, Rolling Stone, and other print media.
Ray Zinn: Hello, everyone. Welcome to another wonderful podcast of Tough Things First. I am Ray Zinn, the author of this great book that I did several years ago, also Silicon Valley’s longest serving CEO. I ran my company, Micrel Semiconductor, for 37 years, profitably by the way.
With me today I’m so excited to have Dr. Chloe Carmichael, who is that author of a fantastic book. I hope you all have a chance to read it. In fact, we’re going to talk about her book today in our podcast. It’s Nervous Energy and Harnessing Your… I think I’m saying this right, Harnessing Your Anxiety. If I didn’t say that right, Dr. Chloe, I hope you will correct me. But, anyway, welcome to our podcast.
Dr. Chloe: Thank you so much, Ray. Yes, the title of the book is Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety.
Ray Zinn: Harness the Power… Oh, yeah, that’s it. Harness the Power of Your Anxiety. Before the podcast we were… Almost doing the podcast, talking about what that really means. So I’m going to let you explain that to our audience, about your nervous energy and how you harness the power of anxiety.
I was telling you I ran Micrel for 37 years and I was on red alert, I had anxiety or was anxious every single day for 37 years. You likened it to not having saliva in your mouth. Go ahead.
Dr. Chloe: The concept behind Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety is that a lot of people just assume that anxiety is bad and that they want to get rid of it, whereas the truth is is that the healthy function of anxiety in psychology terms… The healthy function of anxiety is to stimulate preparation behaviors.
So if we were to say get rid of all the anxiety we wouldn’t even look both ways before we crossed the street. Ray, I think you’re living proof. You said that for 37 years that you woke up every day with anxiety. Now we don’t want to have anxiety running wild, so to speak, but we also don’t want to get rid of it. The trick is to harness it and make sure that we use that extra energy to actually push us towards our goal instead of getting stuck and chasing our tail.
Ray Zinn: That’s right. And I should say, Dr. Chloe, you are a clinical psychologist so you are an expert in this area. I want the audience to know that.
When we talk about anxiety, and everybody really talks about that as being bad, stomach ulcers and other physical problems that are associated with having a high level of anxiety, but that’s kind of what it’s like to be the CEO or a leader of a company. There could be a lot of anxious moments.
As I was telling you prior to our podcast, I used to be a pilot. I’m still a pilot, but can’t legally fly the plane. But I used to have a hard time getting to sleep at night thinking about the flight that I’d be making the following day and my wife would be sleeping like a log. I’d say, “I don’t know how you do that. How can you sleep so well and I’m sitting here tossing and turning?” She says, “Because I have more faith in the pilot than you do.”
That’s probably the case, the employees of the company don’t have near the anxiety that the CEO or the president of the company does because they’re not at the helm. They’re not the ones steering the ship, as they say.
Dr. Chloe: Well, that can be, Ray. In your company I would guess that was probably true, Ray, because you’re obviously a mature business leader who knows how to take and accept that giant responsibility of leadership and that you know how to manage that. There are other companies, however, where the leader doesn’t know how to manage their anxiety very well, and in those cases, unfortunately, their anxiety actually gets spilled over onto the team.
To your wife’s point, she was able to relax because she trusted the pilot, right? I think when our employees can trust the pilot, the leader of the company, then they can relax and focus on the work that we have laid out for them.
I say we because I’m also a business owner myself. I’m a member of Entrepreneurs Organization, where we have a minimum of one million a year in annual revenue to join. I manage a team of about 10 or 12 people domestically and internationally right now, so I’m no stranger to understanding that giant responsibility of leadership, and I’m sure your listeners run much bigger companies than that.
But one of the things that I see frequently is that when the leader knows how to manage their nervous energy, when they have that healthy awareness that success is absolutely not guaranteed and that keeps them on their toes a little bit in a healthy way, and then they use that energy to create some organizational charts or project timelines or create accountability plans, they are using that anxiety in a healthy way. They are harnessing the power of that anxiety.
On the other hand, when they’re not aware of that anxiety, they’re not conscious of it, or they’re just trying to close their eyes and think happy thoughts, so to speak, and pretend it’s not there, that’s when they get prone to mood swings, drugs and alcohol issues, blind spots in business, and you bet that makes the employees nervous when the leader doesn’t know how to handle their anxiety.
Ray Zinn: Or when they use artificial means to control their anxiety, that’s a danger sign right there. I think you know from your experience that when the CEO or the leader starts using artificial means to control their anxiety all heck breaks loose.
Dr. Chloe: Sure. I love to work hard and play hard, and happy hour I think is a great time, but I think we all know… You know, when you say artificial means sometimes people can get into that level where they’re kind of numbing themselves, again because they have this actually gift of anxiety, of this extra edge, but maybe they just have never really learned how to point that anxiety in the right direction, or they think it’s a weakness or they think it’s a vulnerability, whereas it’s actually many times a badge of awareness.
If a person has anxiety and awareness that success is not guaranteed for their company and that puts them on their toes a little bit, that can actually be a positive thing. We just need to make sure that they know how to use that boost of adrenalin and focus that does accompany a little anxiety.
Ray Zinn: So give the audience some ideas of how they can harness this power.
Dr. Chloe: Sure. For example, I give a lot of examples in my book actually of business people. There’s one in particular of an entrepreneur who uses the technique in my book which is called the mental shortlist. The entrepreneur in my book, he has a big meeting with investors coming up and he has prepared six ways to Sunday. He’s thought about nothing but this meeting for quite a while. He’s made every preparation under the sun.
Then he hits a bit of a wall, where the meeting is in a couple days but he can’t stop thinking about it. It’s like his mind is in a cognitive habit of just auto-tracking onto that meeting and getting nervous and thinking about how he doesn’t know how it’s going to go, and he’s almost tempted to overreach out to the investors to the point where he’s afraid he’s going to get annoying and he knows he’s starting to go over the tipping point.
So what he does at that point is then he chooses a technique from my book called the mental shortlist, which is designed to help you to pivot your mind off of a topic when you’re starting to ruminate on it. So the mental shortlist technique is he comes up with… I did this one with him. We come up with five things together that you know are going to be a much better use of that extra burst of mental energy that does accompany anxiety.
It could be anything in his case from getting a jump on your birthday and holiday shopping, to checking out your competitors’ websites, or even just writing some thank you notes to employees that he keeps meaning to notice and acknowledge. But the idea is that he has five things that he can pivot onto instead of thinking about that meeting.
The trick, however, is to only use a technique like the mental shortlist when you know that you’ve already done every possible preparation you can for whatever is making you nervous. Otherwise, the mental shortlist is just escapism, right? Because sometimes with anxiety it’s actually stimulating us to lean in.
[inaudible 00:10:17] out and trying to let things go and forget about them is not always the answer. So we only want to use kind of a mental pivot technique like the mental shortlist… It’s only good to use that once you really know that you’ve done everything you can do about whatever was the original stressor.
Ray Zinn: That’s so true, Dr. Chloe, because if I’d of been able to kind of have a mental shortlist while I was sleeping and not dwelling on the flight because it’s that paralysis by analysis… We just analyze, analyze, analyze, analyze, you’re thinking of every possible angle, and I know that… Because I teach at several universities on a regular basis, and also I give lots of lectures, and I notice that my best lectures and my best teaching moments are when I’ve had this mental shortlist and not try to analyze myself to death and actually get this paralysis which is not harnessing my anxiety. It’s actually letting my anxiety run wild when I do that.
So what I do is I just prepare best I can and I just try to change the subject, as you would, in my mind and go off into a different… Pivot into a different point so that I don’t become so anxious that I lose my train of thought, because that’s one of the things that happens. Actually as you get older you’ll start losing your train of thought and then you’ll do a worse job.
Dr. Chloe: Exactly. Analysis paralysis is actually a phrase that I use often in my book. To your point, it’s all about losing your train of thought sometimes which can happen really to anybody that has an active mind and a very full and busy life.
What the client in my book did with his mental shortlist, and which I encourage people to do sometimes so that you can stay focused, is he organized the items on his list into an acronym, because it is true often that when we get nervous and rattled that might be the time when it’s suddenly difficult to recall those five things that were better uses of our time and energy.
It’s easy to think of them when we’re just sitting there calmly, but when the pressure is really on and that old thought monster topic that we know we should leave alone is just calling our name, having a good acronym. His acronym was actually game fee, as in game changer.
He would think again about those birthday gifts, and he had an African safari that he was going to be planning, and all these fun things that he organized into a nice game fee, as in game changer for himself. As an acronym, of course, each letter stood for something that he wanted to think about instead.
Going through that acronym sometimes would not only keep him focused, like you said, so that his mind wouldn’t wander… And he also… Sometimes the mind just wants a little bit of a cognitive challenge, a little bit of a riddle, and just trying to remember those topics was sometimes also a good way to avoid ruminating about that meeting.
Ray Zinn: It’s called a counterirritant. Back in the day when they didn’t have a lot of ways to control pain we’d bite on something or we’d… And I notice that sometimes when I’m going to get my flu shot I’ll either bite my cheek or I do something as a counterirritant. That’s another way that I do it, is I come up with a counterirritant to get my mind away from what’s actually going to happen.
Dr. Chloe: Yeah. In fact, I would even say that this is… A lot of the counterirritant principle, even taking it up a notch, because it’s not really an irritant. It’s more of a treat. So it would be more like if you were going to have a tooth pulled booking yourself a foot massage at the same time, right? So if actually something is pleasant there’s a value add, that people get pleasure out of accomplishing those things on their new mental shortlist. In my opinion it’s even a step up from an irritant.
Ray Zinn: Well, I was using that term. We talk about the counterirritant. That’s that game changer. That’s how we modify our process so that we don’t dwell on what’s happening. That’s what I meant. I didn’t mean to sit there and pound your head against the wall. What I meant was that just find a way to alter your mindset so that you’re not dwelling as you would, like I was when I was flying, dwelling on all… You know, what if I lose an engine? What if this happens?
Dr. Chloe: Exactly.
Ray Zinn: So I guess as you call it, as game changer, I just modify my thought process. Another thing that I do, Dr. Chloe, when I’m giving lecture I think okay, what’s my takeaway? What do I want them to walk out of a room remembering? I use that as my theme so that I build around that, so that I don’t get lost, as you would, in the minutia of discussion or the lecture.
I try to say okay, what do I want them to learn? What is the bottom line when they walk away? What is the theme of this whole discussion? That really helps me really organize myself so that I don’t get caught in the tangle. It’s kind of like in a fishing line when everything gets all tangled out there and then you have this rat’s nest that you got to clear up. I find that by just keeping my mind focused on the bottom line, what it is I want the takeaway to be, then I don’t get these tangles.
Dr. Chloe: Exactly, Ray. I would say, just in case anyone is wondering what is the takeaway from this today, I want everybody to know that there is a healthy function to anxiety. It is to stimulate preparation behaviors. In my book I’ve got nine different ways for people to do it, just depending on the situation, but of course every technique is going to differ by the situation.
So the bottom line is that the healthy function of anxiety is to stimulate preparation behaviors, and it can really be our friend if we just know how to operate it.
Ray Zinn: Yes, and you can over-prepare, and we tend to do that when we are anxious. We tend to over-prepare, and that’s the worse thing that can happen, because then you get these rat’s nest tangles in your fishing line. Where can they find your book, Dr. Chloe?
Dr. Chloe: Sure. An easy way to do it is nervousenergybook.com. At nervousenergybook.com. they can also get video of me doing a breathing exercise and things. But also, of course, the book is on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and everywhere that books are sold.
I was also very adamant with the publisher that we also needed in addition to print, that we also needed to have an audiobook. As a psychologist, I’m a big believer in what psychologists call modeling, which is that if we can hear someone talking and describing a mindset that we want to take on sometimes it’s easier for us to do it that way through audio, so the book is available in audio as well as print.
Ray Zinn: That’s wonderful. I hope that they will get your book. It sounds fantastic. I’m going to have to get it and at least listen to it on audio if it’s available on audio, because this sounds like something that I need, even though at my advanced age and what I’ve accomplished I still am not sitting in the weeds. I’m actually still moving, still going, and still pushing and driving.
You would think that being somewhat retired, that I’d be sitting on a rock in Hawaii, but I’m not. I’m really continuing to teach and drive myself and push myself, because that’s how we continue to grow as opposed just to sitting in the weeds, as you would.
Thank you ever so much, Dr. Chloe, for letting us have this great knowledge that you have regarding using the power of anxiety to help us controlling our nervous energy, as you would, to let us grow and progress and do better. Any parting thoughts you’d like to leave with us, Dr. Chloe?
Dr. Chloe: Thank you, Ray. I just want to say that if you would check out my book I would be deeply honored. I mentioned Jim McCann, the founder of 1-800-Flowers, thought it was a game changer. I’d be honored to send you a copy if you’d like to check it out, and I hope everybody will check out Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety on Amazon or nervousenergybook.com.
Ray Zinn: Listen, I certainly would like to get a copy, and if you would sign it that would be great.
Dr. Chloe: Of course.
Ray Zinn: I’ll have to get you a copy of my book, Tough Things First, so we will do that-
Dr. Chloe: Sounds good.
Ray Zinn: … if we have all your contact information. So, again, this has been a great opportunity to hear one of the true experts, Dr. Chloe Carmichael, who is a clinical psychologist and is an entrepreneur as well. Thank you ever so much for joining us. Please, audience, come back again. We would love to hear your thoughts and comments.
Please let us know on Tough Things First what you think of this podcast, share it with your friends, and also read my book, Tough Things First, which is a good textbook for entrepreneurs, as well as my other two books, Zen of Zinn and Zen of Zinn II. You can find those on Amazon. Thank you ever so much. We’ll look forward to seeing you later.