the following is an interview with tony schwartz, who you may know as co-author with donald trump in the art of the deal. tony just came out with a new book which i think everyone who has ever worked (so about 90% of the adult population) should read. it is called the way we’re working isn’t working. in susan lyne’s words
for two decades, tony schwartz has been observing and teaching the fundamentals of great performance. his new book looks at why working harder doesn’t translate to working better. backed by research and his own case studies, he offers a path to better results and higher rewards that should be hugely valuable to individuals and organizations alike.
isabella: you say that a good way to make deep and lasting change in your life is to create new rituals. can you give an example in your own life where you have done that?
tony: wow! i actually have a life filled with rituals. i start every day by working out. that’s a ritual. i begin my work day by doing the most important thing first, for 90 minutes, and then take a break. i take a break every 90 minutes throughout the day. i ritualize 8 plus hours of sleep. on saturday mornings, i sit with my wife of 32 years and we talk: she first, usually, with me listening, and then me, with her listening. building rituals that serve my life well has transformed my experience. my rituals assure that i do what’s important to me, no matter what else is going on.
isabella: one of your tongue-in-cheek headers is “what do you want, and what will you do to avoid getting it?” i think this is a central question for everyone, whether at work, in relationships, in personal goals or anywhere else. asking this question point-blank raises people’s hackles; have you found a way to ask this question so that people will actually reflect on it?
tony: well, interestingly, i think that it turns out you’re often better to start by helping people to build behaviors that serve them well — the sort of rituals i’ve described above. and then, almost inevitably, they’ll run into unexpected roadblocks and resistances. that’s the opportunity to start exploring what’s getting in their way, because then you’ve got the energy of a person’s frustration working for you. this helps explain why i believve that enduring change is ultimately a blend of many approaches: deepening awareness, cognitive work around the stories we tell ourselves, and explicit work aimed at changing specific behavioraa.
isabella: the idea of rhythm and balance (e.g. spending/renewing energy; work/rest; right/left hemispheres) is central to your book. it reminds me of one of the seminal early new age books, george leonard’s the silent pulse. are you familiar with his book, and if so, could you touch on one or two areas where you have similar or different views?
tony: george leonard had an intuitive sense that building a rhythmic life rather than a linear one was the way to go. he was a lyrical writer, not a researcher. what i’ve tried to do in the way we’re working isn’t working is to really lay out the multidisciplinary evidence for the fact that we’re designed to be rhythmic and to really show how this works across all dimensions of our lives. physically, we need to balance rest and movement, eating and not eating, waking and sleeping. cognitively we’re at our best when we learn to move flexibly between left and right hemisphere dominance. spiritually we need to balance taking care of others with truly taking care of ourselves.
isabella: you propose that awareness has three dimensions: “how long is your perspective? how wide is your vision? how deeply are you willing to look?” how did you develop the idea of these three dimensions?
tony: most of us have a very narrow, superficial, short-term perspective built around avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. it’s our evolutionary inheritance. we want, above all, to survive, and reproduce, and not to be in discomfort. awareness — consciousness — is an evolutionary leap, and it’s a capacity that separates us from every other species. we’re the only ones with the capacity for self-consciousness — reflection about ourselves. with that in mind, the question become “how spacious and embracing is my awareness?”
there are only so many ways to answer that. you can have a wider vision, which means more inclusive. you see your connections to others, and you’re capable of empathy. you can also have a longer perspective, meaning the ability to see beyond your immediate needs and preoccupations. that’s possible only when you learn how to delay gratification, which is an extraordinary ability, and also the key to doing almost anything enduringly meaningful in your life.
and finally, there is depth. most of us live at the surface, focused on the external world and how we’re managing it. depth is about interiority isn’t it? it’s about the willingness to look within, to peel away the layers, to overcome our infinite capacity for self-deception. the whole journey really starts with depth, because depth is about working your way towards your ground, past the layers of conditioning, and reactivity, impulsivity and rationalization, defenses and blaming. depth is what makes life rich. it frees up the ability to take a broader and a wider perspective.
isabella: below are two other quotes from your book that i found interesting. do you have any wise words on them that you may not have been able to include in the book?
“we tolerate extraordinary disconnects in our own lives, even in areas we plainly have the power to influence”
tony: this goes back to our instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain. one of the shocking truths about a really satisfying life is that it necessarily involves pain — the pain of growing, of pushing past our limits, of seeing through our delusions, illusions and premature conclusions. when the researcher anders ericsson studied violinists at various skill levels, all the violinists agreed on one thing: practice was not only the most important single thing they could do to improve as violinists, but also the most difficult and the least enjoyable. that helps explain why so few people achieve greatness.
“meaning and significance are a unique source of energy that ignites passion, focus and perseverance”
tony: well, meaning is a big subject, but there is a simple answer here. when something really matters to us, we bring vastly more energy to it. many of us spend our lives trying to please others, or live up to some external standard. that’s not nearly as powerful a source of motivation as simply loving something for its own sake, regardless of what anyone else thinks. i feel exactly that way about all of the ideas i’m talking about here. it gives me joy every day of my life to engage with them, and to share them, and to believe that they have the power to improve people’s lives.