Ishita: Tell us about how Truly Accomplished came to be?
Elissa: I worked with a lot of extraordinarily successful people. By any standard you would look at these people and say, “Wow”, they’ve got it all but when they start talking, none of them feel that way on the inside. There was a recent study done that talked about executives and CEOs, and how as human beings we can experience 22,000 emotions, which I can’t even comprehend, but the CEOs on average only experienced 12 in their work and life, and eight of them were negative. So you’ve got people who are out there who we look up to as being really successful and yet they’re not feeling very successful, it doesn’t feel great. You don’t have to be a CEO to relate to that. You can be outwardly doing everything right and just not feeling it.
Ultimately, you may want to emulate the actions of those who are successful, but not their emotions.
The reason I called my practice Truly Accomplished is because it’s not that easy to feel proud of yourself.
it's easier to avoid doing what matters to you, and even to avoid knowing what that is, but it always catches up with you and feels bad. That certainly was my situation. I had been working such crazy hours that my kids had drawn Christmas pictures of me with a laptop and a Blackberry.
Ishita: Would you say you felt this divide between seeing observable success and not feeling successful?
Elissa: Yeah, I think that before I developed this method I couldn’t have told you, “Gosh I just don’t feel proud of what I’m doing”. But it felt like I was always practicing for something more that I was supposed to do. One of my favorite mentors, Barbara Sher, has a book title that says it all: I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was. There is a pattern that I call the Cycle of Disappointment where you can't identify what you want, but trying to do something about it is uncomfortable and doesn't solve the problem, since you don't know the problem. Then you get discouraged and wonder Ugh, why do I suck ? You think it's your own fault.
I see so many people doing that. Most of the self-help resources out there start with the premise that you already know what you want and what your goals are. But what if you don’t know what your goals are?
Ishita: We're used to thinking we must know what we want, have clearly defined goals.
Elissa: Exactly. Most of the workshops you attend will ask you to start with your goals and your vision. So the problem is, when someone asks you What do you want ? the part of the brain where “What do you want?” is being asked doesn’t have a language capability. It literally cannot put that into words. The part of our brain that was developed last is the frontal cortex, that’s the part which does all our computations and does all of our analysis, we think of it as being “smart”.
But all that part of the brain can do is compare one thing to another, and it can’t even compare that many things at once. So when we start in our little analytic process, like, “Would I rather be a sailor or a fisherman?” there’s no real data there. We’re just comparing a couple of things.
By contrast, the part of our brain, that was first developed, known as the limbic brain, can look, in a flash at the entire landscape, take everything in. When we were cave people, it was the limbic brain which could see a sabre-toothed tiger from a distance. It tells you in that that second: fight, flight or freeze. The amount of data this part of the brain takes in at one time is huge. It has so much data all at once that the way we experience that data becomes a feeling.
When you re asked What do you want ? you have to go to your feelings for an answer not the computing part of your brain for analysis. The research on optimal decision-making says that we should be making big decisions based on how we feel, and then refining them with our analytic capability. And not the other way around. You wouldn’t want to buy your next apartment based on a list of features you would want to walk in, fall in love with it, and verify that it had the features.
Ishita: How have you incorporated this practice into your life, and how has it made a difference?
Elissa: I've gone from always feeling like I was underachieving to understanding that what I do is good enough and worth being proud of. What I wanted to do, specifically, was to figure out a much more predictable and rigorous way of showing unsure people how to know what they want and that they have an actual shot at getting it.
The first thing to do is just write down, “How do I feel right now?” The common answers include overwhelmed, bored, stressed. Then flip it: How do I want to feel ? Not everyone wants to feel the same things. I have clients that want to feel delighted, Important, safe. Everybody’s got their thing.
Once you know even that much, you have taken a big step. Not everyone links their actions to their desires on a daily basis. For example, your wish to feel safe may manifest in your ice cream and wine routine every night.
For me personally, I always wanted to keep away from this emotional feeling of chaos because it took me back to my childhood days. I grew up in a chaotic home with my brother who is mentally ill. So whenever I saw chaos and untidiness in my own home, I'd go crazy.
I decided to try this method with my kids at home. The kids had a habit of leaving their dirty socks on the floor. So I generated a sense of responsibility in them, a sense of stewardship and explained how we had to take care of ourselves and our home by keeping it neat and tidy. We talked about it for a while, and my 7 year old said, Oh mommy, we do not want to live in chaos. They understood when I spoke to them in emotional terms. The really cool thing is that now the house is almost always cleaned up, and occasionally if I do see the socks lying on the floor, I don't get stuck into the drama of it all. I am more able to keep my cool and know I am doing what I should as a parent.
Ishita: The specificity is key, isn't it. Often we're not even sure if it's the dirty sock that is the trigger for our emotional distress.
Elissa: Absolutely! Adults are a lot like babies. We have a little attention span and we get frustrated easily.
Ishita: Can you briefly take us through the rest of the Truly Accomplished method?
Elissa: The first question to ask yourself is: How do I want to feel? If you’re having a hard time with that, start with “How do I feel now?” There will be some things you don’t want to feel anymore. In that case, you can give yourself the opposite of that feeling. And there are some things that you probably like feeling that you want to feel even more of.
Then you’re going to break that down with strategies. What would make you feel that way? And again, you don’t know, you just think These are the things that will make me feel this way . Some of these things will be big and some of them will be little, some of them will be starting your own business and some of them will be picking up socks.
From here, you break these things down into as small parts as possible. So you have actionable steps such as: Are the socks picked up? Let s take another example. It might be that you want to feel beautiful. You want to eat great, exercise and get enough rest, but actually you’re doing most of those things in a pretty good amount already. Soon you realize, “Well, it’s the dinner; I’m going wrong on dinner”. Out of all the long list of stuff you think you need to do, really the only thing you’ll end up measuring is whether you had two vegetables with your dinner. All you will need to know is what the two specific things you need to do are in order to feel beautiful.
Our methods are built on decades of research. The brain is bad at calculating importance, so we help you build a specific system to exactly measure what matters to you. You can see a lot of measurable progress in your goals just checking in once a week for 30 days. In fact, we just had a research study come back on our method which states that in 30 days, people improved their performance by over 150 percent on average. So we’re talking about juicy, actual change! You can accomplish anything.
About: Elissa Ashwood’s leadership experience includes roles as a Fortune 100 Finance and HR executive at Citibank, American Express and AIG, as a McKinsey & Co. consultant, and as principal of Strategy 42. Ashwood holds an MBA in Finance and Accounting from the University of Rochester, and a BS from Trinity University.
She gives clients the confidence to make innovative choices in the context of rigorous business acumen for outstanding results. Read more at Truly Accomplished.
Photos by notsogoodphotography.