In this week's episode, Billy and Brian sit down with author, presenter, and professional wise-cracker Tom Cody--co-founder of Top 20 Strategies, to discuss:
--how we can become the best version of ourselves through Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, Responsible Decision Making
--the importance of social-emotional intelligence and why we need to stop calling them "soft skills"
--the 4 A's of Mindfulness
--the difference between "human doing" and "human being"
--how mindfulness and social-emotional intelligence act as the "front tire of our bike"
--how we can still continue to learn and grow as we get into our 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond
--how Top 20 Strategies had to take a long, hard look at what they were missing in terms of inclusive, diverse, and equitable messaging
--why his advice to his younger self would be, "Don't be an asshole!"
Like what you heard from Tom? Check out his books!
--Rebalanced Thinking, Rebalanced Living: Developing Your Inner Life through Social Emotional Learning
--Top 20 Parents
--Top 20 Teens
--Top 20 Teachers
--Why Students Disengage in American Schools and What We Can Do about It
Contact Tom at:
On the web: www.top20training.com
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Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life second half. Join your hosts, Billy and Brian, a couple of average dudes who will serve as your armchair life coaches as we share our life experiences, both the good and the bad, in an effort to help us all better understand how we can enjoy and make the most of the life we have left to live in a more meaningful way. Take a deep breath, embrace the present, and journey with us through The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I’m your host, Billy, and, as always, I’m joined by my good friend, Brian on the Bass. Brian, how you doing over there, man?
Brian: I am exhilarated today, Billy.
Billy: Oh, why are you so exhilarated?
Brian: Well, because our guest today was so great the first time that I’m just so excited to welcome him back today.
Billy: Yeah, fan favorite. I’ll tell you, one of our most downloaded episodes has been our interview with Tom Cody back in season 1, it’s episode 10. If you haven’t listened to it, go back and check it out. Tom is the co-founder of Top 20 Training. He shares his unique witticisms, insights, and wisdom gathered from his 40 years in the classroom. His professional life has been committed to education, serving as a grade school and high school math teacher and social emotional learning teacher from 1974 until his retirement from teaching in 2014. Tom now devotes his time and energy to Top 20 Training and its mission to revolutionize American education. His one-of-a-kind trainings are engaging, humorous, and thought provoking. He has co-authored Top 20 Teachers: The Revolution in American Education, Top 20 Parents: Raising Happy, Responsible & Emotionally Healthy Children, and Top 20 Teens: Discovering the Best-kept Thinking, Learning & Communicating Secrets of Successful Teenagers and he is here today to talk about the book Rebalanced Thinking, Rebalanced Living, which we will link all of these books in our show notes. Welcome back to the show, Tom. How you doing?
Tom: Hey. Hi, Brian. Hi, Billy.
Billy: It’s good to have you back, Tom. The last time that we had you, you were doing your Top 20 Trainings virtually and now you’ve been able to get back into schools. How is that going?
Tom: Yeah, for about, I would say that 17-month stretch where it got bad. I probably had three or four live trainings where we masked and one time I looked like a hazmat guy at one school. We did about four live, I probably did 25, 30 maybe more Zoom sessions so it’s been really fun. Late July, had a couple and then this month, we got about 16 live events booked, one Zoom, but it’s been great to see humans, fist bump. See, a lot of the stuff you can teach online is not a problem, like if I’m doing algebra, that comes from the head. I’m pointing to my skull here. The deal with Top 20 is it comes from the heart and it’s really hard to share your heart in a breakout room with some dude in New Jersey. It’s just creepy. It’s weird. Plus, the guy’s in his kitchen. I mean, it’s just weird so —
Billy: And he might not be wearing pants either.
Tom: The whole thing is weird but it’s the best we can and we did the best we could. I kept saying do the best you can as often as you can for the most you can. That was our deal during COVID. Best you can, most people you can connect with as often as you can and then we’re going to have to live with that, but it’s been great to get back out there. By the way, return guest, that just means you couldn’t get the one you wanted today so you called me. That was nice of you.
Billy: No, you’re absolutely the one that we wanted. You’re a fan favorite. Like I said, one of our most downloaded episodes is our talk with you. People really love listening to you. And, hey, if they didn’t like listening to you, then you’d be out of a job because then no one would want to hire you to go speak at their schools.
Tom: There you go. Yeah, I will offer my unique witticisms or however you said it in the beginning.
Billy: I stole it from your website.
Tom: My wife thought I was funny from 1976 to 1978, that’s about when she stopped laughing.
Brian: Wait, when did you meet her?
Brian: Okay, okay.
Tom: Then in ‘78 we got married and about a week later, it’s like, stop it, you know?
Billy: So the honeymoon phase was over.
Tom: Yeah. She gets this at dinner every night. I mean, they pay me money to go and talk for four hours at a school, they don’t have to listen the next day.
Billy: Maybe you should bring her with you some time so that —
Tom: She will not — she has seen, in the 5,000 hours of trainings I’ve done, she has seen maybe an hour and a half. By accident. She was stuck —
Tom: — she heard the microphone and she just cringes. She’s just nervous about what might come out of my mouth next.
Billy: You did say that she advised you to eliminate one of your more recent jokes.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. I said to the people in the balcony. I said 500 teachers, 100 in the balcony, I said that’s where Lincoln sat. How you doing up there? She advised me that that — and I said why? Too soon?
Brian: If that’s too soon, I don’t know when it’ll be okay.
Tom: Other than that, I was late Mrs. Lincoln.
Billy: How are teachers responding to your speaking engagements? How are they feeling? I mean, it’s got to be a different vibe, it’s got to be a different response than when you were doing these back in 2019 and earlier.
Tom: Well, they’re just more injured. They’re damaged people. It makes our social emotional — your mindfulness podcast, it’s never been more relevant because people are really broken. And I mean spiritually, emotionally, some physically. They’re tired. They’re confused. Nobody knows what the hell is going to happen next and they got children at risk at home. Never before has anybody been more in need of taking care of their inner life. You cannot possibly get through this without all the stuff you folks are talking about every week on your podcast. It’s hopeless. This is literally hopeless. And I will say this, I’ve been in, I don’t know, contact with dozens of schools during COVID, mostly Zoom, the ones who are thriving are the people that have done some of this work beforehand. Nobody knew this was coming. But what happened was, there are schools that did better and one of them’s Billy’s old place. They had done this work for five years. The staff did better there, and I’m not talking about just my stuff. I mean, anything. Covey, 7 Habits, all these great resources, any staff that was taken care of on the front end got through this better. People were clueless. They went to blame, they went into complain, they went into whining. I mean, they were thermometers. They just named the problem. Some schools were thermostats. There’s a big difference. See, today was 90 and humid, thank you, I got that, I stuck my head out the door. I want to know what we’re going to do to cool it down. I just think there’s a huge difference, and a lot of it goes back to leadership. The strong administrators made sure their people were ready for this crisis, whether they knew it or not, and the weak ones didn’t.
Billy: I think that connects to what our earlier guest, Kristen Brown, talked about when she said there is no such thing as an overrated soft skill and just developing these soft skills that have been viewed for so long as just being floofy or too emotional or too, I don’t know, effeminate or what have you, and, no, it’s the people who have developed these soft skills who have been able to navigate this pandemic a little bit better. And not even just the pandemic, just considering everything that’s going on socially and politically in our world these days, people who — and like you’ve said before, we’re not talking about trauma, because trauma is a different beast altogether, but just navigating your social and emotional health with those soft skills and that’s really why we wanted to focus this season on talking to experts who have strategies around developing these soft skills, developing social emotional learning so that we can get through this with our minds intact.
Tom: Yeah, and I’m going to invite you to stop calling them soft. When I’m out on the road talking about — I don’t think persistence is soft, I don’t think resiliency is soft. I think calculus is. I think semicolons are soft. I think 96 percent of the stuff we do in schools are soft skills, especially since they can get all that crap on Khan Academy. Rosetta Stone. Four hits on Google, I know all about gluons or woodchucks. The stuff we got to be teaching now, the hard stuff, I would call essential. The hard skills are resilience and grit and self-confidence, discipline. Gluons and photons did not get you through COVID. “Well, but I got a B on a thing.” Who cares? I mean, good for you, you got into college. There’s another stupid line. Dude, the idea is to get out of college, not in, so you show up with this photons and woodchuck deal and then you find out you have to be a thinker and you have to be a survivor and you have to be self-disciplined in college and your home working in Jiffy Lube by Christmas. And you wonder what happened. Well, you didn’t have the skills needed to thrive at Marquette University. You had paper to get you in but you didn’t have what it takes to get you out as soon as you left mom behind, who was washing your damn socks all the time. So I just love — oh, learning loss too. I’m so sick of the term “learning loss.” Every school’s telling me how much loss there was in learning and I get it, you didn’t get to page 412. Let’s think for a minute though. Let’s think about the mindfulness gained in children. Time management. You don’t think seventh graders developed time management last year, when their hybrid A through G on Tuesdays and then logging into turn in their Google Chrome crap on key a monkey, Chrome, whatever they’re doing? They had to learn all this stuff and, okay, they didn’t get to commas and participles. Okay, well, we’ll do that this year. But the key is we had learning gained. Mindfulness was gained in our schools. Some of it was positive, some of it was negative. Some people turned into procrastinators and whiners and just bored all the time. That happened too but you’re given a choice this year by this virus to either thrive or not.
Billy: Reminds me of what Scott Welle said when we had him on. He said don’t let a good crisis go to waste. And I’m glad that you pointed out that, yeah, you could have gone down two different paths and you talked a lot about high school, you talked about getting into college, and when we have guests on, we always have them share their 10 roles but you’ve already shared your 10 roles. If you don’t know what Tom’s 10 roles are, go back to episode 10, listen to our first interview with Tom. So, when you look back at who you were as a young man, what some advice you would offer to your younger self?
Tom: Yeah, don’t be an asshole is what I would say. But let me change that. Let me adjust it. That’s pretty much what it is, which I was. I was bad news. I was bad news. I was screaming at people.
Brian: Would you have taken your own advice?
Tom: No. I would have said, “Who’s that idiot talking me? He looks old.” No, I was so screwed up because, and I said this on the last podcast, everything was about me. Girls basketball was about me. Math class, AP calculus was about me looking good by teaching smart kids to stay smart. My marriage was to make me look good. Raising kids was about me. I want to be a great dad. I don’t care about my kids really but they make me look like a great dad. I couldn’t believe Channel 11 wasn’t at the playground when I was swinging them because they were covering my basketball games. I’m in the newspaper for winning some game at Humboldt and, meanwhile — so everything was about me. So, my advice, I wouldn’t have listened to it, but the advice would have been, “Dude, you will only thrive in this world by serving others. It’s the only way that you become famous, prosperous, financially prosperous, emotionally prosperous, physically prosperous. If you’re not serving other people. Tom, it’s not about you. Spend an hour with these girls at practice because it’s about them. Worry about the winning and losing because it’s about them. Worry about the test scores because you’re trying to aid in the human development of this math student.” I was just totally — I bought in. I bought into the media, I bought into — I wanted to be famous. I don’t know how famous you can get in the job I had but I wanted to be a big deal. I was never a big deal. Now I’m a little bit of a big deal but it’s because I stopped trying to be a big deal. Is this making any sense?
Billy: It makes perfect sense.
Tom: Today’s podcast is not about me. Now. If you want to call me for a training, I’ll take the money. I mean, great. Today is about providing some value to, (a), Billy and Brian, (b), I’m here to provide value to some lady listening in Cedar Rapids driving on the street going, “Oh my god, I’m having an aha here.” If I do that, I’m going to be just fine. And it’s just I just never had that frame of reference. I just wasn’t mindful about my inner life trying to serve others instead of selfishly always trying to serve myself.
Billy: Well, that’s what we want to dive into a little bit more here today because I think that the title of the book, Rebalanced Thinking, Rebalanced Living, fits perfectly with what you just said there so what we’re going to do is we’re going to take a quick break and then when we come back, we’re going to continue talking to Tom Cody. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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If you’re listening somewhere safe and quiet, close your eyes and slowly inhale for four, three, two, one. Hold for seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Slowly exhale for eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Let’s do that one more time. Inhale for four, three, two, one. Hold for seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Slowly exhale for eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Go ahead and open your eyes. You feel better? We certainly hope so. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here talking to Tom Cody. Our subject today is Rebalanced Thinking, Rebalanced Living, that is the book that he helped co-author. You can find that in our show notes. Tom, the central question asked of this book is how do we become the best version of ourselves, which is also the primary theme of this season? So, in the book, you focus on the importance of social emotional learning and mindfulness. Why do you think these two are the foundation for being our best selves?
Tom: Well, my last answer is connected to this. It’s about inside. The title of our book is rebalanced thinking. Okay, you start there. That’s what you got to do to rebalance your living. And our analogy is like the tires. When the tires get out of alignment, you go and balance them. And the trouble with unaligned tires is you don’t know you got a problem ’til you got a problem, ’til there’s a blowout on the road or you got to pay a bunch of money for brakes. That was my life. I was out of alignment. There was no balance. The balance was just me, me, me, me. So, what is social emotional learning? Well, those five core competencies, you got to self-management, you got the awareness of social and self, you got decision making and all about relationships, you can Google that if you want to see it, people, but somebody smarter than me decided that those five things, again, are the hard skills needed to be healthy, happy, and effective in life and that’s what you really need. And, especially, a lot of my focus is schools because that’s what I hope kids develop when they’re in pre-K, elementary, middle, high school, college, whatever, and beyond, grad school, but this book is not intended for schools. This is our fifth book. It’s got nothing to do with schools. This is for grandmothers and plumbers. This is for sister-in-laws. This is for some lady walking on the street who’s suffered a loss in her life and wants to figure out how — it’s got nothing to do with education. So we thought we wanted to translate this. A lot of the concepts are similar but it all comes back to inner life. Everything we talk about in this book is a C-H-O-I-C-E. That’s choice, people. You always have a choice. All these things are about choices. My day is a choice. My disposition is a choice today. How I’m going to handle these events that occur. Choice. Choice, choice, choice. And I never was aware of that. I was out of balance.
Billy: When we talked to Scott Welle, he likened our what 10 roles do you play in your life to the spokes on a bicycle and you often use the bicycle metaphor as well when you’re talking about being centered, being mindful, being emotionally well, so can you talk about how mindfulness and social emotional learning act as that front wheel of the bicycle?
Tom: Yeah, if I’m doing a student assembly of 1,700 kids in Kansas City one day and I wrote in on a bike, some teacher had a bike at school, it’s perfect because they’re all looking at me like I’m nuts but I held up the bike, set it on the table, and I showed the kids, I said, “Look, back tire, front tire,” and in Top 20, we call the back tire intelligence quotient, IQ. The front is the SEL or emotional quotient. And I said, “Look at this bike. There’s really not much going on in the back tire. It just powers you through life. But look up front, you got gears, brakes, little dog basket for Toto. You got the horn and the bells and the ribbons. All the decisions are made up front. You just grind away with the back tire but the back tires have no use unless you know where you’re going.” And, again, I had the back tire, I’m going to get crazy here talking about this, I was valedictorian, perfect ACT guy, I had the back tire. My front end was messed up. So when we rebalance, in Top 20 language, we’re really talking about the front end. And it’s funny. We’ve noticed for 22 years that when you work on the front end, the back end seems to get better, like grades seem to go up, people are a little smarter than they thought they were. I don’t think you can fix IQ until you start working on social emotional, you know what I’m getting at here? Here’s the dumbest thing. We take math kids, I’m back to high school again, you flunk math, okay, so you’re going to where? Summer school. Where we’re going to give you what? More math. So you didn’t get the IQ so we’ll give you more IQ, which makes no sense. That’s like giving drowning people water, like I can’t do math, here’s more math, but in three weeks in July, where you really hate it. It’s a dumb — and, by the way, the reason we’re sitting here today is we took summer school in 1998, we tipped it upside down, stopped teaching IQ, we started doing this stuff. This is where the very first proving grounds were, where in my high school we told the F kids, we asked permission to try it and the principal says, “You’re not gonna get lower grades, why not try something different?”
Tom: “They’re not gonna get lower so, Tom, go for it,” and it turned out, we made some headway with those kids. But the front end of the bike is where it’s at. Again, some people refer to those as the soft SEL stuff. I think that’s the critical stuff. So I love the bike analogies. Everybody knows what a bike is, everybody knows when your bikes broken, but I love to talk about the front end.
Billy: Every single guest that we have had on this season has talked about how they needed to get their front tire adjusted, they needed to get their front tire set in order for them to make headway because when we talked to Jill Dahler, the thing that she was stressing out was feeling the abandonment because she was adopted and she had to navigate through that, being unhappy at work while she had to dig through what was making her unhappy at work. Kristen Brown talked about the dark night of the soul and having to weave her way out of that. Losing her husband after having a newborn baby. I mean, that in and of itself is going to flatten your tire. It’s probably going to completely destroy your tire. Scott Welle talked about struggling with stuttering and not feeling like he was smart enough when he was in college. And now you look at what these people are doing and what they have accomplished, yeah, they might not be on a global scale but like what you said, Tom, what’s the difference if they’re on a global scale in terms of celebrity status or just doing something really, really well on the scale in which they’re at? So I love that metaphor of the bike because I think it fits so beautifully as we talk about this stuff.
Tom: Let’s take this to the macro level, you bring that up. United States of America is not hurting for IQ. We got plenty of smart people. There are smart people that vote Democrat, there are smart people that vote Republican, there are smart people wearing masks, there are smart people won’t wear a mask, vax, same thing. It’s the front end that’s broken. America’s front end is a complete disaster right now. We don’t have the collaboration. We don’t have the resilience. We’ve lost it as a country. And a lot of it comes from, I won’t name the city but it ends in DC and that’s a mess there. It’s embarrassing. If you got C-Span, turn it off, don’t let your kids watch this. It’s embarrassing. And I’m not —
Brian: Couldn’t agree more.
Tom: Don’t take me as anti-American. I’m so pro-American, I’d like to do something about this. We got to get people into our leadership positions that are rebalanced people. We’ve been out of balance with our leadership. I don’t know. It’s frustrating because we’re trying to raise kids in this society and everybody wants to talk about the teen culture being negative. Well, timeout, guess why they’re negative. It’s an adult culture that’s broken.
Brian: It’s all they see, yeah.
Tom: Oh, the telephones, they have cell phones. That just transmits the culture. If the culture were positive, everything on the cell phone would be positive. That’s just a tool. It’s like a walkie-talkie. Do we think that thing’s evil? We are broken as a people. I love what Springsteen said at the Super Bowl, he had a Jeep ad and he stood in Kansas at a little church, he says, “We gotta meet in the middle, people.” We have lost the middle. There’s no middle, because people are so freaked out about their bike being better than the other bike, nobody wants to ride together. Well, this world is not going to work if we’re riding that bike alone. It just doesn’t work anymore. Edison invented the light bulb alone, that’s over with, now 3M does it. It’s all about us, we, and I was never about that as a young man. It was always me, not we. We got to get back to we.
Billy: So in the last episode, just kind of connecting to what you just said there, we talked about how top 20s live above the line and visit below the line and bottom 80s live below the line and visit above the line. We also kind of joked about you being a crotchety 20 to 30 something man who turned into this lively, engaging, fun loving guy around his mid-40s and is moving vivaciously into his 70s, if I do say so myself, so I feel like you’re living proof —
Tom: Two months.
Billy: Two months? Well, happy birthday, happy early birthday to you. I feel like you’re living proof that it’s never too late to change your mindset. And also, kudos to you for figuring out how to download Chrome so that we could have this interview here. I don’t know a lot of 69-year-old people would have the patience or willingness to sit down and probably would have had Brian or I drive over and do it for them. But you took care of that. So, like I said, you’re kind of this living proof that it’s never too late to change your mindset so how have you managed to live above the line when you know at times it could be so easy to slip back into that bottom 80 mindset?
Tom: Yeah, I would call these purpose keepers, like goals are I’m going to take out the trash, I’m going to make $20 at this thing. Goals are nice but my purpose is to provide meaning to other people now to make a positive difference in their lives and the lives of others. That’s my purpose, provide meaningful experiences that make a positive difference in their lives. To do that, you got to have some purpose keepers because the world is built to destroy your purpose. So you become mindful, you become aware of all this crap on a podcast with you two, and you go out and somebody drives through a puddle and now you’re one purpose, “I hate you, I’m gonna kill you,” whatever. The world is built to destroy your purpose. It’s not built to fulfill it. A lot of purpose keepers, one, you got to surround yourself with the right people. I used to surround myself with people that live, thought, existed like I did and that’s why I thrived being negative. That was my lunch table. That was my crew. That’s who I hung with. I now have different people I hang with. You got to have physical stuff. You can’t see it at home on the radio but here’s a — somebody gave me a board of all our sayings. I mean, I got this crap all over. I got Post-Its in my car. I’m goofy as hell. I need — I got to write down, “Be happy.” I got to do a podcast every Tuesday or tweet just to keep my own sanity. You have to have physical stuff that you’re doing, ritualized stuff. Some people wear a locket, a bracelet, maybe you got a tattoo that says “Serenity” on your forearm. That’s another huge one is that physical stuff. It’s about people. It’s about physical objects. It’s about pausing too. I’ve learned to pause. When some crazy guy cuts me off on 494, which happened this morning, can you just get a breath? Can you do a one Mississippi before you flip them off or drive over orange cones to catch up to them? I mean, what’s your purpose? What’s your purpose? So I think that’s important to find some purpose keepers. I think it’s a great question. And do I bat 100 percent? Hell no. Written five books about this, I’m a social emotional guy, I still freak out at the rental car agency when the guy won’t come out from behind and I’m like, “What are you doing?” I mean, this is not about being perfect, this is about trying to increase the probability that we have more good moments than bad in our life because, really, that’s all I got when I punch the ticket here and go to the other side of the grass.
Billy: I know you’re a big baseball guy and just hearing you talk about that you’re not perfect, baseball players fail 70 percent of the time and they make it to the Hall of Fame so —
Tom: The Twins fail 85 percent of the time and they’re not going to make it to the Hall of Fame. This is —
Billy: I do think the Twins bring you below the line sometime, Tom.
Tom: Whoa, they invite me —
Billy: I’m sorry, they invite you below the line. That’s right. Thank you for reframing that.
Tom: And I had to do some real soul searching before Mother’s Day when they were eliminated. It becomes, “Am I going to keep watching this and find a way to enjoy it?” Basically, they’re playing exhibition games the last 120 games. And I still watch. I’ll have — they play the Red Sox here in an hour, I’ll watch it a little bit. Would I go to bed if it’s — I mean, it’s different. You have to decide I’m not going to let these conditions affect my mindfulness. Kirk Cousins, Vikings, everybody in Minnesota is going to go into pout mode as soon as they lose the Bengals week 1, I’m not doing that anymore. I’m over it. They’re not going to win the Super Bowl, I get it. I did it for 50 years, that’s enough, but I’ll watch every game. It’s fun if you’re not emotionally invested in this stuff. But, anyway, you were talking about failing seven out of ten. I hope I’m doing better than batting .300 on keeping my day and living above the line but certainly I’m not batting .1000.
Billy: So what are your indicators and how do you recognize those, who recognizes those within you and holds you accountable? Because you talked about you have your network there, who holds you accountable when you yourself don’t see the indicators starting to creep in?
Tom: Well, first of all, the main person to hold me accountable is me. I’m 69, I’m with me a lot these days. I’m with me at Caribou, I’m with me walking down Grand Avenue, I’m with me driving to Wilmer. The most important thing is to do it for yourself. When I hear sarcasm creep up in me, when I feel tension in my neck, when I feel myself getting short. “Yes, no.” I got to hear that. Now, my secondary people are Paul and Kevin and Willow, the four of us who formed Top 20. Literally, we’re our own therapists too. We Zoom all the time, we’re always talking. I’ll call Willow and say I lost it with some lady at lunch and a training helped me. We are our own worst enemies and best friends because we wrote the books, we challenge ourselves to live like this. So I’ve got three great friends. I didn’t hang around those three in my 30s. I was not interested. Here’s how you could be an assistant coach for me back in the day. You needed to drink beer and agree with me. That was the only thing — you didn’t even need to know anything about basketball. As long as you thought I was wonderful and you go out with me after the game for hors d’oeuvre and tell me how wonderful I was, that’s all I needed. That’s who I picked because I was so dysfunctional, I didn’t want to get feedback or criticism. That was just something I wasn’t interested in. So the crucial thing about indicators is I know my wife’s but do I know mine? See, it’s of no use that I know my wife’s indicators, but does she know hers? Does Billy know his? And that’s the hardest question we ask in training. Name your indicator, and it’s like crickets. Name your invitations. Oh my God, Xerox machine, parking lots, everybody names the invitations but nobody can tell. What do you like when you’re below line? Nobody’s really aware of that. That’s where we come in.
Billy: And I think that ties back into when we talked with Brett Hill about somatic experiences and where we feel when we are going below the line and Brett did a great job of kind of walking me through when I feel those and I had talked about how I feel. When I feel stressed, I feel anxiety, I start to feel that bubble up in my stomach and I can actually feel it like a boa constrictor wrapping around me and the reason why I was able to identify that as an indicator was through my mindfulness practice. So, in the book, you outline the four A’s of mindfulness so can you talk about what are the four A’s of mindfulness?
Tom: Yep. Asleep, Aware, Accept, Act. That’s asleep, aware, accept it, and then act. Most people just act. See, the problem is they’re asleep. So here’s the deal. I’m yelling at kids in basketball, and I’m screaming at tardy kids and all that. I was asleep. I didn’t think it was a good idea. I didn’t go to school and think, “You know what I’ll do today, mean-spirited sarcasm, that will aid in the human development of 16-year-olds.” I was just sleepy. I wasn’t crazy or evil or mean, I was asleep. I just didn’t get it. Next, you become aware. How? You just start reading this or hearing this. In my case, I met a couple that told me their daughter hated my guts. Suddenly, I got a little more aware of the consequences. I woke up from my slumber. But awareness is of no use unless you get to the next two, which is what? Accept it, like this is your reality, Tom. This is where you live. You got to accept the idea that this awareness is going to lead to something, which is what? Action. I don’t care if Billy Lahr is now aware that he could improve his relationships with blah, blah, that’s of no use to anybody until act on it. So I’m a big action guy. Well, we should put this in a book. Well, that’s of no use until you sit down and write a book. But I was asleep. Fortunately, for me, at about age 47, I became aware. It took me a while to accept that awareness. At first, it was all about, “Oh, Top 20, let’s write books for other people. This will help people that are all screwed up.” But I had to accept that I was talking about myself there then I started taking action.
Billy: It’s important to live it, like you can’t just say it, you have to actually live it so you have to practice what you preach.
Tom: Yeah. Write this one down if you’re at home. TIO before you PIO, take it on before you pass it on. You don’t have to do that with algebra or reading. I don’t have to be all excited about semicolons to teach semicolons. But if you’re going to teach social emotional to anybody, you got to practice it first. Remember, I said it comes from the heart. It does me no good to tell Brian how to live his life unless I have practiced those things myself. There was a deal where some woman in India came to Gandhi and said, “My son eats too much candy. Would you talk to him about that?” and Gandhi says, “Yes, I’ll do that in six weeks.” And she goes, “What do you mean?” He goes, “Well, I gotta go eat candy for six weeks and I’ll come back here once I know what it’s like to be eating too much candy. Otherwise, I have no useful information for your kid.” And I thought that was profound. So the big story in my life was none of this SEL stuff is effective if it’s BS. If it’s El Toro poopoo, people see right through that. And if you hang with me for more than 80 minutes, you’re going to see I’m trying to do this. And the key word is trying, but you got to take it on.
Billy: I like that you say, “And I’m trying to do this.” I’ve said that this season has selfishly been for me in some ways because we are bringing on these guests who have all of these helpful tips about how to live your best life and here I am preparing for this epic adventure overseas and I feel like there’s so much that I need to sort out and, through these conversations, I feel like I’m gathering the tools so that I can then apply them because if you don’t have that awareness and you don’t have that acceptance, then you can’t move into action, which is why I like that you call the book Rebalanced Thinking, Rebalanced Living because you start with the thinking and you do a lot of talking in the book about the difference between human being and human doing, which parallels to what Sarah Rudell Beach talked about in episode 4 about being mode and doing mode. So, how does human doing conflict with human being? You’ve talked about this quite a bit but talk a little bit more about how those two worlds are in conflict with each other.
Tom: Again, doing is goals, being is purpose. I was all about goals in my younger years. Win 100 basketball games, get high scores, blah, blah, blah, doing, doing, doing. I would always start my class with, “Everybody sit down, shut up, take out your book, we’re gonna do parabolas,” whatever. But I was never — and I was not, I mean, I knew who the kids were. Human being was still important to me but doing was like wildly more important than being. Towards the end of my career, last dozen years in the classroom, it was all about who are you as a human being first. And if I could go human being first, human doing in the backseat, that was a different experience than vice versa. Good example, next week, thousands, millions of kids will go back to school. Most teachers will not start with human being, especially once you get to seventh grade. They’re going to talk about rules and syllabus and gum or whatever the hell they’re going to talk about the first day. First day should be popsicles. First day should be a celebration. First day is all about the human beings in the room. Second day, gum, syllabus, we’re getting to work now, we’re going to do this stuff. We’re not going to eliminate the goals but we’re going to start with the purpose. First day should be a party in every classroom in the country. Think about it. The day before, they were at the beach with their girlfriend. That was better than school, and then now we’re going to get them up in the morning and make them get dressed to go to school and you’re stunned that they’re not into this. Dude, they were at the beach yesterday and you’re going to talk about gum or we’re going to do 42 chapters? Who cares? They just want to know there’s a place they’re going to be safe and loved and heard and you got to do that first. Now, again, I’m back to education, but I think it’s the same thing in the workplace. I think it’s the same thing at the fire department. I think it’s the same thing everywhere. People need to know they matter first before you start making them do stuff.
Billy: So I think that’s a good spot to take a break and then when we come back, we’re going to continue our conversation with Tom Cody about Rebalanced Thinking, Rebalanced Living. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here once again talking to Tom Cody. Tom, the last time that we talked on the show, you mentioned that during COVID when you couldn’t really get out and present like your team wanted, you sat down and took a long hard look at the equity and diversity in your training and owning privilege and owning the messaging around that. So, how has your messaging changed at all? Are you working with inclusion, diversity, and equity teams in order to reframe your messages and identify blind spots?
Tom: Yeah. Well, it goes back to the A’s again. Asleep, Aware, Accept, Act, use that formula. I’m a 69-year-old white guy. I was asleep to my privilege for probably 50, 55 years old is when it was — we had some training at our high school, I got lucky, I ran into somebody who made some sense to me when I was in this kind of transition towards trying to be a better human so I wouldn’t call me woke, that’s the dumbest word in the world, but I wasn’t sleeping anymore. So then I had to become more aware of how was this message coming to a kid who’s a different religion, kid with a different background ethnically, a kid in a wheelchair, a kid who’s transgender, a kid in poverty, we got this happy sunshiny message but it comes from a white middle-class frame and so we’ve been working on the next part is we got to accept that, that third A is important, and that’s hard, it’s to take a hard look at yourself and say, “Is this story helpful? What about this story? What about this example? How can we do this better?” And in this stage, it’s about curious and it’s about careful. We’re more careful now and that’s not a great step but it’s a step. We’re more careful. We’re not going to maybe charge down this road right away. One example is we talk about greet kids at the door with eye contact. We tell any good teacher, “Well, greet the kids, look them in the eyes.” Not true for every culture. Not true. I’ve been on the reservations in South Dakota, Native American culture, a lot of respect comes from looking down when you’re spoken to. That never occurred to me. I have to accept that and then I have to act. I have to start doing it different if I’m greeting kids in South Dakota on the reservation. It’s not easy. It’s not easy because I come with this frame that I was living with for almost seven decades. But I think it’s about — first of all, you got to wake up. You got to stop thinking that your way is the way. And then you’re going to have to do curious and careful. You got to be careful, stay curious until you find a better action. We’re not there yet. We’ve done some work with a great young woman who has worked with our team throughout the pandemic and she’d meet with us and — well, I’ll give you a perfect example. And this is a pretty humbling story but I was walking down Grand Avenue during the pandemic and a person approached me from a car, from around my car, this was a woman who was African American, and here’s what I said to her, “I don’t have any money to give you.” And the first thing I did is said, “Oh my God, I’m sorry, I don’t know where — that came from a crazy frame.” So I went right back to my team, we’re on Zoom with our facilitator, and I told this story to her and she goes, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe you have the guts to even say that out loud that you did that.” And I said, “I just — I come with this frame. She must want money. She looks poor.” I mean, that’s asleep. It’s not coming out of evil but I’m willing to own my crap and I was never willing to own my crap before. So I’m like, “Help me, I’m broken.” We’re all broken but that’s the first thing I thought of and I’m embarrassed by that but I’m telling you the truth. I’m too old to lie anymore. I’m addicted to candor now at this stage.
Billy: Well, we always appreciate your willingness to be open and share that candor with us. Have you worked with teachers around diversity and getting feedback from them? Because you talked about working with the students on the reservation in South Dakota, where do you learn those customs, those folkways, those mores, those traditions so that you are more mindful of them during your presentations?
Tom: Well, you got to go to the source. Here’s the trouble on the reservation, 98 percent of teachers are white, like they’re coming in from other places. They don’t have a lot of people that look like them. The students don’t have a lot of role models. But the two or three that were there, we’re constantly on the phone with them after and saying, “What are we missing?” Because we are monumental failures on those reservations. Our stuff, lead balloon. We thought every kid would benefit from this stuff. It went over terribly. So we were curious about that. We kept trying to go back, but there were very few sources for us. But those that were there, we listened to very carefully. I listen very carefully when a black educator approaches me. I listen very carefully when I get somebody who’s just not from my culture talk to me about what they just heard and we treat it very seriously, but it doesn’t mean, again, we’re not great at this. I’d love to sit here and tell you at Top 20 Training, we got it all figured out. We’re not great at this yet and I don’t know if we ever will be but we’re going to keep going down the moving walkway. We got to run — the walkway is coming at me and I got to start running because if I stand still, I’m moving the wrong way. Does that make any sense?
Billy: No, it does, and I like that you talked about learning from that experience there in the reservation because there’ll be some people who said, “Well, they didn’t get it because they’re native,” “That’s not on us, that’s the students,” that sort of thing, like they can project it on to the students, they can project it on to whatever they want it to rather than owning it and I feel like you’re owning it and it goes back to what we said before too about you are evidence that just because you’re almost 70 years old doesn’t mean that you don’t still have room to grow. You still have room to learn.
Tom: Right. I love that you said, “They didn’t get it because they’re native.” That was my first thought when I left that first day. Later, two or three years of us trying this, they didn’t get it because I’m not native. That’s a switch in paradigm there. And I’m not going to be native, I’m never going to — I don’t think I want to be transgender. I don’t think I’m ever going to be female or black or brown. So I have to keep thinking what can I do? What can I do? How can I listen? How can I listen? What can I do? What questions can I ask? Stop answering questions for people, start asking them. I don’t know, I don’t have a great answer for this but the world is in search of one.
Billy: And that’s the thing, I don’t think anybody really has a great answer for it at this point, or they’re just not willing to sit down and do the work because it’s really hard work.
Brian: I think it’s got to be a constant search. I mean, do you ever get to the end where you’re like, “Okay, I’m fixed. I’m done”? That never happens.
Tom: It’s like golf, you never play a round of golf and think, “There, I got it.” I mean —
Brian: Got it, yeah.
Tom: But we go every day in search of whatever we’re looking for in golf. It’ll never happen but you keep thinking it might. I want to plug a book here because it fits what we’re talking about and the name will come up in the show notes, I think you pronounce it Shirzad Chamine and a book called Positive Intelligence. Chamine talks about the sage and the saboteurs and each of us, Brian and Billy have a sage, that’s the one who’s telling you. “Hey, diversity. Hey, wake up. Hey, listen, be curious.” We all got this wise voice, like the old cartoon angel on Mickey Mouse’s shoulder that talks to you. The trouble is, we got the devil speaking in the other ear. We got saboteurs. We got judgment going on. We got worry going on. And Chamine outlines this better than I’m going to but it’s an interesting read because it talks about all the voices. If you’re going to talk about mindfulness, you better talk about the demons because we all got mindful demons and they live with us and they’ve grown up with us. And the reason he calls them saboteurs is they lie to you. They lie all the time. That’s how the saboteurs worked in England from the Germans. They snuck in and said, “We’re English.” No, you’re not, but that’s how saboteurs worked. Example, I got a controller saboteur in my head. I got like an organizational crazy planner book thing talking to me all the time that says this lie, “If you organize your wife’s weekend, she will benefit from that.” That’s a lie, okay? But I used to buy that. I would try to tell Judy what we’re doing all weekend and I couldn’t understand why — the saboteurs were telling me this is benefiting her, this is a wonderful deal for her, and the sage is like, “Why don’t you ask her?” But here’s the deal. My sage was getting bullied by my saboteurs. Why? My sage didn’t work out. My sage never went to the weight room. My saboteurs were like buff, man. They were killer. They practiced every day. I’d give them air time. And the sage was there at basketball games going, “Tom, don’t yell at her,” but saboteurs win every time unless you got the mindfulness and the discipline and you develop some purpose keepers. Read the book. It’s better than our stuff, telling you that straight up. He really outlines mindfulness to me.
Billy: It reminds me, I’ve seen this a couple different times where it talks about how we’re all born with two wolves and the one wolf is full of hope and positivity and the other wolf is full of deceit and negativity, what have you, and which wolf wins? The one that you feed. And so it’s very similar, like when you’re talking about the saboteur was working out and your sage wasn’t, yeah, whatever wolf you feed is the one that is going to be the stronger of the two and so we want to feed the one that is helping us become the best version of ourselves.
Tom: Yeah, my sage is starting to get some wins in the win column now over these last two decades. My sage is not the New York Yankees yet but it’s Blue Jays, maybe. We’re getting some wins. I still lose to saboteurs. They’re in there deep, man. A lot of times, when I present at your business, at your school, whatever, there is going to be some pushback from a few who don’t like me rummaging around in their demon closet because they get very defensive. They’re like, “Whoa, dude, I didn’t sign up for therapy, like you’re messing with my demons here.” They don’t say it that way. They say, “I don’t find your kind of humor funny.” They say, “What gives you the right?” There’s defensive stuff when people go after saboteurs, and I get it because that was me, the cynic. But those are the people that need this talk more than anybody, that’s why it always breaks my heart when people won’t let you in, it’s the very people that need to let you in.
Billy: You’ve talked about how we can’t change the conditions, we can only change how we respond to the conditions, but when the conditions are such that it makes it nearly impossible to reframe, what do we do?
Tom: Well, again, now you got the trauma drama deal. See, it’s impossible, I would call that trauma. You live in Mississippi, the hurricane whatever number 700 just blew your house away, you lost a kid in COVID, your grandma’s in assisted living with dementia, these are traumatic things. I don’t know that mindfulness, it’ll help you there get through some of these awful life traumas but, really, I think we confuse drama for trauma. There’s so much drama that isn’t really traumatic. It’s cell phone stuff and it’s Twitter and it’s somebody complaining at work. That’s not traumatic, that stuff, you should be equipped to use choice, choice, choice on. Some stuff, I think, is beyond buying a $20 book called Rebalanced Living from us, and we’ll give you the website later, but that’s not going to bring your house back, that’s not going to bring your son back who you lost to an illness or a car accident, but it might help you to cope better, survive. I don’t think you’re ever going to thrive through that stuff but I think mindfulness can help you at least survive it. But it’s a really hard question. There’s so much stuff that’s going on in this country right now that it really is traumatic. There’s abuse at home and there’s some horrific things going on with our children right now and I wish we could bring a magic wand with social emotional mindfulness. It’s not magic. Some of this stuff’s just too deep.
Billy: Well, Tom, we celebrate you and the entire Top 20 team for continually putting in the work and continually seeking out ways to make this world as best a place that it can be and if you want to find out more about what Tom and the team over there at Top 20 is doing, go over to www.top20training.com. That will be linked in our show notes. All the books will be linked in our show notes. You can email Tom at email@example.com. Get in contact with him. It will revolutionize the way that you approach your life and that’s why I’ve always enjoyed — I’ve seen and heard Tom speak more times than I can count and I will always welcome Tom back on to the show or wherever I can because I always feel like a better human being after listening to him talk. So, Tom, thank you once again for being on the show.
Tom: On that email, again, it’s tom, and Top 20 is a 2, 0, firstname.lastname@example.org. And if I don’t answer the email, look in the obits, that means I died. I’m 100 percent serious. I’m retired. If any of you out there listening want to talk on the phone, email me. I’m serious. I got nothing going on. I’m a Bruegger’s anyway, I might as well talk to you. I mean, I’m serious. If I can do anything to help you, whether it’s family, business, whatever, you want me to come in and talk, it’s better than blood-borne pathogens, people. Come hear me. I mean, it’s going to be something and I think it can help. So, if you need me, email me. I want to thank Brian and Billy, what you’re doing, there’s so much junk on podcasts out there, it’s just garbage, it’s just Bachelorette crap, you’re doing something that’s serious business here. Somebody’s driving on a road right now, maybe having an, “Oh, my God, aha,” that’s a big deal. So, all these guests you’re bringing in and they’re all smarter than me, I know they are, but no matter who you’re talking to, if somebody has an insight because of the work you two are doing, it’s worth it, man. Worth it.
Billy: Well, I guess they’re definitely all smarter than us so that’s why we continue to have them on and, Tom, thank you so much. That was such a lovely compliment to us and we really, really appreciate it. We really appreciate the time that you gave us today. So, with that, for Tom, for Brian, this is Billy, thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved. Take care, friends.