Focus and productivity is one of my favorite topics! — My first suggestion is to unplug/unsubscribe. Are you sensing a trend here? it has been scientifically proven that humans cannot multitask. For every distraction it takes ~25 minutes (23 minutes 15 seconds to be exact) to get refocused according to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine. Distractions don’t just eat up time during the distraction, they derail your mental progress for up to a half hour afterward (that’s assuming another distraction doesn’t show up in that half hour). In other words, that “30 seconds to check Twitter” isn’t just 30 seconds down the drain. It’s 25 minutes and 30 seconds.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Goldstein.
Lauren Goldstein is fondly known by her clients as the business doctor. She is founder and CEO of the award-winning and globally recognized boutique business strategy consulting firm Golden Key Partnership, and has been helping business owners scale their businesses and teams more profitably and simply for close to 10 years.
Her superpower is acting as interim COO to help CEOs simply and effectively diagnose and treat the concentrated risks, friction points, and revenue leaks that can plague operations and teams, ultimately impacting sustainable and long term growth.
Working together with her clients, she helps businesses get off the hire/fire cycle, teams work more cohesively and efficiently together for maximum impact and tune-up operations to consistently raise the bottom line of the business. As a trusted advisor to CEOs, Lauren helps them create high performing teams and operations to help them have more time and freedom, make more money, enjoy their businesses again, and have a bigger impact with their customers.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Sure! My backstory is a bit unconventional but it dovetails into why my clients call me the “business doctor.” Prior to starting Golden Key Partnership, my degree was in cognitive neuroscience and I was working in the medical field at Children’s Colorado in Pediatric Neurology. I had been in the Pediatrics field for many years and was about to go down the very long road of becoming a doctor. I had not considered any other professional path until one day we had a 5-month-old baby come in with debilitating status epilepticus that the team successfully treated and put on a treatment protocol for long term recovery, only to subsequently be told by the insurance company that they would not cover her continued treatment protocol. In his words, “the cost/benefit just wasn’t there to justify the expense.”
I remember this moment like it was yesterday. Everyone was devastated and in that moment I saw how little power doctors actually have to do what’s best for their patients. After looking down the rest of my years in medicine, I realized I couldn’t stay in a broken system like that. In that moment I decided to walk away from medicine and explore how I could make a bigger impact.
After I left the hospital life behind, I dove face first into professional development and hired some of the best professional coaches I could, including Tony Robbins. It was during this “soul searching” that I realized my superpower of strategic thinking and problem-solving. I started to get told time and time again that I had such a unique way of seeing puzzle pieces that seemed unrelated and fitting them together to solve business bottlenecks and friction points in a really simple and efficient manner.
You see, in my mind, business strategy consulting really isn’t all that different from medicine. My clients come to me with symptoms and it’s my job to diagnose what the underlying issues are and formulate a treatment plan to get the business back to full strength and healthy growth.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My family. I know that sounds cliche but I come from a long line of small business owners and entrepreneurs which gives me such a unique view on what is possible and what it takes to not only build a business but a legacy. They also instilled a healthy work ethic and curiosity in how the world works around me. My favorite memory is starting my own business at the ripe old age of 7. I partnered with one of my friends and called it the “Seam Rippers” and we went around the horse shows and had people pay us to take out the horses’ braids. It was so much fun and my first successful entrepreneurial adventure that probably lit the ember of entrepreneurship that still burns to this day.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
The person I am most grateful to is my father. My Dad raised me to always question what was in front of me and never gave me the answers. Instead, he gave me the tools of deductive reasoning and problem-solving to not only solve the problem but be creative in its solution. This is most likely why I am so good at what I do. This kind of thinking allows me to look at the giant puzzle of my client’s business and see not only what puzzle pieces go together, but which ones don’t fit, and which ones need to be taken out or added in.
In addition, he gave me my first consulting job in our family business. It was an amazing space to learn some great lessons, test my theories in real life, and develop new skills along the way. He is relentless in his support for me and continues to be a sounding board when I need to solve something in my own life or business.
For all of this and more, he truly is my hero.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I am not sure this is “funny” but it is probably the biggest lesson that I learned: don’t spend time and resources on something that is not a proven or necessary concept. As a business strategist, I am a master chess player and can almost immediately see 10 steps ahead and where the weak points in systems are, especially when it comes to software and processes.
Many years ago we were using a piece of software that in my opinion was half baked and I thought I could build a superior product with our Dev team and sell it. What I came to realize was that building software is an extremely expensive and labor intensive feat, but more than that, I didn’t know what I didn’t know about selling a SaaS product.
What I learned from this is that one should always explore both the market’s need for an item and their willingness to invest. Second, I should have sought out more people who had successfully done what I wanted to do to gain more perspective on what it would take, not just monetarily, but as a business. Last but not least, I learned that it is best to walk your plan out at least 10 steps to make sure that the road you are going down is actually getting you closer to your goals and not dressed up like progress but in reality is just a distraction. This “project” not only cost me a lot of money, but it cost a lot of time, and my main business actually lost a lot of momentum because I was trying to ride two horses with one arse.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
The best advice I can think of is, first, give yourself permission to be YOU. You will be vastly more successful when you get clear on who you are, what your strengths are, your values, and your goals than you ever will trying to copy someone else’s path to success. I know that kind of blew up your question but in my own personal experience every single time I tried to do something the same way XYZ would do it, I fell flat on my face and failed pretty hard. Conversely, when I took golden nuggets of insight and saw how they could apply to me based on ME I had massive momentum. The biggest lesson I learned is that because we are all so different, certain “tactics” that work for someone else, might not work for you and vice versa. Take everything with a grain of salt and use what you can but don’t feel pressured to fit into someone else’s mold or pathway.
The second piece of advice is: fail forward and fail fast. I cannot tell you how many hours I have tossed and turned over decisions, launches, etc., when really all I needed to do was MAKE A DECISION. Right or wrong, decisions and steps forward provide feedback. That feedback is critical for course correction, improvement, and overall success. Much like my favorite analogy: a plane on autopilot. As long as you have your GPS location locked in (aka your goal) then you take off and during your flight you make continual adjustments to stay on course. Those tiny adjustments come from feedback and, pardon my french, shipping that sh*t! It is much better to get something out in the world to see if it flies or flops then wasting months of time and money perfecting it only to see it flop (back to my answer above about my biggest business lesson).
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
This might be your toughest question! I have so many books that have changed my life and business but if I were to pick one I think it would have to be Non-Violent Communication.
The reason this book has such a significant impact on me was because it helped me to see human beings and our behavior in a much different light. This perspective change allowed me to have more patience, empathy, and compassion for others while also giving me so many valuable tools and resources to communicate more effectively!
I think I became a true believer when I was able to use the tactics outlined in the book to shift a particular relationship that was fraught with conflict into a place where we both felt heard, could communicate effectively, and move forward in a more positive and succinct direction.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite life lesson quote is actually the 4 agreements. Be impeccable with your word — don’t take anything personally — don’t make assumptions — always do your best. The reason I love this life lesson so much, and why it is above my desk to see everyday, is because it keeps me grounded, humble, and continually improving. It is a great reminder to be the best you can and not let the world around you get off-kilter.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I love this question! There are 2.
The first is I am working on a collaboration with the Blackstone LaunchPad at UT Austin around the mental health of entrepreneurs, more specifically on how to not only help increase mental health awareness but also positive coping and how to reach success without losing oneself.
The other is launching a “Team Accelerator” program for CEOs who are ready to get off the hire/fire cycle and really build a full potential, high performing, and effective team to help their company grow and have a bigger impact.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Definitely! The first, and in my opinion, most important reason is that people default not to their ideal level of performance, but their level of habits which are a direct result of conscious actions, subconscious habits, and training our “reptile” brain.
The magic of building habits that support optimal wellness, performance, and focus is actually a lot like medicine, you have to find the root cause which is the trigger.
Most people think that developing a habit is as simple as a decision, and while decision and willpower certainly are a part of habits, the actual success of habits is codified by short-circuiting the trigger.
To put it in simple terms, human habits are based on patterns and these patterns are kicked off by triggers, once you understand the trigger you can use it to either interrupt the pattern (habit) to stop it or you can use it to create a new habit, change it.
A great example to illustrate this when it comes to focus — truly this is one of my favorites — is the DING of notifications. This is very much like Pavlov’s experiment to get a dog to salivate on command with the sound of the bell.
Since the rise of social media and technology the “ding” of notifications has actually been linked to increased levels of dopamine (reward neurotransmitter) AND shown to instantly pull our focus out of whatever task, conversation, etc., we were in — some even state they have “phantom” vibrations or dings — because we need the “rush of dopamine” over our brains.
With this in mind, if we continue down the path of, change a habit, change a trigger, turning off notifications will create a break in the habit cycle that when consistency is added can allow someone to either break the habit or replace it with a “healthier” habit. Again, it all comes back to the trigger and subsequent behavior.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Habits are a double-edged sword of compounding. Good habits will help you improve exponentially and bad habits, well they are sneaky so it is possible you won’t realize how off track you are until you’re in a metaphoric “nose dive.”
For me the biggest change with habits came when I read the amazing book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I have a background in cognitive neuroscience and have studied the human mind for almost 15 years but something about the way he used empirical research and logic to help me see that it wasn’t my positive habits that had gotten me to where I was… it was the subconscious habit hamster wheel that was actually steering my life. This realization — the fact that for lack of a better word I was a hostage to my reptile brain — led me to really getting clear on what I wanted and the habits I needed to get here.
The biggest success habit that changed my life and my business for the better sounds counterintuitive, but it is POWERFUL. The habit is simple: I have one day a week where I digitally detox. I do nothing but sleep in, clean the house (I am one of those weird people that likes to clean and finds it relaxing), and sink my teeth into a new book. The day I chose for this was Saturday. The reason I chose this day is because it was the day historically that had the least amount of commitments so less chance of feeling like I was missing out AND I had noticed that I like to do a little work on Sundays to set up for my week. So it made sense to do my unplug day on Saturdays. When I started implementing this, amazing things happened. I immediately got happier, less stressed, and my business doubled. That might shock you but here’s why those amazing things happened. I was so drained and exhausted from working all week and expending energy that I couldn’t give any more. So when I finally took a day to recharge and unplug it filled me back up and gave me the mental space and time to stop the treadmill. I HIGHLY recommend it for everyone, especially in this tech driven world. Trust me, your life will thank you!
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
The best way to develop habits is to start small. Most often when I see habits not stick, for myself and others, it is because it was perceived as too overwhelming or herculean. If we think there is no way to succeed, chances are we are not even going to start or try. The best way to kick off a new habit is to clarify what the habit is and what it either gives you or helps you avoid. (This is a much bigger discussion about how people are motivated. Some are towards, while others are away motivated. Think carrot vs stick.) Once you figure out those two components, look at what potential habits could make that a reality.
For example, let’s say you want to lose weight. There are a number of ways to get there: eating better, quitting drinking, exercise, etc. Now if you try to tackle all of those at once, chances are slim you’ll get your habits to stick. Instead if you start with a daily walk and then only have one drink every other day, and then cut out dairy… you get the idea. Then suddenly not only will you have more chances of success, you will also have successfully linked in habits that will create self-reinforcing success!
The best way to stop bad habits is to examine them first to see why they are happening and what the trigger is. By cognitively understanding the trigger you can then “short circuit” the trigger cascade that would normally set up the habit and change its course. I will give you an example of what I mean. For the longest time I had a habit of eating tied to watching TV. Now I don’t watch a lot of TV but one day I noticed that I couldn’t turn on the TV without stuffing something into my face, no matter if I was hungry or not! Talk about a wake up call. So in this scenario, the trigger was the TV.
Since I knew what the trigger was, and what habit it set off I was able to substitute the habit for something more healthy which was drinking water or tea. Now when I flip on the TV I reach for a glass of water or tea. Much more healthy but not too drastically different that I would self-sabotage — that is key! (And also why cold turkey rarely works unless you have a non-addictive personality.)
Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.
Sure! The first, I alluded to just now, is digital detoxing. Personally, I think that unplugging from “out there” and taking time to refocus, recharge, and relax — to not be bustling but just being is the most important habit to create and stick to. It really is as simple as turning your phone, tablet, and computer off on Friday evening and waking up Saturday and seeing where the day takes you. I know this is scary, but I promise the reward is worth the risk and you really aren’t missing out on anything but have everything to gain.
The second habit is taking time to gain clarity about where you are in relation to your goals. When you are able to create a habit and rhythm to reflect, and again, like an airplane on auto-pilot, course correct as necessary, you will be that much closer to optimum wellness.
Lastly, the trifecta! Moderation, sleep, and water. I believe that you will set yourself up for failure if you try to cut anything out cold turkey, my philosophy is everything in moderation. Next to that the biggest habit I have seen have a positive impact on my life and those around me is prioritizing sleep. Find out what your magic hour number is and stick to it. I have also found tremendous success in understanding my own body’s rhythm and not fighting it. For example I am a night owl so I adjust accordingly and my wellness has improved! As for water, that one is a no brainer. If you can find a way to create a habit that links up to water your body, mind, and life will thank you! Make it a game! Studies show that gamification increases stickability up to 60%!
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Going back to the compound effect, it is much easier to build habits on one another and continue momentum rather than trying to do 5 new habits at once. Pick 1 that will have the biggest impact right now, and commit. Then add in another, then another — wash, rinse, repeat. If a habit doesn’t “stick” ask yourself why. Sometimes it is our reptilian brain thinking we are going to “die” holding us back, sometimes it is ego, sometimes it is sneaky self sabotage; the key is to understand what is working, what isn’t, and what the bumps in the road really are.
My top practices are using do not disturb on my phone, setting an alarm to trigger my “wind-down routine,” and putting review dates in my calendar so I keep myself accountable.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
My favorite habits for performance are Big three, consistency, and continual improvement.
The big three is a mega talent that when wielded will bring you more success and fulfillment then you can imagine. The premise is simple. Most people have at most 3 things that they enjoy and are wildly talented at which only they can do! When you whittle down your day to day to be aligned with those big three that is when true magic of momentum occurs which leads me to consistency.
A habit that I see a lot is stop/start or the half baked graveyard. These are tasks that are in a perpetual state of “almost done.” They are the tasks that you start but never really finish because you get bored, distracted, overwhelmed, or stuck. That is really the kiss of death to performance. Not only does it decrease morale but it leaves a lot of clutter literally and figuratively. The best habit you can create is doing one thing every day that will keep you constantly moving forward. The reason this works is because it is simple — it is just ONE THING. As they say, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, you just have to take the first step.”
Last but not least, going back to fail fast and fail forward, get in the habit of being in competition with yourself. Look at all aspects of your life and see what you can hone, tune up, or improve each day so that the future version of yourself gets closer and closer all the more quickly!
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Yup! The best practice is to start getting in the habit of culling your tasks into the 3 D’s: do, delegate, delete. When you have separated out the “do” tasks then look at which ones fit into all these buckets:
- get you closer to your goals
- you enjoy them
- you are good at them
- only you can do them
(#4 is really critical and sometimes hard for people who like “control” but I promise it will move your work forward at warp speed!)
Practice… practice… practice. Honestly, I know that was a lame answer but the best habit I can say is progress, not perfection. Just keep practicing and building that habit muscle.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
Focus and productivity is one of my favorite topics!
My first suggestion is to unplug/unsubscribe. Are you sensing a trend here? it has been scientifically proven that humans cannot multitask. For every distraction it takes ~25 minutes (23 minutes 15 seconds to be exact) to get refocused according to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine. Distractions don’t just eat up time during the distraction, they derail your mental progress for up to a half hour afterward (that’s assuming another distraction doesn’t show up in that half hour). In other words, that “30 seconds to check Twitter” isn’t just 30 seconds down the drain. It’s 25 minutes and 30 seconds.
What makes it even worse, the average person gets interrupted once every 8 minutes (and half of those are self interruptions, hello social media ding)! With those stats in mind you can see why unplugging/unsubscribing is my top good habit. The more you can limit interruptions and distractions the farther (and faster) you will go.
Time blocking is my second favorite habit. This is simple, you group “like” tasks together so that you can do them all at once. This goes back to what I just mentioned about how humans cannot multitask. The reason I love this tactic is because it allows you to get in the habit of not only focusing but working really efficiently. The reason for this is, because you are doing similar tasks that efficiency compounds with each subsequent task!
Planning your day the day before is the last one I have for you. This one, which I alluded to in a previous question, is also a very good habit that will help you be exponentially more successful for the simple reason of you rule your day, it doesn’t rule you. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes fires happen that throw everything out the window but most often there are few true emergencies and when you are able to work through your day strategically magic, traction, momentum, and fulfillment happen! Now that’s what I call a win-win-win
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
The first practice I would initiate is turning off notifications on your phone and also using the iPhone “screen time” feature to limit app use. It will help you break the bad habit of getting a dopamine hit with every notification!
The second practice I would start incorporating is really committing to ruling your day. Make a schedule and stick to it for at least a week. If it doesn’t jive, then tweak till you get the right recipe! If you look at my calendar I had time blocks, daily themes, etc., in the beginning until I got in the groove and it became second nature.
As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
Yes! Flow is amazing! The best way I have found to get into flow is to get crystal clear on what your “super powers” are and how those align to your goals and then blocking time to dive deep.
My favorite tool for uncovering this is Wealth Dynamics (WD). I use WD not only for myself and my team, but also my clients because it gives you an amazing “cheatsheet” to really figure out how to get into flow and what that means for each of the 8 unique entrepreneur types. For me, when I found out I was a “mechanic” it was like the sun came out and I finally had permission to really own what I love and am good at!
So whether it is WD or another profile test like Kolbe, Culture Index, etc., take some time to really figure out what makes you tick, what gets your juices flowing and then structure your life around supporting that. That’s the way you get into flow. I wish there was a magic wand, but I am afraid some radical self discovery and a bit of trial and error is the key.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
That’s easy — the mental health of entrepreneurs! I know that being an entrepreneur is often glamified but it is one of the hardest and most emotionally tumultuous things that we can do. I sometimes call it personal development with a paycheck — it is not for the faint of heart and will make all your dragons come out to be slain.
I feel like it might be comparable to what it is like to step into the role of President of the US. No matter your background or experience, you’re never really prepared for what it is going to take to be successful.
It will consist of the highest highs, and lowest lows and almost always takes longer than you think.
To me, if we talked more about the lows, the mental game, and how to cope with the stressors in a healthy manner, not only would we have happier entrepreneurs, but healthier ones too.
In return, they would be able to be more successful, impactful, and fulfilled which creates a win-win for everyone involved.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Another easy answer — Sara Blakely! She has often spoken about resilient mindsets and how that has led to her success. My passion is all around the mental health of entrepreneurs so I would love to collaborate with her on an initiative to not only normalize mental health in the entrepreneurial space, but also create a system or community with support tools to help entrepreneurs break through their fears, limitations, inner demons/nay-sayers so they can reach their goals! I would love to see the number of successful, healthy, and happy entrepreneurs grow 10x over the next 3 years! We need even more amazing entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to life and impact the world and I would love to lock arms with Sara and other female founders to cheer them on, support them, and champion them!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.
Thank you so much for having me. This was such a fun sit down!