… Interesting fact from neuroscience: you can have contradictory goals in your conscious and subconscious parts of your brain. When you do, your subconscious goals win because most of what you see, say, and do is triggered in that region of your brain first.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill McAbe.
Jill McAbe is a Business Coach, High-Performance Expert and the #1 Amazon-Best Selling Author of It’s Go Time: The ALL-IN System For Unstoppable Success in Business and Life. By focusing on success-skills that are grounded in the contemporary sciences, Jill helps talented creatives, coaches, and professionals design and build purposeful, 6 & 7 figure service-based businesses that work on-or-offline. Jill carries a Master of Arts in Leadership from Royal Roads University, is a faculty member of York University’s Schulich Executive Education Centre and is a Top Teacher on the global career-skills platform, Skillshare.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs and never imagined myself being anything else. At twenty-nine, I opened my first business with my twin brother. A little bistro in Toronto called JOV. We were fortunate to achieve global press shortly after opening thanks to my brother’s phenomenal culinary skills and our leadership in the farm-to-table and trust-the-chef dining movements.
We’d been in business four years when I became restless. Although we were celebrated restauranteurs with a thriving business, I didn’t feel challenged and I hadn’t for some time. In our sixth year, I remember having lunch with my brother and just blurting out, “If you were to die tomorrow and were able to look back on your life, would our current fame and accomplishments be enough for you?” He said, “No.” And I agreed. So we sold our Bistro.
After a year of traveling, I found myself working as an Operations Consultant in food service, but that was short lived. In April 2009, my life changed in an instant when a driver distracted by his cellphone ran a red light and T-boned my car.
I spent the next 18 months in rehabilitation with spine, neck, and brain injuries caused by the collision. While I regained my physical health, I lost nearly everything else. I was in over six figures of medical debt, isolated, and somewhat depressed. I wanted to figure out what I was meant to do, but I had no idea what that was. I knew I wanted to do something that mattered.
Finding my purpose and calling turned out to be a quest that took the better part of a decade, but ultimately, I found both. I have now created a business and life that feels right to me. It turns out my purpose and calling is to connect people with theirs. Now I wake up exhilarated knowing I am on the right path.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It took me three full years to write my book, It’s Go Time. Although this is not unusual for some authors, it was for me as I am a performance expert who knows how to program the part of my brain (the amygdala) to work toward my goals efficiently and without willpower.
I’ve successfully achieved many goals through programming my brain so when it came to writing my book, I didn’t anticipate any problems. After following my usual process for getting my brain wired I set aside two days a week for writing. A year into my plan I had written roughly sixty-thousand words that I wouldn’t show anyone.
On my second attempt, I decided to immerse myself completely. I cut back my business, booked trips to Bali and Puerto Rico with the idea that I would chill by the beach and write. I had a lovely winter that year, but four months in the sun didn’t yield anything more usable than my first attempt.
At this point, it had been a year and a half since I had become serious about writing my book so I suspected I had a subconscious block, or counter goal. Counter goals are outdated goals in the subconscious that keep us from succeeding at conflicting initiatives. They often stem from an emotional childhood event so I started scoping my past for clues.
First, I considered whether my writing block stemmed from my dyslexia — a condition that can make me feel like an imposter in academic settings. Although this seemed like it could fit, I had written articles and blogs, procedural manuals, and well over a book during my master’s degree. So it wasn’t that.
After trying out a few more ideas around fear of being seen or stepping into the light (which are common blocks that hold people back), I finally found what had been holding me back. When my dyslexia was discovered in grade two, my teacher told my two best friends to stop being friends with me because they were smart and I would hold them back. Although my friends were happy to stay friends with me, I retreated from them not wanting to harm them.
It was an insidious counter goal without a direct link to writing a book. But a book can be very personal, so I took up relationship counseling and within a few weeks — and many tears as I processed my old hurts — I experienced a breakthrough in my relationships across the board. I felt more authentic and comfortable being myself. Critically, I finally programmed my brain (amygdala) to work on my book. Four months later, I had completed my manuscript.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes my company, Boom-U stand out is that I have kept it Boutique sized. This is a conscious choice because of the in-depth nature of the work we do.
After years of fine-tuning my processes, I have 100% of my clients complete my programs, which is statistically unique. This is achieved by working in small groups. My clients are supported by myself, my team and the other participants in the group. There is a lot of sharing and back and forth that goes on.
As one of my clients says, “Jill doesn’t let anyone fall through the cracks”. It’s true. The process I teach for finding one’s purpose and calling is a methodical, step-by-step one, but if one of my clients needs to take a detour I track with them until they are ready to come back.
I currently have a client who was unable to finish with the rest of his group due to a health crisis. While he worked through his new reality I stayed connected with him. His journey will be different than the others but keeping his eye on his goal kept him motivated. I’m happy to say he’s now getting back on track and is on his way to the finish line.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My life partner. He has an established career in academia and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. He has supported me on many levels. He encouraged and supported me financially when I decided to go back to get my Masters in Leadership. He also introduced me to cutting-edge research and connected me with leading academics who have greatly influenced the work that I do.
One story that illustrates his generosity happened as the deadline neared for submitting the final manuscript for my book, which I wrote in a program with very tight timelines. Just before the final manuscript was due, I discovered the final copyedited version I received contained hundreds of errors. I was in tears. Being dyslexic, there was no way I could find and make all the final corrections, and there was no way I could hire someone to edit the entire 186-page manuscript on such short notice.
Despite having his own work to do, preparing materials for his 250+ MBA Capstone students, grading, grant writing, and journal editing, he dropped everything and worked with me day and night to complete the final copy edit before the deadline. This story is one of many. I am most grateful for his ongoing support and belief in me.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
For me, resilience is the ability to keep working toward a singular goal or vision long after your loved ones and supporters would totally understand if you threw in the towel.
There are so many things that support resilience. Here are two practices I believe are important to cultivate:
Constructivism (AKA Optimism)
For several years after my car accident I had a low-grade depression I couldn’t shake. I lived with a malaise that made it near impossible to work on any kind of goal or even determine what I wanted. I desperately wanted more drive. As I read about people who achieved meaningful goals I learned about the need for resilience, and that optimists are more resilient.
I set out to research everything I could about optimism and was surprised with what I found. I expected to learn about people who “see the world through rose colored glasses”. Instead I discovered that psychology defines an optimist as someone who sees a situation for what it is, without a negative or positive exaggeration, and then makes the best of their situation.
From my perspective the metaphor of a half empty/full glass sells the truth of optimism short. With my clients, I use the idea of Constructivism, proposing that rather than saying an 8oz glass with only 4 ounces of water is half full, we say “I’ve got four ounces of water, I want eight, how might I get four more ounces of water?”
Whether you want to call it optimism or constructivism like I do, having the ability to see situations for what they are is essential to resilience. The road to anywhere interesting is bound to have unexpected situations arise. When we can look at a challenging situation for what it is and find a way to move forward, we’ve just taken a step closer to our dream.
Resilience isn't something people just do on auto-pilot. It’s fueled by having a meaningful, long-term goal, one that requires fortitude and staying power to achieve.
It’s the meaning in a goal that keeps us getting back up in the face of frustrations and setbacks. But how do we arrive at goals, visions, or missions so meaningful that we would endure just about anything to see them through to conclusion?
My answer for that is self-discovery. In my experience, what makes a goal worth sticking with is how deeply it resonates with who we are and who we are meant to be.
When I first began helping people have business breakthroughs, I used to teach the business growth models you see pretty much everywhere. What I learned over time was that when people feel called to serve, you cannot separate the business from the person.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I have a close friend who suffered terribly in her childhood. She had things happen to her that, for most people, would have crushed them or set them on a path of self-destruction. Yet she never allowed that to happen. She obtained an incredible education, has a devoted husband and family. She rose far above what anyone would have expected based on her circumstances.
In my own life when facing challenging situations, I only have to picture her and I am able to put my obstacles into perspective and persevere.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Like most people, I have certainly dealt with my fair share of people doubting me or offering insincere support. When I decided to leave consulting to pursue my current business I heard many dubiously authentic “Good lucks” and unmotivating “Well, that’s an ambitious goal.”
I used to get upset by this but I’ve come to be more understanding. Going after big dreams means change. Change threatens those in our midst. Some people want us to stay the same so their way of life isn’t threatened. It’s nothing personal at all — it’s about them.
To reduce the effect of other people’s fears on my own confidence, I created a rule: Only share my dreams with those who believe in me, more than I believe in myself.
When I finally published my book (which was a pretty crazy accomplishment for a dyslexic) and a long-standing dream of mine there were still several family members who couldn’t bring themselves to congratulate me. Sending them love and light, but not sharing my next plan!
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I have experienced a shocking number of setbacks over the years, but the story that comes to mind is when I discovered a business coach, who had also become a close friend, had subconscious blocks to my success.
There was an exciting time in my career when I landed a dream gig, the kind I had put on my vision board years before. I was so happy. Then, out-of-the-blue, during a phone call she said she thought I was being massively overpaid for the work I was doing. I felt blindsided.
My rates at the time were competitive with other top facilitators in my field. What devastated me was I had considered her one of my biggest supporters. Looking back, I got the sense she didn’t really want my career to take off … beyond hers.
Realizing she wasn’t truly rooting for my success; I ended our relationship. It was painful, but the effect was I gained more confidence in my own decisions and my career took off at an unprecedented rate. So, you could certainly say I bounced back from it stronger than ever.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Growing up I was the least impressive of four children. My twin brother was a natural at sports — scouted for pro football, a wrestling champion, captain of his rugby team. My sister turned heads for her musical talents, athletic abilities, and her beauty. While my older brother’s Master’s Thesis in computer science resulted in an offer of US citizenship.
Then there was me, I excelled at nothing growing up. In grade two, I was ‘diagnosed’ with dyslexia. Throughout my school career, there were no expectations of me doing well on assignments or tests or consequences from unimpressive report cards. The bar was set low.
As the years passed, I became increasingly worried about my prospects and my future. Thankfully, my mother — who had studied early childhood education and understood the dire consequences of my negative self-image — managed to install another perspective in my mind.
Whenever I spoke negatively about myself, she’d pull me aside and tell me earnestly, “Jill, some people are good at school, and others are good at life. You are very wise, and I want you to hang in there, because you will be good at life.”
My mother gave me something to believe in. It became my mantra through some dark and painful times. If only I could hang in there long enough, things would turn around. Eventually they did. A few years ago I turned a corner and discovered I had learned how to be happy. I had become good at life.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Perhaps the most critical thing one can do in order to become more resilient is make regular progress on your goals. When you do, you are more likely to stick with them. The following five steps all lead to progress, and therefore, in becoming more resilient.
Step #1 — Start with Motivating Goal
Interesting fact from neuroscience: you can have contradictory goals in your conscious and subconscious parts of your brain. When you do, your subconscious goals win because most of what you see, say, and do is triggered in that region of your brain first.
Once you have identified a project to focus on you need to program that goal in your subconscious. To achieve this, I teach a goal development tool I call the MOMA Method. MOMA stands for Motivating Outcomes with Measurements that are Aligned with your Purpose. Using this process speeds up your ability to establish subconscious goals. When I began planning my book I used this tool to set my own goal.
Many people wanting to write a book might determine their goal as “To Write A Book”. Here’s the problem, writing is actually hard, it’s scary to share your ideas and waking up at 4am for quiet time isn’t fun either. The actual writing is not enjoyable and your subconscious won’t adopt painful and tedious goals.
To get your subconscious to adopt a goal you have to offer it an intrinsically motivating outcome. In the case of a book, mine was: I’ve written a game-changing book that helps experts, coaches, healers and creatives END the search for how to make a great living.
You can learn the full MOMA method by reading It’s Go Time or taking my course on Skillshare. In the meantime, you can start setting more motivating goals by asking yourself your reasons for wanting to achieve a given goal — six or seven times. When you explore your reasons behind a goal, it will become more intrinsically motivating, which will lead your subconscious to take action, and progress leads to resilience.
Step #2 — Clear Your Plate
Another technique you can use to make more progress and build resiliency is to work on fewer projects. I always encounter resistance from my groups when I suggest they tackle only one, maybe two serious goals at any given time.
Here’s the thing, any ambitious goal — such as a business that affords one a great lifestyle like my clients are going after — has hundreds, if not thousands of sub-goals and tasks that will be required to accomplish it.
When we take on too many projects, some just don’t get done, and that leaves us fretting that we are behind. The more you worry about feeling behind, the more behind you’ll become, because the action center in your brain is wired to give you more of what you have.
When we choose meaningful, motivating goals we owe it to ourselves to clear our plates so we can make steady progress on them. This leads to dopamine, which we like, which fosters progress, and strengthens our resiliency.
When I commit to a goal I clear my plate and mind of everything I possibly can. I unsubscribe from every email, reminder system, every commitment I can if it’s not related to my current initiative. To avoid FOMO, I keep a list of things I may want to revisit later.
If you are currently looking at a long list of goals, I highly recommend you create a hierarchy; an order of importance that you would like to achieve them in. Then I suggest you pick your first goal, and give it everything you’ve got.
When you give major projects the attention they deserve you will inevitably make more progress and foster your resilience. You’ll know it’s time to add another goal into your mix once you are doing everything you can for your first goal, and you are finding yourself with idle time.
Step #3 — Choose Your Social Influences Carefully
If you want a shortcut to becoming more resilient, surround yourself with people whose resilience and ambition matches or exceeds yours. Once again, the reason why this works comes down to your subconscious. Humans need social interaction for survival and your subconscious is wired to protect you from harm.
If you have people in your life who are not genuine supporters of you, like my friend and coach that I described earlier, they will hold you back because your subconscious will not want to threaten those relationships.
The advice I give my clients is to surround themselves with people who:
- Believe in you more than you believe in yourself
- Have achieved what you want to achieve and will share advice with you
When I realized that I needed more inspirational friends, I rekindled my relationship with my extremely resilient childhood friend and developed friendships with people who were more successful than me.
But what do you do when you don’t have anyone in your circle to turn to?
If you can’t think of any old friends, then start with imaginary ones. Reading inspiring books and Ted talks is a great way to get in a more resilient mindset. Joining groups that share your goals can be a great starting place as well. When you surround yourself with accomplished and resilient people, you will naturally acclimate to their behaviors, and in time, you will become more resilient and accomplished too.
Step #4 — Hold the Faith; Go All-In
Act, right now as you would if you had complete faith that you could not fail.
I’ve seen it time and time again, a leap of faith precedes the attainment of big goals. In other words, be willing to take the step up before that step on your staircase appears.
A couple of years ago I personally discovered the difference between wanting a goal badly, and having faith that I could achieve my goals. I had been working toward my dream business for three years and my progress had been slow. Financially, I needed to decide whether I would continue on or return to my former work as a vision and strategy consultant. My bank account said it was time to give up but I knew I had created something special; An innovative process for helping people who’ve been stuck for years achieve personal and professional transformation, which fulfilled their dreams.
After some deep soul-searching I realized I had been doing too much DIY. Playing small to mitigate my risk. Then it dawned on me; mitigating my risk, was the risk. From that point on I decided to be all-in, make tough decisions as though I was guaranteed success.
In my case, going all-in turned out to be expensive! I did things like upgrade my conferences to VIP and sought out experts in my field that I could work with in a more personal capacity than those en-mass group coaching programs that are so popular these days. In the span of about four months, I invested $105,000 in my business. Although I was aware my plan may or may not work out, deep down I felt at peace because what mattered to me was that I was showing up for myself with everything I had.
We love our guarantees and insurances. The promises that everything will turn out well and that we will be safe. Except the need for safety, assurances and guarantees keeps us from going all- in on our goals, which in turn, erodes our resilience. If you want to be more resilient, then my advice is to only commit to goals you can go all-in on. For years, I wanted those assurances too, but the moment I went all-in, is when things really got exciting.
Step #5 Stress-test Your Goals
The final step I’ll share on how to increase resilience is to choose goals you’d work on whether or not you achieve them.
Fear of failure and fear of risk are blocks most of my clients struggle with. Especially when they are a little bit older and have built a lifetime of subconscious goals that keep them frozen in place. I had a client who had written a play. It took several years to write and was very personal to her but no one had seen it. She was afraid to produce it because “What if no one came to see it?”, “What if people didn’t like it?”, and she feared failing in front of family and friends.
An opportunity arose to produce it and with trepidation she took it. The process was stressful, she doubted herself so many times but she did it! She produced her play. It had a short run but received an enthusiastic response from the audience.
Since then she has joined a professional organization, been invited to speak to groups, is collaborating on a new play, and still she describes producing that play as her proudest achievement. She admits if she hadn’t followed through it would have been the greatest regret of her life. And it opened doors she didn’t expect.
When you set your sites on a goal — ask yourself, is this goal important enough for me to go after even if it doesn’t turn out as I imagined? Or at the end of your life if you never do it, because of fear, will that regret eat at you?
The foundation of resiliency is continuing on a journey even when there is no guarantee how it will end, so you might as well enjoy the trip. You do that by choosing a goal that is so personal, so a part of who you are that just attempting it is the reward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
A movement that makes the process for achieving fulfillment known to all.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Right now, I would choose Michelle Obama. She already has such power in her and yet she still has unlimited potential. In this phase of her life I get the sense she is ready to discover, “What’s next?”. I would love to help her accelerate her self-discovery.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!