Expect your determination to wane and when it does, pivot from thinking about what you don’t want to envisioning again the results and focusing on what you do want. Instead of thinking about how you ‘don’t want’ to go to the gym, think about how you ‘do want’ to fit into that dress. Flipping the perspective changes the energy and helps move you along, little by little.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anita M. Scott.
Anita is an author and founder of Evolving Humankind, a training company that uses neuroscience-backed teachings with trademarked courses and tools that help clients unlock the power of their minds to make every goal a reality. Anita’s previous experience spans 20+ years in leadership roles across Silicon Valley technology companies including eBay, McAfee, and Hewlett-Packard. Her work has been recognized with awards including the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Women of Influence, and the Building Peaceful Families, Maya Angelou Still I Rise Phenomenal Women’s Award. Anita holds an Executive MBA from Pepperdine University.
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?
I’m a first-generation American and strange as it sounds, I spent half my life waiting to die. You see, when I was seven my mom remarried which led to joining a cult who believed the world was going to end. Every week we heard how all the wicked people — consisting of everyone but our group — would be killed. Graphic imagery of women and children running for their lives as the end arrived was the norm. Since I always saw the good in everyone, I was never able to reconcile how millions of people would die and I would live, so my expectation was I’d die when the end came.
Because of that mindset, I raced into everything, so I could have the experience. I never thought I’d make it to high school, let alone become an adult, so I also didn’t have the ability to imagine my future. The end was imminent, always just around the corner.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m a twenty-seven-year-old divorced single-mom with no college education. I’m working a dead-end job, earning a meager wage, and every night I’d come home exhausted, so I’d lie on my couch while my son played outside. One particular night as I’m lying there it suddenly occurred to me that I was still alive. I started asking questions like: What if I get to live for another year? What if the world isn’t going to end? What if my life is a gift? Asking those questions changed everything. The next day I started searching for colleges and since then I’ve earned three degrees, written books, received numerous awards, been happily married for more than twenty years, and I have a wonderful family and beautiful homes.
Since that epiphany I’ve lived by George Bernard Shaw’s quote, “I want to be all used up when I die.”
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
I didn’t believe there was a future to have, so unfortunately for a long time I didn’t have the capacity to imagine having a career. The pivotal moment came one morning in December, right before Christmas. My then-boyfriend, now husband, John told me he had two-weeks paid vacation over the holiday and when I complained about how unfair that was since I worked harder yet was paid far less with zero benefits, he simply responded, “Come to Corporate America.” His words flipped a switch in my mind, and that’s when joining Corporate America became my goal.
A few months later my friend, Monica, who worked for Manpower said she could get me into Hewlett-Packard (HP). I took their skills test and the next day someone called with an assignment as a temporary Administrative Assistant. When she asked how much I wanted to be paid I said, “I’m making $13.00 an hour now,” and when she came back with, “We’ll start you at $14.00 an hour,” I was overjoyed. I actually danced up and down my driveway.
Working as a temp at HP opened a new world to me. During lunches employees chit-chatted about their vacations, investments, 401Ks, and retirement plans, all topics I was hearing for the first time in my life. It was exhilarating. A couple of months after joining HP I received my Associate of Science degree from a local Junior College, and just a few months later I was hired officially becoming a member of Corporate America.
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?
Once I started living as if there were a life to have I was like a sponge, soaking up education on a massive level. After completing my two-year degree I went on to earn my Bachelor’s and shortly thereafter I completed a Marketing Certificate which is what led to the next pivotal conversation with my boss, Dana Judge. After expressing my disappointment with the Marketing course over dinner, she responded with, “You should get your MBA.”
I literally screamed because it was such a foreign thought. I’d already spent six years going to night school, and I now had two-year-old twins and a teenager. She said she was serious, telling me to research options and be ready to share them with her the following week. I landed on Pepperdine and started their Executive MBA program on my 40th birthday. Beyond broadening my skill set, that program opened my eyes to what else was possible, at last giving me the ability to see myself as a business leader, entrepreneur, and beyond.
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?
For my adult life up to this point I barely made ends meet so when I started at HP it’s not like I had a closet full of business attire. I bought a few items but it wasn’t a week’s worth of clothing. So, one day I grabbed a skirt that I believed could stretch long enough to pass as appropriate. But I was so wrong! This little spandex skirt only covered two to three inches of my thighs no matter how hard or how often I tugged at it.
The campus was really big and when I had to walk from one side to the other, I can’t tell you how many snickers, ogling, and sideways glances I caught. Curiously, my boss stayed later than usual and walked me to my car that night. It was only years later, after we both moved on from those jobs, did he tell the story about how I came into work one day with this skimpy skirt and he stayed late so he could walk me to my car to be sure I was safe. Thanks Dan Abouav!
I believe the lesson learned was for my future self to reserve judgment and lean in to trusting that everyone is doing the best they can from where they’re coming from.
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?
It certainly is a big question but my advice is pretty simple. I’d tell them to figure out what their best life looks like, and then take inspired action towards achieving it. While it doesn’t sound too inspirational, in my opinion, it’s the quickest way to achieve success.
This advice is based on the concept that everything that is was a thought first. For instance, look at everything in your house ― each piece of furniture, dish, towel ― every thing was someone’s thought first that they then focused on leading to its existence.
This concept explains why I lived such a meager existence until I was twenty-seven. Since I didn’t think there was a future to have, I never had a thought about what my future could look like. It also explains why it’s my best advice. You have to know what your best life looks like and spend time focusing on it in order to see the pathways available that bring it into existence.
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?
While in an airport in India waiting for a flight to go from Bangalore to Pune I went into a store to buy some gum. On my way out I walked past a bookshelf and happened to notice a book wrapped in cellophane like it was a sandwich. That amused me so I picked it up. It was The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Dr. Joseph Murphy. While I couldn’t thumb through or read the description because of the wrapper, since I love reading anything about the brain I bought it.
I just finished writing, The Universe Is Your Search Engine, and had been vacillating about the format and whether there’d be an audience to consume it. On the flight I unwrapped it and began reading. Within the first five minutes I could barely contain myself. While there were different terms, research, and examples, this book had the exact same formatting and the fundamental principles were the same as mine ― It was uncanny. I couldn’t believe the coincidence and wanted to contact the author so quickly I thumbed to find the publishing date. It was 1963, and sadly Murphy passed in 1983.
Then, a few months after publishing my book I purchased The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol because someone mentioned it in passing. I ordered without reading the description so when I read the first chapter it was Deja vu. While the terminology and research were different, the fundamental principles were again the very same as what both Dr. Murphy and I had written. I hurriedly flipped to the publish date and it was a staggering 1948.
How could it be that the same book for all intents and purposes was written three times across three eras — while citing the latest scientific breakthroughs — without knowing of the other’s existence. I marvel at this and at how, out of the 130,000,000 books ever written, those two came into my possession.
I realize that’s probably not what you were looking for when you asked what book made an impact on me, but my connection to these authors and their work was nothing short of profound.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Henry Ford’s quote, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right,” took some time to understand. But when I did, it changed my life. He’s saying that anything is possible and dependent on what you chose to think and believe. Ultimately our thoughts are self-fulfilling prophecies.
The reason it resonates so deeply is because when I believed the world was ending, I saw proof of that. There were earthquakes here, wars there, famine, disease. I was on the lookout for the signs confirming the world was on the brink of destruction, so that’s what I saw. Now I chose to think that my life is a gift, everything is working out for me, and I can achieve all that I desire, so this is what I see evidence of on the daily.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Besides spending time with my family I love nothing more than helping others grow and improve their quality of life. I’ve done that through workshops, books, online courses, and currently I’m partnering with the Stanford Rebuild Neurodiversity project team to co-write a proposal for research to test our theory that neurodiverse individuals — those with Autism, ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia — can add enormous business benefits to organizations if the right environment is provided. The goal is to gain understanding from organizations that neurodiverse individuals are worth the effort of investing in creating environments that allow those considered neurodiverse, roughly 20% of the population, to thrive with an improved quality of life.
Recently I launched a Science of Attraction Mastermind too. It’s for those who’ve been hitting some walls and struggling to achieve their greatest desires. Something I’ve learned is that you can’t get to the next level using the same capabilities that got you to where you’re at today. To reach a higher level of success you need new capabilities so this mastermind provides the training, strategies, and tactics so members are equipped to make every goal a reality.
Given we find ourselves in a global crisis and worry, stress, and anxiety are at an all-time high I’ve also been partnering with several companies to provide employee wellness training. The key is pivoting focus away from what’s going on externally to what’s going on internally, to what’s within our span of control which does wonders in restoring a level of peace and balance.
Lastly, I’m in the very early stages of vetting the Mind, Soul, Body University. At the highest level my vision is to help people attain enlightenment without having to travel to the Himalayas, take hallucinogens, or other practices that veer off the beaten path. Instead, the courses would be entirely based on science including neuroscience, quantum physics, and metaphysics.
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?
When anything comes at me of an urgent, high-pressure nature my go-to strategy is to start by gathering important details like what’s needed. Is it a response, a meeting, a speaking engagement? And I need to know when it’s due by so I know how much time I have to prepare. I also need to understand who my audience is because different people are interested in different things. For instance, if I’m pitching something to Procurement they want to hear about cost savings, but if I’m pitching to Legal they want to hear about compliance, right? From there I identify their pain points so I can design goals that address and resolve those issues in the best way possible. Having these critical details is my foundation and brings me a sense of control because I know what’s needed, by whom, and by when.
Another strategy to minimize the pressure of big projects is breaking them into smaller chunks. Then I’ll create a roadmap starting with the deadline, buffering it with two days, and working backwards to fit in each of the chunks. This process helps direct my energy into manageable areas so I don’t feel overwhelmed, and it moves me forward towards results.
The other thing that relieves a lot of pressure is telling myself, “It’s not about me. It’s about the information.” This takes any internal chatter off the plate and pivots my attention to the best way to achieve the goals.
Last but not least is remembering that people are people, and what people appreciate the most is relationships, so I come with my authentic self, friendly and sincerely interested in being a part of the solution.
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?
For peak performance, my number one strategy is meditation because it gives my mind a break by slowing it down, quieting my busy bee thoughts, and bringing me into a state of peace. It also brings about clarity that leads to ideas on how to uplevel whatever I’m working on.
To help me focus I need to get 100% clear about the intent of the event by defining three end-goals. For intense meetings I’ll practice memorizing those goals so when thoughts swirl it’s easier to turn my attention back to my objectives which re-centers me and brings a sense of calm. I also use visualization before the event by envisioning the participants fully engaged, all my goals achieved, and with the best outcome.
When I’m speaking at very large events I practice, practice, practice. First in my empty living room until I feel there’s a good fluidity, then in front of a mirror until I’m feeling fairly confident, and then I record myself. It’s so uncomfortable, but it makes all the difference in the world in my confidence, energy, and engaging with the audience.
Another important strategy is to take care of my physical self by getting enough sleep, eating right, and staying hydrated. If you’re tired, hungry, and dehydrated it’s a lot tougher to perform optimally.
Being centered, prepared, and healthy is my winning strategy trifecta!
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.
To optimize myself I love to use a box breathing meditation which is inhaling for a count of four, holding for a count of four, releasing for a count of four, then holding again for a count of four. After doing that for a few cycles then I imagine a babbling brook next to me that I gently place all my worries and fears into, one by one while thinking these words, “Let go, Give in. Give up. Release. Surrender.” From there I move to, “Allow. Trust. Receive.” When I’m done I feel refreshed and reenergized.
If I’m feeling exceptionally nervous I’ll use a breathing technique that eliminates all the air out of my lungs by exhaling, exhaling more, and even more until it feels like there couldn’t possibly be any air left in my lungs. I hold that until I feel the sensation that I need to inhale, which I do. That next breath brings in a bigger dose of oxygen, along with a sense of calm and balance. What’s great about this technique is you can use it in a roomful of people, and no one will know.
A fantastic grounding visualization that I like to use before getting on stage is imagining an iron rod runs the length of my spine, protrudes through my tailbone, pierces the flooring down to the ground, through the ground, through the layers of the earth, all the way to the earth’s core. Once there, I imagine that the rod anchors itself around the core holding me steady and grounded.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
Honestly, when I’m doing something that I enjoy or that’s important to me I’m hyper-focused and it’s hard for me or anyone else to pry me away. But for things needing to get done that don’t evoke that same level of enthusiasm my technique is to remove the distractions by actually doing them. Whatever I’m using as an excuse to keep me from working on the project, like doing the dishes or taking out the trash, I go ahead and do. As I’m clearing away those hindrances I feel better because I’m taking things off my plate, and at the same time my mind’s prepping for the task, figuring out where I’ll start so by the time I sit down I know right where to begin.
If it’s still a challenge to keep my focus, I’ll look at a clock and tell myself I’ll quit in ten or fifteen minutes. What usually happens after that time passes though, is I figure I can just do one more thing so I don’t have to do it later. From there it’s one more thing, and then one more thing until typically I’ll finish a rough draft that I can review and tweak in a few hours, or days depending on when the final is due.
For bigger projects needing more of my time, my process-oriented side kicks in and I’ll break the project into bite-sized pieces, creating sections that help narrow my focus on one area at a time. I also define a timeline for when each section needs to be done which helps me stay on track. I always include a buffer of a couple of days just to make sure I have plenty of time to sleep on it and complete adequate review cycles.
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 showing up is the habit that’s gotten me to where I am today. When I was going to night school four nights a week and Saturdays for years as a single mom, or when I was getting my EMBA and my twins were two years old, there were a lot of times I didn’t want to go to class. I would tell myself, “Just show up and sit in the seat.” So I did. I found that when I just showed up there was a momentum that carried me through. Over and over again I used this tactic, and it always worked.
I also think my habit of looking for the gift in all situations has served me well. I found that during difficult times, while it can be challenging to see, there’s always a gift or silver lining. My JC English teacher taught me the story of Sisyphus who was cursed to carry an immense boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down for eternity. Mr. Tiernan colored the story with details of the blazing heat, bitter cold, and tedious monotony before asking, “How do you think Sisyphus felt about this burden?” The answer was, he loved it! He grew an appreciation for all the gifts this job gave him by way of chiseling and sculpting his muscles, affording him peace and quiet, time to think, and so on. I apply this lesson almost daily where anytime there appears something isn’t going my way, I pivot my focus to look for and find the hidden gifts.
One more habit that’s fueled my success is coupling a ‘Dream. Dream bigger. Is that all you got?’ exercise with visualizing my best future. For instance, if the ‘dream’ is taking a week-long vacation to Maui, the ‘dream bigger’ is taking a three-week vacation to Maui. For ‘is that all you got’, it could be buying a home and moving to Maui. Doing this exercise helps remove self-imposed boundaries so you’re able to expand your imagination to what could be even better.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
Since what we focus on expands I actually wouldn’t spend a lot of time focusing on the bad habit. Instead, I’d focus on figuring out what habits could better serve me, and then make it my intention to create that new habit.
To develop a true habit you have to do the same thing consistently for a period of time. Repetition is the key which also tends to be the biggest deterrent because doing the same thing over and over again becomes mundane so it starts feeling like a chore. My recommended process to create new healthier habits is:
- First define the habit you want, like I want to be more physically active for instance.
- Then define your why, the improvement you want from this habit. In this case, I want to be more physically active so I’ll feel better, or fit into that dress.
- Next form a mental image of your intended results, or if possible pull out a picture of when you were in the best shape of your life. Imagine or look at the picture every day telling yourself, “This is what I look like” in the present tense. Most people don’t take this step but it’s key at anchoring your why and boosting success rates because you’re tying in the power of visualization.
- Now create an intention by simply saying something like, “I intend to be more active.”
- From there create an inspired plan to accomplish this. By inspired I mean follow what feel good to achieve this plan. Maybe it’s going to the gym three days a week.
- Expect your determination to wane and when it does, pivot from thinking about what you don’t want to envisioning again the results and focusing on what you do want. Instead of thinking about how you ‘don’t want’ to go to the gym, think about how you ‘do want’ to fit into that dress. Flipping the perspective changes the energy and helps move you along, little by little.
If all else fails I recommend my tried and true habit of just showing up. Drive to the gym parking lot, then lean into the momentum that’ll take over and get you into the gym, onto the stair climber, and on, and on.
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 have three practices that help me stay in a fairly continuous state of flow. The first one is choosing the path of least resistance when things aren’t going as I’d like them to. I apply by letting go of opposition and opting for self-resolution, refraining from taking any action, allowing a situation to resolve on its own. Here you figuratively and sometimes even literally go with the flow.
Another tool that gets or keeps me in a state of flow is asking myself every day what I can do to have fun, and then doing it. Most of the time it’s doing simple things like walking my property and enjoying the trees, flowers, and birds. Sometimes it’s loving on my dogs, enjoying a tea, or playing tag with my son. It’s anything that makes you smile because I find when you’re having fun, you’re in flow.
I spend minimally fifteen minutes a day meditating so the last and unquestionably most powerful tool I’d recommend to move you into the state of flow is developing your own meditation practice.
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.
The movement I’d love to inspire is evolving school curriculums to include neuroscience. Why? I came into the world with a strong sense of equality believing everyone is worthy, entitled to equal treatment, and a good life. Science has proven that the source of all power is the mind, and since everyone comes into the world with a mind, it follows that we all have equal power. The gap is that the vast majority of the population never actively harnesses that power either because they’re unaware, or they don’t know how.
While we’ve known about the tremendous power of the mind for close to a century with Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937, Bristol’s in 1948, Murphy’s in 1962, and mine in 2020 amongst many others, today less than 10% of the population understands they have the controller of their life sitting right behind their eyeballs, and even fewer intentionally master that power to their great benefit. Eighty years ago Bristol announced that humanity was on the threshold of moving this transformational information into the mainstream. Yet today, even with advanced neuroscience, this information hasn’t crossed the chasm. You know, we call ourselves an advanced civilization and when it comes to technology I’d agree. But when it comes to tapping into the proven power of our own minds, it’s like most people are still watching two channels on black and white tv.
Including neuroscience in school curriculums would be one of the greatest equalizers. Remember those posters in school cafeterias that read, ‘You are what you eat’? Imagine posters in classrooms reading, “You are what you think.” Because knowledge by itself is only potential power, to transition the teachings into true power practical application would accompany classroom learning.
Let’s incorporate neuroscience into school curriculums around the world. Who’s with me? Let’s do this!
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 have lunch with Oprah because she epitomizes and models how we have the power to create our realities. Her innovative forward-thinking led to her talk show, OWN network, and many other significant achievements. While her childhood was less than ideal, she didn’t use that as an excuse. She also tuned into and followed her deep inward calling that showed up as a desire to improve the lives of others. My childhood wasn’t ideal, my calling is similar, and she relishes in sunsets as much as I do, so I imagine we’d get along well and have fun, inspiring, leading-edge conversations.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can visit and connect with me at anitamscott.com, Facebook at anitamscott.author or Instagram @anitamscott
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, Parveen, it’s been a real pleasure!