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Living with A Ravenous Thirst for Life: “Live Without Distraction” with Sarah Deane and Dr. Marina Kostina

Living without distraction. We have much noise in our lives. From people, society and negative inner monologues to name a few, all telling us what we can and can’t do, should and shouldn’t do, and simply distracting us from the things that are important. I think that living “on purpose” means understanding that noise will […]


Living without distraction. We have much noise in our lives. From people, society and negative inner monologues to name a few, all telling us what we can and can’t do, should and shouldn’t do, and simply distracting us from the things that are important. I think that living “on purpose” means understanding that noise will always be there, but being able to cut through the noise and being present.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Deane, the Founder of EffectUX and the creator of EMQ — a research-based system that rapidly and accurately pinpoints de-energizing behaviors and transforms them into positively energizing habits. Sarah uses her background in A.I., experience design, and human behavior to help brands deliver positive customer and employee experiences and to cultivate positively energizing behaviors, enabling higher levels of satisfaction, engagement and productivity. She published her User Experience (UX) primer in 2014, The Wellness Formula in 2018, has been featured at conferences such as SXSW, America’s Women Leadership Conference and The Global Workplace Wellness Summit, as well as platforms such as the Huffington Post, CIO, Thrive Global, Business2Community and more.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

People ask me all the time how I ended up working in the wellbeing space given my engineering background. I always say that I’ve been fortunate to have three amazing chapters in my life that brought me to where I am today.

I’ve always had a fascination with the brain and technology since I was young, which led me to focus on Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). After a while, I realized that I was drawn to the data, psychology and human behavior components, so I moved into experience design which luckily blended them all together. It was during this chapter that I saw, as organizations, we spend a phenomenal amount of time and effort measuring things such as ‘employee engagement’ or ‘customer experience’. Yet, the pace of sustained positive change towards these goals is slow. It was in one specific moment that I realized the gap was a lack of focus on the elemental measurements (the measures that were actionable and led to the outcomes). We had been tasked with improving “Question 14” from an employee engagement survey, which stated, “I have the tools I need to do my job.” We knew the percentage of employees who agreed and disagreed on a five-point scale, however, a lot more effort was needed to figure out what we needed to do and why people felt that way. This was so odd to me. I’d come from a background in A.I, with a keen focus on data and algorithms — I knew we had so many great techniques that could be used to improve this. So, I set out to apply them and by doing so created a new measurement methodology. The purpose of the methodology is to look at what ecosystem (environment, mindsets and behaviors) gives a goal the best chance of being achieved (based on research and data modeling), and then evaluating against it in a different way that allows people to immediately know the root causes and what needs to be started, stopped, and continued for sustained progress. In this way, positive change can be expedited as the middle phase of figuring out the why and what is taken care of as a part of the measurement process.

After successfully applying it to experiences such as customer service, applications, video conferencing, and restaurants, we were solicited to apply it to the area of authentic confidence and workplace culture. We found ourselves moving more into diagnostics that looked deeper, that could discover underlying thought and behavioral patterns, which I find fascinating! And so, began chapter three. Even with corporate spend on wellness in the billions, onsite gyms and meditation classes, and over 165,000 health and wellness apps, we were still seeing high levels of stress, anxiety, and negativity in the workplace. We wanted to know, what made people feel positively energized so that they could perform and feel their best? And that was it. After using our data modeling process on over 1000 sources of data across psychology, mindfulness and neuroscience, EMQ was born and we have been using it to help people since!

What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?

Just like in experience design, we have design principles to guide and help us create the desired experience, I think of these as life principles that all work together to “live on purpose”.

· Living to your best intentions. This is about having value congruence and answering the question, who do you want to be? Rather than only looking at what status, amount, or object you want to have. Personally, this is understanding what values I respect and then translating it into my own behaviors, my relationships, and my professional life.

· Living with passion, humor, and feeling good. Being excited about what I do, finding joy in things and laughing is important to me. Whether it is designing something, eating some yummy food, or having banter with friends — it is important to just enjoy things. So often people forget to just chill out and laugh. I try to distribute my time and energy across the four general categories that we have found make people feel good: time for oneself, time for relationships, time in service of others, and time to grow and experience meaningful achievement.

· Living without distraction. We have much noise in our lives. From people, society and negative inner monologues to name a few, all telling us what we can and can’t do, should and shouldn’t do, and simply distracting us from the things that are important. I think that living “on purpose” means understanding that noise will always be there, but being able to cut through the noise and being present.

To achieve any of these, you have to be self-aware. This is not a binary notion. It is a constant journey in which you have to keep reflecting, improving, and growing. We see so many people get in the “self-help” rut, they spend so much time contemplating what they should do, that they simply forget to act. To live “on purpose” you need to act with intention, you need to choose your actions on purpose.

Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?

When we experience loss, it serves as a reminder that life is fleeting. Like many, I have experienced the loss of a loved one, the one that left us too soon. After these life events everyone always says, “oh, we need to stay in touch more,” or, “let this be a reminder that life is short, so we must enjoy it,” and then, life’s distractions get in the way and those great reminders are left as just a passing thought.

Another example is seeing what has happened to people that did not find a way to manage their response to stress. The negative spiral that causes once positive, vibrant people to become a draining force to themselves and others.

Being aware of this, motivated me to play a role in changing it. Each and every person that we help lean into challenges, build healthy response systems, and go after what they want with gusto — makes a difference. With a roll-on impact, as each person touches the lives of many and our energy is contagious. By playing a part in creating more positively energized people and cultures, I get to use my own unique blend of skills in a way that is meaningful and rewarding.

The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?

From our work and my experience coaching people, I think there are quite a few reasons — a lot of which are attributed to emotional and psychological factors.

People place unrealistic expectations on themselves. While it is good to have a desire to achieve more, there has to be a harmony between challenging yourself and being realistic. With the connected world we can easily see what everyone is doing, their “posted-lives” so to speak, which makes it easier to compare our own lives. But, who posts pictures of the days that they feel down or not their best? I’ve watched people take tens of photos trying to get that “perfect post.” This is one of the contributing factors that sees many people striving to achieve a perceived bar for success that is set by external factors, not based on their own internal compass of success, which can lead to a perceived lack of control. With all the stimulus, we can forget to listen to the intuitive signals that should inform us the most: our hearts, our minds, and our values. Everyone; family, friends, colleagues and managers will all have expectations of what we need to do, who they want us to be, and their own desires. However, it is important not to forget who you want to be. Missing our own internal signals can also cause a loss of focus on the true meaning of wealth in life, such as connections with others and experiences. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many places where I’ve seen people, that have so little, have the biggest smiles, giving the most to others, and laughing with the most authentic joy. From what I can see, it’s because while they work hard to provide the basics that some take for granted, such as food and shelter, they enjoy time with their loved ones, they enjoy the beauty of the nature of their country, and they simply have fun.

People are suffering from stifling rumination. Whether it is due to the state of the country, politics, society, work challenges or life’s responsibilities, people are getting locked into a state of over worrisome thoughts, replaying situations and rehashing what-if outcomes. Rumination can prolong the negative impact of challenging moments. Time and time again we see resiliency as a critical capability for people to thrive — yet, many development programs fail to focus on the underlying behaviors and mental processes that build a resilient response system.

People are suffering from feelings of loneliness. Relationships have been found as a critical component to happiness in numerous studies and found to influence our health. Yet, people struggle to proactively nurture high quality, supportive relationships. For example, we “spend time” with people but we are distracted or sometimes we think “it’s ok because I’ll be there if they need me” …but this is not the same as fostering quality connections.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Last year, I came to the realization that everything that we are doing at our company is really focused on one core purpose — bringing more positive energy to the world. Whether it is enabling companies to provide experiences that evoke positive emotions for their customers, fostering engaging and productive cultures for their employees, or developing the mindsets and behaviors to help people perform and feel their best, it is about using the success we have seen in our methodology to create a happier, less stressed, and more productive world.

Our EMQ system in particular is something that bridges my passion and purpose. It is amazing to check in with participants several months after a program and hear them tell us that they are feeling happier, experiencing positive changes in their lives, experiencing better relationships, and feeling less overwhelmed. For me, every individual we help is a platform for exponential goodness, as when we as individuals feel good we are our best for others, we are nicer, we have greater empathy and we are more open-minded — leading to higher levels of collaboration, better work environments, and higher levels of positivity in the world.

Being able to tell people not just how they are doing, but immediately give them actionable advice and provide them tools and techniques to identify their triggers, rewire their thought patterns, engage new behaviors, and build response systems for a happier and healthier life — creates a lasting impact in their lives and the lives of those they touch. For example, we support managers to navigate workplace challenges and manage their stress so that it doesn’t impact the workplace culture for their employees. We develop leaders who need to role model the behaviors and feel good themselves in order to lead the ship through the choppiest of waters. We empower business owners who are experiencing an intense emotional journey so that they can be successful. This all fosters a more positive and productive environment for them, their families, their employees, and the people they serve.

Through writing, speaking at events, and facilitating workshops, with a focus on translating the data and research into practical strategies, we make mental wellness approachable and enable people to see sustained results much faster. One way which brings me great joy, is using our findings to help create environments in which women and underrepresented employees can thrive. While many companies have amped up on hiring efforts, there also needs to be a focus on creating inclusive environments that support a diverse pipeline to leadership. While externally, policies and processes are being improved and conversations are happening, it is so rewarding to use EMQ to support the internal growth of the underlying mindsets and behaviors that empower these individuals to take risks, be authentically themselves, and navigate challenges.

What are your 6 strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1: Creating and maintaining healthy boundaries. I try and protect my time and energy. Whether it is a few moments to practice gratitude or not looking at my emails during a certain timeframe, implementing healthy boundaries helps ensure there is time for the things that energize me the most.

2: Accepting emotions. I found that thinking you must be positive, or that you have to put on a positive face, only causes more negative emotions as it becomes a burden. When I feel negative emotions, I go through my mini thought process of identifying them, acknowledging them, processing them by asking myself questions, and then moving forward, which helps me avoid going into a cycle of rumination. This process also creates space for me to safely explore my fears, identify any phantom rules that may be hindering me, and allows me to feel however I am feeling.

3: Having fun. I love a good bit of banter with those close to me. All too often we see people thinking that they have to be some pillar of “authority”, so much so, that they have forgotten how to smile, laugh, and take themselves less seriously. Of course, there is a balance here, but always being so tightly wound is simply a ticking time bomb.

4: Working on resilience. It is a journey, but to me it is one of the most important things in approaching life with full exuberance. When something challenging happens, often it is one of two cases. It is completely out of my control so there is no point worrying, or, there is something (even the tiniest thing) that I could do, so my effort is better spent on doing that. Ruminating on what I could have done, should have done, or wished I done is a de-energizing blocker. In challenging situations, I start by simply asking myself, what have I learned? How am I a better person now that I have gone through this? A part of resilience is also understanding your inner voice. While it can be there as a healthy cautious voice, it can also be there as an overly judgmental and critical force. I found that knowing when it is at work in a negative way helped me to transform it into a healthy, supportive tool.

5: Reflecting every day for value congruence. A couple of years ago I started asking myself every day, what demonstrated my values and what didn’t, as well as what I can do tomorrow to drive greater value congruence in my life. This practice helps me continue the progression towards living an authentic life — which quite simply feels great. It feels good just to be you. By understanding your values and driving congruence, you have a grounding force to return to and limit the amount you let external factors define you.

6: Inject moments of joy into daily life. There are two elements here that I focus on. Protecting a little time daily for myself. For me, this is my morning coffee — not talking to anyone, not looking at emails, just me and my thoughts…and my coffee. Secondly, planning things to look forward to. This is huge as you get the positive feelings from anticipating it, enjoying the moment itself, and remembering it afterwards.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?

One book that has always stuck in my mind is “Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace” by Gordon Mackenzie. It is a quick, inspiring read, that is all about dreaming, daring, and being creative through the mass of rules, traditions, and systems that we can feel confined by.

While I enjoy spending time reading informative content each day, what inspires me the most comes from people’s stories.

We recently heard from Paul Osincup at the Global Workplace Wellness Summit. He told of a story where a family, who had lost their house in one of the mass wildfires in California, had returned to their chimney which stood alone in the remains of what was once their home, and hung stockings just like they always did at Christmas time. They took a picture and their smiles were amazing — they were having fun with their community even in the most challenging of times. A reminder of the power of fun, community and resilience.

Another one that I was reminded of recently, at an Inclusive Leadership Summit during Oracle’s Open World, was when President John F Kennedy asked a janitor what he did at Nasa, the janitor replied with, “I’m putting a man on the moon.” A reminder that we all play a role in a greater purpose.

One that has grounded me since I was small, was a story I heard about my Grandmother. She didn’t have much, yet she always had food to feed whoever needed it. She was known for having a “never-ending rice pot.” Even with what we would call nothing, she gave willingly and happily to others. A reminder to be grateful and give back to the world.

Finally, for laughs — I love Sebastian Maniscalco. He brings humor to everyday things and the changes we see happening in the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It is really simple: “Live Laugh Love”. Too often we are getting caught up in complexities of our own making. This simple phrase reminds me of the simplest things that make me feel good:

· Live life authentically, to the best of my intentions, because you never know for how long you have it.

· Laugh, because things are rarely as bad as they could be or seem.

· Love, myself and others, be considerate and be grateful.

I actually have it on a ring that I wear — so much so that I have a perma-tan line from it 🙂

The other one is, “our lives are the sum total of the choices we make.” This reminds me that my choices are in my control and that the future can still be written.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am! We are working on expanding EMQ through a variety of partnerships and integrations so that we can support more people feeling positively energized! From the feedback we have received, there are a couple of tailored programs that we are creating to address specific jobs and needs. For example, an “EMQ Life Hack” workshop that focuses on tried and tested, simple, quick ways to inject the 12 factors into your daily life in 5 minutes or less, as well as looking at the needs of specific roles such as business owners, healthcare providers, and customer service representatives. Business owners go through intense emotional journeys, helping them navigate this helps them be their best for themselves and their loved ones who often experience it with them. Healthcare providers can suffer from high levels of burnout and compassion fatigue, however, when they feel their best and well, they can provide a great patient experience. Same for customer service representatives who often have to deal with negative interactions. Equipping them with these behaviors leads to more engaging customer experiences and happier employees.

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. 🙂

Spend just a few minutes each day helping someone else, being there for someone else, or making someone else smile. It can be getting a coffee and listening to someone, sending a message to see how someone is doing, or volunteering, and everything in between. Not only will you feel good, they will too — so it’s a double whammy of goodness! And, if I can add one more, ask yourself who you want to be. Then truthfully look at your behaviors, life, relationships and see what is contributing to that or detracting from it…then take the actions in small achievable steps to work towards your desired future.

Thank you for joining us!

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