39. Dr. Chelsea Pierotti on Managing Stressful & High-Pressure Situations

January 29, 2024

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Welcome! We're all about realistic time management designed for professional working women here in this little pocket of the internet. I'm glad you're here.

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No matter how awesome we are at time management, there are just parts of our jobs that are stressful. Dr. Chelsea Pierotti, a social psychology professor and mental performance coach, joins us to discuss how to manage that stress more effectively so we can show up in the way that we want to. Dr. Chelsea’s work aims to create healthier and happier athletes through positive mental skills training – and much of it translates well to the work environment. I’m excited for you to get to listen to her words of wisdom and strategies in this episode.

If you want to learn more about Chelsea, you can listen to her podcast, Passion for Dance, on your podcast platform of choice. You can also learn more about her on her website, https://chelseapierotti.com, and follow her on Instagram here.

To take my free 5-day program, the Reset and Refresh, click here: https://kellynolan.com/reset-refresh.

I also share actionable bite-sized time management strategies on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/_kellynolan_/. Come hang out with me there!

Full Transcript

Episode 39. Managing High-Pressure Work Situations with Dr. Chelsea Pierotti

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Kelly Nolan: Hey, hey, and welcome back! So I obviously teach time management, which addresses mainly the logistical stressors that we’re all managing in our careers, in our lives, the tension between the two, all of that. But even with solid time management in place, a lot of our jobs are stressful in and of themselves in a lot of ways. There are parts of our jobs, no matter what you do, that are more substantively stressful. Even if you get a handle on the logistics, they’re just substantively stressful. To help with that, I invited Dr. Chelsea Pierotti here to speak with us.

She is a social psychology professor and a mental performance coach. She’s also a wonderful friend of mine, and because of that, I started listening to her podcast, which is The Passion for Dance podcast. Now it’s, obviously, if you can’t tell, geared towards dancers and teachers and mostly dance teachers and coaches. I’m obviously not in that demographic, but I am very interested in sport psychology and performance psychology, and I love everything she talks about, so I started to listen, and I always take away such amazing lessons from the episodes I pick to listen to that sound relevant to me. And because of that, I knew you would benefit from hearing from her today, and she generously said yes, so here she is. I’m so excited to dig in!


Kelly Nolan: Well, thank you so much for being here, Chelsea. I am so excited about this. And I’ve already introduced you, but if you can share with the audience, I think that people are so interested in how did you get into this field, how are you also running your own business, and how does all of that work out? I love you so much that I would love the audience to get to hear that whole story as well.

About Dr. Chelsea – 2:06

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Thank you, Kelly, and thank you for having me! I’m genuinely so excited, and I am here as a fan as well. So thank you for having me.

Yeah, so I am a social psychologist. I focus on sport and high performance. It’s kind of the psychological science of being able to be our best, being able to use our mental skills and perform kind of especially in high-pressure situations. So usually I do what with athletes, but it is true in any high-performance situation where there’s a lot of stress. The same kinds of skills apply.

So, yeah, that’s what I do. I don’t know the short version of how I got here. The athlete side of my life, I was a professional ballet dancer. I carried that into an academic life. So my PhD is in Social Psychology of Sport. I’m currently a professor and have my own business working with high-performance and elite dancers. So that’s the gist of it.

Kelly Nolan: Awesome, and, as I mentioned in the intro, I’m a huge fan of your podcast even though I know I’m not your relevant audience, necessarily.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Right.

Kelly Nolan: But I always get so much out of certain episodes that I can very easily tie to the professional working woman’s life.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Mm-hmm.

Kelly Nolan: One of those episodes that we had talked about was how to handle those high-stress situations in a way that — I think we all know that feeling of when you have something coming up, whether it’s you’re gonna argue in court or you have a big procedure or you have a huge presentation, whatever your work and industry is, there’s a lot of stress that goes into that. And instead of kind of spiraling or over-ruminating, I heard you talk on such practical approaches to this that can really help, and I’d love for you to share those here today.

Practical Approaches in High-Pressure Situations – 3:51

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: There are so many times in these high-pressure moments where we’re worried about the what-ifs that are not in our control, rather than trying to just stay in, “What is in my control in this moment,” and let go of everything else. And to maybe share a little story, in my professor life, it’s really common that we get observed by our colleagues, right? We have to go in and watch each other teach pretty regularly.

So there was one of the times when I knew — I guess, really, this happens every time — I would say I’m getting better at it. I’m not. I’m still just as nervous. But a colleague is just gonna come sit in the back of one of my lectures, and I know they’re taking notes, right? Many of us, I’m sure you’ve been observed by (whether it be a colleague or a superior) somebody, and you can see them the entire time, and they’re taking notes, and it’s a very stressful situation for many. I get very self-conscious when I know I’m being evaluated like that.

So knowing that this is part of my job, this is not gonna go away, I have to be able to deal with this. So going into that observation, well, luckily and unluckily, I know when it’s coming. But sometimes that causes more stress because then you just spend weeks stressing that it’s coming. [Laughs] But I know it’s coming, so I try to focus on what can I control about that moment. I can control how prepared I am, so even though I’m always prepared for lecture, I will overdo it a little bit for those, be super confident, test a video I might be playing, just being extra prepared. I can control kind of some about how my morning goes: if I need to arrive a few minutes early, if I’m gonna eat a breakfast that I know is gonna settle well because I feel comfortable with it. Those little things in my control to be as comfortable in the moment as I can be all the way down to deep breaths before it starts, right?

Kelly Nolan: Yeah.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: And just keeping my heart rate regulated. I can control that. I can take some slow deep breaths before it starts because I can’t control what they think. I can’t control what that observer is writing down. I can’t control if the student next to them is on the internet and not listening to me. I can’t control what’s going on in the classroom other than what I am doing, and I have to focus there. So it’s that kind of high-pressure moment of what’s in your control and let go of everything else.

Kelly Nolan: I’ve heard you almost give a framework around how to bring some of this to life, so do you mind walking us through that?

ACE Framework – 6:29

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yeah, of course, and I will say it’s not mine. It’s common to sport psychology and high-performance in general. So the acronym is ACE just to help remember it. So the three things in your control in any given situation:

A is your actions. You can control what you’re doing, right? You can control your behavior. I like to add to those reactions. You can control how you react to somebody else, but you can’t necessarily control them, right?

Kelly Nolan: Yep.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So if I have a disruptive student, I can’t control the student, but I can control how I react to them.

Kelly Nolan: Yep.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So actions is the first one.

C is concentration. What you’re concentrating on, what your focus is on. That’s the part about, “I can’t worry about all of these things that happened already or what’s coming up hours from now. I’m gonna focus on this lecture, this moment, staying more present.” So you can control what your focus is on.

E is your effort. Ultimately, that’s all you can control. You can’t often control an outcome in many scenarios. But you can control how much effort and concentration and actual actions you’re using, and then if it doesn’t fall into those categories, you probably can’t control it, and you don’t need to spend a lot of time worrying about it. We’re just noticing. You’re like, “Wow, I am really stressed about something that’s not in there, so I can’t do anything about that.” 

Kelly Nolan: Yeah! It is always hard to let go of the things that aren’t a controllable, but I do really find a lot of value in this framework because it brings you back. It helps anchor you to kind of have a framework to be clear on, wait — to be able to issue spot, “This is something I can’t control. Let me try and let it go,” and focus on, “Wait, what are the things I can control?”

So I loved your examples of the preparation that you can do, I guess it would fall under those actions of when you know this is coming, especially those things that you see coming down the pipeline, you know are stressing you out. Really thinking through how do you prepare in a way that, to me, with the goal of feeling the most comfortable and like myself in that scenario, like emotionally stable.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yes.

Kelly Nolan: Of, “How will I show up in that way?” How far in advance are you kind of figuring out some of these things? Granted, I’m sure it’s easy when it is a repeatable thing.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Mm-hmm.

Kelly Nolan: You’re like, “I’ve been evaluated before. I know it’s gonna happen again. I know what worked last time and what didn’t,” so you can build that in.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Sure.

Kelly Nolan: But I think also, generally, even going through this experience a couple of times, maybe it’s a new something, but as long as you’ve learned what worked for you in certain scenarios, you can always adapt and experiment.

So how do you think about that (how far in advance), and how do you bring it to life a little bit?

ACE: Actions – 9:18

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Absolutely. I think with the, like you were saying, whether it’s new or repeatable, it’s learning how you handle a high-stress situation. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. So you’re just getting better at, “I know what to do when I’m stressed. I know what to do when this big thing is happening. Whether I’ve done it before or not, it’ll be the same.”

Kelly Nolan: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: And so, to actually speak first to what you said about being comfortable and being kind of ready, I immediately think of confidence, right? We want to walk into whatever this is really confident. In the field of sport psychology, when we talk about confidence, people will say, “Well, once I do it once I’ll be confident.” I can imagine you could speak to the legal side of this. “The first time I get through a court case, I’ll be confident,” but I have to wait until I do it once to feel good about it. 

Kelly Nolan: Yep.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Or the first time, “I will feel confident once I do it once.” The truth of it is that the confident feelings don’t come first. The confident actions come first. You have to do it first, and then you will feel more confident.

And so, that’s how I view preparation is I have to do all of these little actions because that will build my confidence, because then when I step into whatever this event is I know I have done everything in my control to be prepared. In sport we say trust your training. You’ve done everything you can, and so, you can kind of sit on that and sit tall knowing, “I did everything I could, and I’m fully prepared.”

Kelly Nolan: So you’re saying that instead of waiting to do the ultimate thing to gain confidence, give yourself almost like practice reps or at least the confidence of knowing you’re doing the actions leading up to it that will help you go in knowing, “I’ve kind of left it all on the court, no matter what happens.”

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yes, absolutely. So even if it’s a thing where I can’t mimic the actual big event until it happens, you can break it down into smaller pieces, you can do mock versions, you can do anything to help you be prepared.

Kelly Nolan: Practice out loud in front of a mirror. [Laughs]

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Totally! There are so many of all of those things to help you make sure that you feel confident. But people will say, “Oh, I’ll be confident once I do it once.”

Kelly Nolan: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: It’s like, no, the actions are first. The feeling will come after you’re taking action. So that’s how I view preparation, to get back to your preparation question of however long I need to baby step backwards.

Kelly Nolan: Yep.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So if it’s something that is not far off from what I normally do, it might only be a week ahead of time of thinking through what is different about this week and using a lot of your method when I’m looking forward at my week, I’m like, “What’s going on? Oh, I have this big thing on Thursday that’s actually gonna cause me stress for the next four days, so let me think about how I can spread that out and not just be a mess Wednesday night,” right? So if it’s something that’s not far from what I normally do but is a little bit like that.

Kelly Nolan: Yep.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: If it’s bigger, like I am keynoting a conference here in a couple months, and that is sitting over my shoulder.

Kelly Nolan: Congrats!

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Thank you, but it’s exciting.

Kelly Nolan: But you’re like, “But, yes, it’s stressful.”

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Oh, gosh. Like, I really, really, really want this to go well, of course. 

Kelly Nolan: Yep.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So I have been mapping that one out for a couple months, right? That’s becomes how long — it’s all just backtracking, right? It’s any good planning system of, “Okay, how many weeks in advance do I want my speech done? How many weeks before that do I want to spend writing and revising? How long before that do I need to order tangible things that are gonna come with me to this conference,” right?

Kelly Nolan: Yep.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So I just kind of project plan it and backtrack to make sure that I’m hitting all those little pieces because I don’t want to be stressed out at this thing because my pens didn’t show up.

Kelly Nolan: Right. Right.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Again, you can’t control that other than being really prepared.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah, and I have the benefit of having listened to you speak on your own podcast about this, so I was also noodling on ideas that come to mind for me when it comes to preparation beyond just breaking down a project and calendaring it out. And for me, what I’ve realized is so much comes down to the quality of my sleep before a lot of this stuff. I’ve talked about this before on different episodes, but that includes for me not drinking for a period of time to ensure my sleep quality is as best as I can get it. With two little kids, who fully knows, but I’ll at least do the best I can to control the controllables.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yes.

Kelly Nolan: And I love how you mention the food beforehand.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Mm-hmm.

Kelly Nolan: Tying it to time management briefly, this is probably the biggest reason I like calendaring when I eat meals is not to live rigidly on, “I eat lunch at this time,” but when I can see, “Oh, I’m recording this podcast episode, let’s say, from 12:00 to 1:00. I need to eat at, like, 11:15,” and I wouldn’t maybe normally think to eat at 11:15, but by calendaring it and seeing it I’m like, “Okay,” and then I can think about, “Okay, this is the type of food I need to eat before this type of thing.” You were mentioning that before.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yeah.

Kelly Nolan: These are those little things that sound kind of small but have such big implications on how we show up and how we feel when we’re showing up beyond that as well.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Absolutely. It is. To your point on sleep, there’s some interesting science on that too that I will share that it’s not the night before the big event. it’s two nights before —

Kelly Nolan: Yeah!

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: — that is the bigger impact, which is interesting because the most prepared you are, you may not sleep well the night before. But if you have, like you said, that system, you’re ready, it’s two nights before that you can be doing what you can to make sure that is a really good night’s sleep.

But I do it too. When I’m speaking at long events, I’m like, “Okay, I have a keynote, and then I have two breakout rooms. Do I have a protein shake, a bar?” Do I have something that I can eat in between that I know, again, will sit well, I know I will have the energy. Because sometimes it’s like, “Oh, here’s your catered box lunch,” which I always appreciate, but if it’s not at the right time or not the right thing, then it kind of throws your day.

Kelly Nolan: Yep.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: And it is. It’s subtle, little things that I need to have, that’s in your control to make sure you’re as set up.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Down to like, “What are my shoes? If my feet are killing me, I’m not doing well at this event.” [Laughs]

Kelly Nolan: Yeah!

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So I’ll even calendar or think about if I am planning an outfit for something really big like this. It’s like, “Okay, what does that look like, and do I need to wear it in my normal teaching life for a day before I wear it to this event,” that sort of thing.

Kelly Nolan: Smart.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yeah.

Kelly Nolan: And you’re reminding me that I used to have to do that with court. I would not always have a dry-cleaned suit available, and so, I did get smarter and eventually put an actual fully dry-cleaned suit and heels in my office so it was always there in case I needed to go to court. [Laughs]

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: [Laughs] Yes.

Kelly Nolan: But also for those types of things or maybe — in  my past life, doing lots of depos, you need certain suit dresses or something, and you need to go get them dry cleaned. So I needed to calendar when I would do that and when I would pick it up in time.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yes!

Kelly Nolan: Or, if like me, you used to keep all your heels in the office, which, for most people probably isn’t as relevant these days where we work from home a lot. But I had to go to my office at 4:00 AM before a flight once and grab some heels because they were all in the office. [Laughs]

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: They were all there?

Kelly Nolan: Yep. And so, I think you’re really smart to think about this stuff ahead of time because you’ll issue spot things like that ahead of time.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Mm-hmm, maybe you’re actually not as much of the traditional or, what was I gonna say, the planning brain, where you said part of what you love about this is that it’s not as easy or as natural.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah. Yep.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: I’m remembering that correctly. [Laughs] But I am the planning brain and I like it that way, but it still, going to that higher level of those details gives me a sense of calm. I can look through that. For me, this event is happening right after spring break. So I don’t want to be spending my spring break stressing out about this. I want to be able to enjoy that time with my family, so I actually backed up a lot of what I needed to do so I wasn’t spending that break time on this.

Kelly Nolan: That’s awesome.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: It brings such a calm that, if we’re talking about confidence and showing up, being able to be your best in a high-pressure situation, you can control the prep. This may sound like extreme preparation, but if it’s gonna help you be calm, then that is worth every minute of it.

The Power of Self-Awareness – 17:41

Kelly Nolan: Yeah. And I’m also gonna derail us for a moment because I know we’re going through the acronyms, but something else I’ve heard you talk about is the power of self-awareness as kind of a precursor to all of this.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yes.

Kelly Nolan: I think part of what’s hard about this is even for those of us who are good at planning — which I am not. It did not come naturally to me, at least on this level, until I made a concerted effort to protect the time to do it and reminding myself to do it, but part of this is also coming back to just taking a beat and slowing down and really thinking about how do I respond to stressful situations? What does that feel like? Because some of it you might not be able to fix, but at least you’re aware of it. Before I jump on a big corporate presentation, I tend to feel a little ill.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Mm-hmm.

Kelly Nolan: I get heart racing. I feel a little sick. Once I get going, I’m okay. There’s not a whole lot I can do about that now other than trying to take deep breaths, but my awareness of it helps me not spiral in my panic of, “What’s going on? Why do I feel sick?”

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yeah, absolutely.

Kelly Nolan: And just being like, “This is how I approach these things, and I’ll be fine in five minutes once we get going.”

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yes.

Kelly Nolan: And so, I loved your thoughts around that.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Absolutely, yeah, that awareness in — we talk about mental skills for high performance. So that includes self-talk and mindset, motivation, resilience, all of these skills. Self-awareness is the first one because if you don’t know what works and doesn’t work for you or you don’t know what might trigger you to have that kind of response, then you’re always playing catch up. You’re always like, “Oh, no, the ball’s already down the hill. I can’t fix this,” rather than being able to notice it faster.

So the thing with either negative self-talk — which is when we say mean things to ourselves in our head that, unfortunately, we all do. We tend to be very mean to ourselves. So that negative self-talk or, like you said, the physiology in your body when you’re sweating, you’re shaky, your heart rate is going, both of those things will start to happen in any sort of high-pressure situation. We tend to want to stop them.

Kelly Nolan: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: But it’s actually not the goal to stop it. I think we look at it more of like you want just enough that you’re in it and you’re excited and you’re ready, but not so much that you can’t control it.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: And when we go into these high pressure — like, “Oh, my god, my heart is racing,” we want to be like, “I have to make this stop. I have to calm down.” I’m like, well, you don’t actually want to go to zero. There is this optimal level that, for most people, is actually somewhere in the middle, right?

Kelly Nolan: Yeah.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: If you are really calm, like the most zen you can be, you’re actually not in a good place to be at a high performance, you know, like, “I’m on.”

Kelly Nolan: That does make sense.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Right? But if you go too far, your heart is beating too much or you feel like you might actually throw up, you can’t function there either.

Kelly Nolan: Right.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So you actually want to be in the middle. So it’s that awareness of, “What’s the right amount?” We call it arousal, right?

Kelly Nolan: Yeah.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: That physiological and mental — what is the right middle ground for you? You have to be aware of what that is and finding it, and it’s about shifting that mindset from, “This is bad. My hands are shaky,” to, “No, my hands are shaky. I’m in a good place. Let’s do this. I’m ready.”

Kelly Nolan: Yeah, and even for me where maybe I should work on the, “I’m ready,” like it’s a positive thing, even just being like, “No, this is what my body does, and it’s okay, and I’ll move through it, and it’ll be all right.” Even just knowing that probably helps me stay in that middle zone versus the first time or two it happened I was kind of panicking, like, “What’s going on!”

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Of course Yeah.

Kelly Nolan: And just having the going back to the importance of self-awareness to be like, “Nope, this is what my body does. It’s okay,” and owning that really helps, I guess, harness the good stress and not let it spiral into something destructive.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Sure. I mean, and there are a few different theories about how our brain responds to emotion, but one of them is that when you are experiencing that in your body, when your heart is racing and you’re sweaty or whatever your body is doing, you’re all shaky, your brain actually has a second to filter, “What is this? Is this panic and bad, or is this good? You can actually make the choice to say, “Ooh, I’m a little shaky. I’m ready. Let’s do this,” and shift it rather than your brain is interpreting the shaky as bad.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So if you really are not prepared, that’s when the shaky, upset feelings actually usually cause the panic because you’re shaking because you’re not ready.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: But if you really are prepared, you can be like, “Ooh, I’m ready. I’m excited. This is my body ready for what I’m supposed to be doing.” We have this physiological response to good things as well, and if we view stress as a good thing, as like, “This is facilitating. This is helping me. I’m ready,” then we actually do tend to perform so much better.

Kelly Nolan: Awesome. Well, I know I derailed us.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: That’s okay.

Kelly Nolan: And so, you did a nice job of bringing us back. So we were talking about when we’re in these high-stress situations, really controlling the controllables. The first thing is our actions, and then also you mentioned reactions.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yes.

Kelly Nolan: Is there anything you want to say there more, or should we move to C?

ACE: Concentration – 22:57

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: No, I think that was that key there. Yeah, so C is concentration, right? So it’s about your focus, which is really the self-talk part, right? So if you are about to start some high-performance thing — so I think of the minute before it’s about to start, what are you thinking about? Where is your brain? Where is your focus?

And so, back to my teaching evaluation, if I stand up at the lectern and I look at my evaluator and I only think about, “She’s looking down. Oh, she’s not even looking. She looks like she’s grumpy.” If I’m only thinking about the bad stuff, that’s gonna set me up to have a really rocky start, right? Where, that minute before, if your concentration is on — usually, I say one of two things. It’s either positive, so your self-talk is just a running mantra of, “I’ve got this. I’m prepared. I’m a good teacher. I can do this,” right? It’s just positive. Some people find that really awkward and hard, that talking to yourself like that feels weird. I encourage you to keep trying it until it feels less weird.

But if you’re like, “I can’t hype myself. It feels strange,” you can focus on something technical about what you’re about to do. So focusing on, “Okay, I know I’m gonna start with this part of the lecture. This is my opening story that’s gonna hook –,” going into when whatever this is starts, what are the first three things I’m gonna do, and I am ready for that. And so, that concentration. Not letting yourself go to either the past or the future or the negative but being in the present moment with something positive or what you’re actually working on.

Kelly Nolan: That resonates so much. Your second point resonates so much with what I have found to work for me. I don’t like being overly scripted in most things that I do, but I do need to script out almost the first couple of lines that I’m gonna say in a presentation or even a podcast episode or something like that because it’s like that onramp on can be so awkward and clunky.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yep.

Kelly Nolan: And so, to have the clarity there and even envision the room and the other people looking at me and that kind of visualization side of things really helps me and then practicing how I’m gonna kick things off.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yes, that makes a huge difference.

Kelly Nolan: That resonates a lot.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Good, I’m glad. Yeah, and that’s the thing with that concentration. The other piece I will add is that we feel like we’re only good at this if we are able to keep our focus 100% on task and it never drifts, and that’s just not real. That’s not how our brains work, and that’s not a fair expectation of yourself. What you want to practice is, as you start to drift to, “What if my evaluator doesn’t like this? What if I make a mistake?” or you start to drift to something else, just coming back faster.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So it’s not that you’re gonna stay perfectly in the present moment for hours at a time. For the average person, that’s never gonna happen. It’s just, again, that self-awareness. Noticing that you are thinking either unhelpful thoughts or being distracted and coming back as fast as you can.

Kelly Nolan: I love that. That’s super awesome, and I will say the other thing that (maybe I’m butchering what you’re saying) that helps me keep my concentration where I want it to be, and my clients have heard me say this, but I really like using timers to kind of help pace me though a presentation. I get very stressed if I think I’m running over and just spending too long on one area, and so, I use now — a client encouraged this — an Apple Watch as timers or just little vibrations on your watch so it’s not super disruptive, but you can set a timer.

If it’s an hour presentation, I’ll set one halfway through and 15 minutes left and 5 minutes left. And it just is this nice way that allows me to really get consumed in what I’m talking about and let my concentration go where I want it to, which is on the presentation itself, but keep me on track and help me in that way.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yes. That’s great.

Kelly Nolan: So that may be random, but I figured it’s a way that I figured I’d share how I protect my own concentration in moments like that —

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yep.

Kelly Nolan: — in a realistic way for me.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yeah, that’s great. That’s a controllable thing that you can do to say, “I know I’m gonna get distracted by stressing about how much time, so I can fix that,” right? 

ACE: Effort – 27:12

Kelly Nolan: Yeah. Yeah, awesome, okay, so round us out with that last one.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So the last one: Effort, as I said, is ultimately in your control, and that kind of comes down to what you have to give every day and giving that your best, and that might shift. Your 100% shifts every day, but what do you have to give and giving that. So you have that high expectation of yourself, and for me, that’s really not so much about the motivational side of, “I need to work hard.” I see it more as a definition-of-success side.

So when I — sticking with my theme of being evaluated as a professor — I can’t control what she’s writing down. I can’t control what my evaluator is perceiving of me. I can control my effort that I put forth. And so, when I get that evaluation later, I can’t actually control that outcome. The only outcome I control is my effort that day, how I showed up, how prepared I am, how much I delivered that.

So it’s that separation of you from an outcome that you can’t control, and in any job there are a lot of times an outcome that you want that you can’t control. A boss is making a choice. A client is gonna perceive something you did how they’re gonna perceive it, right? Somebody else has their filter on it, so it’s that separation of success is full effort. Success is not whatever this outcome is that I can’t actually control.

Kelly Nolan: I so appreciate this because I just, as I mentioned in the intro, think that time management so often is we’re managing the logistical stressors of our life, and everything you’re talking about I think people will find so helpful to manage the more substantive stressors of our jobs that we can’t always logistic away. But I think they’re related. I do think that if you can have the self-awareness of, “Okay, how do I show up in these moments? How would I like to help that person show up with more confidence?” even if it’s little things like, “Maybe I won’t have that second cup of coffee and I’ll switch to D that day so I’m not as stressed out and things like that,” really thinking this through, you know, like me, using your calendar to remind future you to do these baby steps along the way to help you out and remind you when it matters. I just so appreciate you sharing all this because I know that it is incredibly valuable for people. We can’t always time-management all the stress away, so how do we help from a more maybe practical but mindset perspective as well?

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Sure. Oh, you’re so welcome, and you’re right. I think that’s a lot of what I do is sometimes I have to convince people that just shifting the mindset’s actually gonna make such a big difference.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: But it truly does. The science is there. Society’s coming around to understanding. Even in my world in sport, some of the highest elite athletes use a lot of these mindfulness tools or mindset or self-talk, breathing tools on the highest stage. You see it everywhere. So knowing that you’re not less at your job or you’re not weak because you are relying on some of these tools to be able to perform your best when it really matters. It’s just kind of integrating that into your system to say, “I’ve done everything logistically to prepare, so let’s take five minutes before this starts to make sure I’m truly in the right mindset to actually make sure all of my training shows up when it’s time.”

Kelly Nolan: Yeah, I love this, and this is gonna sound really random, but I think it comes into bear at least with the kind of concentration element of what you’re talking about. A random tip that I’ve talked about in other episodes is really being mindful (and someone else said this) that we go onto social media when we’re gonna let our thoughts and our emotions be at the whim of whatever we see on there.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yep.

Kelly Nolan: And so, a lot of us will prepare for these high-pressure moments and will be ready half an hour beforehand or even ten minutes beforehand, and you might be tempted to like, “Well, I have some time to kill. Let me just look on social media.”

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: “I’ll just go scroll,” yep.

Kelly Nolan: And that can really derail all this effort that you’ve put into setting yourself up well, so it’s just a random last thought on this element.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Oh, totally.

Kelly Nolan: Just be weary of that. I, myself, have to remind myself all the time this is not the time to see some inflammatory post or hear some terrible news, I mean, and spiral. Try and just really protect your own focus in those moments. I avoid social media for a period of time.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Oh, absolutely avoid it for sure. And speaking to that, music is really powerful. So that’s another self-awareness to — I was kind of thinking, talking about this, of your arousal level being in the middle. Does it need to get higher or lower?

Kelly Nolan: Yeah.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Usually, we need to calm down, right? We need to deep breathe and calm down, but there are times we need to amp up. I am not a morning person, and if I have to give a big speech at 8:00 AM, it’s a problem. I have my hype playlist that has to be going in the hotel room as I’m getting ready because I’m not gonna be my fully-energized presenter self at 8:00 AM unless I force that to happen.

Kelly Nolan: And, really, that’s so smart.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: I have to make sure that energy is there. So, same. If I’m done early and I’m ready, I’m not gonna pace around the room and freak out or start scrolling. That, exactly, causes so many problems, so I will have, “Is there a fiction book I’m in the middle of that is light and fun that I know? I can do that. Is there music I want to listen to?” A lot of times I’ll just go on a walk and do that.

Kelly Nolan: Yep.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So, yeah, being really conscious about that preparation part, but music’s really helpful too.

Kelly Nolan: Awesome. Well, switching gears just to wrap this up, you are a working mom as well, and a working woman in general I should say. I think that a lot of this applies to everybody.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yes.

Psychological Perspective of The Tension Between Managing Work and Life – 32:56

Kelly Nolan: But I would love to hear how you view kind of the “doing it all” as a working woman these days and that pressure because I think that, on top of the inherent stress of a lot of our jobs, it’s the tension between doing work and managing a whole life outside of work and the pull between those things, and I know from a psychology perspective I’m always interested in what you have to say on that. I’d love to hear.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Sure. Of course, and it’s a work in progress, like any of it. I’m better at it now than I was before, you know, 10/15 years ago. But it’s not easy just because I understand it better.

So, from the psychology of it, I think it attaches to identity. So this is very much a social psychologist view of things.

Kelly Nolan: That’s great.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: But it is about you have a core identity (who you are, your values, what matters to you most in the world), and spending time figuring out what that identity is is so important, and it takes — most people are gonna do that through their twenties. It’s not something you just figure out, and that’s why a lot of college students, if they’re on a traditional college path and they graduate at 22 and they’re like, “I don’t know what to do with my life,” I’m like, “You’re not supposed to know. It’s okay.”

Kelly Nolan: Yeah!

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: But that identity work continues well into our thirties and forties. It’s always evolving. But if you’ve kind of done that inner work to reflect what truly matters to me, and I have my five core values that I reevaluate, but they’ve been pretty consistent, I would say, through my thirties and early forties. I got there. Then, the work/life balance stuff is always through that filter. That’s what helps me keep it grounded.

So I had to make a big decision at work last year about contracts and what I was gonna do, take on, and not take on, and I had to put it through that filter of my values like, “Okay, this looks like this big shiny star. That’s great, but do I actually want that? Does it actually fit what I want, not just climbing the ladder, not what my peers want.” It has to be, “Does it align with my values?” in order to make that choice.

And so, putting everything through that filter of your identity helps me keep the balance and then the second piece to it is that I don’t see it as a work/life balance because I always pictured that as almost like the Lady Justice with the two scales. [Laughs] They’re supposed to constantly be in balance and they’re just not.

Kelly Nolan: No.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: That’s just not real, and the fight to do that is when we feel guilty. And so, instead, I think of it more like a work/life blend. My work in many ways makes me a better mom. I want to be that role model for my children of finding a career that you love and being passionate about it, putting that work into it. I’m kind of lucky in that I teach developmental psychology. My kids actually come to campus every once in a while, and so, they get to see that. But it’s a blend, right? Being a professor doesn’t make me less of a mom, and being a mom doesn’t take away from being a professor. So I let the blend shift, right? Sometimes I’m more focused on the mom side of life. Sometimes it’s more on the professor. Neither one is harming the other. As long as decisions in both aspects of my life align with my values, I’m good.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah, I love that. I love that you’re right. Neither harms the other, so long as you’re making decisions with both in mind.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Right.

Kelly Nolan: I think we get in real trouble when we’re only looking at work in a vacuum and only looking at our personal life in a vacuum and having the expectation that they shouldn’t have an impact on each of the other. Of course they do.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Right.

Kelly Nolan: We all have limited time and energy that both pull from, so they’re going to have A bearing on each. And I love your point on evaluating decisions. I think just having a filter, no matter how you do it, whether it’s five values like you were talking about, Chelsea. I think I’m more of an elementary approach of just being like, “How do I want my life to feel, and will this decision help me get closer to that?” Having that filter, no matter what your filter is or how you get there, is invaluable so that you have something to measure opportunities against, to have some sort of metrics of, “How am I gonna make these decisions?” Because, again, if you’re only making them in a vacuum, that’s a recipe for over-commitment I have found. Even if it was something you wanted to do, not the inability to then enjoy it because you’re too over-committed.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Absolutely.

Kelly Nolan: So thank you for sharing that.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yeah.

Kelly Nolan: I think it is so valuable. Whether you have kids or not, you have to have these metrics to evaluate.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yeah, because I think often the metric is seeing through a lens of comparison. That’s when we get in trouble is we say, “Oh, this person is doing this incredible thing for their kid’s birthday party, and I don’t know how to pull that off.” We just had a three-day weekend when we’re recording this, and I see (again, doom scrolling on social media) parents that have this incredible, fun day out with their kids, and I was like, “Semester starts tomorrow. I was at home prepping, and now I feel bad because my kids didn’t have this amazing family experience yesterday,” but that’s a comparison piece of I know that I provide my kids with happy, fun experiences, and I know that I am gonna be prepared to teach this semester and trying to separate because then I’ll look at professors who are like, “Oh, they were on campus all ready to go, and I was like, “I didn’t want to go yet.” [Laughs]

Kelly Nolan: [Laughs]

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So it’s like you said about a vacuum, if you only compare yourself to somebody in that vacuum, there’s always somebody doing it better because they have different priorities, different values, different life circumstances. So you have to constantly keep it in your own bubble of is it making you happy.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah, I love that.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Like you said, “Do I feel good in this balance?” And if I don’t, is it because I’m chasing somebody else’s expectations, somebody else’s balance, or is this what I really want?

Kelly Nolan: Yeah, and I love that going back to your values or, “How do I want my life to feel,” those things ground you away from — there’s no other comparison element in that analysis.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yeah.

Kelly Nolan: To me, that’s where that feel comes in because it really shifts you away from, “How do I want my life to look like,” which to me bleeds into, “What does society say is a success?”

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Yes, I like that a lot.

Kelly Nolan: So that’s so powerful, and I think comparison, I’m sure — anytime I find myself chasing my ego or prestige or wanting the gold star as mom, a little red flag goes up for myself of, “Whoa, okay, maybe this is the wrong thing to be chasing here.”

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Absolutely, and we all get there. I mean, if we’re high achievers, if we’re people who are used to that, and we’ve always been rewarded by that — that’s the other problem. Our entire life we’re rewarded by chasing the gold star and being the best. And so, as an adult, being able to step back and say, “I actually don’t want that gold star. I’m glad that you want it, and that’s amazing, but I actually don’t. And I’m super happy for you, and I’m good.”

I am an overachiever, like many people probably resonate with, and it was hard to let go of that.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: But putting it in the filter of, “No, I am high achieving at what matters to me,” keep it in that bubble.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah, and you brought it up when we were talking about concentration of just embrace the fact that you are going to get distracted. Your thoughts are gonna wander, and it’s the bringing yourself back element that’s the most important.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Right.

Kelly Nolan: I think it’s the same thing here. We are gonna have those comparison moments. We are gonna have the chasing the gold star prestige thing, and it’s the building that muscle of — and I’m not saying don’t do it. You might decide to do it, but building the muscle, bringing it back to you and deciding is this the right decision for you in this phase of life is the thing that really matters here. 

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti:  Absolutely. Oh, yeah. I’m all for big goals, right? If you have some big goal that you want, you absolutely go chase it. It just should be your goal and your values and not somebody else’s.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah, well, that is a great thing to end on, so we will end there.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Okay.

Kelly Nolan: Chelsea, tell people where they can learn more about you.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Sure, if you’re interested in kind of the social psychology stuff, as I mentioned, I work mostly with sport and elite dancers, but as Kelly so nicely said, sometimes it resonates outside of that as well.

So I have a podcast called Passion for Dance, mostly focused on dance educators, but that’s at www.chelseapierotti.com and Passion for Dance wherever you get your podcasts!

Kelly Nolan: Awesome, and I just want to emphasize that again. No one should ever want to watch me dance. I’m terrible at that. [Laughs]

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: [Laughs]

Kelly Nolan: I am not a dance educator, but I still just will go look at Chelsea’s podcast once a month and cherry pick episodes that seem like they resonate. That’s how we got in touch, and I was like, “I need to have you talk about this ACE acronym. I need to have you talk about self-awareness,” because there are gems in there that you will easily be able to tie to your own life. And so, I could not recommend it enough.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Thank you.

Kelly Nolan: And thank you for being here, Chelsea.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Of course!

Kelly Nolan: I just love talking to you all the time. I love having the excuse to make you come on here and talk with me.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: You too. Well, and I have to plug for you too — I don’t have to, but I absolutely want to — that The Bright Method has changed how I organize my work/life balance and blend and trying to make that happen because I met you and started working on this when I had a young infant and was like, “I can’t do this! I can’t be a professor. I can’t have a career. This is crazy.” And now I have such a clear system that helps keep it, that I feel like I can take my social psychology and put the identity in all of that to work, but I have a framework of logistics that actually really works.

Kelly Nolan: Yeah! Well, thank you.

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: So thank you! I think it’s the two together that’s the magic.

Kelly Nolan: Awesome, well, thank you so much, and thank you everyone for listening, and I’ll catch you on the next episode!

Dr. Chelsea Pierotti: Bye!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

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