Nataly Kogan of Happier Inc: “Being kind to yourself is one of the most important qualities you can develop for success.”

Being kind to yourself is one of the most important qualities you can develop for success. You will fail, you will make mistakes, and things will challenge you. If you always beat yourself up, you will drain your energy and have less of it to keep going. But if you treat yourself with compassion and […]

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Being kind to yourself is one of the most important qualities you can develop for success. You will fail, you will make mistakes, and things will challenge you. If you always beat yourself up, you will drain your energy and have less of it to keep going. But if you treat yourself with compassion and mindfully accept your mistakes rather than treat yourself harshly, you will be more motivated to keep going and improve (there is a lot of research that supports this)!


As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nataly Kogan, Founder of Happier, Inc. and Author of Happier Now

Nataly Kogan is one of the leading global experts in emotional health; she is also the Co-Founder and CEO of Happier, Inc. Inspired by scientific research, her mission that led her to start her company is to help make millions of people happier in their everyday lives. As a result, tens of thousands of people now cultivate their emotional fitness and leadership skills through her virtual leadership programs, online courses and learning tools. She graduated from Wesleyan University and currently lives outside of Boston with her husband and daughter. When she isn’t speaking or teaching, can be found painting colorful abstract art and cooking up a storm in her kitchen.


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?

After I came to the US as a refugee, I chased the American Dream through achievements, believing that eventually they would bring me happiness. But instead, after a 20 year successful career in venture capital, technology, and finance, I burned out. I dove into research about happiness and well-being and turned what I learned into practices to help myself climb out of burnout and thrive in every area of my life. The method I developed for myself became the Happier Method™ that is the foundation of my work and company.

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?

It would have to be my parents. They always surrounded me with love and undertook a courageous journey to bring us from the Soviet Union to America so that I would have a better chance at a good future here.

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?

One time I was giving a talk to 5,000 people and I sent the wrong slides to the organizers. So I had the wrong slides with me on stage. And I had to figure out how to make the talk work. So I told the audience that I had the wrong slides — I wanted to be open with them. I did the talk without slides and it went great. I learned that being open about making a mistake helps you connect more genuinely with others and that people don’t want perfection — they want your humanity.

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 would say two things: Follow what brings you meaning and be kind to yourself.

Instead of focusing on success or achievement, think about what truly gives you a sense of purpose, which we find when we do something that contributes to others. Don’t worry about making it grand, and if you don’t know what it is — keep exploring and looking for ways to contribute.

Being kind to yourself is one of the most important qualities you can develop for success. You will fail, you will make mistakes, and things will challenge you. If you always beat yourself up, you will drain your energy and have less of it to keep going. But if you treat yourself with compassion and mindfully accept your mistakes rather than treat yourself harshly, you will be more motivated to keep going and improve (there is a lot of research that supports this)!

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?

The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer. It’s the book that introduced me to the idea that I have freedom when it comes to my thoughts and I can choose which ones to believe and which ones to shift or let go. Ninety nine percent of success is mindset and this book set me on a journey to learn how to work with my brain so that it becomes my ally versus an obstacle.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” — Pablo Picasso

It’s tempting to think that oh, I need to have inspiration to do something, but it works the other way. Most of success is about doing the work, sometimes without inspiration or knowing how you’ll get where you’re going. But you need to have discipline to put in the work and inspiration will find you.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Two come to mind: collaborating on creativity research with Canva, the free online design platform I love and use, and creating virtual training programs for leaders to boost their emotional fitness skills.

The research uncovered fascinating insights, including that lockdown ignited a new wave of creativity across the U.S. with more than half of the Americans surveyed starting hobbies during the pandemic and a shocking 98% keeping those hobbies up throughout the year! We also learned the top creative activities were cooking (37%), gardening (28%), painting (20%) and drawing (20%). This uptick in creative hobbies began at a challenging time when 57% of people were struggling to switch off from negative news, 63% were struggling with boredom, and 31% were struggling to deal with negative emotions. Creativity is essential to help boost your emotional fitness, process challenging feelings and as shown by the research, it couldn’t be more important than it is today. I love working with Canva to highlight many different ways people can be creative and make creativity more accessible.

I’ve run several virtual leadership training programs for leaders for several years, to teach them the 5 emotional fitness skills of the Happier Method, and the impact has been tremendous. As a leader, your emotions have an amplified effect on everyone you lead so it’s your responsibility to bring your best to your work and the people you impact.

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?

You are what you do daily, not what you wish you did or want to do. Habits — or regular practices — either help us reach our goals or prohibit us from doing it.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Creating happier habits has made an incredible impact on my life and my success. Based on research, I created these 5 core Happier Skills to help me and others struggle less and optimize my emotional and mental energy so I can be at my best:

ACCEPTANCE: Acknowledging reality with clarity vs. getting caught up in the story our brains have made up about it and using that as the starting point to move forward.

GRATITUDE: Zooming in on positive moments in your life, even when the days are challenging, and actively sharing your appreciation with others.

INTENTIONAL KINDNESS: Doing something to support, help, or elevate another person and not expecting anything in return.

SELF-CARE: Treating yourself as a friend and fueling your emotional, mental, and physical energy.

THE BIGGER WHY: Regularly connecting with your sense of meaning and purpose by identifying how your daily activities and tasks support your bigger goals, help others, or contribute to something greater than yourself.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

Start with a small habit and practice it daily — it’s easier to stick to something routine that you do every day.

Connect your habit to something you’re already doing — this is called habit stacking and it helps you remember to practice your new habit.

Connect to your Bigger ‘Why’ for this habit — how is practicing this habit regularly going to contribute to someone other than you or a longer term goal that you have.

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.

WELLNESS: It’s important to treat yourself as a friend and fuel your emotional, mental, and physical energy. To do this, schedule a 20-minute daily “fuel up” on your calendar and when the time comes, do something to rest, refuel, and reset.

PERFORMANCE: For better performance, regularly connect with your sense of meaning and purpose by identifying how your daily activities and tasks support your bigger goals, help others, or contribute to something greater than yourself. To put this into action, try a “To-Do List Makeover” by looking at your to-do list and asking yourself how the tasks at hand contribute to someone else, helps another person, or furthers an important goal that you have for yourself.

FOCUS: It’s imperative to focus on the positives throughout challenging times and share your appreciation with others. To practice, write down 3 specific things you’re grateful for before you write your first email in the morning. (This will help you remember to practice!)

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

ACCEPTANCE: Acknowledging your emotions and accepting reality with clarity and using that as the starting point to move forward. To practice: Embrace your stress. When you feel a difficult feeling, instead of ignoring it, spend 5 minutes fully acknowledging it and writing down specifically what you feel. This will help you practice emotional awareness and help you to have more mental and emotional energy to be better at your work.

INTENTIONAL KINDNESS: Doing something to support, help, or elevate another person and not expecting anything in return. Research shows that doing something kind at work regularly increases your job satisfaction and helps you to be better at making tough decisions and collaborating with your colleagues. To practice this, be intentional about doing something kind daily — for example, check in with your colleagues to see how they are (as people, not just colleagues).

EMOTIONAL OPENNESS: Being aware of your emotions and sharing them with others when it would help people have context around your feelings and actions. Try practicing — before you start a meeting, share a sentence about how you’re feeling, especially if how you feel is different from the norm. This builds trust and helps you collaborate closer.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

SINGLE TASKING: Doing only one thing at a time helps improve focus as multitasking reduces efficiency and your ability to be at your best. To practice this, start by setting a timer for 30 minutes and only do one single task during that time.

WALKING OUTSIDE: Research shows that a daily walk can help boost your focus, productivity, mood, and wellbeing. Begin with a 20–30 minute daily walk outside and increase your time from there.

TOP 3 THINGS DAILY: Write down 3 things that are most important to get done every day and start from there and don’t do other things before you finish.

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?

We achieve flow when we do something that’s just a bit more challenging than our skill level. So I encourage people to take on tasks that create a challenge, but not such an overwhelming challenge that they feel they don’t have the capacity to tackle it. Go a little bit further where you are right now, push yourself a little bit past your comfort zone, but don’t feel like you need to do the impossible. Flow is a balance of skill, challenge, and also, finding joy in what you’re doing — joy is fuel that helps you overcome obstacles and challenges as you make progress.

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’d love nothing more than to create a movement that can equip people with the skills to strengthen their well-being, emotional fitness, and happiness. I believe everyone can become a force for good and everyone deserves to feel happy. To be a force for good and help others, you first have to cultivate these happier skills yourself. We can all be a source of healing for the people around us and a happier movement can start with an individual choosing to practice their happier skills.

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 spend time with Serena Williams. I think she is an amazing force of good in the world and has such inspiration and wisdom to share!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Find the latest from Happier at https://www.happier.com/ and check for the latest updates from me personally on my Twitter and Instagram.

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