Rachael O’Meara is a transformation leadership and executive coach who empowers professionals to learn and build the emotional intelligence skills to thrive at work and beyond. I’ve always found Rachael to be a genuine, inspiring entrepreneur who is doing heart-centered work that makes a real difference. I believe that the concepts she teaches can help any individual live a more intentional, more satisfied, and less stressed existence.
For the past ten years, Rachael’s experience in sales and client services at Google has helped her have a pulse on what it takes to be a successful and thriving transformational leader. Her book Pause was named one of 2017’s top business books for your career and was featured in the New York Times and on WSJ.com. She is certified in Transformational Coaching from the Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential (ICF model), and has an MBA from Fordham University.
Rachael lives in San Francisco with her husband and pauses as much as possible to ski, road bike, and BE (which is a life long challenge!)
In this interview, Rachael and I talk about the power of emotional intelligence, what that means, and what type of results it can produce. Rachael talks about how hard it is to pause in the always-on digital era and why it’s so important that we be intentional about making time for it.
“Emotional Intelligence is the practice of being in the here and now to be aware of how you are in the moment in relation to what else is going on”
– Rachael O’Meara
Transcript of Our Interview:
All right. So as a business owner, I am always trying to acquire new skills for myself and my business. Typically those are things like learning WordPress, learning copywriting skills, learning, networking skills. It’s not very often that I find business owners focusing on exploring emotional intelligence skills. So I wanted to talk a little bit about what that means to have emotional intelligence skills and why it’s important for entrepreneurs and business owners.
Great. For me, I define emotional intelligence by a couple of different things and it’s pretty much a new term and you kinda hear it as a buzz word in the industry or in leadership and in business and, and it’s a term that was coined by Daniel Goldman 23 years ago in his book in 1996 called Emotional Intelligence. He got it from a couple of other researchers who had published a paper on it. So the term itself has only been around about 20 to 25 years. So it’s a new science essentially, and it’s really the practice of being in the here and now to be aware of how you are in the moment in relation to what else is going on. That means a whole lot of other things to different people. Each of us probably hears that a little differently, but I think of it really in terms of knowing myself to be a leader in the world and relating to others. And so that’s what I define as emotional intelligence.
Okay. Then quite obviously that’s highly important for entrepreneurs and business owners as to who they are and what they’re doing in their business. Everything would descend around that.
Yeah, absolutely. In fact, there’s been research, and this is based again on Daniel Goldman who I study with. I also study with The Wright Foundation where I’ve been studying emotional and social learning for eight years. It’s the number one skill recruited by leaders, so whether it’s an interview or you’re growing a team or building your own business, if you aren’t able to relate to others, you really can’t go far. It’s something that, and I keep going back to this, but it’s so new, it’s not about technical or performative skills anymore. We can all learn things like you were mentioning, like copywriting or networking, these are more tactical things, but to relate to others and that relates to networking as well is a skill that requires us to strengthen our internal muscles of how do we feel. Noticing how we feel and being aware enough to know how that can really relate to the external world. Because if I’m not relating to myself and understanding how I feel or where I’m at “in the moment” and being present, there’s no way that I’m going to be able to do that successfully outside of myself if that makes sense.
Okay. So I want to talk a little bit about the typical work environment that exists nowadays with a lot of the business owners who are listening to this. There are a lot of stigmas that exist in our work culture. You’ve described us as an “always-on” society. Can you tell me a little bit about what that means and some problems that this creates?
Yeah. Who doesn’t think we’re in an always-on society? I feel like every one of us can relate, on the planet. For business leaders like us you know, we think we need to be on all the time, all of us can relate to that in some way, shape or form. That means potentially answering your emails at any given hour, any day of the week. Anytime it might mean go, go, go. You’re really in the focus of the task mode and checking off your boxes and getting things done, which is great, and I’m all for productivity. However, the always-on world means and implies that we don’t take any pauses. The reality is our world has shifted so much with the digital era that it’s just not sustainable to go always on. We’re seeing that in our health statistics where burnout is recently classified as an occupational hazard by the World Health Organization. Two out of three people think that they’re either burned out often or most of the time. So there’s clearly an epidemic going on, and what that means to me is a signal that we need to change what we’re doing and how we’re doing it more or less because we can’t keep going like this. If we choose to take a break, we think we’re going to look like slackers. So there’s a perception out there that if we are slowing down or if we’re taking, God forbid, our full weekend for ourselves, then we’re gonna fall behind. The reality is you can do that, but how much can you keep that up?
And we’ve heard from thought leaders like Arianna Huffington who literally had a mental collapse because she was working so hard and hit her head. We all know that story. Then many others who have been a culprit of the always-on society. So my thoughts are, and I write about this in Pause, the book, is that we need to each take personal responsibility to set boundaries and limitations for ourselves. And I call a pause: any intentional shift in behavior. That’s something different for all of us. But I think the big idea is always on isn’t working. It’s actually counterintuitive to pause, but if you really want to go far, if you want to succeed, we need to incorporate that and integrate it as a mindset, as a way of being. Because otherwise we will burn out if we’re not careful. It’s up to each of us. It’s not society’s problem. We are “Society”. We have to individually decide what is best for us and then create those ways of being. It might be a daily pause or it might be that mindset or just saying, I’m not answering my email after 9:00 pm or 6:00 pm. And the thing would be different in influx for all of us. But I think it’s up to each of us in our own sense of duty to ourselves and our own satisfaction and happiness, that we need to carve out those boundaries and expectations that we each need to have for ourselves.
So talking about the pause a little bit more, it can vary person to person with what a pause is. Can you give us some examples of what you would suggest that people try to incorporate as a pause in their lives?
Yeah, I have a ton of these. So the way I think about it is, again, a pause is any intentional shift in behavior. So this can be as simple as a breath, a single breath. And we can all do this one together. If you want to put a hand on your diaphragm or your heart space or anything, just go ahead and if you can close your eyes, go for it. But if you just breathe, inhaling through your nose, hold it intentionally, and an exhale. Open your eyes if they were closed. Notice if you feel any different. I personally feel different. I feel a little slower. My heart I think decreased slightly. So there are those intentional shifts like that that can be five seconds and you could do those throughout the day. The key is intention. So that’s one. I love the belly breath. Another popular one we just were talking about is the digital device pause. This one’s a lot harder because we’re actually fueled by a lot of the results of checking our emails. The dopamine that we get is a neurotransmitter chemical wash. Every time we check our phones our reward center in our brain lights up. So creating those boundaries with digital devices is so important.
I don’t know about you Jess, but for me, I don’t sleep with my phone in my room. I put it out in the hallway and it charges there and that makes a big difference. I don’t always think about it like that, but now that I’ve done it for a while, it takes 30 days to create any new habits, that’s what the research says, that’s a good one and it’s super easy to do. Other ones, I have a whole bunch of different types in a checklist that I have in my Facebook group, but I think there’s the mindful pause, which is literally anything you’re already doing, it might be brushing your teeth or walking down the street, filling your cup up at the tea station or water bottle, and it is to notice, to be aware of what you’re doing. And it might just be noticing the color or the texture of what is going on. It might be the tree in front of you as you’re walking down the street and you’re noticing the green or the lack of green leaves and if it’s the wintertime like now. So there’s the mindful pause and that’s literally, people think it takes a lot of time to pause and that’s not the case at all. It’s actually more like I said, integration of what is it that you’re noticing.
I take a hint from Dr. Ellen Langer, who is someone who I’ve been recently studying and I’m friends with now, which is great. She’s at Harvard and the first tenured women professor. She’s come up with this idea of mindfulness and mindlessness. Uf we’re not noticing new things, we’re not being mindful, and that’s all it is. It doesn’t mean you have to meditate. It doesn’t mean you have to have some big routine. It’s really just what can you do that works for you? It might be your favorite passion project. It could be a risk that you want to take maybe in a conversation with someone. So again, it’s any intentional shift in behavior and there are many ways to do that.
Absolutely. I was just having a conversation with someone the other day about watching television because we’ll work and we’ll feel stressed out and we will try to take a pause by watching television and not feel any better. And I think this really ties into what you’re saying about what you’re doing when you pause, it’s not just taking a break in any capacity, it’s the mental attention to it. Right?
Yeah. So I’m so glad you mentioned that because I noticed that as well for me. So a great example is we all do our binge-watching. If we’re not living under a rock and we’re in the tech era, I think we all love our little fix for whatever that might be. Maybe it’s Netflix or maybe it’s just a movie you want to watch or a show and that can actually be really stressful depending on the content in itself. And then if we’re not intentional about it, we can get sucked in just like a social media scan where you’re lost in your Instagram and five minutes go by then 30 minutes and then you’re like, Whoa, what? Or where did my time go? So it’s really important to set an intention first.
I know for me this recently happened. I got HBO for the month. Like, I don’t know, I have Netflix, but I don’t have HBO. I started watching the show, Big Little Lies, which I am interested in, but it’s really just this big soap opera. I noticed how stressed I was after I started. I was paranoid and while watching it and I was like, Oh my God, I’m just caught up in a story. And it also takes place here in the Monterey Bay area near me. So I just like felt like I was right there and I just noticed I was thinking about this so much. And I feel like I kind of let myself into it and watch too much of it.
I think I probably watched two or three episodes at one time. That’s a good example if you find yourself maybe even more stressed out than when you started here aiming to relax. This could be anything. Maybe you’re active in sports and you go out and you’re just exhausted from this crazy run you just did. I know I used to do that. Then you just gotta be mindful, that whole practice of being aware. That is emotional intelligence when you’re feeling that depletion, to know that you need a pause and to regenerate your energy. And so that’s something I think is a really big way to understand what you can do as opposed to going into that rabbit hole of watching a lot of things. Set a boundary. Say, okay, I’m going to watch one episode, I’m gonna set a timer for 45 minutes. Whatever it is. That’s really a great strategy so you’re not going to go unlimited. And that applies to social media too.
Absolutely. All right. Do you have any suggestions for how to get in the habit of checking in with ourselves? Cause I think that a lot of people in the business world, they tend to just run harder into the chaos when there is chaos and they don’t even notice that something’s out of control.
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, who’s been there? I’m raising my hand right now. For sure. I have a few tips. So this has really changed my life so much. So the whole story and why I teach this now and, and train on this is I did burn out. I burned out of Google eight years ago now. I did go back. I’m actually there now, but I learned some really valuable lessons. They all are in the realm of emotional intelligence. The first one is to be aware of how you feel, and this is so powerful. We think about a lot of times like feelings aren’t part of business, or if they are, it’s on the side. And so that is just bullshit. The idea is, you can name a feeling, and I work with five primary feelings.
So the five primary feelings, and this is to simplify it so you don’t get in your head and ruminate around what you feel or don’t feel, the five feelings are fear and then joy. So fear, joy, sadness, anger, and the last one, which a lot of people aren’t familiar or think that it’s a primary feeling, is hurt. Fear, joy, sadness, anger, hurt. There’s no order to those. Sometimes you can sub in words like anxiety. That’s basically fear, frustration, that’s kind of a business term for anger. And so if you just stick to those five and ask yourself even once a day what you’re feeling. Fear, hurt, joy, sadness, anger. You’re developing your emotional intelligence muscle, your internal muscle. Just like meditation can develop your attention. Training. This is training your AI network internally. And sometimes you don’t know what you do feel at all. Like right now, if you asked yourself, Jess, I’ll ask you, what are you feeling? Fear, hurt, joy, sadness, or anger. What would you say?
I’m feeling joy today.
Great. And I love how you answered that because it’s not about explaining why you feel that, you know, like maybe it’s one that has a negative connotation, like anger. The key is to not explain it. It’s just how you feel. It’s part of you. We’re designed to feel. Our creator created us to feel, meaning why would we have that as a default when we’re not supposed to feel, right. So just acknowledging that is very validating in terms of affirming what’s going on with you and feeling authentic. So that’s like the first thing it does. And then it also takes you in, drops you immediately in the present moment, right? Like you can’t feel with your head. You can’t be like, well I think I feel this. I mean, you could say that, but you really need to connect with your body. ADI, being neck down, living with you. Sometimes as business people we forget we have this body attached to our heads and really check-in. So that is a very powerful tool for just naming a feeling. It’s so important to just notice that. And I would start with once a day, build up to three times a day, maybe like around a meal or something that you remember to check in on and just stick to those five fear, joy, sadness, anger, hurt. If you don’t know, go with the process of elimination. Be like, well, it’s not this. Not definitely not fear. It’s not joy. Hmm. Kinda calm. I don’t know what that is. That’s a state, but okay. It’s not anger. I guess it’s a little sadness and maybe a little hurt, you know, just something like that.
That’s a really powerful skill for entrepreneurs. It also helps you be more aware. That’s what the whole AI field is. So if I’m understanding how I feel, I can be more present with others, no matter what they’re feeling, or recognize what they’re feeling, or just go about my day. That’s one. And then the second thing that I want to talk about is just understanding how the brain works. I do a lot in neuroscience and we’re studying neuroscience. The idea is that our brains work in two primary ways. One is through the task mode, which we all know and love, right? e’re getting our stuff done, we’re checking off our list. Maybe you’re firing off your emails. Great. So when we’re in that mode, it’s actually not possible to be in that visionary, open space. Our brains are either task mode and focused or they are in this open, more visual, creative, visionary and creative space. And it’s binary, meaning our brains can, like a light switch, go into one mode or go into the other. So if you’re following that, that means if you’re an entrepreneur and a creator and building a business, you need to have both of those skills, which requires us to change those modes up. So it’s important to get out of that task mode and step into the visionary and creative space practically every 90 minutes. And that’s about the same time they say you should get up and take a break, right?
So I would recommend at the minimum doing 90-minute intervals for anything you’re working on. But then take a three-minute break, get up from your desk, make eye contact with someone. If you’re in a working environment where there are other people around go outside, walk your pet, anything you can do to really just get out of that task mode. Noticing them with your five senses. How are you feeling? Sensing, touching, tasting, hearing, all of those things qualify. And it takes us out of that default mode network, which is the task mode, and into that visionary task-positive network. It’s called TPN. And it’s really important to do that. Otherwise, what happens is in task mode, as you probably can guess, we’re not very nourished or replenished in that mode, right? Right. So we need to create the time or space for being creative or in that visionary mode.
That means we got to step out of our task mode. And that’s why that always-on issue is a big problem right now because if we’re always on, we’re not out of that mode, we end up getting burned out or spiraling down or feeling depleted. That’s because we’re not creating the space to be and to have that visionary time or the TPN time where our brains are on that other switch where we’re lit up based on the senses and the different way of thinking. And so I think if you can do two of those things alone, I imagine a day could radically shift based on those two things.
Yeah, and it seems like even incorporating that in a day if you’ve never done it before and you bring it into one day, you’re going to feel the difference. Like you said with that one breath. It’s an immediate difference that you can feel and that will give you more motivation to continue with it and make it a habit and incorporate it into your lifestyle as you go on.
Absolutely. Yeah. And then one more I want to mention, cause I do think it’s important as a leader, is journaling. So that daily pauses can be a journaling exercise and that could just mean like three things you’re grateful for in the morning or in the evening or anything you want to write about. And there’s research that shows when we write about emotional experiences, our mood improves. So that’s a great thing to start doing, even if it’s a couple of times a week.
That’s awesome. I’m a big journaler.
I definitely try to do it every day. I don’t think I’m perfect at that and none of us are. But it really matters. Like it really helps me when I do it I notice that.
And I like that you say that it could be just writing down three things. Cause I think that people think in order to be a journaler you have to write an essay every morning.
Three times a week is a great recommendation. Two minutes. You could set a timer right when you get up three times a week and that could be all you need.
Well, I think this is really great information. Do you have any kind of summary advice, any last takeaways to kind of sum up the topic?
Yeah, I’ve got a lot of takeaways, but I’ll stick to a couple. The one is if you feel like you’re struggling with this burnout or you feel like it’s like a freight train you can’t stop, a lot of times we’re in the momentum of it and you’re like, I don’t even know how to get off this freight train or slow down. I think the book I wrote called Pause is a really good understanding of the tools you could use and start using to be more self-aware. I think that’s all that it really comes down to. You might already be self-aware, which is awesome. So why not develop those skills even more? And they’re based in emotional intelligence. So the book Pause has at the end of every chapter exercises to do whether they are reflective in your thoughts or you can write them down.
I’d say for anyone struggling with that, it’s got a really good understanding of the types of positive you can take. And I interview 13 people who I think have meaningful pauses in their lives that have changed the way they live as a result. And again, they’re not all long pauses. So that’s the first thing is just to get familiar with the resources out there. Then I think, I can’t emphasize it enough, self-awareness. Just naming a feeling as we talked about when we practiced is a really powerful start. Then what happens is once you start to notice things, you start to notice more things and you start to really see maybe what you hadn’t thought of before. And then you’ll have a new insight into something. It might be yourself or how you work or something that you could use. And all of that is really powerful. But unless you pause, you may miss that, right? So allow yourself space for just one thing a day that could work for you to intentionally shift your behavior. Ideally try it for 30 days. It takes 30 days to form any new habit. And if you don’t have 30 days, try to make it what could work for you. Maybe it’s a breath pause like that, but it’s literally five seconds for 30 days. Or maybe it’s a longer type of pause like a journal, you really want to give that a go. We’ve got the new year coming up, 2020 new decade. Why not set yourself up with ways to be successful with a pause? And some of those daily pauses are some of the best ways to start.
I have a monthly podcast that is a highlighting of a leader in the space, whether it’s neuroscience or emotional intelligence. Someone who I think has done a great job in helping us know more about being in our own zone of genius and being more mindful in some way. So I invite you to check that out on any podcast channel and then the one last thing I’ll mention is I have a free guidebook. So anyone can get the blueprint for the Three Keys to Turn Overwhelm into Thriving at Work. And that’s something that you can just download for free on my site.
Jess: Awesome. And I’ll provide those links on the page here so people can get those. So, yeah. Thank you.
Rachael: Thank you so much. You’re welcome, Jess. Thank you for having me.