Dr. Mary Rensel and Ali Hively from Brain Ops on Optimizing Your Brain to Improve Business Outcomes

In this episode, Dr. Mary Rensel and Ali Hively from Brain Ops talk about optimizing the brain function. Listen in as they share valuable insights and recommendations on how you can optimize your brain in the workplace to improve business outcomes.

David Folwell: Thank you everybody for joining us today for another episode of The Staffing Show. I’m joined today by Dr. Mary Rensel and Ali Hively from Brain Ops. Thank you guys so much for being here today.

Mary Rensel: Yeah. Thank you for having us.

Ali Hively: Thank you for having us.

Folwell: I’ve got a really kind of a special episode, something a little bit unique for what we do in the staffing industry, but something that I think is going to be pretty impactful for everybody that’s listening. Dr. Mary Rensel is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, Lerner College of Medicine and director of pediatric multiple sclerosis and wellness at the Mellon Center of the Cleveland Clinic, and she has graduated from the Medical College of Ohio and completed her neurology and neuroimmunology fellowship training at the Cleveland clinic. Ali Hively is the co-founder of Kijia, a company which empowers busy women to feel their best to build habits of nutrition, mindset, and movement. Kijia helps companies and individuals break through their busy lives to manage stress, lose weight, gain energy, and live their best life. Thank you so much for both of you being here today. To start things off, why don’t you guys tell me just a little bit of your background about Brain Ops.

Rensel: Absolutely. Yeah. I think what happened is we met at a professional women’s conference. I was giving a talk to folks about the brain. It’s the whole reason we’re at work and get some brain wonder and just the big question is, what could we do day-to-day to optimize it in the workplace? Then I thought, well, you know what, I really need to work with a coach because I need someone to give people the how-to, how to squeeze this in your busy life as a working professional. So we put our heads together and formed the Brain Ops Group. So we’re here to help busy professionals learn the research and really just put their time and energy where it matters to really professionally develop brain power so that they could focus and be productive and then go on to what they really want to do afterwards.

Folwell: That’s amazing. So Mary, it sounds like you’ve kind of had the research and the science background and are like, “Hey, I’ve got some ideas on things that people should know.” Met Ali, who’s got the life coaching background and are like, “All right. Let’s partner up and go change things.”

Hively: Exactly. Yeah. We find it so powerful when the research and the science is there, and Mary can really break that down. Like we said, everyone is busy, and we don’t have a lot of time. We’re always looking to save time, energy, money doing what matters most. So she had that, and then how do I fit this in my life, and what are the steps that I should take from where I’m at to move forward and make this happen. So that’s where it becomes such a powerful combo.

Folwell: That’s great. One of the things that excited me about having the two of you on the podcast today is something I thought that our listeners would really appreciate hearing is that you guys have specifically designed a course around optimizing your brain to improve business outcomes, which it had me hooked when I read it. I was excited to learn more about it, and I imagine many of our listeners are as well. Can you tell us a little bit about any stories, anecdotes that you’ve had and outcomes that you’ve seen people achieve after going through your course?

Hively: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, this really applies to people in any profession, or obviously everyone has a brain. So it really is important for that. But when it comes from a business perspective, understanding and knowing what you need to do and then implementing it is so empowering because not only are you then able to get a more clear focus when you’re not kind of underwater, you’re really able to then make more clear career decisions, or in this case, hiring decisions or be more creative thinking, critical thinking. All of those things are able to happen more easily.
So we’ve had a few clients who really made crazy positive life changes from getting out of job situations that have them feeling really stuck to moving across the country for new opportunities. Once they have these habits established in their life, they’re kind of able to go onto that next-level thinking and see more potential for themselves and see what is possible. So really get to that next level. That looks different for everyone. But specifically, we’ve had clients take on new roles, clients empower their own teams, clients move and really create the lifestyle that they want having these things established.

Folwell: Awesome.

Rensel: Yeah. We had somebody who really couldn’t even focus enough to even work full-time and she left her course. She said, “I’m able to work full time now. I got my focus back.” It is kind of silly when you think about it that we don’t have to take a course in business school or somewhere in college. You have that brain up there that’s going to either work for you or not. There’s a lot of things you can do to distract it, or you can learn how to optimize it. We take a lot of professional development courses, etcetera, and we may learn about a few things kind of tangentially about what the brain may or may not do.

But something very easy. Like if you think, our brain likes to focus on negative. But if we throw some positive things in front of it, if we can just detract it from the negative. So we want to keep it in positive emotional balance because that will take us to our higher-level thinking, like Ali was referring to. So if we can stay there in more positive balance, we’re more creative. We feel more empowered. We feel like we could really get that project done and work better as a team or think about taking a jump and taking a new position.

But if you’re only in survival mode, which unfortunately, during COVID, a lot of us, that’s where we are. We’re in survival. We’re not feeling a huge positive energy overload. So it’s nice to know like, “What can I do to get there? What do I need to do to get to my creative self?”

Hively: Absolutely.

Rensel: And there’s things you can do.

Folwell: I think that’s absolutely great. I always laugh when people are talking about…I’m very pro working on yourself, working on your brain, going through therapy, whatever it takes. I think it’s amazing to me to think that we live in a society where people won’t judge. You might get judged for going to a therapy session, but you could go have five hours a week working on your biceps with a coach at the gym, and everybody’s like, “Oh of course, that makes sense.” It just blows my mind that we haven’t transitioned to the fact that we should be working on our brains equally and have coaches, have people in our life, spend that time on that.

Rensel: I love that. I love that. Say that again. Say that again. People need to hear that, equal time, equal time, equal time. It’s not just biceps. Yeah. You work on the brain, too. Yes. I like that.

Folwell: Yeah. Working on the muscles is fine, but spend time on the brain.

Rensel: Exactly.

Folwell: One thing that you brought up was the fact of trying to spend time in a positive space. I’m very interested to hear more about the kind of ways that you can do that, and I’m also just curious for personal experiences and conversations that some people feel if you’re focusing on the positive too much, that you’re just painting a picture that’s not realistic. So I’m curious to know what your thoughts are about how you do that and if there’s any negative aspect to it or if you’re just tricking your brain.

Rensel: Yeah. No, I think there’s always a balance. So we need both. So we need the negative. We think it’s “negative” to have stress. But stress helps us focus. I need a deadline. I need to know when it’s due, and then I will focus as it gets closer. So we need stress, and that will help us focus and get a project done. But we don’t only want to stay in “stress” or negative emotions, only worry or concern. We want to also be in a positive state. Because when you’re working with a team or someone you’re mentoring or someone you’re coaching or developing, and you see them really rock a project or lead a team, or you just hired someone, and you’re so thrilled because you know you took your time and you were creative on who you hired.

You took a wider view than normal. You knew that you were in a good state to be able to perceive that that person was a good hire. Those kinds of things if you stay in the positive zone. That’s your creative zone. But every day is a balance. Sometimes it’s minute to minute. But they say, you want to stay maybe three to one. So maybe three positive to a negative. So if you’re really stressed, only stress in your day. Think about how you can add three positive things.

Folwell: Oh, that’s awesome.

Hively: Yeah. One thing that we talk about and we can get into, as we share a little bit more about our framework, but one piece of that to kind of avoid that feeling of like, “Oh, I’m just covering this negative thing up with positive is really that piece of emotional processing, and this is a huge piece of our framework for optimizing your brain.” But when you actually process the negative emotion, instead of squishing it up and covering it up with something positive, then you’re able to move through it and actually really authentically be able to be in that positive place, not feeling like you’re kind of just putting that to the side or shoving that down and then covering it up with positive.

I think once you build that habit of emotional processing, and you can move through negative emotions quicker or more easily, and you’re not as afraid of them, then you can genuinely be in that positive place much more easily.

Folwell: That’s fantastic. So your guys’ framework actually will help identify how to move through this process, actually how to process the emotions as well, is that part of it?

Rensel: So, where to put your time and energy. So you used to live in Cleveland. You know everywhere in Cleveland at CLE. So we’re in Cleveland, Ohio. So we use the framework. We call it CLE. So it’s how you connect with other humans, your lifestyle, so how you live your day, what do you put in your day and then emotional processing, how do you know how to identify and what to do with those emotions, like Ali was referring to. You don’t say, “I never want to feel angry or sad or worried or scared.” I mean, those are our feelings, and we know sometimes we say, “Hey. Just think of it like in a fish tank. You’re just seeing them go by, and this is what’s happening, and I just need to name it and say, ‘Yes, I am afraid of X. I’m worried about Y.'” So if you name it, it has less power on your day.

Folwell: That’s great. So you kind of went through the framework there a little bit. But is there more that you kind of want to elaborate on that and just tell us about how it all kind of connects together?

Rensel: Well, the research suggests that we generally would have our… If we think of those three spheres, of those three circles, what do you do for those things? How do you connect to humans? Obviously, this is a time of coronavirus. So we’re all connecting in very different ways and less so than we used to. But we know we have to make that a priority, because as humans, we need other humans. We are not isolated individuals. We need other people. We live in a tribe. So it looks different these days. But we still need to reach out and call someone. We need to go for a walk with someone safely. We need to connect with people safely these days, because that is important. We need that. Absolutely.

If we don’t have that, the brain will not work as well. We’ve heard a lot about that with coronavirus, with people that are isolated or if they were sick and isolated for a long time. It’s very hard to bounce back from isolation. So that’s something you want to be intentional about. I mean, the nice thing about some of this is a lot of this is fun, right? So you can be intentional about seeing friends or calling a friend or talking with a colleague, even if it’s with a mask on from 10 feet apart so you’re extra safe.

Then lifestyle is a word that we hear a lot about, and it’s filled with a lot of things. But how do you fill your day up? Do you eat healthy foods? Do you sleep well? Do you move, do you stretch? What do you put in your days? That’s referred to as lifestyle, because that also can alter some of our emotional reactions, our focused at work. If we’re go, go, go, we’re only at work. We wake up. We look at the screen. All day, we’re on screens. It doesn’t take long to see how that’s exhausting, that we need to kind of have some time also to re-energize away from screens.

Then the emotional processing. A lot of times, we think, “Well, the emotions come from our hearts.” You have a big heart. People will say because your emotions are big. But the brain is the seat of all emotions, and it will influence our thinking, our work decisions being able to interview someone, seeing certain things, even our perception of others. It’s influenced by our sleep levels, for instance. So there’s a lot to be done during the day where you can have fun. You can go for a walk. You can see people. You can list your emotions in a list in the morning and just get on the right track for a good, healthy, productive work day.

Folwell: That’s great. I think that for our audience, the whole remote aspect, I mean, personally for me, I was living alone at the start of the pandemic and the full lockdown. I never understood the importance of that. Zoom is not enough. I learned that very quickly about myself. Also learned that I’m not… I’ve always known I’m extroverted, but I didn’t understand how important it is for my emotional health and learn very quickly that it’s very important to have human connection. I found myself showing up at the coffee shop to try to build relationships there at times.

Hively: Exactly.

Folwell: So with that, when you think about… a lot of people are listening to this, they’re running a staffing agency, they’ve got a few hundred people that are working for them, or they’ve got staff, contractors that are coming in and off jobs. Any specific ideas or tactics that they could use to help their team manage through this odd stage of life that we’re all dealing with together?

Rensel: Ali, you want to take it.

Hively: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I think understanding this framework is hugely important and then understanding how and what matters in each space, like we were saying, and giving that information. But like Mary said, it can be fun and enjoyable and then being able to tie it back to the research and like the fact that this is going to not only help your culture of your company, but also help to improve your brain optimization for your employees can be hugely important. I think one way that we often talk about is through, and it’s not easy right now, but even for planning for your future of the year is volunteer opportunities. They are a great way to bring people together, and they’re a huge connection. They give people a lot of those positive feelings.

They give an opportunity to work together. I know Mary has the research on just when people are working toward a positive goal together. That can be kind of filling a lot of different spaces. I also think, as far as your company culture goes, really recognizing the importance of wellbeing and energy, money, resources, being allocated toward those lifestyle goals for people and all of this being included, so the brain being included, but then also the gym piece, the nutrition, the sleep piece. So providing people with the kind of what they need in that space and knowing that that’s really going to look different for everyone right now, where before, it might be able to be more simple.

You can bring a yoga instructor into your office, or you can have something, right now, it’s like people are in different places. The things that they need are a little different. So kind of rewinding and really checking in on, what do people need, knowing this framework of CLE connection, lifestyle habits, and emotional processing. It’s like even breaking it down, which we like to do to say like, “Okay. If you were going to rate yourself, 1 through 10 on connection, how connected do you feel right now? How connected do you feel in your life in general?” Whether that means friends, family, work culture. How, 1 through 10, are you doing with your habits in your lifestyle?

So that’s sleeping, drinking alcohol, tobacco. That’s nutrition. That’s exercise. It’s a loaded sphere there. So there’s a lot of room for — maybe you’re doing great in one space and not so great in the other space, but being really honest about that and then going into that third sphere. We talk about emotional processing. Are you really dealing with some of your feelings? I mean, we’ve had so much disappointment, so much change, so much stress, so much fear this year, and do you have those things in place, and do you understand what that actually means, and do you have a daily practice where you’re able to move through them?

So I would say awareness is huge and then as a company, looking for opportunities to really meet your employees where they are, and then move them forward from there, which is going to look obviously different in the future. Because we’re all kind of in different places based on where we’re working in our home life and what we’ve been through in the past year.

Folwell: Yeah, absolutely. As you’re talking about the stress, and actually, you’re talking about the productivity side of as well, I always think of the stress productivity curve, which is the bell curve. I bring that up with my team frequently, where I’m like, “Where are we on this? Have we gotten too far?” Because it drops off pretty quick on the other side and to just almost freeze-blocking everybody up completely. What’s also interesting is as you guys are talking about this, one of my favorite TED talks is about the impact of stress on your body. I think always, I have people, family members who I was like, “Oh, you’re so stressed. You’re dealing with so much.”

I’m like, “Yeah, but I think it’s all okay.” According to a TED Talk, as long as you believe that the stress is healthy and you react to it properly, there’s some stats saying that that’s actually a camp. It’s not so bad. How do you guys feel about that? Or have you seen that TED Talk? Are you aware of what I’m talking about?

Rensel: Yeah, absolutely. We have to have some stress, right? We wouldn’t get off the couch. You wouldn’t leave your house. You wouldn’t get a job. You have to have a concern about something to take that next step. So that’s what we call stress, and psychological stress, sometimes it’s like a stimulus. It’s like a push. So absolutely stress, you have to have. It’s not all bad. I think it’s gotten a lot of bad press, and it’s been put in buckets of that. But it’s not. I mean, it’s the reason that we do a lot of things throughout our day, and we have to. So that’s fine. It helps us focus at work. It helps us hit deadlines. So it is very important.

It’s just, like you talked about the curve, it can’t be extreme. Like anything, it can’t be the only thing you’re feeling all day long. We need to do that three to one.

Folwell: I love that.

Hively: Yeah. One thing to notice with stress is the internal stress versus external stress. So kind of recognizing like, when are you applying your own internal stresses? So maybe you’re adding that perfectionism or those expectations or those things that are unnecessarily being applied and then recognizing what stress is natural, necessary, and already there for me, and then what stress am I adding, and when does that become too much?

Folwell: That’s great. Ali, I mean, that was my next question on the list, and you started jumping into this. But in terms of the measurement of how effective you’re doing on this, I know you kind of talked about some self-reporting there on the three steps of your framework. I guess a couple of questions. So one, are there best practices around measurement, and then two, if you were to apply that to “you’re the executive of a staffing agency,” is that something that you would recommend that they try to consider applying for the corporate culture? Is it something that’s an individual path? Just kind of curious to see where your thoughts are.

Hively: This is what’s so interesting too. I think this is what Mary’s research really outlines. We talked about this a lot in our courses. I mean, we could talk all day, like we said about this. We kind of break it down forever. But it’s understanding where those thresholds really are. When you say connection, how much, what do you mean? When you say sleep, how much, what do you mean? When you say exercise, how much, what do you mean? So we really get into what she’s outlined is to be the kind of those thresholds that are most important.

Then also, I feel like people can have a pretty good understanding just naturally if they’re honest with themselves about where they are. So I think that first place is that it’s just like being able to be really honest and clear. I mean, sometimes we find that people are harder on themselves, and maybe they’re doing better than they give themselves credit for if they’re self-reporting, and then sometimes it’s the other way around until they’re really bringing that awareness into their life. They’re like, “Oh yeah, my diet’s pretty good. Oh, except that. Oh, except that. Oh, except that.”

So bringing that awareness in then helps them to see, “Oh, there is actually a lot of room for improvement here.” So that kind of becomes a little bit tricky. I would say, based on the research, yeah, there are definitely those thresholds that exist for just what we know is ideal and what matters and then also bringing it to application of “my life” and “where do I need to focus?” So one thing that we talk about a lot is being active in all of these years. It’s not good enough to be only active in one of them.

So if you’re really connected, but you kind of dropped the ball on the other two, then your brain optimization is not going to be there. You actually need to be active in all of them. So that’s another piece too, where being able to spread your energy out and recognize that you can do everything well in this case, and nothing has to be absolutely perfect for you to have a positive impact.

Folwell: Right.

Rensel: So you have to be intentional, because some people will say, “All I’m doing these days is just surviving. That’s all I can do.” Say, “Okay. Well, could you have five minutes, literally five minutes, three times in your day to think about one thing you’re grateful for or to stop five minutes, call a friend, especially if you live alone and you’re on Zoom all day and just have a fun conversation?” Or if you have a pet, five minutes, you can pet your cat or your dog. Because those will bring up positive emotion. So it’s just little breaks throughout the day, just again, to get that balance of the positive to negatives and just being intentional.

You just don’t let the days go or the week go by like, “I didn’t exercise at all.” What happened this whole month? We ask people like, “Are you exercising?” “I used to.” It was like, “Well, when was that?” “It was like three years ago, I was really, really good at it.” Good. Good. I’m glad, but it’s a new day, and everything looks different because of COVID. So we have to kind of restructure the week. But it really is amazing. Honestly, a little bit goes a long way with this.

It’s not you that you have to run a marathon or you have to journal for 10 hours every day. It leaves little things throughout your day that can keep your brain in terms of that positive balance. Like you said, brain to muscle. I like that one-to-one ratio. So just give some attention. Yeah.

Hively: Right. If you’re running a company, and you’re trying to encourage this in there, then that’s exactly a great way. It’s just like starting to build that culture of sharing your wins, and small wins are good. They’re great. They’re what leads to the bigger wins. So if you even just are looking for one thing to do, then just like starting to encourage people to share what they’re doing for themselves that day, whether it’s calling a friend and being like, “Yeah, add that to the board, add that to whatever it is where we’re kind of sharing wins,” and just starting to build that. That’s a huge, positive momentum and energy builder. Then also, like Mary said, it actually has an impact, and then it kicks off just a little momentum to be building within your team and in your group.

Folwell: With that, I mean, if you were to say… I mean, there’ve been so many different great ideas on the kind of things that people can do. Do you have a top three, first three steps? I can obviously go out and take your course. But if you were to give top three to five things that you would recommend people, next steps that people could put in place to start improving the brain?

Rensel: I think the first thing, number one is to be intentional, and just, if you do anything, just say, “Hey, thanks. Thanks, brain. Thanks for getting me here.” Because a little gratitude will shift some of the good hormones. So we have a way to kind of drive our brain to better thinking by good emotional health and good diet and good sleep. So there are ways that we can drive the brain to work better, more efficient for us. We all want that, right? We want to get over our list of our to-do lists faster and with better focus. So if anything starts with a, “Hey, thanks.” Or people around you, “Thanks. Thanks for being here. Thanks for being on my team.”

Hively: The gratitude is huge.

Rensel: Yeah, absolutely. It’s huge. And then a vision. So if you’re vision-based as a company and you say this is what we’ve done this year, we look at us, look at how we’ve pivoted about a hundred times in the last 12 months, and now maybe there’s some new pivots. Maybe people are going back into the office, and they’re not sure how that looks or maybe not. Maybe they’re going to stay remote, and just as a team, what are our goals and just to thank people for what they’ve done and then envision a new day. Let people be creative and think big. You’ll get more from them. They’ll get out of the stress zone.

Folwell: That’s great advice. One of the things that was kind of funny as you talk about the gratitude to starting your day that way, I don’t remember where I had read something about that a while back, and one of the things we do as a daily stand-up inside of Slack. So we have a bot that gives us daily questions. But the questions are customizable, and that was like three or four years ago we added the last question was, what are you grateful for? So every morning, you’d start off by answering that question, and we actually turned the bot off for about nine months, and I think across the board, we were like, “Wait a second. This doesn’t feel as good.” We’re like, “What’s going on?”

I don’t know. I’m probably overdoing the correlation here. But I definitely know that we’ve re-instituted it and having that every day, just starting with that question of what are you grateful for, it makes things feel better. So I’ve seen that one in practice, and that’s great.

Rensel: Yeah. I think just assessing where you are, what sphere, you’re just more natural, probably one or the other. Like you said, maybe you were strong, extroverted with people. You have no trouble connecting. You make that a priority. Great. Just okay, great. I’m good at that part. So maybe then the other spheres you have to say, “Well, what am I doing? What do I do? How do I pencil it in? Do you use a planner? Do you plan for yourself? Do you intentionally put your brain action plan in there in your week?” Are you just going to leave it to chance? You don’t want to leave it to chance, right? And just hope it works for you? 

Folwell: Actually, that’s one of those areas where I am falling down. What’s your program? Do you guys have a full plan that you guys get, I don’t know, kind of a weekly basis of here’s what you need to do and then even after the course?

Hively: Exactly. Yes, we do. We break it down just like that. Because like we were saying with the steps, self-awareness is hugely important. The reflection is all a part of that, and then you’re reflecting based on the research and the numbers, and then okay, you know where you are now. So let’s give you some actual specific tips. Everyone’s busy. That can move you forward from where you’re at and meet you where you are and help you identify what that is. So there’s obviously a million ways to eat healthy in regards to your brain. Just in general, there’s a million ways to exercise. So what does that look like for you, and how can you kind of check that box in a way that makes it happen and feels good at the same time? So I think that’s what’s hugely important.

Yeah. We break it down week by week because we know, I mean, there’s so oftentimes high achievers are wanting to just soak it all in at once. But by breaking it down week by week and giving a calendar, we encourage you to put yourself on your calendar, put these actions on your calendar, especially if you don’t have those habits built in some of these spheres until they really become more natural and easy to you. So often when it comes to lifestyle, we’re focused on exercising for our body, or like you were saying, for our shape or eating that way for that.

But also, when you shift the meaning to brain health and optimization and focus, it gives those tasks that we know we should do so much more meaning because you’re like, “Oh, wow. This is not just my genes. This is the way that I show up at work and the way that I lead people and the way that I manage people and the way that I bring new people and good energy into my company.” I feel like it often becomes easier for people to do because they can tie it to something greater than just the way they fit in their clothes or something.

Folwell: Yup. Absolutely. We’ve already kind of touched on this a little bit. So I don’t know if there’s anything more you guys have to add or if there’s any specifics around this, but I’m always interested to know what people can expect. But do you have any specifics, say people go through your course, what somebody could expect, 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, anything like that in terms of the progress or the outcomes? I mean, I’m sure it’s hard to answer because it’s unique to that individual person and their goals, but anything that you could share on that front?

Rensel: Yeah. I mean, I think the goal we were trying to hit is resiliency. So we’ve heard a lot about that in the last 12 months, resiliency. But the nice thing about that, there are things that can be learned in resiliency. So our personality traits are pretty fixed or at least have a certain zone that we probably won’t get out of. It’s not like you’re going to be a whole new person. But resiliency is a skill set. So there are things that you can learn, and our brains will do better and think wider and more creatively if we learn how to optimize them or manipulate them into some kind of healthy space.

So if anything, it is for resiliency, and what is resiliency? It’s the ability to get over hurdles or get around challenges or bounce back. So I’ll speak for myself. Certainly, this has been a tough year, a lot of challenges. I wanted anything I could do to try to tune up my own resiliency so I could keep going and find new ways around our challenges. So you can definitely expect to get an assessment, get the information and know where to put your time and energy. It’s a month-long course. So it’s something that you have to learn about, and then you’re going to have to figure out how to pencil it in, in your life. We have to be realistic, right? We’re humans. We’re not going to probably make dramatic changes in every area, but it’s amazing a little bit at a time and these three areas can have some really great outcomes.

Hively: Yeah. I think specifically we’ve noticed that we’ve gotten a lot of feedback of people being like, “Wow, I didn’t realize that mattered that much or that was actually going to change.” Mary talks about some of the genes that I have the ability to change in my brain or in my body. So there’s a lot of like, “Oh, interesting,” that that’s tied, and that connection is so strong and that there’s research behind that. Then also, just the idea of like, “Oh, good. This is good. I’m already doing some of these things.”

“I had no idea of this whole area of emotional processing, and I feel like that’s always a new one, and that can be so powerful in that stress management piece when you learn how to really kind of deal with your emotions.” So I think those have been, yeah, a lot of the top takeaways lately.

Folwell: I think the emotional processing one, I’ve been debating. If I should even share this on the podcast, but I had a close friend who he always calls it emotional constipation.

Rensel: That’s a good one.

Folwell: He’s like, “You got to process. You got to process.”

Hively: You got to get it out.

Rensel: Yeah. Exactly. Perfect.

Hively: That is so true. Yeah. I know it sounds scarier than it is, which I do think is another positive, right? It’s not that scary, and it’s also like, “Oh, why don’t I know how to do this better?” Because it’s not overly complicated and tying it back to the research of what happens in your mind and realizing how much it clogs up your focus and productivity, or like, “Oh, wow. It’s a game-changer.”

Rensel: Yeah. People think it’ll be very messy. They think it will be really messy, and they don’t want to go there. They don’t want to open that door. So I think just learning ways to open that door and just address it and talk about it, and yeah, I think otherwise will lead to constipation. That’s hilarious.

Folwell: Well, actually, when you were talking about that, I always think of Brené Brown talks about the power of vulnerability. It’s like be vulnerable, be vulnerable. But I have people in my life who are very hard for them to be vulnerable, and I think it’s like the lack of tools or the understanding of how to do that. So I think that having a tool set for that makes a lot of sense. So trying to identify ways that make it seem less scary. Because really, for a lot of people, it’s like, “Okay. I know she’ll be vulnerable, but that feels terrible.”

Hively: Yes. Yeah. People feel like they’re going to be stuck. I think like Mary said, if you open that door, you’re going to sit in your emotions forever, and it’s actually the opposite. So once you learn, I feel like the habit piece of it, it’s like, you can actually move through things so much more quickly, and you’re not terrified of what you might feel. You can just feel the thing and then move on and feel the thing and move on and just feel the thing and move on. So yeah, exactly. It’s a practice, and it’s definitely something to build upon and get better at, which is actually really positive, because then there’s something you can see a change in.

Folwell: Well, I think it’s great to know. I’ve never thought about resiliency as a learned behavior or the ability, even just the practice of going through this. It’s like, it is something that gets easier with time, and I think that’s great for everybody to keep in mind. So let’s shift gears a little bit with some kind of more personal questions about you guys, just to kind of let our audience know who you are. I’ve got a couple of fun questions. So in the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit most improved your life?

Rensel: First thing, myself, it’s penciling myself in. I didn’t always do that. So since COVID, I pencil in time to journal. I write it in my planner, and I pencil in when I’m going to meditate and when I’m going to lift weights. So I put them in my week, because my week may be different each week, and I want to see when I have my early meetings when I have time. I’m more of a morning person. So I like to do things in the morning that are productive like that. So yeah. It’s a huge difference. I know if I didn’t do it, I’m like, “What? Why? Why aren’t things working well? What’s going on?” I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t do it. I just didn’t do it.” Because right after I do it, it’s not like I’m a new person.

Well, that was only 20-minute meditation. What could that do? But it really is dramatically helpful in my week balance and the balance of my week when I do those regular habits. So that’s for me, for sure.

Hively: That’s good. Yeah. I would say in the past five years, I’ve really given myself permission to do things my own way and realize there’s so many different ways to do something. So the quicker you just give yourself permission to do the way that works for you, the better it’s going to work, and the easier it’s going to be able to become a habit. I think before then, I would constantly be trying someone else’s way, and that was just the long road.

So I would say the belief is this works for me. Until it doesn’t, I’m going to do it this way. Even if you do it that way, we’re still kind of checking that back at the same time.

Folwell: That’s great. That’s great. What are some bad recommendations that you hear in your profession or in your area of expertise?

Rensel: How much time do you have? Well, I think it’s just a huge industry, right? So you hear people are selling all kinds of things with a lot of promises, and between products and supplements and the certain special, only this. But yeah. I think you have to find at least what works for you and find something that you can put throughout your week and have renewal time. We all work hard, but we also need renewal time as well. So because you won’t, you will not…we all know somebody who’s really burned out, who was amazing for a while and then burned out and is stuck. And they’re in a job that they’re stuck, and they can’t really see their way out because they’re so burned out. So yeah. I would be careful with the constant work, no renewal.

Folwell: That’s great.

Hively: Yeah. I feel like when everything comes back to it, it’s like these habits that you put in place that really have everything to do with you and nothing to do with any project or plans, that it’s like information and integration is what you need, and then everything else is probably a bad idea. If it’s outside of you, you think you can buy this, and it’s going to change you or this supplement or this. It’s like none of that without taking it and making it yours and developing the habits that work for you is really going to do it for you.

Folwell: I was waiting for the silver bullet supplement.

Rensel: Right. I know. Well, our favorite thing is we gave a talk to 400 women doctors about this, and I had someone come up after talking to me like, “Oh, I’m good.” Because my husband and I take the supplement. I was like, “Have you heard one thing that we said?” There’s not one little. Like you said, the silver bullet, it’s like, “No, it’s this. You need a few things.” And they’re fun. They’re fun. It’s okay.

Folwell: Yeah. Well, it’s great. I’ve enjoyed this conversation with you guys. I enjoy having you on here. I think it’s pretty timely. I know we’ve all been dealing with pandemic that things are opening up slightly in different areas of the country. But I personally know that, I mean, with our team and a lot of the colleagues, I know that there’s a lot of people dealing with burnout and pretty meaningful ways.

I’ve talked to people who are like, “Oh, I haven’t taken a vacation since the pandemic started, because I have nowhere to go. I don’t feel safe.” So I think now it might be as good a time as ever to kind of dig into something like this or even offer it at will for the teams that we work with to have this as an outlet or something that they can do to help themselves. With that, are there any additional comments that you guys would like to add? Any last thoughts?

Rensel: Well, we just know it’s been a super hard year for so many in different ways, but a lot of common themes. So first of all, just acknowledge all the hardships that people have been through this year. There’s a way out, and it’s probably like small steps. The other thing we have to remember is we want the pre-corona us. We want to go back to … We think life is someday going to go back to that time. 

But we don’t go back. We never go back. Right? So we have to go forward. So don’t set expectations. Be careful with your expectations, it’s an important one these days, because we have a lot of people who are approaching us about the course, et cetera, that are saying, “I can’t wait. I can’t wait to go back to that. But that’s not the way the world life works.” We go forward. So take some small steps and just acknowledge the hardships that you’ve been through and all that you’ve been through this year and take some new, small, intentional steps, and I bet they’ll make some big differences.

Hively: Yeah. I would just second that completely. Yeah, exactly. At the same time, as much as what we’ve been through, it’s like a new opportunity to create, maybe a better culture, people, work, and life. The boundaries have really mixed this year. I mean, everyone’s working from home. Kids are popping on conference calls. Your dog is barking. So those lines have been really crossed. So really being able to change and appreciate people for where they are and just know that if you’re in a leadership position or if you’re in this place to give an opportunity to create this new space, like Mary said, where you can just really encourage a resilient culture by allowing people to have resources and energy put in these spaces for themselves, then you can really have the power to build so much powerful lasting change in your company.

Folwell: Yeah, absolutely. I think if anything that any business owner has probably learned in the last year is that resilience is maybe one of the most valuable tool sets you can have. Adaptability and resilience will help you make it through. So great skill set to learn. I really enjoyed the conversation with both of you.

Rensel: Thank you.

Folwell: I think there’s some great insights in here. We will put a link to their website in the show notes. It is brainopsgroup.com, and we’ll make sure that we’re linked to their LinkedIn profiles as well. Thank you guys so much for joining today. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Hively: Thank you, David.

Rensel: Thank you. Yeah.

Hively: Yeah. Thanks for doing everything you do, putting this out there. It’s a great show.

Rensel: Absolutely. Absolutely. Go and optimize your brains.

For more information about BrainOps, visit their website at www.brainopsgroup.com or checkout their LinkedIn page.