Identify the Worst Case Scenario — Stress can stem from the unknown. When we feel overwhelmed with a high-stakes situation, it helps calm the mind by asking ourselves “What’s the worst that can happen?” Usually, the worst case isn’t as bad as you initially think. Once you identify your worst case scenario, then ask yourself “What’s the likelihood that the worst case scenario will happen?” Your worst case scenario is probably very unlikely. If you know your worst case scenario and recognize that it’s a super rare possibility, it grounds yourself in some certainty and you think more clearly.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Highfield.
Brian Highfield is a speaker, entrepreneur, and author of new book Bazooka Proof: Create a Foundation of Fulfillment So Your Happiness Can Thrive (September 29, 2020, Morgan James Publishing). After retiring from a successful career as a global communications leader in his forties, Highfield founded multimillion-dollar businesses in the sports and healthcare arenas. Now, in addition to speaking regularly at seminars, he shares principles on the topics of happiness, health, finances, and personal growth on his website, TheBeardedPhilosopher.com.
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?
My dad worked as a ranch-hand and my mother was a bank teller. They worked hard to raise five kids. I was the youngest of the five and I learned about work ethic early on in life. We had a small farm of our own, and there was always something to do. I guess you could say we were lower middle class, but didn’t know we were poor. To help motivate me to do chores, my mother would pay me a penny for each stick I picked up in the yard that fell from our large maple trees. I figured out very quickly that one stick was worth a penny but if I broke it into five pieces, it was worth a nickel. My mother thought that was clever, and the seeds of an entrepreneur were planted.
When I was 15, I learned that the world is much bigger than the small town we lived in and I began to take my school work more seriously. My grades and extracurricular activities were enough to get me into Engineering School, where I learned about technology and how it will change the world. My plan was to pursue a career in computers which turned out to be a wise choice as the .com bubble was just beginning to appear.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
When I graduated with a degree in Engineering, I was fortunate to land a great job with a phone company. I loved what I did until I didn’t. I think most people can relate to that feeling. I rose through the ranks quickly at my corporate gig and ultimately reached the pinnacle of my career as a technology strategist for a large company that did over $100 billion in sales. The pay and benefits were very good, but I felt unfulfilled in a few different ways. I felt like I wasn’t contributing enough to society. My job had very little impact on people’s lives other than the experience of convenience that my solutions provided.
The other realization I came to was that I had to put in another 25 years at that position to be able live the way I wanted in retirement. That was a grim realization so I began to seek out ways to speed up the process and do something that really mattered. I started a sports business as a hobby but demand was so big that we turned it into the largest company in our industry in the state. Soon after, we also began an online healthcare business that grew into a multimillion dollar venture in just a few years. That was enough to leave “Corporate America” for good and be a full-time entrepreneur.
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?
I read a few John Maxwell books as I began to grow as an entrepreneur. I was in Las Vegas at a conference and was navigating a busy corridor in the casino where our conference took place. I bumped into an older man and as I looked up to apologize, I realized that it was John Maxwell himself and I said “Oh! Hi John!” Even though he was on his way somewhere with about six other people. He made time to talk to me. We talked about the area where I grew up since he was originally from the next town over. He asked what I was doing and I shared that I’d like to write a book but the task seemed insurmountable with my busy schedule. He reminded me of his Rule of 5 which is simply doing the same 5 activities each day that contribute to your goals. He writes every day and that is why he has written over 17 books. I took his advice and began a book that has been just an idea for two decades. Every day, I wrote a page, a paragraph, or just a few sentences. Over the course of 18 months, the book was complete.
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 remember a time when we were building our sports business, and I assembled a team of passionate and very competitive people. As we began attracting some major athletes that made our teams stronger, we became “drunk” with our success of growing up into the big leagues. Every sport has rules, and competitive sports have governing organizations that set and enforce those rules. We stayed in bounds, but the rush we felt pushed the envelope in our organization’s culture. Onlookers thought we had overstepped and that we were in violation of the rules. The accusations, compounded with social media, piled on from all of our competitors. We tested the boundary and we were within the rules, but now my administrative team was in full panic mode over the negative press. When they all asked me what we were going to do, all I could do is chuckle. They wondered why I was laughing and I said “The only thing all of this noise has done is tell me that we have arrived. No one cared about us before, but now it’s evident that they’ve taken notice and see us as a threat. We are one of the big boys now.”
The lesson learned is that no one can achieve great things without having a lot of critics, haters, and naysayers. The moment they arrive in your life should tell you that you have arrived in your success.
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?
I play a lot of golf and I usually have a young person caddy for me. I always ask them about their plans for their lives. Most are in school and most have a particular career in mind. My advice to them is that today’s society is beautifully preparing them for a world that no longer exists. The idea of just going to school to get good grades to get a good job has been passed down for generations and is quite antiquated. I would urge anyone to not just bank on just getting a job but also get a Plan B and a Plan C. Multiple streams of income is critical in today’s economy. Within the past 15 years, the world has experienced stock market crashes, a mortgage crisis, and a pandemic — each one has impacted tens of millions of jobs and had ripple effects through the economy. How many of these do you think someone could survive over a 40 year career? The answer is “not many.” Prepare yourself and your family by making yourself resilient to outside forces beyond your control.
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?
I read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill at an early point in my entrepreneurial pursuits. A friend suggested it, but I didn’t know the history or the background of the book. As I’m reading it, the author talks about meeting people that were alive over 100 years ago like Andrew Carnegie and I asked “When was this book written?” I was surprised that the foundational principles outlined in the book are truly timeless. They are just as true today as they were back in the 1930’s when the book was written. Skills are great to have, but mindset trumps skills. With the right mindset, you can be a juggernaut and smash through obstacles, and this book helps to formulate a true entrepreneurial mindset.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I use this quote from Edward O. Wilson in the Acknowledgements section of my book: “I owe my enemies a great debt because they have redoubled my energies and drove me in new directions.” This quote resonates with me and other entrepreneurs because we encounter so many critics, naysayers, and dream stealers on our path. When someone tells us that it cannot be done, we always set out to prove them wrong.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My current focus is helping people live their best lives possible and my areas of focus are making them happier and making them more resourceful. I’ve written a book called Bazooka Proof that helps build mental toughness, self-esteem, and allows them to experience joy more often. I want people to feel “Bazooka Proof” to the events that life often throws at us. This book changes the conversation around happiness, and I use some of my own stories and principles that can give someone’s happiness a foundation to stand on. I want more people to experience a happier mindset and ditch a lot of the stress they feel. The principles that I outline in the book are aimed to not just help with your feelings, but also your relationships and how you do business.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
The words “business” and “stress” almost seem synonymous for any business leader. Regardless of your industry, there is a constant pressure to perform and get results. There are many types of high stakes situations such as getting that sale, delivering on time, contract negotiations, and fixing problems. Here are some tips on coping with the stress that comes along with these situations:
- Manage Your Time — We only have 24 hours in a day and nothing is a priority if everything is a priority. Boil your to-do list down to what is most urgent and important to your mission. Distractions will always be present, so knowing how to stay on task and ignoring the needs of others that don’t serve your purpose is key. You don’t exist to solve everyone’s problems, just your own.
- Take Control — Stress and anxiety is generated when you feel a lack of control. There may be some factors that are outside of your control, but there are also plenty that are within your control. Know the difference so you can take control of the latter. Preparation is key. Do your homework so that you come prepared and can avoid getting caught off guard. Having a clear understanding of your goal, having all of the information you need, and knowing the needs of the other party you are dealing with gives you the advantage in winning the day.
- Have a “Backup System” — I coached high school volleyball and most people think of the sport to be as simple as “Bump-Set-Spike,” but the ball rarely cooperates. Players didn’t know what to do if the bump or the set didn’t happen as planned, so the ball would drop and hit the floor. We needed a backup system for those chaotic situations which happened more often than the feeling of being in control. The same needs to happen in business. Know beforehand what to do when things don’t go as planned so the ball doesn’t hit the floor.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
- Identify the Worst Case Scenario — Stress can stem from the unknown. When we feel overwhelmed with a high-stakes situation, it helps calm the mind by asking ourselves “What’s the worst that can happen?” Usually, the worst case isn’t as bad as you initially think. Once you identify your worst case scenario, then ask yourself “What’s the likelihood that the worst case scenario will happen?” Your worst case scenario is probably very unlikely. If you know your worst case scenario and recognize that it’s a super rare possibility, it grounds yourself in some certainty and you think more clearly.
- Exercise the Body — Physical activity not only increases your energy levels and brain function, but also helps the body produce hormones that can combat the feelings of stress. Take periodic breaks to do something physical such as a brisk walk, jogging, or lifting weights. Regular exercise also helps you sleep better and rest that busy mind. Afterwards, you’ll find yourself in a better mental state for tackling your to-do lists, solving problems, and focusing on new ideas.
- Run Through the Scenarios — There are a variety of outcomes from a critical business meeting. There is the outcome of what you want to see happen, there is your worst case scenario, and everything in between. Most people focus only on the result they want and find themselves in a spot where they don’t know how to react. One technique that I found to condition the mind is to run through the various scenarios so that my mind is prepared for a variety of outcomes instead of just the one I’m hoping for. This technique allows you to react quicker than the competition and you become more resilient to any unforeseen changes.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
The brain is always busy, and stress and anxiety can overpower your more critical thoughts and processing ability. Meditation and visualization techniques can help calm the storm and organize your thoughts.
One meditation technique that is frequent with me is telling myself that even if I fail, everything will be OK. “My family will still love me,” “I still have assets to fall back on,” and “I have the skillset to recover” are all examples of positive thoughts I use that tamper down the nerves and allow me to focus on the task. I also visualize myself achieving the outcome I was aiming for. I get a glimpse of what my life will look like and what other’s lives will look like when we accomplish the goal. This helps to motivate me and become laser focused on the goal.
Another technique I use especially for complicated problems is procrastination. This may surprise some, but when you procrastinate, it allows your brain to problem solve on the back burner. Sometimes, you need to let your brain work on a problem offline while you get other stuff done. When you come back to your complicated problem, the seemingly mystical power of your brain has solved or at least simplified a lot of the problem for you.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
Distractions are a constant. There will always be people or things competing for your attention. If you have a clear goal in mind, you need to challenge every little thing competing for your time to see if it moves you closer to the finish line. If it doesn’t, it can wait. Focus only on the things that contribute to achieving your purpose. You’re going to disappoint a few people along the way and you need to be OK with that. Saying “no” is a special skill that is underdeveloped in most of us. Most entrepreneurs are people pleasers, and we hate disappointing others but it’s a necessity for progress.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Just like Aristotle said in a famous quote centuries ago, “…Excellence is a habit.” There are many habits that have contributed to my success, but here are some key ones:
- Lead by Example — Until I had help, I had to do everything myself. After I had help, I showed the help exactly what to do. And then, I helped them by doing the task alongside them. Never ask someone to do something that you are unwilling to do. This work ethic not only got the job done, it allowed me to duplicate my efforts exponentially. My followers couldn’t be told what to do, they needed to be shown what to do. They also needed to know that I wasn’t above jumping into the trench if the hole needed to be dug faster.
- Staying Positive — Negative reactions are a waste of precious time. Sure, we all need a moment to express disappointment sometimes, but make sure it doesn’t last longer than a moment, if at all. Focus forward on learning from the situation and how to move forward. While everyone was griping about something they couldn’t change, I was working on a path around the problem. This habit got me to the finish line faster and left my competition behind.
- Establish a Daily Method of Operation (DMO) — Establishing a DMO is an extension of John Maxwell’s “Rule of 5,” where you build a list of daily routines that move you towards your goal. This helps to curb putting off something to the point it never gets done. For example, if there is a tall tree that needs to be cut down with an axe, you may feel overwhelmed by the task and put it off. But if you take a few swings at it every day, over the course of a week or maybe a month, that tree is going to fall.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
The path to developing good habits is the same path to Carnegie Hall — practice, practice, practice. You need to be intentional about the habits you want to have. Identify the best operating procedure for yourself and be intentional about performing those habits every day. I like placing a list of those good habits in a spot I see every day like a sticky note on my computer or written on a bathroom mirror. I want my brain to see them every day and keep them on the front burner.
We can stop bad habits with a technique to replace a bad habit with a good one. A friend of mine stopped smoking recently. I asked him how he did it and he said that any time he felt the urge to smoke, he ate a carrot or a piece of celery. Eventually, the urges stopped and he continues to get his recommended daily allowance of vegetables. The same concept works with habits related to our performance. If we replace the bad with the good, eventually the bad habits are drowned out.
As a business 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?
I really love Flow. It’s a state that is difficult to describe, but you definitely know when you are in the state of Flow. Once you are there, you don’t want to give up that feeling and stuff just gets done. Getting into a state of Flow can seem like pushing a boulder up a hill, but when you reach the top, look out! You couldn’t stop if you wanted to. My tips for getting into the state and help push that rock up the hill are these:
- Set Your Core Hours — One of the advantages of being an entrepreneur is setting your own hours. The disadvantage of that is you still have to show up for work. If you set what hours you are going to dedicate to starting or growing a business, you can develop the habit of “showing up” and getting stuff done.
- Cross Things Off the List — I like to-do lists. I create one for each day, but I also have a weekly one that I create every Sunday for all the major things I want to accomplish that week. It feels good to cross things off the list as they get completed. It’s almost an addiction, and more stuff gets crossed off when you are in a state of Flow. The little bit of dopamine my brain gets when I cross things off pushes me further into Flow.
- Celebrate the Wins — When you reward yourself for doing what you set out to do each day, it gives you some motivation. We like to celebrate and indulge ourselves with something pleasurable. Maybe you can join a colleague for a drink, take the kids out for ice cream, or take part in a ball game. You probably don’t celebrate your little wins enough. Give yourself something to look forward to when you cross things off your list and you’ll find yourself more energized to knock it out and keep the momentum moving forward.
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.
I would love to encourage people to give one nice compliment to someone every single day. It can be someone you know or even a stranger. A small compliment can go a long way to the recipient and can be as simple as complimenting someone’s clothes or telling a server that they did a great job. One day, my wife and I were traveling by plane and the airport gate worker looked like she had the worst day. She was visibly frustrated, agitated, and stressed to the max. When she was taking boarding passes, she was curt and cold with everyone boarding the plane. When it was our turn, my wife handed her our boarding passes and simply said “I love your scarf.” Immediately, the stress and frustration drained from her face and was replaced by a smile. She stood a little taller as she said “Thank you!” and her demeanor changed towards the other passengers as well. It was something simple, but we could see the impact it had on her and how she treated everyone else from that point on.
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 🙂
I would love to sit down to breakfast with Magic Johnson. He was a speaker at a conference I attended and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The pearls of business wisdom that were streaming out of his mouth were truly valuable for any business person to hear, let alone an entrepreneur. His mindset and business principles would resonate with anyone wanting success and his ingenuity and character are something to be admired.
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.