Leveraging Discipline and Resilience to Grow Your Business with Katherine Johnson [Transcript]

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Looking for practical advice and training from the world’s most successful speakers? The Speaker Lab Podcast features business tactics, tips, and strategies from the world’s most successful speakers. We post transcripts of every episode as resources to help you build your speaking business.

Maryalice Goldsmith 

I am really excited to be here with Katherine Johnson. Katherine, thanks so much for joining me today on the Coach’s Corner. We’ll be having an interesting conversation because you and I just had to get our own mindset straight after dealing with a ton of technical issues. You know, we could have been like, “Oh, forget it, we can’t record this today. This is so stressful.” Or we could have just switched and pivoted like we did. And now we had to take a deep breath and get ourselves wrapped around the content and really show up for our audience.

I think at any given time, whether you’re building a business, becoming a husband or a wife or a parent, or dealing with your children, there’s always those two roads, the negative or the positive. How we manage our mindset around those things is really critical. And we work with our speakers every day on this, especially around building the business. 

So let’s talk a little bit more about or let’s talk about these roads, these options of choosing the positive mindset versus choosing the negative mindset at any given moment. 

How do you choose a mindset?

Katherine Johnson 

I love mindset. I love the neuroscience of everything. We’re learning things that impact really how we approach anything, how we do things. And a positive mindset, a great way to think of it is a growth mindset. And there’s so much science now behind it, but we can look at how our mindset influences how we think, feel, and behave in any given situation. So as speakers, we’re in all kinds of different situations. We’re building our businesses, we’re getting on stages, we’re going for things. And so understanding your own mindset and actually building up a more robust growth mindset is really going to make a difference in the journey of becoming a speaker.

The opposite of that, whether it’s a negative mindset or another way we call it, a fixed mindset, is making meaning out of things and always dropping into the problem, what’s wrong with it? And just staying kind of stuck. It’s very much like a swamp or like quicksand. Remember, as kids, we’re always worried, playing on the playground, and it’s like, oh, quicksand everywhere. Well, a negative mindset is like quicksand everywhere.

Maryalice Goldsmith

And I think also, too, to that point, if you’re in that fixed or that quicksand-type mindset, the negativity continues to gain momentum. Like, all these terrible things that are happening or all the failures that you’re having, they tend to gain momentum because what you put energy towards is what grows.

Katherine Johnson 

And I think we don’t always even know that we’re in a negative mindset. We’re actually hardwired. Our neural pathways are much more heavily developed to go negative and to look for problems or even to make problems. What are we making something mean? I ask this with speakers all the time in coaching calls where they’ll have one experience and then they’re making it mean something, almost like it’s a universal truth now around what’s possible, what’s not possible because of one thing.

That’s actually not data, right? That’s one experience. And so a negative mindset will grab ahold of something and then just hammer it over and over. Where what we want to be is to always be looking at, like, what did I learn from this? What’s possible? There’s always information that we’re learning. It’s all about how we stay curious and then use it to make the next best decision.

Maryalice Goldsmith

So even if you’re hardwired to kind of lean in more towards the negative, you can use those tools to kind of retrain or reprogram the brain so that you don’t get stuck in that quick sand.

How do you go about reprograming your brain?

Katherine Johnson 

The growth mindset is like, we want to develop neural pathways that take us to the different mindset of growth and the positive side. It’s not oh, yeah. Let me definitely reinforce that, which is just because we know the brain, the survival brain, is more hardwired to look for threats and negativity does not mean we have to stay there. That is not a fixed thing. We absolutely have the ability to cultivate a growth mindset, which makes us more resilient. It gives us the ability to see opportunities and connect more easily with people. We move through the world very differently. And it gives you a different energy to go about the task of building a business.

Maryalice Goldsmith 

Yeah. So even if you’re that type of person that maybe chooses road A naturally, which is the positive that you were gifted with these neurotransmitters to kind of just see the good, and then if you’re road B, always choose the negative, you can actually retrain the brain. And that’s the takeaway here. You don’t have to be stuck with this where you’re always ho-humming through life. You can actually work on a growth mindset and change those messages. And that starts with triggers, habits, and repeat. Just create that habit of like, once that trigger comes, you have to just change how you go about that and reprogram the brain. Can you do those questions again real quick for people? Just like, what’s the good in this?

How to debrief or audit situations when they don’t go the way you want them to?

Katherine Johnson

Oh, sure, When I start a coaching session, if someone’s debriefing something, a situation they had or what they’ve been working on, the question I always ask is, okay, so what have you learned? So what did I learn through this? What is possible? So what else is possible? And then what is my next best step now, given what you know? Because we’re always moving forward and getting more information, so what do I know? And then you can also say, what other information do I need? What else do I need to learn here? Because a growth mindset is essentially saying, something hasn’t happened yet, or I don’t know how to do this yet.

There’s lots of new things. Sometimes people come into speaking and they have experience speaking. So they’re like, great. I’ve been speaking, maybe I haven’t been paid, or I’ve been speaking as part of my job. I love it. They know that much. And so the aspiration is, well, I want to either create a speaking business that supports me in some way or becomes a full time business. But there’s a lot of new things that come along outside of just getting on a stage and speaking.

So in many ways, when we’re challenged with new things and being a beginner again at life, that’s when a negative mindset can crop up, because we’re having to say, in many ways, “Can I do this?” And what that does is that puts this very binary question in your brain to just say, yes or no. Can I do this? It’s like this black or white thinking, and that’s where the brain will start looking for threats or “No” or “I don’t know how” or “Things are against me” or “Oh, this is so hard,” just because things aren’t just falling into place magically, right? And really, a growth mindset is all about like, wow, I’m learning something new. I’m always growing. I don’t know how to do this piece.

This may feel hard right now, but what I know is I can look back at my past life and be like, I can do hard things. I can learn new things. I just think being a beginner at something is hard. It’s hard for me. I’ve been very successful in some areas of my life, and then when I have to start over, I don’t like not getting it right away.

So it’s not that we’re always in a negative mindset or a positive mindset. It can be when things get a little more challenging, it’s easier to fall into a negative mindset and to look for someone to blame. What’s not going my way? What’s wrong? It’s just looking for an external way to point fingers instead of also asking important questions of, what do I need to learn? What are my strengths? What do I need to get help with? Do I need someone to help me learn how to do this? What’s a new muscle I’m building? But it really shuts us down. I mean, have you ever seen that where people just shut down when things start to feel hard?

Maryalice Goldsmith

Oh, gosh, yeah. Especially with all the years of coaching. I think what people forget is that the human brain actually doesn’t like to think. That’s why we have habits. It doesn’t like to be challenged. And so when we’re challenged, we go into that flight or fight mode. And so we always want to choose comfort. We always want to be comfortable. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. And so we see this on a weekly basis at The Speaker Lab when our students bring up the famous impostor syndrome, right? This is that uncomfortable zone when you’re starting to play bigger and where growth has the biggest opportunity.

But oftentimes people, when they feel that impostor syndrome, they want to run for the hills. They want to get back to comfort. They don’t want to be uncomfortable. And it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s no judgment here. But a sign of it could be one of those triggers like we’re talking about to be like, hey, wait a minute. What am I learning here? Who do I need to be and what do I need to do?

What do I need to have to be able to step into this next version of myself instead of running from it, leaning into it? And that’s where coaching is so profound, right? So we definitely see this, and for us, we see it as an opportunity for the student, it’s more fear, and it’s like, who the hell do I think I am doing this? Am I crazy?

Learn to embrace new, scary opportunities.

Katherine Johnson 

I had a student recently who I was coaching who loved speaking on stages, no problem. The more people, the better. And then he was asked to do a virtual workshop. And getting great evidence, we could say, you’re getting hired, you’re getting paid to deliver your message. It’s landing. You have a market for it. He was like, “I can’t do this.” Just immediately, “I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this.” And I saw it. It was almost just like this shrinking real quick of like, well, I don’t know. I’ve never done that before. I said, “But you’re going to learn, right? If you can stand on a stage, you’re going to learn.” And so we worked through how do you translate what you know on stage into a virtual workshop?

And I said, “There’s always your first time. This is going to be your first time. It’s never going to be your first again. You’re going to learn so much by going out there and doing it the first time, right?” And, you know, there’s value. I knew with his general mindset it wasn’t going to be a problem once he was there doing it, but he just had that moment where he reached out to me afterwards and said, “You are not going to believe this. I’ve got to tell you this.”

So we connected. And he said, “I loved it. It was my favorite thing I’ve ever done, a virtual workshop.” And he thought, oh, I’m never going to do virtual. I’m only ever going to do live in-person. But to me that was like, he could have stopped right there when he was like, “Well, I’ve never done that. No, that’s not for me.”

Maryalice Goldsmith 

And when people do go for it, it becomes their favorite thing, or it’s the thing they love the most that they didn’t even know that they loved. Because it was the biggest thing that they were resisting, and then they allowed themselves, they just leaped, and it was amazing. 

Katherine Johnson 

And what was interesting was as a speaker who has other considerations, like amount of travel, time home with his son, these things, he said, “Oh my gosh, you mean I could get paid this much and I don’t have to get on a plane, I don’t have to travel? I showed up and an hour later, I was done, and got my speaking fee.” 

So I think that was something that hit him as well and was just like, oh, so if I start factoring into my business model, I do a certain number of these, as well as being able to travel, that changes his quality of life for what his needs are in this moment of time, which we always want people to consider.

Maryalice Goldsmith 

I mean, if you allow yourself to lean into certain opportunities, you really don’t know. And hey, they may not all work out wonderfully, but at least now he knows that that’s an option, and if he hated it, it wouldn’t be an option.

Katherine Johnson 

What did you learn from that? I learned that’s not for me. I’m not going to put energy into that moving forward because it’s not for me. So again, back to our original point – you’re always learning something, and that’s what the right mindset says is. I’ve had people who something goes wrong and they say, “Well, that was an expensive lesson, but I learned it.” And so it actually saves me money in the long run because I realize I’m not going to go down that route. Entrepreneurs all the time are learning lessons. That is part of being an entrepreneur and running a speaking business. You’re first and foremost an entrepreneur. So that mindset is key.

You have to get comfortable with failure.

Maryalice Goldsmith

Yeah. And you must be open and available to learning lessons, and some of your greatest wins will be from your greatest failures. Sounds crazy, but it’s actually the case when it comes to entrepreneurs. You will fail a lot, but it will help you succeed in the long run. But you have to be open and available to those failures. 

And it’s all about risks. You have to take those risks, go places you’ve never gone before, which then leads us to our next point, that you could work on your mindset. Like that student you had, what if he did the virtual and completely bombed, right? Is he going to quit? Is he just going to quit speaking altogether because he made this one massive bomb? No. Now we have to talk about if you’re going to work on your mindset, you also have to be working on building this muscle of resiliency and getting back in the game even when you fail. So talk about the importance of being cognizant of that, flexing that muscle, maybe giving some tips on how people can do that.

Katherine Johnson

Yeah, I think you described it really well, which is how do you pick yourself back up after things don’t go the way you thought? I mean, all the time we’re going to run into situations where things do not go as we thought. I just had a coaching call with a student who showed up and she said, “Oh my gosh, we’ve got to debrief this speaking gig.” They were guaranteed it was going to be an event with thousands of people. So each speaker in their breakout session was supposed to have hundreds of people. She had about five in a space set up for hundreds. So if you can imagine hundreds of empty chairs, and she said the whole event was like that. So something went really wonky in terms of the event planning and they didn’t market it, whatever, lots of reasons.

But did she make that mean, well, I shouldn’t be a speaker? No, we just talked about what she learned. What would that be like in the future when you have those prep calls to ask, “What are your actual numbers?” I’ve had those gigs where the numbers are different and you want to say, okay, I’ve got to tell everyone, come sit up close and I’m just going to get off the stage and sit down with you and still present the material. You have to show up no matter what. And if you’re feeling any kind of ego-driven sense of like, I’m so self important, it shouldn’t be going this way. You just have to deliver. You are there to serve and have been hired.

Maryalice Goldsmith 

You have to pretend like there’s 5,000, right?

Katherine Johnson 

You have to pretend to have the energy for five thousand. And so the resilience is figuring out, okay, what did I learn and what am I going to keep doing? It can come at speaking events. It can come through the marketing and sales activities that you have to do. It’s about keeping going even though you’re not necessarily seeing the evidence at that moment, because that’s the long term play. I think of resilience as coming from focusing more on the activities you’re doing and their effectiveness over the long run instead of focusing on the results. Because if we take that idea of, let’s say, bamboo, right? You plant it, you water, water, water. You don’t see anything. And then all of a sudden, you can get a foot of growth a day. 

Well, we have to focus on what you’re doing in your speaking business and as a speaker, looking at the activities, and that those compound and they stack. But if you take a snapshot at any moment and you are just like, well, this must mean X, Y or Z, and you walk away, you’re doing a huge disservice to yourself. I just think that it is easy in hindsight to look back and say, “Oh, I had resilience,” but what does that look like in the moment? Sometimes an observer can see resilience in someone by the actions they’re taking or the way they’re supporting themselves and their mindset to get through a tough time.

Maryalice Goldsmith 

I had a client. Oh, my God. She’s amazing. To this day, I still keep in touch with her, and no matter what, she just knew that the business that she was building was going to be successful. And it didn’t matter if her launch produced two new clients or 20 new clients. It didn’t matter because she knew that it was a long game and she was going to keep getting back up. And she’s such a great example of that. I’m like, “What kind of numbers?” She goes, “Well, this is what I want, but if I can help one person, then I’m successful.” And today her Instagram account is verified. She’s got all these followers. She’s very awesome. But it’s that resilience. 

And you can’t have resilience without discipline. They really do go hand in hand. And this is where I think you can change some habits of what you’re doing to help support the mindset and the resiliency that you so need to be successful. And this could be not waking up and going right to email. Don’t let email dictate the way your day is going to go. Maybe waking up an hour earlier, maybe journaling in the morning and getting your mindset straight, like really reading your own words to see where you are with your mindset today. Because your words will tell you. But I think discipline, as an athlete – you were a collegiate athlete – you had to have discipline in order to be resilient and have a great mindset. So talk a little bit about that too.

How to develop consistency.

Katherine Johnson 

There’s so many things that want to pull us away from consistency. And as an adult now, there’s so many more things going on in my life than when I was an elite athlete. So now I’m like, oh, how fortunate was I that I could just focus on one thing so deeply. But we still need a level of consistency and discipline in order to move something forward. I think of it as trying to move something forward – you want to move it a foot forward and not be pushing ten different things, like a centimeter or an inch forward because we’re spread too thin. And so that discipline is to say, okay, in this year, what are the three to five big things that I’m going to do consistently that are going to move the needle? You prioritize those.

The discipline is not starting with, do you want to do them? Do you feel like it today? Anything like that. It’s knowing that, okay, if I’m consistently doing these things, the payoff is coming. And so everybody has different rhythms, but it’s figuring out what your rhythm is and making that. Erick Rheam talks about the “power hour,” right? So maybe it’s a power hour in the day. Is it in the morning? Is it in the middle of the day? What is it? But it’s taking those things, and sometimes it’s what you want to avoid.

I would say that because there’s so many different factors, between having your brand assets and making sure you’re practicing your talk and having that nailed to the ongoing sales activities and those outreach and conversations and networking, getting honest with yourself of what are the ones you’re avoiding and how can you create consistency and build that muscle and not avoid it, not make excuses, not fill your day with lots of busyness. 

I’ll tell you where we see this. I mean, I see it in all the different areas, but we can gold plate our websites and tweak behind the scenes forever as speakers. Is it just right? Is the language just right? I mean, we’re speakers. We love working with words. So that can be a way of avoiding. So I find that discipline also means being really honest with yourself.

Maryalice Goldsmith 

Or like, not putting pictures on your website because they’re not good enough. So I need to book the photographer and do those over and then getting wrapped up in all that stuff. That is so true. Really being honest on what you’re avoiding versus what you’re moving forward. I mean, this has been awesome. And I really think when we look at our mindset, if we focus just on that term, “growth mindset,” just having that awareness of where we are today and where we want to be and not going from today to five years from now, but where do you want to be just 90 days from now?

Those 90-day increments are so important. It’s something we preach to our students all of the time. And so be patient with yourself, have grace and be realistic. Set your expectations in a realistic way. And those 90-day increments of where are you going to grow in the next 90 days, I think that really helps us have the bandwidth mentally and emotionally to get there versus compiling all of this stuff and going back to that quicksand analogy where it just feels so heavy and so much. And so I love everything that you’ve shared today about a growth mindset and really being focused on these small incremental steps and then also seeking coaching where you need it if you have a realistic perspective to get out of your own way. 

That’s what The Speaker Lab is here for. Our community, our coaching, our content, that’s what we are here for. So I think that’s really critical too. You don’t have to do this on your own. And sometimes when it comes to mindset, it’s best not to do it on your own.

Katherine Johnson 

It’s so hard to recognize sometimes because we’re in our head. It’s hard for us to see. And so I think one of the biggest investments is to commit, to say, “I’m not going to do this alone. I don’t know what I don’t know.” I love when speakers come in and they kind of do a brain dump of where they are with things and all that and they’re just like, “I realize I don’t know what I don’t know. I’m here to learn and to watch.”

By the end of their time with us, when a student says, “Wow, I’m just really proud of how much I learned, I look back and five months ago, six months ago, I didn’t have the confidence and I didn’t know I could do this.” And they’ve worked through all the modules and they have a speaking business and feel really confident to get out there and keep building it. So it makes me so proud of that individual and they did the work, you know what I mean? It’s a privilege to come alongside them and coach with them, but it’s so impressive that humans can grow like this when you get to witness it.

Maryalice Goldsmith 

It really is such a privilege. And having people really lean into their desired next best self, it’s really awesome to watch that and see their dreams and their hopes, then actually see them do the work to get there. It’s really powerful. It’s a great experience. You’re awesome. Thank you so much for your knowledge.

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