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Brain Hacks 4 Leadership

Feb 24, 2020

My guest today is Dr. Tamsin Astor.  Tamsin helps busy executives and corporations organize their habits and their mindset so they have time for what they want and need and time for fun.

Welcome to my new podcast, Brain Hacks 4 Leadership.  I am Jill Windelspecht and I have spent over 20 years working with leaders around the world, helping them to apply neuroscience and social science to help them advance towards their goals.  I want to bring extraordinary value to you as a leader by brining the latest thinking about the science, but more importantly I want to provide you with practical ways that you can apply this to yourself, those you lead and your organization.


My guest today is Dr. Tamsin Astor.  Tamsin helps busy executives and corporations organize their habits and their mindset so they have time for what they want and need and time for fun. Women are the self-driven nurturers who rarely make their needs a priority.  All the other voices demand immediate attention and leave little time for personal care.   We make 35,000 decisions every day leading to Decision fatigue. Dr. Tamsin Astor, your Chief Habit Scientist, helps women to create the necessary connections between their daily habits and routines in order to clear the path for more personal time & energy. Tamsin Astor holds a PhD in neuroscience and psychology and a post-doctorate in education. Also, certifications in yoga (RYT500, Yoga Ed.), Ayurveda (Living Ayurveda, Yoga Health Coach), Mindset & Executive Coaching.


Dr Astor is a published author of Force of Habit: Unleash Your Power by Developing Great Habits. She is a mother of three, an immigrant and a lover of dark chocolate, coffee and travel!


Well, Tamsin, we are so happy that you're here with us today and I've had a lot of opportunity to get to see you speak and spend time with you and I've just always grown. Every time I hear you talk about how you have impacted your own life and impacted others lives by applying the neuroscience in what it is that you do in your coaching and consulting and speaking and so really happy that you're going to share that our listeners here today. So Tamsin tell us the neuroscience and what you're going to be sharing with us today.

Well, hi Jill, thank you so much for interviewing me today. I get very excited about talking about the brain and neuroscience and how we can, you know, hack this amazing brain. You know, what I call the goal achieving machine between our ears. What I want to talk about today was vision and I'm very interested in how we can harness our brain's ability to create the life and business that we want, the home we want, the relationships we want, the engagement habits that we want in our business. The employee commitment was recently, I was reading a Gallup poll that said that only 34% of employees are engaged, which costing the U S economy somewhere between like $200 and $450 billion a year, which is a real issue. And I think part of that is connecting to the vision of what a company is looking for and whether that matches to the vision of the individual employee.

I mean, I think this is a real issue that we struggle with is connecting our visions. And one of the things that we now know with the brain is that it's plastic, which means that we can change it. You know, we used to think, you know, 40 50 60 years ago that the brain would, you know, stop devolving at a certain point. But we now know that the brain can continue to evolve as we move forward and understand the connections in between the neurons. And one way, if you can think of this is like neurosculpting. Like when you see those great shows of people cultivating a bonsai tree, right? Or pruning a beautiful Rose Bush, you know, you have to cut and prune the connections or the growths that are not serving the overall whole. And that's the way that I like to think of what's going on in our brains.

That we are creating the connections that are positive, right, that are nurturing the full goal. And when we've never done something before, we don't have the neurological connections. We don't have the Synaptic connections to get us there. So part of the way that we have to work to create the vision that we want, the life we want, the business, we want the engagement habits, all of these parts in business, right, is to start talking about it, writing it, seeing it, and you know, looking in the direction we want to go. I love that.

What do you think gets in the way for people to do that?

So I think often we get stuck with our goals. We have these goal deadlines. We have to meet tasks, we have to complete things that we have to check off. And the problem with goals is that it's very energetically exhausting, right?

You know, we, you know, we make 35,000 decisions every day. And when we're sitting there and looking at these to do lists and trying to get stuff done, we just need it. It can be really exhausting and particularly if we are not bought into the vision, if we are feeling like we're just having to do stuff and get stuff done rather than really believing in it and buying into it. And one of the great ways to shift that is to cultivate the energy of creativity. And when you crawl, cultivate the energy of creativity, you release dopamine, right? So when you start to shift out of the fight flight, sort of overwhelmed, burned out stress situation that so many people, so many employees are in, so many entrepreneurs are stuck in the sort of the hamster wheel, right? You cultivate dopamine, which is boost your energy and boost your creativity.

And one of the best ways to do that is by shifting into offering questions.

Okay, Tell me more about that. And especially, I would love to know, I know that you coach leaders around this as well. And so how have you seen leaders apply this?

Well, I'll give you a concrete example of a client of mine who when I first started working with her, she was in a state of, you know, massive, overwhelm. She was working for an organization working really long hours, feeling like she wasn't able to be present for her clients who wasn't able to present for her husband and their children and the way that she wanted to. She just felt torn in all these places. And one of the things that she really started to dive into as we work together, we were looking at what was she doing on a daily basis, what I call the microscope, what was she looking at every day and how was she connecting it to the telescope, to the life she wanted?

Right. So she had in mind, but she hadn't really allowed herself to articulate it of this vision of the kind of life she wanted, the, the direction she wanted to go and terms of how she showed up for her clients, how she showed up for her husband, how she showed up for her children. And then she wasn't able to initially connect that to what was she doing on the daily basis to tie those two together. And so as we work together, she really started to think about what kind of relationship she wanted with her clients, what kind of relationship she wanted with her children and her husband. And she realized that she really wanted to take her children to go and live in a different country for a little bit of time and to experience different way of, of being and living. So she and her husband and the children went and lived in Africa for six months and she was able to massively shift how she showed up and what she did by creating a new vision of her life and looking at the daily habits and connecting those in a way that shifted her brain.

Right. So she used her mind to change her brain.

Wow, that's quite, quite a big shift moving across the world into another country to really change your mindset. How did that change when she came back? How did, how did she stop from going back to those old habits and old thoughts and stress and anxiety?

Well, what she realized is it's possible. It was possible to create a life which tied the vision that you want, feel like to your daily habits. So keeping that front of mind and thinking about, okay, so you know what's really important, right? So often one of the things that people find when they do something is they realize that they don't need as many belongings, for example. And you know, we spend a lot of time caring and managing for things in our personal space, right? So she realized that that was one thing that she could create a big change around. She realized that the things that she and her family did when they lived in Africa was very nourishing to her. You know, family dinners, regular yoga classes, things that really shifted the day to day interactions that produce, you know, a happier feeling and more productive life. A feeling like she was living the life that she wanted to live. Right? Keeping that front of mind on a regular basis and committing to the vision. This is the vision that's important to me and what am I doing on a daily basis? What daily habits am I doing to keep that vision going?

Yeah, I love that. And I work with clients quite a bit as well to really help them first get clear on their purpose and, and get clear on that vision. Tell me what is it about the brain that, that makes this so critical that really it, that makes it important for people to say, okay, you know, get beyond those tasks and those goals. How are we naturally wired that when we align them with our vision, it makes us more effective and have more energy?

So what's really fascinating about the brain is that it doesn't distinguish between reality and imagination. So there was a really interesting study done at Harvard looking at piano players and they looked at what was going on in their brain when they played a piece of music and then what they found when they imagined the same piece of music. Imagine playing the same piece of music, was that the same parts of the brain were active, that implies that the brain does not distinguish between reality and imagination. So what that tells us is that if we want to create this amazing life for ourselves, we have to start creating the vision around it. And when we do that, what happens is that the entity around it starts to shift and we get coincidences. People start to show up in our lives. You can help them support us because we all creating a move in that direction.

I love that. And like you said, we call it coincidence, right? That these things start to show up. But we know a little bit better that once we've been intentional about what it is we're looking for, we just see it more clearly.

Absolutely. And that's partly the reticular activating system, which is the part of the brain where it draws our attention. And you might've noticed that, you know, when your buying a car you suddenly see that car everywhere and you're like, why is everybody buying the same car as me, because, you know, you've redirected your attention. And that's the same thing with creating the vision for the life that you want. When you really dial down and get super specific about your vision and about the kind of life you want to lead, things will start popping up.

Well Tamsin tell us, how do you help leaders create this vision? How do you typically work with people to get them to set this if they don't have it already or maybe shape one that's a little bit fuzzy?

So what I do with my clients is I work on this three point model that I created of vision, mindset and habits, right? So the vision is that future direction, the habits are the day to day things that you're doing and the mindset is, you know, your relationship with yourself, your, your limiting beliefs, your negative self-talk and how you navigate your relationships with others and set boundaries with others. And I use a yoga framework, which is, it's called the souls aim, which really helps people dive into creating the kind of vision that they want for their lives. And when they look at that and dive into that and explore that, we can then go a little bit more deeply into creating actionable steps to get there. And one of the key parts of that, which a lot of people tend not to include, which, is always interesting to me. How people react to that is pleasure. You know, we often have this kind of feeling that pleasure is a, you know, is a reward or is as a result of some actions that we take or we, you know, we push it to the side because we've got stuff to do and we can't make pleasure a priority, you know? And when we prioritize pleasure, everything flows.

I love that. Prioritizing pleasure. So tell me, how does, how will this help leaders who, cause a lot of people that are listening are either in a leadership role or aspire to be in a leadership role, how is getting really clear around that, that vision help them become better leaders of themselves and better leaders of others?

So clarifying your vision is really helpful because what it does is it helps you create a focal point for you and helps you create a focal point for your employees. And when you have a clear direction that you want to go, when you have a focus, you know that weaves together what you stand for, what you value, what's important to you, then you can organize people and inspire people and create energy around that. If there's a very dispersed energy around what the mission of the company is, what they're trying to do for their customers and clients, what somebody's role is, it's hard to show up and be productive and feel valued. If you're not clear, it's not clearly defined, right? So having a very specific direction in which going helps you keep on track. And it also is very important when you are feeling kind of discouraged and low energy and sort of politics of the world or events in the world are making you feel lethargic or sad or uninspired. When you can orient towards a positive vision that can help inspire and create positive that towards that right direction.

Yeah, that's a great point cause we, we feed off others emotions and energy and as you said, if you have the vision, you've got good energy and that's going to help you lead and people want to work with you and we'd like to have leaders who seem to have more clarity of where they're going so exactly know who they are and what they're thinking.

Part of that as well is you notice that they all walking the talk too. You know that they are showing up and doing what it is that they say that, that you know their company and their organization values, are they available to have conversations with their employees about it. Are they authentic, authenticity, empathy, all things that we now know are incredibly important in terms of leadership. But often leaders will think that they're being empathetic and authentic or fear it's going to make me look weak. But you know, we now know from all the studies and math that actually it breeds connection and when you connect with people and you articulate how you can be supported, what you need and your showing up and being real right, people connect with you in a way that's much deeper and results in a more effective leadership.

Yeah, I think that's really important, especially today when there's so many people that have stress and anxiety to, to circle back, like you said, what's really important, cause maybe I'm bending wheels in the wrong way.

So Tamsin, how do you see this applied from an organization perspective as well? Cause you always hear vision, we think of vision, mission, goals, we talk about it, but how does this apply to maybe a leader who's responsible for setting the vision for an organization?

One of the things I think that is really key here is to constantly articulate that. So you are a leader of a large organization. If you have a vision that is clearly articulated what you want is your employees to understand it in their own terms. So what's interesting when you look at organizations that are incredibly successful, they encourage their employees to articulate that vision, the organization's vision in a regular way, in public, in a way that cultivates energy around that. So for example, organizations that have a weekly 10 minute meeting and everybody in the organization can week to week share a one minute story for example, on a story because we know that narrative is very bonding and people love and remember by narrative about the company mission. So Chevron, you know, safety, getting everybody to articulate a one minute story and a weekly meeting relating to safety, right. Would be an example of that.

Yeah, that's great. I worked in an organization as well where we did something similar around safety and whatever meeting. There was always a one minute safety story. And just to remind people. And at first it felt kind of routine, but then it got really powerful and really made it real for people. So yeah. So how have you applied this to yourself? That's a good question.

It is the moment I had a sort of a come to Jesus moment about this as it were when my ex-husband walked out for the fourth time and I realized that I had to let go of the vision of having a marriage and having children being raised in a, you know, in a home with two parents because staying in the marriage was not going to be sustainable for me anymore. And I was incredibly unhappy when in that sort of situation when somebody walks out on you four times to realize that there are issues there, so for me, I had to step back and recreate what the vision of my life was going to look like. And what that did for me was that it allowed me to really see a life for myself that I wasn't able to see in my unhappy marriage. I was not able to see myself doing what I'm doing now in the back of my head.

And deep down inside I wanted to get out there and write and speak and coach and work with people. But I couldn't figure out how to do it in my marriage because I wasn't feeling supported. And so when I stepped back, I recreated the vision of what it would look like for, you know, me to parent and co-parent with my children's father in a way that was loving and, communicative and sharing and kind and on the same page as much as two different people can do and create a vision of my personal life, you know, and my professional life. And I've done that. And over the last five years, which is how long it has been, I've created a thriving coaching business. I have a three book deal, you know, I travel all over the world with my children and my ex-husband and I co-parent very peacefully and our children at 15, 13 and 9 and they are good in their life.

Yeah, that's incredible that, that's a great story. That you articulate it very well. And your, your latest book, Force of Habit, which I'm loving as I'm diving into that. So Tamsin tell me, how do you keep that going? You said you've got a vision for your personal life and professional life and some of us listening has gone through and maybe created that vision and then maybe filed it away and it doesn't really drive us and inform us anymore. What is the way that we can make sure we keep this in front of ourselves? And, and how have you done that?

That's a great question Jill. So one of the things that is really vital is that you revisit your vision every day. So we all know now the power of the morning ritual. You know, when you look at all of the research and books and blogs and you know, all of the successful people in the world, they all talk about how important it is to have a morning ritual. And I've been doing a morning ritual for about seven years where I nourish my mental body and I nourish my physical body. And that involves movement and involves, you know, meditation and journaling. And part of that process involves me taking a few minutes and it doesn't need to be more than a few moments just to sit there and picture the vision I have for my life. So I see myself standing on the stage, I see myself on that beach, I see myself working with clients. I really harness the power of my brain to create and start to feel what my life is going to look like.

Oh, that is powerful. I agree. The morning routines, that is more and more on what we're hearing to really keep reinforcing that. And I just want to pick up on a word you said it's not just see but feel. So tell me a little bit about why it's important to feel while we're doing that vision.

Right. Well, you know, we're very sensual beings. You know, where people that, you know, live, live in the real world. So getting our vision really embedded and clear, you know, moving, talking about it, singing it, feeling it, smelling it, touch it, you know, all of that. Really cultivating that and embedding it in a really deep way. It's so important. And you know, another way to think about it, another way to cultivate that energy is gratitude. Really taking time every day to, you know, again we know this, but the research is becoming more and more compelling about the power of gratitude to boost energy and keep you on track and keep you directed towards your vision. But when we move and don't sing and touch and feel and really embody our vision in as many different ways as we can, that's when it's more likely to happen. That's when it is going to happen.

Yeah. So it's the visualizing it, the feeling it, the keeping it in front of you every day, which makes it a habit, right?

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So what, you know, you can do vision boards and you can journal about it. You know, my friends always laugh at me cause I'm incredibly verbal and in every kind of way of quantifying my things always come up as like you should read dictionaries for fun you should you know, Like, you know, your a projector, your a talker and my vision boards tend to be words that I cut out of magazines, not pictures. So yeah, you know, and other friends of mine, you know they paint pictures. So it's about really embodying your energy and then they're getting that clarity behind that. I love that. I love that example that you shared with us. Well what else is important for us to know about this topic and how we can make sure we're applying this effectively?

So I think one of the things that I think is really, really important is giving yourself time to step back and dream and vision and like design the business that you want. Design the life that you want. Because I think we often get stuck in this world of it's going to keep hustling cause yeah, cause more, more, more and we don't, we get stuck in the doing right. It's really important for us to go, Hey, you know, if I step back and give myself a chunk of time every day, every week, every month, twice a year, three, you know, to really look at the bigger picture, it's going to all work out much, much better in the long run. So tricks on journaling, I've always known that journaling is a useful thing and that I bought, I had this thing of like, well, am I being productive? Is this a good use of my time?

Because I'm like hustling as a single mom of three kids and because I've gotta be visionary, I've gotta get things done and you know, I just, I took journaling training and during that I discovered that when you start the day with 10 or 15 minutes of journaling, you are way more productive. I think it's something that you'll see two to four times more productive in your day because you have sort of dumped the negativity, dumped the stuff that was kind of cementing and you've created a vision and a goal and the direction for the day. So giving yourself the space to do it, the time to do it, the permission to do it, I think is really, really key.

That's great. Is it, is it journaling, just writing down whatever thoughts you're capturing? Or are you talking about journaling to say, here's my intentions for today, or is it both?

Well you can do it all. I mean the great thing about journaling is that there is a multitude of different approaches. So sometimes for me it's about, there's a particular issue that I'm chewing over and if I journal about this issue I can release it and get on with the rest of my life. So I might journal conversation between, lets say I've had a negative interaction with somebody and it's bothering me. I might journal and have a conversation in my journal between me and this person to kind of create some resolution or create some sort of resolution around my feelings about what happened in the interaction. And then that then clears the space for me to be productive in the day. Other times it might be that I would like to just write down what happened in a particularly inspiring workshop or an event I went to, or a person that I met as a way of channeling the things about this person or what I learned from this person or this, this book or something that I can then distill and use in my own life. So it can be specific or it can just be sort of, you know, stream of consciousness. I'm just going to set the timer for three minutes or five minutes and just write everything that’s in my head and get it out.

Great. That's, that's great. Thank you for clarifying that too. Cause it's, it doesn't have to be one specific way or one thing every morning. It's really just making that space and time and then knowing what you need.

Right. And one of the, exactly. And one of the things that I learned when I did the journaling training was when you've done that is to read over what you've written, which is a lot of the time we have a tendency not to. And what's very helpful about that is you can see what you were thinking or what you were talking. There's something about the translation between your head on to the pain that you know, sometimes you look at your look at it and you'll think, wow, like I'm feeling really negative about the situation or about this person or I'm feeling really happy about this. Or wow, I didn't know that I had made this connection between these two things.

Thank you for sharing that too. That's another powerful tip, don't just journal it and forget it. Take that time, read it and see what additional insights that you get from that. We've talked about quite a bit so far around visioning and creating your own vision and the energy that you can get and the importance around that. The ways that you can use it for yourself, how it impacts those that you lead. And even from an organization perspective around that. So for someone listening right now, what is one thing that they could do right away to get them moving towards the direction that say they don't have a vision or their vision is not really clear? What's one thing, small thing that you, you recommend that they do so they can start taking action.

So one thing that I think is really important is to sort of clarify your purpose in life. You know, what is it that you're here to do and can you really dial into what your life purpose is? So that just would require you just to grab a journal, grab a notebook and sit quietly for a minute or two, bring your mind into your body through the action of breath. And then I'll ask yourself, what am I here to do? What's my legacy? What lights my fire when I'm gone? What do I want to be remembered for, what I want to be remembered for doing? Who do I like to work with? What do my friends come to me with? What do I really enjoy doing so that we're trying to move out of the Ought self. You know as a white woman who's 43 I ought to do this kind of work, want to like these people, blah blah blah and really moving into your ideal self, moving into what really turns on, getting clear on that can then provide an amazing direction for your life because it can then inspire you to do volunteer work which makes you happy and connected.

It can be charitable work. It can inspire the work you do, it can inspire the kind of relationships you cultivate. It can inspire so many different areas of your life when you get clear on your purpose. Yeah. I love that. I love the transition you make from the Ought Self. What I ought to do to the Ideal Self, and I know one of the things you shared in and you share it in your book too is not to should upon yourself. Exactly. I was going to say it's absolutely key, particularly for us women, you know you get very caught up in feeling like we need to be living a particular way based on our gender, based on our look, based on her age, based on all the legend, based on our relationship, based on where we live in the world. Yeah, no shoulding on yourself or other people or other people.

Don't should on them either. So your book that just came out, Force of Habit. Anything you want to specifically share around that or tell us about what you've got coming up next? I'm just in the process of creating a virtual program to go with my book. So my book dials in on the key habits to unleash your power. And I'm creating digital program, which slide into particular sections of this book. And I'm loading them into this amazing software that allows me to have an app on your phone that can text and email you to remind you to do your habits and then encourages you to journal and report on how you feel about having done these habits and how you feel when you follow through on these habits so that you can look and create that sustain change. Because often what happens is that we create a habit shift and after a day, 10 days a week, three weeks, three months, we fall off, we get sick, we have a family member in town, we're traveling.

Let me think. Oh screw it. And we stopped going to the gym. Or we stop meditating and we stop, you know, doing a daily connection commitment and reaching out to potential clients or whatever it is that we've committed to as a habit. And when we have this track software, we can go back in and look and see, Oh my goodness, look at what I did for three months. I did this action every day and look at how great it made me feel. I can gently let go be kind to myself for falling off the wagon and get back on and start again. I love that. I love that. Reinforcing that accountability and the book too just has amazing examples and there's ways that you can apply at the end of every chapter as well. I love that and I'm looking forward to seeing that app when that comes out as well. Cause I know that we're all a culmination of habits.

I coach around it, but I try to apply and practice what I preach and we can always improve. So I'm really looking forward to diving in here and seeing how I can apply it. And then everything, all my experiences with you have been really great and I've been able to learn and grow as a result of it. So I really appreciate you spending the time here with all of us and hope to have you back again soon. I would love that. Thank you so much Jill. Thank you.


To summarize Dr. Tamsin Astor’s discussion today, she talked about how we can harness our brain's ability to create the life and business that we want

She shared that when we create a clear and positive vision, we can leverage that goal achieving machine between our ears.  We do this through talking about it writing it, visualizing and focusing on it everyday.  Paying attention to the things we are doing every day and being intentional to connect it to our vision.  Tying the vision of your life into your daily habits.

we make 35,000 decisions every day. And when we're sitting there and looking at these to do lists and trying to get stuff done, it can be really exhausting


In her new book, Force of Habit: Unleash Your Power by Developing Great Habits she shares how you can use your mind to change your brain. 

And one thing that is  really fascinating about the brain is that it doesn't distinguish between reality and imagination.

If we want to create this amazing life for ourselves, we have to start creating the vision around it.  She uses a three point model that she created of vision, mindset and habits.


So clarifying your vision is really helpful because what it does is it helps you create a focal point for you and helps you create a focal point for your employees.

So it's the visualizing it, the feeling it, the keeping it in front of you every day, which makes it a habit.

What can you do immediately? one of the things that is really important is giving yourself time to step back and dream and vision and design the business and life that you want. 


Creating your personal vision is one of the first things that I do with my coaching clients.  If you would like to learn how to work with me, you can reach out to me at


Don’t forget to pick up Dr. Tamsin Astor’s new book – Force of Habit.