Rest and Rejuvenation. Most people equate being resilient with having your jets on full-throttle, 24/7, 365. But the opposite is actually the case. Resilience is a mental muscle that can be strengthened, but just like your physical muscles, that boost requires conscientious periods of rest and rejuvenation.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Arie.
Lisa Arie co-founded Vista Caballo with her husband Jess Arie. Lisa designs and leads the personal and leadership development experiences. Fast Company magazine calls Lisa a “CEO whisperer.”
Lisa’s early life granted her a unique perspective of life. She was born in New York. Starting at the age of two and throughout her childhood and teenage years, her father’s international job with Time magazine moved the family to New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, South Africa, the Netherlands, and England.
Lisa met Maori, Maasai, and aborigines. She ice-skated on frozen canals and hiked through jungles. She even dodged gunfire during the Singapore-Malaysian Riots.
After attending college in England and the United States, Lisa graduated with a BA from Hampshire College. Her career took off shortly after she graduated. Named one of Adweek magazine’s Creative All Stars, she produced the famed Motel Six commercials featuring Tom Bodett (“We’ll leave the light on for you.”), selected by Advertising Age magazine as one of the Top 100 Advertising Campaigns of the Twentieth Century.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I woke up one morning and realized that I had been living inside someone else’s story. I was a Creative All Star, had worked on iconic global brands, produced Tom Bodett’s first Motel 6 spots, and created two companies that had grown to become multimillion-dollar enterprises. But, there was this intangible I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I had this uncomfortable feeling I was living my life, but missing my life. When I was told I had a terminal disease and it was game over, I realized that feeling was true. Achievement is different than fulfilment.
I gave up everything I knew to go find life and how to live it fearlessly. Today my husband, Jess, and I run Vista Caballo, a human and leadership center that also manufactures human and leadership development tools on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. Our work started with horses as the instinctive catalysts to fast forward entrepreneurs, c-suite executives, directors, managers, team leaders and individuals striving for, and leading, change. The awareness that the next great leap forward in innovation is to innovate ourselves is foundational to our work. I was our first client.
I learned about change and adaptability early on. Growing up as the daughter of a high-ranking executive at Time-Life Corporation, I followed my father as he moved from offices in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, South Africa and Europe. My real life education gave me a unique perspective. The ability to work between cultures and cultural differences allowed me to take nothing for granted. Cultural ‘norms’ changed on a dime, so I did too. When you don’t have the cultural ‘lingo’ down, you learn to rely on yourself no matter what shows up.
At Vista Caballo, we intertwine neuroscience with nature in custom-designed engagements to awaken the primary intelligence systems: instinctual, emotional and cognitive. Interacting with each of these systems together in a single moment is a sensibility some individuals can live their entire lives and hardly have a notion of. Around five years ago, we then parlayed this knowledge into science-based digital simulators to continue to equip a new breed of leaders to become unstoppable globally.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or take aways from that?
I’ve had an amazing life and career so ‘most interesting story’ is a bit challenging. Might that be when I accidentally spilled hot tea in Sting’s lap? Or keynoting at The World Innovation Convention in Cannes? Perhaps being invited to bring our work to The 25th Anniversary of Bioneers? Or learning how to live when I was told I was going to die?
I think perhaps the last of these. I was at the height of founding and building two multi-million dollar businesses. There were no resources to learn how to die. I had to figure it out on my own. And what I decided was I was not going to die afraid. I thought: I may not have had a choice about dying but I did have a choice about how I would do it. I decided to go full out to live life and to live it fearlessly. To stop checking the boxes and focusing on achievement but instead focused on living full out, really present to the day, every day. To know myself fully and completely. And to trust myself the same way. And when I did, I did not die. This happened over two decades ago and I’m as healthy as the horses I live with to this day.
What I learned from this is how powerful and accurate our instincts are. And how transformative leading with courage rather than fear is. And how there is no such thing as the unknown when you know yourself.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have been called the most innovative human and leadership program in the world. I think we earned that accolade because our methodology includes both nature and neuroscience. Results are instantly beneficial to business and the individual and impacts both the individual and team transformation simultaneously. We have unique science-based digital tools to equip people, leaders and their teams. These tools elevate their subconscious thinking to a conscious state so they can see their blind spots and identify how they make decisions outside of their comfort zones, making them unstoppable.
One story is about our work with Ben & Jerry’s. The company needed to pivot and grow from a
national company to an international company while learning how to become more interdependent with their parent company. They turned to Vista Caballo to help them transform and reach their goals. The framework was rolled out to strategically chosen teams
throughout the company. This culminated in Vista Caballo being brought in as part of Ben & Jerry’s best practices to their Global Summit. In five days Vista Caballo worked with five teams, each group focusing on a team-specific productivity goal, as well as the
overarching company challenge of expanding international production. The teams included
manufacturing, retail, hospitality, research and development, and country business leaders. Along with an overall contentment in the workplace, there was:
- a 46% increase in employee confidence in on-the job training after a six hour session;
- a savings of $475k in reorganization cost in two meetings;
- a 150% decrease in meeting times in manufacturing;
- an estimated $100k in savings due to more productivity in meetings and meeting times;
- a 25% increase in productivity in marketing in three weeks;
- a new company-wide communications systems led by a freshly motivated manager; and
- a breakthrough partnership with the Smithsonian Institute from a previously underfunded division of the company.
What’s also exciting about this is there was a 31% increase in employee assessment scores after three weeks. This is noteworthy, as the average company provides 60 hours of training per year per key executive, but most forget 70% after initial sessions and 90% after only one week.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful for helping get you to where you are?
God is not a person but all credit goes to God first for sure. Then there is one person and one animal I would attribute all my success to: my husband and my horse. My horse saved my life. My husband has dedicated his life to picking up where my horse started in teaching me how to live life in love.
Interestingly enough, as I reflect, they both had the same approach: They both accepted me and loved me for who I was. My horse’s name was Hakomi. When I was just myself — even though I didn’t know anything about horses or horsemanship — she connected with me. My husband, Jess, and I knew each other for a few years before we got together. It was when I found myself that he connected with me — and we never looked back.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What are some characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is the ability not only to endure, but to persist, in the face of hardship and adversity.
Some of the characteristics or traits of resilient people are:
Great emotional regulation
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Many people come to mind. Everyone in this COVID-19 world comes to mind. Single parents come to mind. Children who are victims of sex trafficking. People in refugee camps. People taking care of their elderly parents. People who are in poverty. People who are homeless. People of color. Wild horses in our nation’s holding pens. Animals in zoos. One of my heroes is Nelson Mandela. He, to me, is an icon for resilience. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, his jail cell was eight feet by seven feet. He was only allowed to write one letter and received one visit from the outside world every six months. He was 46 years old. And he went on to become President of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize Winner. How did he survive emotionally? Physically? He too believed in the power of courage. He understood how important focus, moving forward and not giving into despair was. And for me, one of his most beautiful, powerful lessons was about letting go, forgiveness and how to live from that point forward.
As he aptly put it, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
This question made me laugh. Yes. I was told more than several times that something was impossible and I did it anyway.
I’ll fast forward to going to ‘horse school’. Then getting a horse. Then asking my horse to walk up a single plank that was at about a 45-degree angle. And riding her backwards. I was definitely met with naysayers when I started all of my businesses. I started the first business with $5k from my parents, and a wing and a prayer. I was a young woman in the very tough male dominated world of advertising in the 1990s.
When I was diagnosed with a terminal disease, I was told that my choice of throwing out the medicine — leaving everything I knew behind to strike out to discover what life was like outside my comfort zone — was an “impossible” choice. Over two decades later it turns out it was the best choice. I’m still here and as healthy as the horses I now live with.
Starting a leadership and human development business in the Great Sage Plains of Colorado with a population of about 700 people in the nearest town and 1900 people in the entire county, was called ‘impossible.’ 14.5 years later we are still here and have been hailed as the ‘CEO Whisperer’ by Fast Company and as one of the world’s most innovative human and leadership development programs.
As Muhammed Ali said: “Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare.”
Was there a time in your life when you had one of your greatest setbacks, but bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Yes. There were lots. But being told I had a terminal disease when I was 38 was a pretty big setback. I had to reclaim myself. And before I could do that I had to understand and accept that I was completely lost. Which shattered my ego and my story of having it all together and being in control of my life. If I wasn’t in control of my life then who was? Answering that question transformed me and transformed my life. I didn’t die. I came to life. In a new way. I came with the understanding that I knew nothing. Nothing that really mattered. And I had to learn everything. Everything that did matter.
Did you have any experiences growing up that contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I’d attribute growing up as a citizen of the world, moving to different countries, experiencing different cultures, languages and schools, and having to learn how to adapt to all of them probably helped me develop strong resiliency muscles. I remember when I first came back to America to live, I was 18 and knew nothing about the culture. It was extremely foreign to me even though we were all speaking English. When my cousin told me to speak into a plastic clown head to order my food at a drive through, I wasn’t sure if she was joking, and if she wasn’t, I was seriously wondering what kind of a country I was in. I spent an entire weekend in college watching TV shows as there were so many references to them in everyday conversation that I needed to have a reference point just to communicate on a basic level. Let alone the language itself. Try giving directions to your flat (apartment) using landmarks like robots (traffic lights) and lifts (elevators). I had to really stick with it to not flee back to my comfort zone of life overseas and instead forge ahead in learning about my own country.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Rest and Rejuvenation. Most people equate being resilient with having your jets on full-throttle, 24/7, 365. But the opposite is actually the case. Resilience is a mental muscle that can be strengthened, but just like your physical muscles, that boost requires conscientious periods of rest and rejuvenation.
I know that might seem like a big ask if you’re a type-A performer, but rest doesn’t have to mean taking days off on the beach. You can accomplish it strategically throughout your day. For instance, it’s been proven that consciously focusing on slowing down your breathing engages the rejuvenating side of your brain, reducing stress, increasing attention and expanding conscious thinking. An easy way to start is the “4–7–8” method: breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. Start by just setting two minutes aside in your calendar to:
Empty the lungs of air
Breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds
Hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds
Exhale forcefully through the mouth for 8 seconds
Repeat the cycle
2. Develop Courage. Even if you’re a glass half full type, our brains are hard-wired to focus on our mistakes and flaws (this is dubbed the negativity bias) and this really fleshes out when we’re going through adverse times. Psychology suggests that this can make our motivation wane.
The best way to combat your brain’s innocuous resilience retorter is to reflect on the innate courage, bravery, and strength you’ve summoned before. Think back to another time when the world seemed haywire, and you thought “couldn’t make it.” Despite all odds, and your brain playing tricks, you made it through then. Realize that you can and will summon that again. The key to being a resilient leader is awareness — and we’re often more resilient than we think. Knowing your life purpose becomes critical so you can focus on it and on the whole picture, to develop your resilience to carry you through.
Now is a perfect time to discover the courageous parts of yourself that are buried within your subconscious. You have courage. Now’s the time to find it and trust yourself to lead with it.
3. Think About Your Thinking. You have to unlock your self-awareness and develop your metacognition to unleash your unstoppable success. During tumultuous times, our emotions tend to go haywire. We enter a ‘fight-or-flight’ mode where our mental blinders hide our cognitive deficiencies and we run on autopilot.
When we’re operating on autopilot, we don’t realize the subconscious threats, like negative thought patterns or self-doubt, that drag down our resilience. When you learn the skills to look inward and lead yourself, it’s like putting wind in your sails and charting yourself on the right course to success.
One of our clients felt like her world was spinning in a million different directions, and she thought she needed to know the answer to everything as a solution to mitigating the chaos — which, as you can imagine, withered her resilience. Once we taught her how to bring her subconscious thinking to a conscious state, she realized her blind spot was a lack of curiosity. She started asking questions instead of attempting to answer everything. This led to collaborative problem-solving and allowed her to persist in the face of problems — and solve them.
Self-discovery is crucial to the resilience needed to access your full potential and self-actualization.
4. Know Your Purpose. It’s easy in tough times, to overlook the forest for the trees. We want a sense of control when we feel out of control so we can head into minutiae.
Having a purpose has a direct correlation to resiliency.
I’ve found that even one minute of re-engaging with my purpose can turn the toughest of days into ones of excitement and awe. When the going gets tough, I place all my obstacles into a mental garbage bin, and remember why I’m fighting the good fight. Once I start imagining a world of leaders transforming the world for the better, my heart opens and I can immediately refocus and rebound.
If you haven’t found your “Why” yet, it’s time to connect with yourself. Know your personal purpose. If you didn’t have to earn a living what would you do, and why? What brings you the greatest joy? Sometimes we are taught to ‘follow the money’. This stems from a place of survival. Leading from a place of thriving — what is good for the good of all — can open our hearts and minds to endless possibilities. Your purpose is not a job title, and as a leader, it goes beyond KPIs. It’s the North Star of your life. So no matter how the world is changing around you, you can stay the course. When you make every decision with your purpose as the lens, it’s easy to brush excuses aside. It becomes exhilarating to challenge yourself. Once you’ve identified that purpose, you focus on leading and living life from a place of fulfillment, instead of just surviving it.
5. Be Vulnerable. Resilience doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a misconception that resilient people become so mentally tough that they never need the help of others. In reality, being vulnerable and connecting with others (and yourself) emotionally can boost your resilience and that of those around you.
You can’t stay in your head. Not forever. Not without getting a serious headache. And quite seriously, not without really putting yourself in danger.
We know that tough times can increase our sense of fear. It can also activate a sense of vulnerability. Here’s something you might not know: the problem is when you do not know how to discern the difference between the two. Fear sends a signal to run, fight, flee. Vulnerability signals a need to connect. Two very different signals. For times such as these the two often go hand in hand. So get to know yourself and when you feel vulnerable. It’s a power tool.
Heart to heart connection is possible no matter where we are — even if we have to social distance. Having honest heart to heart conversations can do a world of good to restoring your sense of well-being and re-fueling your resiliency. You can also help those around you who might be feeling anxious and not know what to do about it, just by asking if they are willing to connect.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Years ago, I was running with my hair on fire trying to help our planet and our humanity wherever I could. One day, I paused and asked myself “what’s the source of these problems?” The source was an absence of consciousness. So my husband and I set out to create a tipping point where a critical mass of self-actualized people could make the world peaceful and prosperous for the children of all species.
We created physical and virtual world experiences that equip leaders and their teams with the tools to challenge what they think they know, so they can discover and embrace what they don’t. When that vision is fulfilled, everyone has the courage and awareness to utilize their creativity and intelligence to help the world in ways that once seemed impossible. Can you imagine living in a world like that? The movement has started, and we invite everyone who wants to live in a world that is peaceful, safe and prosperous for all to join, collaborate, and partner with us.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
The first person I’d love to have breakfast or lunch with is my 81, soon to be 82, year old mother. Covid-19 has been a barrier to us being together and I miss her dearly. I’m going to stay resilient and have asked her to do the same until we can have that breakfast or lunch. Next? Harry and Meghan? Taylor Swift? JK Rowling? The Queen of England? Oprah? Sting? Do I want to revisit the tea incident? The Dalai Lama? If he were still alive Nelson Mandela for sure. And if Wangari Maathai was still alive I would LOVE to lunch with her. Morgan Freeman. Love his love of horses. Robert Redford — I love his love of the wild horses. Tracy Edwards. I’m inspired by Sara Blakely’s philanthropy and mission to do good in the world. She’s the first female billionaire to join the Giving Pledge, and also runs her eponymous foundation that empowers women to make the world a better place through entrepreneurship — especially as a fellow woman entrepreneur who empowers leaders to do the same. I’d love to team up. There are so many more incredible leaders having a positive impact on our world. I love this question. I’m going to continue this as a running list.
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