In this episode of the podcast Michael speaks with Sherry Walling, PhD in Clinical Psychology. Sherry has been working for years to help everyday founders become "Zen Founders" and in this episode she will give you tips on how to prioritize your life to be more focused.
Hello folks, and welcome to another episode of E commerce QA. This is the show where we keep it fast and simple, to dig into the things that e commerce store owners and operators need to hear, need to be thinking about, and today I'm joined by Sherry Walling. Sherry has a PhD and we're going to talk about a topic that, I think, we all can get as much as possible of, which is clarity. Focus and clarity.
Sherry thank you so much for joining.
Sherry: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
I'm a PhD in clinical psychology, incase that matters to your listeners, as opposed to history or astrophysics.
Michael: It does. I realize as I said that I was like, "oh that wasn't very descriptive". So speaking of being clear about things, Sherry, what brings you to be someone that we would want to talk to about this topic? Can you describe your interest in the topics. That's focus and clarity, and maybe your professional work in these areas.
Sherry: Sure, as we've established already, I'm a PhD in clinical psychology, so I work a lot of with people who are either looking to fix a problem in their lives, or looking to kind of optimize on their ability to function in usually pretty high performing jobs. So, historically I've worked with professionals like physicians, or officers in the military, but increasingly I'm working with folks who are involved in entrepreneurship. Particularly in the technology space. And part of that is because I've been married to 17 years to a serial entrepreneur named Rob Walling, who has had several startups and runs a conference called micro conf and so I kind of live in that world of founders and entrepreneurs by nature of my personal life. So it's created some good opportunities for me to really work with folks around getting really clear and sharp in terms of what they want their lives to be like, as they're often starting or running established technology businesses.
Michael: That's great. You know what, I have to be honest with you. I was like, "Rob Walling, do I know Rob Walling?", and of course I know Rob Walling. We've been using his software for years, so it's so great to be meeting you.
Sherry: Likewise, hey thanks for using Drip.
Michael: Absolutely, it's the greatest piece of software ever. So let's dive in. What is clarity? So time is the ultimate commodity, right? We're limited in time more than we are with anything else, and so there's that issue of, "How do I make the most of my time?". But maybe we can go a little bit more specific. How can we define clarity in such a way that it relates to how we use our time, and maybe what areas of life do we need to be most focused around building clarity?
Sherry: I really like the word clarity, and I like it from that dictionary definition of, "Clear, lucid, easy to see". I think it connotes this level of simplicity that helps us then focus our lives. So again, we have all of these tasks, so many demands on our time. Many of us have very intricate software products just to help us manage our to do list. And so I think when were are looking towards becoming more clear or enhancing the clarity in our lives, we want to do that at least on two fronts, if not more.
The first one has to be personal clarity. Thinking about our priorities. The tasks that are most important to us, our values, the things that we believe that drive our lives that are most important to us, and our identity. So I like parsing clarity into priorities, which is task values, which is thoughts, beliefs, organizing ideas, and identity. A sense of who your are and who you aren't. I think those three work also when we think about business clarity. Because we have to prioritize what's important, and what we want to spend our time on, but it's a little bit more complicated than just ranking the items on our task list. We're asking deeper questions about what we value most, and that provides clarity, and then helps us be more organized with our time.
Michael: So I want to get into this in more detail maybe a little later, but I'm interested in this sequence that you need to go through. Those steps of questioning, and asking and answering. We were looking at a Huffington Post article about getting clarity and it was kind of talking about this idea where you have to be clear about the deeper things, like what do you want at a core level, before you can know how to get what you want. Things like that. Can you actually give us some questions that you really like to use, maybe with your clients or maybe for yourself in really digging deeply into what do you want at a very core level?
Sherry: I'm a fan of collecting this data over time. And the reason that I say that is because I think it's only when we look at our own personal patterns that we get the best information. So kind of longitudinal data over "What do I want", or "Who do I want to be"? For me personally, and I've talked about this a lot of my clients". One of the best practices is simply at the end of the day, to ask, "What was the best part of my day, what was my high point?", essentially. And, "What was my low point", and then to look at that information over time. Because I think it gives really good data about what are our sweet spots in life. What makes us come alive? What's bringing us joy? What are we finding most interesting and most satisfying? And then also gives us good data about what is sort of sucking the life out of us. Those are sort of the two pieces of information that I think really help provide people with a sense of clarity. I know I want this, and I know I don't want that.
Michael: So, if you don't mind, can I ask is this a practice that you follow yourself?
Sherry: It is a practice that I follow, and have followed for years actually, so I have a girlfriend. She's a physician, she's a lifelong friend from college. And we talk on the phone every Sunday and go over the data we collected. So we talk about not only the high point from each day, but what was sort of the overall high point for the week, and then I go a step further and then twice a year take a personal retreat where I look at all of data and then also think about, "Okay over the last six months, or over the last year, what parts of my life am I really enjoying, did I really love?", and "What parts of my life did I hate?". So there's these sort of periods of checking in, which I think provides, again, this information over time. It allows you to make shifts and adjustments as you need to.
Michael: Would you mind sharing something that's been a real high point in the last few months? Maybe a low point that's not too personal?
Sherry: Oh sure. Well I'm happy to do that, but I think one of my favorite stories about this process, for myself personally, is I was working in a tenured track faculty position. It was the kind of job I thought I'd always wanted. I had gone to grad school forever, I'd worked really hard, I'd written lots of papers, and I had worked to be in the position to have this particular kind of faculty job. As I collected this information and just reflected on my experience in this job in particular, I realized I was really unhappy. And it was only when I had sort of three retreats in a row that all of my low points were basically about parts of this job that just weren't the right fit for me. I think collecting this information over time, and seeing it so clear, and watching these patterns helped me see, "This is not the right job for me". It's nobody's fault, it's not the university, it's not my fellow faculty members, it's just not the right job for me. Again, that sort of clarity, that ability to focus and see over time really gave me the strength to resign from a job that most people find really desirable, and I thought I really wanted.
But it allowed me to sort of step out of the pattern. Those automatic, "Of course this is what I'm going to do with my life", because I'd watched that information accumulate over time.
Michael: That's really fascinating. I'm sure a lot of our listeners probably feel like, yeah, that's parts of their lives that they really don't like, but that might only come out through contemplation.
Sherry: I don't think there's a way to get clarity without self reflection. Right? Because it has to come from inside of you. Whether that's journaling, or talking to a therapist, or even this simple practice of checking in about your day. I think the problem with our big task lists and how busy we all are is that we don't really listen to ourselves very much. And we follow the scripts and we follow the job descriptions and do the things we think we're supposed to do to promote ourselves and our business and keep everybody afloat. But we don't have the ability to really step back and see our lives if we don't practice some aspect of setting aside our to do list and reflecting on what we need, and what's important and asking some of those bigger questions.
Michael: That's a good point. I think for me, something as ethereal as grand clarity, like we're talking about, feels like, "How could that come through some kind of a scheduled process?", but absolutely that makes sense that that's the only way that it could possibly happen.
Sherry, can we talk about action? SO there's this contemplation side here, but how does action play into this whole mix? And maybe, what are some action steps that people can take beyond the contemplation and the clarity that comes out on the grand level when you do that. Where do you go from there?
Sherry: So you go from big picture to small picture I think. I also want to say that it's all dynamic, and it's all a running experiment. Say you've gotten some clarity that you really have got to take better care of your body, or you're heading for heart disease, you're heading for obesity, you're heading down this path that you don't want to head. So there's this value that you've adopted, "This is important to me, I need to pay attention to this". And then it's once you're convicted that that's a core value that you then put that into place. So you make a change. You get a trainer, you workout every morning at 6am for two weeks, and then you evaluate. Was that a high point? Did that work well for me? Is that really what I need to be doing? You sort of have to be engaged in that constant self reflection to make sure that your actions are, A, in line with the values that are guiding you, and to make sure that you're actually getting the benefit that you thought you would be getting from making that kind of change.
Michael: This reminds me of some slow charts that I've created for software development. It sounds kind of similar, right? It's an interactive process.
Sherry: Yes, it's totally like scientific method. Hypothesize, test, draw conclusion, and repeat.
Michael: Nice. Related topic to clarity and to being in a place where you can have clarity. Calmness. We just did another show on the topic of, basically, how to calm things down, and how to be able to rest and relax. I'm wondering how that relates from the stand point of ... Let's say that you're feeling confused or just not sleeping well. Something like that. And you really want to get to this point of clarity. I know this is me a lot of the time where I've just got a lot going on and I'll take the weekend and just kind of detox, and by the end of the weekend I'm feeling pretty good about things, and then Monday hits again. Do you have any advice for developing a more of a habitual calmness, if that makes any sense?
Sherry: There is some incredible research around the neurological benefits of even a very brief meditation practice. Or something like taking five really slow deep breaths. Certainly yoga fits into that tradition. Even a ten minute walk in a quiet place. I think the connection that you're making between calm and clarity is pretty indisputable. It's really impossible for us to see our lives and our selves with any kind of insight if our heart rate is elevated. If we're in the fight or flight, "I have to get things done to keep my business a float" mentality. But there are lots of really simple practices. The Mind space app is fabulous. There are lots of ways to just take the discipline really in five to ten minutes in your morning, or five to ten minutes over lunch. Or five to ten minutes as you're making the transition away from work back to your personal life. Those are all little spaces where a little bit goes a long way, and there's a lot of value in just the discipline of five minutes a day, or ten minutes a day.
Michael: That's great, well I'll definitely include the link to that app in the show notes. So tell me this, Sherry. What are a few things that you'd like to use our audience with in terms of some practical takeaways, or some really helpful quotes and mindset altering motifs maybe, that you use in your personal life or with clients that would be kind of quickies to help along the lines that you just shared.
Sherry: So I think practical take homes ... Ten minutes of quiet each day. Ten minutes of moving your body, whether that's a walk or pushups or jumping jacks or something you can do in your office even. And some brief way that you're documenting how you're feeling about your life. There are mood tracker apps, there are journaling apps, there's this classic thing called paper and pencil. And it can be two words. Best part of my day. Worst part of my day. And just learn to pay attention to your own self over time, because I think when we see people that are really killing it, that are really engaged in ... Just seem to be very joyful and happy in their lives but also are productive and seem to have satisfying businesses, I feel like those are people, assuming it's authentic and not just an Instagram or Facebook impression, but those are people who are really awake, and they're really paying attention. I think that's the invitation. Clarity is about attention, it's about focus, but also it's about being able to see yourself and your business. So that takes a decision to live an awake, clear, focused life.
Michael: That's great. Ten minutes of quiet, ten minutes or movement, brief way of documenting. Everybody listening to this can totally do that.
Are there any things that you'd like to share that you're doing? You've got a podcast. Can you tell us about that?
Sherry: Yeah, this is sort of bread and butter of the conversations I love to have, so I cohost a podcast that's called Zen Founder, and it started for entrepreneurs in the tech space, but I know lawyers and dentists and all kinds of business owners who have been listening. We talk a lot about how to work well, so some of this kind of conversation about how to be focused and clear in your work, and we talk a lot about having a healthy self. So the mental health piece that's the expertise in my background. And then it's a podcast that I cohost with my husband, so we talk a lot about family stuff and how to run a business and still parent your children, and those kinds of things. So it's a fun project and one that we really hope people get a lot of benefit from. And we're doing some cool things. We're doing a retreat. Basically like a marriage retreat for entrepreneurs and their partners. We're going to start up some coaching groups over the summer, so there's a lot going on. If this kind of conversation is interesting to your listeners, we'd sure love to have them cross pollinate and listen to Zen Founder too.
Michael: Definitely. Absolutely. That sounds so exciting. Where is the retreat going to be?
Sherry: You know, it's to be determined. We're talking about Colorado.
Michael: Okay, I think that's a really good idea.
Sherry: Not ready to decide on that yet, but yeah. It'll be small. Like ten to fifteen couples, very relaxing, hopefully a clarifying experience for everyone.
Michael: Nice. Well I'm in Colorado, so definitely would love it if you guys to that out here. I feel so calm. I got up at 5 this morning and I had this really complicated project that we needed to deploy, and I was just like, "okay, okay, okay. On that I've got a podcast and I've got to be calm for that", and this has been great. I really appreciate it.
Sherry: Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for asking me.
Michael: Yeah, for sure. Is there a good way to get ahold of you if people have more questions?
Sherry: Yeah, I'm Sherry@sherrywalling.com, or @ZenFounder on twitter.
Michael: Perfect, all right. And we'll include all those things in the show notes as usual. Sherry it's been such a pleasure to have you on, and I'm really excited to hear about the retreat and the other things you're doing. I'll definitely be listening to your podcast and I encourage everyone on the show to do the same.
Sherry: Thanks so much Michael.
Well folks, there you have it. Everything will be in the show notes, and if you have any questions, just email email@example.com, or obviously email Sherry directly. So that's it for today.