536: Turning Your Pain Into Purpose with Adair Cates

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Adair Cates

Losing a loved one unexpectedly, especially a co-parent, is an unthinkable scenario that most people thankfully never have to endure. But in 2021, that’s exactly how life unfolded for Adair Cates. Today, she’s sharing her remarkable journey of turning her pain into purpose and how others can do the same.

Adair is the head of Conscious Leadership at xchange, with over two decades of experience in leadership development. In the span of a year, she navigated an amicable divorce with her husband, embarked on a co-parenting journey during the pandemic, and suddenly became a single mom when he left on a trip and never made it home.

In our conversation, Adair shares some simple yet effective actions to help manage life’s biggest challenges. By practicing these steps, you’ll experience a shift in how you handle your emotions and interactions with others and focus each day on sharing love and positive energy to live a more meaningful life.

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Show love to the people in your life because tomorrow isn’t promised
  • You have the power to shape the stories about who you are and what you can achieve
  • Each and every painful moment teaches us something valuable
  • You’re always making an impact, whether you realize that or not
  • Don’t wish life were easier, wish you were better
  • The transformational power of practicing mindful pausing
  • Asking empowering questions leads to empowering results

 

AYG TWEETABLES

“Everything happens for a reason. And if we can really look for those reasons and ask questions and stay curious, that’s where the purpose starts to unfold.”

“There’s not much that can teach us more about life than death and really leaning in to doing work that matters and helping more people.”

“Pain has a purpose. There is a reason for it inside of our bodies.”

“We are never going to get rid of reactivity because life is going to throw different curveballs at us, but we are going to continue to grow every time we get reactive by pausing and by choosing a practice.”

 

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[INTRODUCTION]

Hal Elrod: Hello, friends, welcome to the Achieve Your Goals podcast. This is your host, Hal Elrod, and today, we are talking about how to turn your pain into purpose. Just a few short years ago, my guest today, Adair Cates, got a phone call that her 46-year-old husband had died suddenly and unexpectedly. As you can imagine, her world was turned upside down and she was left to raise two six-year-old twin daughters on her own.

Just a few years later, Adair is now the head and heart of Conscious Leadership at xchange. As a trainer, facilitator, and coach with over 20 years of experience in leadership development, she merges neuroscience, mindfulness, and breathwork to empower individuals and organizations like Microsoft, Facebook, and TEDx, just to name a few, to more effectively navigate and respond to the challenges that we all face. And today, she’s going to teach you how to do exactly that.

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Now, without further ado, I am very excited to bring this conversation with Adair Cates, talking about how to turn your pain into purpose.

[INTERVIEW]

Hal Elrod: Adair, it’s good to see you again.

Adair Cates: Great to see you, too. I’m so happy to be here.

Hal Elrod: It’s been what, like, three days or something, I think, we had a phone call.

Adair Cates: Yeah, not long.

Hal Elrod: Yeah, recently. All right, so here’s where I want to start. You and I have known each other for, I don’t even know, eight years-ish. I don’t know the exact year that we met, but it was at the Best Year Ever Blueprint Live experience.

Adair Cates: I think it was December of 2019.

Hal Elrod: Oh, you know. Okay, you know the time frame. And then, the Quantum Leap Mastermind, you were part of the Quantum Leap Mastermind, which all of that was co-created by my good friend, my partner, and now your partner in life and work, Jon Berghoff. So, shout out to John. But for those that don’t know you, that didn’t listen to your podcast back in the day or haven’t followed your conscious leadership work, who are you? What do you do? And what should we know about you?

Adair Cates: All right, well, my name is Adair. And first and foremost, I’ll just say I’m really focused on growth and personal development. That’s kind of been a thread that’s gone throughout my life. Aside from that, and I would just say personal growth and development and wellbeing are huge focuses for me – mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. So, that and my spiritual connection to the creator, to source is my number one thing because if I have that, then I can be the type of mom that I choose to be for my kids. I have twin daughters who are nine. And then Jon is my partner and we raise five kids together. So, Jon has three kids. We have a blended family of five and we live the blended family life. So, first and foremost, we do life together. It’s busy. It’s crazy. The schedules are absolutely bonkers. We co-parent with Jon’s ex, and she lives right in the neighborhood with us.

Hal Elrod: Yeah. No, we’re close. I’m still good friends with Mara. And you all get along really, really well, which is a very– it’s a really cool co-parenting success story, right?

Adair Cates: Yeah, yeah. I mean, we have our ups and downs and we have our challenges for sure, but I think all of us hold the perspective that it’s really important for us to have a healthy, thriving, positive relationship for us and for our children.

Hal Elrod: Yeah, that’s fantastic.

Adair Cates: So, that’s the biggest piece of who I am and the most significant part of who I am. Aside from that, in my work, as you alluded to and as we’re going to talk more about today, I’m really passionate about elevating consciousness, just like you are, Hal, and I do that through the conscious leadership work that I do with xchange in partnership with Jon. And to me, I don’t really see a difference between work and life. To me, my ultimate goal is to have work and life be one co-creative thing and that the conscious leadership work for me is something that I live every single day. That’s why I love it so much. And then I’m able to teach others through trainings, through courses that we do.

And yeah, aside from that, I’m a big nature lover. I love to be outdoors as much as I possibly can be. I love to travel, I love adventure. However, I actually don’t love to travel for work because I like to be home with our family. And so, I do as much as I can right here on my computer and really grateful that I get to do that, especially after the pandemic. Because before the pandemic, I was on the road all the time when my kids were little. And it’s been a real shift and a very positive direction to be able to do this all online. So, I don’t know, I think that’s enough about me to get us started.

Hal Elrod: Yeah. We’ll definitely get into more. And I know conscious leadership is, actually, I took my team through xchange, to your training, you and Jon. And so, I want to circle back to that because there’s so many valuable tools for self-optimization, self-expression, self-management, if you will. Actually, curiosity came up for me right now.

Adair Cates: Yeah, sure.

Hal Elrod: Which is how did you enter into personal development? Because I remember, I feel like when I met you, you were just like, ah, you were like diving in headfirst. I feel like it was maybe a recent discovery at that time for you, personal development, I don’t know, but yeah, so how did you discover personal development? What was your interest?

Adair Cates: I’m so glad you ask this question because I think there’s like a– I don’t know, there’s kind of an overlap point that might be really interesting. So, I would say, what is it, 2024 right now, probably like mid-2000s, so like 2006, 2007, maybe it was even closer to 2009, like many people, I watched The Secret, I read The Secret, and I was like, what is this Law of Attraction thing? And it was the starting point of my journey.

And one thing that I took away from that book was the gratitude practice. And so, every day, I started to write down three things in my journal that I was grateful for. I was just like, “I’m going to try this. I’m going to get up. I’m going to be intentional about writing down three things that I’m grateful for every single morning.” And like, from that, my own version of a Miracle Morning was born.

Hal Elrod: Nice.

Adair Cates: And it started with just 5 to 10 minutes. And now, I mean, I don’t even– I try not to talk to anybody until 11 o’clock because it’s all about wellbeing, quiet time, time to connect spiritually, time to do my gratitude. I spend now, as much as I can, I mean, it doesn’t always work out this way, at least a couple of hours every single morning and very deliberate practice. And I think that’s cool because I remember probably around, it wasn’t long after, maybe it was like 2018, because in 2018, I didn’t come to BYEB, but I attended an event that was right after BYEB, the GoBundance Women’s event. And Jon ran that and instantly created such a great experience for all the women there that I didn’t know any of them.

And that was kind of like my introduction into xchange, into this group facilitation, and all of that. So, it kind of took that idea of personal development into a group, which was kind of like a secret sauce that I was missing, that I didn’t know that I was missing inside of my work. But right before I was supposed to come to that, somehow, some way, a girlfriend of mine said something like, “Hey, you don’t realize it, but you’ve been doing a Miracle Morning for 10-plus years.” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that’s true.” And she’s like, “Have you even heard of Hal Elrod?” I’m like, “I don’t even know that I have. Maybe I have, but let me go look at his website.”

And on the website, it was about the BYEB and you, and I saw Jon’s name. And I’m like, “Oh, wait, Jon, I think he’s the guy that’s going to facilitate the event I’m going to after this.” So, it was kind of this interesting full– this is right now kind of an interesting full circle moment of like, I’ve been doing a Miracle Morning for years. You wrote the book. And now, we’re here on a podcast talking about that and conscious leadership. So, that’s pretty cool.

Hal Elrod: Serendipity at its finest.

Adair Cates: Yeah, for sure.

Hal Elrod: I want to talk about a painful experience in your life. So, in 2021, your husband passed away and you were left to parent, as you mentioned, two twin girls who were, I guess, six at the time, so having two six-year-old daughters and losing your husband. Can you expand on that experience? What was that like for you? How did you turn your pain into purpose and get through that and get to where you are now?

Adair Cates: Yeah. So, thank you for asking that. This is a big piece of my journey, the last several years, and will be for the rest of my life, just based on how significant it was. And I know you can relate because you’ve had some pretty significant traumatic experiences that you’ve been through as well that your listeners are probably aware of. I want to actually rewind it to 2020, when the pandemic started, because we at that time were actually going through our separation and we knew we were going to get divorced. And I’d found a place right down the road from our house, a studio, because we lived in Atlanta at the time, that I could go, but I could still be close to the kids. And yeah, then the pandemic happened. And it was like, okay, I guess we’re going to keep going with this. This is who knows what’s going to happen in the world.

But it was actually really beautiful to go through the divorce during the pandemic because we had to stay together. There was no distraction. There was no going out to eat. There was no dating, if either one of us, none of that was going to happen because it was the middle of the pandemic. So, we had to become even closer as a family unit during that time. And I’m not going to say it was easy. And in fact, at the time, I thought, man, this is really, really hard. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. I can’t believe that we’re going through this. And in all transparency, I was the one who initiated it. And then we very amicably, over the course of that year, went through the whole process of getting divorced.

And so, our divorce became official in December of 2020. And we were sad. We were like, we’re going to go on this co-parenting journey together. We’re going to stay friends. We’re going to be in good communication. Two months later, he left to go to North Carolina to hospice his mother to her death, and three days later, he passed away.

Hal Elrod: Three days after she passed away?

Adair Cates: Yeah.

Hal Elrod: Wow.

Adair Cates: And so, he left on a Wednesday and he passed away the next Tuesday. So, he walked out the door and we never saw him again. And so, I don’t know if there’s anything harder than telling your children that their dad passed away. It’s something I’ll never forget. And even though they were really young, it’s in them. It’s in them. So, what I’ve learned from that and after a lot of grief and reflection because I am a very reflective person and everything happens in life for a reason, there are zero accidents. And so, I asked a lot of questions around that. Why did this happen? And what’s the meaning in all of this? And I don’t know that I necessarily have all the answers or the reasons why, but I can just say it’s just made me care more about how I show up in the world, how I show up for my kids. It was a huge wake-up for me to just really, really dive into my family and make my daughters be more of a priority.

Chris was a really, really, really good dad. So much so that I was able to take a lot of my energy and focus into my career. And so, when he passed away, that went away, and everything just got reoriented in my life and shifted from that point forward. And honestly, I think I will probably continue to learn the lessons from his passing for the rest of my life. But I would say the biggest thing is, one, maybe the most obvious is just love your people because you never know when they’re going to walk out the door for the last time. And that’s a really obvious one, but maybe– and obviously, lean in to the people that you love and into your family. But maybe less obvious is just this idea around everything happens for a reason. And if we can really look for those reasons and ask questions and stay curious, then that’s where the purpose starts to unfold. And so, for me, I was already doing the conscious leadership work when Chris passed away. And in fact, one of our co-creators and collaborators in the conscious leadership work, Dr. Danny Friedland, who our work is partially based on some of his models, his book Leading Well from Within was kind of a foundational piece for us, he also passed away in 2021.

Hal Elrod: Oh, my gosh.

Adair Cates: So, it was quite a year. I’m not sure there’s anything in life that teaches us more than death. Both of us thinking ahead to, wow, one day, I’m not going to be here. And when you lose somebody that you love that’s close to you, you realize, like, “Oh, wow, I got to live. Like, this is it.” I don’t know, and I know you can relate to that based on some of the things you’ve been through. You’ve had a near-death experience. It’s like, there’s not much that can teach us more about life, in my opinion, than death and really leaning in to doing work that matters and helping more people. I would say that’s another big takeaway is how do I bring value to the world? How do I help more people? And I’ll tell you, when you’re in grief and when you’re stuck and when you’re, all of a sudden, a single mom and responsible for both nurturing and providing for your kids on your own, you don’t feel like helping anybody else.

Hal Elrod: Yeah. You’re barely surviving yourself.

Adair Cates: Exactly. So, in some ways, I feel like I’m just coming up for air. What is this, like, three years later and really seeing, like, oh, wow. Yeah, I’m on a mission now. Like, I really, really want to reach people and help people and support people and living a more meaningful life because we can choose that by the way that we show up in the world, by the way that we take care of ourselves, and by the way that we take care of each other.

Hal Elrod: I love– well, thank you for sharing your story and the frame that you shared, I mean, the perspective of how can I turn this pain into purpose? How can I help other people? How can I make a bigger difference? And I often share my mom’s story, who my sister passed away when my mom was 29. My sister was 18 months old. I was eight years old. And one morning, me, my mom, and my baby sister were all home. And my sister died in front of us. And my mom was performing mouth-to-mouth, trying to resuscitate her.

But within six months, my mom was leading a support group for other parents who had lost young children, right? And so, it’s like, rather than wallow in self-pity, she’s like, “Okay, how can I use this pain and find purpose and help more people and serve others?” And then I just made a little documentary of my mom for Mother’s Day, and it was like sharing how she dedicated her life to volunteering after that. A week I don’t think has gone by in the last, I mean, what is that? I’m 44. So, 36 years ago, like, I don’t know, the week’s gone by when she hasn’t done something for someone else. She sits with people at a hospice when they’re dying. She donates blood as often as humanly possible. She volunteers at her local Elks Lodge. She’s done fundraisers, I mean, and just helping people.

But anyway, so I love that frame. And for anybody listening, when you’re going through difficult circumstances or challenges, whether you’ve had them in the past, you’re going through them now, the ones that might be on the horizon, how can you use that experience and find a way to serve others? Because then, it’s not in vain, right? Your husband didn’t die in vain. You’re doing this conscious leadership work. You’re helping countless people, giving them the tools to be at their best. And someone that you’ve served, Adair, that you’ve trained or coached or helped, they may lose someone.

And then now, they’ve got the internal tools and the emotional tools to be able to self-regulate and move forward. So, yeah, I mean, just to what you said, it’s the most cliche term, but it’s the truest, right? Let’s say this, everything happens for a reason, but it’s our responsibility to choose the reason. That’s my belief because some people choose the reason. Like, it happens because I’m a victim and life sucks and life’s not fair and I don’t know if it’s the right thing. Okay, if that’s your reason, that’s your reality, then I don’t think that’s going to serve you or anybody else. But Adair, if we choose like you did, which is like, how can I help more people with what I’ve gone through and the tools that have helped me, then every challenge, every adversity serves a bigger purpose.

Adair Cates: Yeah. Your mom’s story is so inspiring to me. I would say my journey has been really different. And that for me, I actually had to go within and do a lot of healing, nervous system healing work, and use a lot of the practices that I teach inside of conscious leadership of breath and regulating my nervous system using different tools that are supportive mindfulness, different types of meditation. So, personally, I’m not saying, I just kind of leaned on what I knew was going to work for me. And so, whoever’s listening, depending on how you’re wired, some people have like that outward, like your mom. For me, it was like, gosh, I actually felt like I have so much healing to do with inside of myself that like– and I was still helping people and serving people with the same tools I was using for my healing. So, that was kind of a beautiful, full circle experience.

But if you are going through something hard right now, even if it’s not as tragic as a loss of a child, which I can’t even imagine, or a loss of a partner or spouse, even small things can happen in our life. We lose a job, you break up with a significant other or anything, like, maybe you’re an empty nester. Your child goes off to college and you’re kind of like sad or down or whatever. There’s things that we can do to soothe ourselves that are healthy, like your mom did, right? Like, going out and helping people or some of the practices I chose to lean into just to heal myself internally because I believe from that, that healed place, we can really help each other.

Now, some people, unfortunately, don’t choose to do that. They choose unhealthy ways of coping or they choose alcohol, they choose drugs. I made a commitment that when I went through all of this, I was not going to choose any prescription drugs to get through this. And if that is someone’s choice, that is perfectly fine. But I made that choice, and what that meant was I had to feel the pain, I had to feel the grief. And that’s why I use the tools that I use so that I could actually just be with all of that instead of pushing it away because, unfortunately, a side effect of choosing a prescription drug to manage through things like this is that you actually bypass some of the pain that is there to help you. Pain has a purpose. There is a reason for it inside of our bodies. Yeah, so we don’t have to go down that rabbit hole.

Hal Elrod: No, I do want to unpack some of the– really give people real actionable tools. But let’s start at the very beginning in terms of, because conscious leadership, it’s such a valuable framework. What is it? How it, like, high level, someone’s never heard those two words put together, they don’t know what it means, how do we define conscious leadership for people?

Adair Cates: Yeah. Thanks for asking because I think it’s critical that we start with definition. Everybody has, one, a different definition of leadership, right? And I’ll bring in the word conscious.

Hal Elrod: What is consciousness?

Adair Cates: What is all that? So, the way that we define it is that conscious leadership is being aware. Consciousness is awareness. Being conscious is being aware, being aware of our influence. So, from our perspective, leadership is influence, influence within yourself, influence at work, influence at home. We’re always influencing. Dr. Danny, who I was referring to earlier, that some of this work is based on, used to say, you cannot not have influence. You’re influencing all the time through your energy, through how you show up. And so, for us, it’s being aware of that influence that you’re having.

Hal Elrod: Got it. So, being aware of– I love defining leadership as influence, right? And then framing it as you can influence yourself, you can influence at home. I mean, like you said, you can’t not influence. You’re always influencing and you’re influencing yourself first and foremost, which then affects your relationships. It affects your mental and emotional wellbeing. It affects everything. And I think far too many of us, we’re not intentional about how we’re influencing ourselves first and potentially other people. We’re just showing up with all of our baggage and our past programming, and we’re reactive versus being proactive.

So, let’s do this. You mentioned before, like with what you went through when you lost your husband, that you did a lot of inner work. It was within. I know conscious leadership emphasizes the importance of starting within for personal transformation. In order to lead others, you got to lead yourself first, or influence others, you got to influence yourself first. So, everybody listening, how can individuals cultivate a deeper awareness of their reactivity? And then, I guess, specifically, under stress because that’s when we’re reactive. How do we influence? How do we cultivate a deeper awareness under stress? And then you mentioned practices. What are some of the practices that you recommend that you use for rewiring one’s inner world, I guess, you could say, to enhance their influence over themselves and the people around them? That’s a loaded question, I guess, but…

Adair Cates: Yeah, if I forget part of it, just bring me back to it.

Hal Elrod: Yeah, I will. I will.

Adair Cates: You said something really important, and that is that we are all in the moment, in the present moment, we are impacted by how we’re wired inside by beliefs, by programming, by our childhood experiences, etc. So, when we are showing up in the world, we have certain things that bother us. We have certain things that get under our skin. People trigger us. Is there somebody who when you see their name come up on your cell phone, you instantly notice that you’re holding your breath or you’re looking at it like, I really don’t want to answer this, why is this person calling me? Or an email, an email comes through from somebody and you’re like, oh gosh, I don’t even want to click on this? Or a million and one things that happen all day long. Notice what bothers you.

Little things, when people are late, when your kids aren’t listening to you. That’s a big one for me. I am really triggered when I’m trying to get my kids out the door, like, let’s go, and get your shoes, brush your teeth. And I’m like, they are literally not even listening to me right now. But guess what? I am not blaming them for that. I am asking myself as a conscious leader, what is happening inside of me? How might I change how I’m responding to this, right? Because when they don’t listen, I just want to get louder and get in their face and turn the TV. Yay! Just go crazy. I want to get reactive.

But when I see that they’re not listening to me, instead of continuing to react against them, how can I pause? And how can I just be in that moment? Like, oh, okay, they’re not listening to me. That has something to do with me because if I’m not the problem, there is no solution. If I blame my kids or if I blame the dog because the dog is barking while I’m trying to do a Zoom call, that the UPS man is in the background, it’s driving me crazy, I’m going to get upset, I mean, there’s nothing I can do unless I look inside and control how I respond.

So, the first step is start to notice the stuff that bothers you. Just all the things, like this morning, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m seeing so many things this morning right now that are bothering me.” And it becomes an opportunity to again look inside. Why is this showing up for me? What is this hitting on? Usually, there’s a fear or there’s a belief or there’s something happening. But I don’t even want you to worry about that, I just want you to pause and I want you to stop the reaction because when we choose a more conscious response, we are literally changing our wiring and we’re changing the world, right?

So much of the chaos and so much of the negativity in the world comes from reaction. I’m mad at you. You should do this, whatever. Or sometimes it’s really hyper and angry and sometimes it’s a shutting down and it’s depressed and it’s, I’m not going to talk anymore. I feel shut down. For example, like in a work scenario, let’s say you show up in a meeting and no one ever asks you to contribute and you shut down, you start to shut down, right? So, instead of blaming the people in that meeting, I’m even going to challenge you to say, what do I need to look at?

So, anything that bothers us is an opportunity for us to look within. The first step is just to pause and notice that it’s happening and not have an unconscious response. So, it’s easy. Something bothers you, you hit pause instead of just driving forward the way that you normally would on autopilot, unconscious, just keep yelling at the kids, kick the cat, whatever. And I’m giving kind of silly examples. But when you start to notice this, for me, I can only speak from my own experience and the people that we’ve trained, it’s life changing to not stay unconscious to where we’re reacting. So, that’s the first step, notice what bothers you and pause.

Hal Elrod: Notice what bothers you, okay. Yeah, because when you said that, you’re like, other people that when they call you, and I thought of a few people that call me and I’m like, oh, God, I don’t– what are they going to say? It’s always a stressful conversation. They’re always upset about something or they want something, right? I’m like, I don’t want to answer the phone. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So, becoming aware, okay, all right, because I’m going to apply this to these folks, these situations. So, becoming aware of the things that bother me and then pausing. So, what’s happening during that pause? So, if someone says something that triggers you or that phone call comes in or that email, you’re pausing. Are you doing something while you’re pausing?

Adair Cates: Yeah, I would recommend a breath, a deep breath, deep breath. Everybody’s heard at some point or another in your life, either from your mom or a teacher or somewhere, just take a deep breath. Well, there’s a reason why. Because when we take a deep breath, we activate the parasympathetic side of our nervous system and we balance our nervous system. Most of the time, most human beings on the planet today are in the overdrive side of their nervous system.

Hal Elrod: The sympathetic fight or flight or freeze, yeah.

Adair Cates: Exactly. So, just engaging a breath will help to balance your nervous system. And you can do that, even one breath, but the more the better. If you can do that in the pause, that is 100% one thing I would recommend is just checking in in the pause with your breath.

Hal Elrod: Yeah. And I don’t have the expertise to explain this, but I’ve read it, which is like what happens to, not just your nervous system, but your brain, right? When you’re in a stressful frame, when your emotions are stressful, when you’re in the sympathetic nervous system and you take a breath or a couple of breaths, it calms your nervous system, but literally, your brain shifts into a different– it’s more capable. You’re able to think clearer, make better decisions, right? And so, literally, the breath is the bridge. The breath is the bridge between being reactive and being thoughtful, considerate, proactive.

Adair Cates: 100%, yeah.

Hal Elrod: So, I know from my recollection of going through the Conscious Leadership workshop with xchange, there were, I think, 15 different practices to tap into the body. And so, breath is one of them or this type of breath. What are some of the most powerful practices that you’ve found in the work that you do for transforming someone’s inner state, being more effective as a leader, as influencing whether it’s themselves or their spouse or their kids or their colleagues? What are some of the most powerful of those 15-plus practices?

Adair Cates: Sure, yeah. So, when we say breath, there’s taking a deep breath, but there’s also deliberate ways that we can use our breath to achieve certain different states in our body. And so, several of our practices are breath practices. For example, box breathing, many people have heard of box breathing, and it’s used by Navy SEALs. I’ve heard people say in our conscious leadership that right before I was about to go in my MRI, my nurse led me through box breathing. So, box breathing is where you inhale.

Hal Elrod: You got to walk us through it. Not everybody knows what that is.

Adair Cates: Yeah, 100%. So, box breathing is when you inhale to a count of four or five, then you hold your breath at the top for a count of four or five, exhale to a count of four or five, and then hold the breath out for a count of four or five. And then you repeat it. And I’m actually drawing a box right now because you can just draw a box as you do that practice. So, that’s one really effective balancing breath. It balances both sides of the nervous system.

Hal Elrod: And I encourage you all to start with four seconds. I like four better. There’s something in my brain about the even of, like, I picture a perfect square, four across, four down the side, right? In fact, if you’re listening…

Adair Cates: Do you want me to tell you why I say five, though?

Hal Elrod: Oh, yeah, yeah, please.

Adair Cates: Okay. So, there’s another breath practice and maybe this one is a better one to start with. It’s called the perfect breath.

Hal Elrod: I’ve heard that.

Adair Cates: And the perfect breath is inhaling to a count of five and a half, exhaling to five and a half. And if you do that, you actually have five and a half breaths per minute. Typically, we have about 12 breaths per minute. And so, this comes from the book Breath. It’s back on my shelf here, by James Nestor. And it’s been researched both through modern science and ancient wisdom that when you inhale to a count of about five and a half and exhale to a count of five and a half, which creates that kind of sacred geometry of five and a half breaths per minute, it actually is what’s considered the perfect breath. He even talks about how certain spiritual practices are based on that breath with the chanting that they do. And so, again, modern science, ancient wisdom points to that. So, when we then do box breathing, I invite people to try to get to five so that you’re kind of getting that perfect breath in and out and that sacred geometry of what’s presented in that book.

Hal Elrod: Got it. Got it. I have a really quick ADHD question for you. Behind you, I’m looking at your books, and they’re all organized by color, and I was at Rachel Hollis’ house doing an interview a few months ago. And all of her books are organized by color. And my daughter said, she’s like, “Dad, that’s how you should organize your books.” I’m like, I said, “I would never be able to find a book because they’ve got to be alphabetical.” So, this is totally off track, but how do you find a book?

Adair Cates: People ask this all the time.

Hal Elrod: Do you know which color each of your books is? And okay, that’s it?

Adair Cates: Yeah. So, there’s a show on Netflix called The Home Edit. And they recommend organizing everything with the rainbow because everybody can remember the rainbow, even kids. So, you can even organize your snacks in your pantry by rainbow colors. You can organize your kids’ toys by rainbow colors. Plus, it’s just to me, really esthetically pleasing. So, I would say most of the time, you actually do know what color the spine of the book you’re looking for is. Very rarely am I like, ooh, I’m not 100% sure what color the spine of that book is, but most of the time, you actually know.

Hal Elrod: I got to move my office to a different room. And so, I think I’m going to give it a shot. I can always undo it. I’m going to try…

Adair Cates: Mine as well. Yeah, I always redo it.

Hal Elrod: I’ll have my daughter, since she wants me to do it, I’ll have her be the one to organize it, and then…

Adair Cates: Oh, she’ll have fun doing that.

Hal Elrod: But I’m sure, I know that most people won’t be listening to this audio, and so, they weren’t seeing that. So, I wanted to ask for anyone that’s ever thought about organizing your books based on the color of the spine, so all of them match, that was a question for you. All right, so you mentioned science earlier, and I wanted to explore or ask you, one of the things that conscious leadership explores is the neuroscience of reactivity and creativity. And neuroscience is a buzzword. It’s like Andrew Huberman, right? The neuroscientist’s most popular podcast…

Adair Cates: I’m not trying to compete with his background, for sure.

Hal Elrod: I won’t be getting your Andrew Huberman definition. No, but can you explain how understanding concepts like neuroscience can actually help just an individual identify and shift unconscious reactions that may be undermining their relationships and influence and how they can improve in that area?

Adair Cates: Yeah, 100%. So, conscious leadership, as we said, is being aware of our influence. And we bring together neuroscience and mindfulness. But I’m not a scientist, I’m not a medical doctor. I am simply a practitioner. And I’m telling you that because you only have to know the basics of how your brain and body are working together to be able to understand this. And there’s something about understanding the underlying science of something that actually helps your whole body get aligned with it because the last thing I want is another cognitive approach to leadership. This is whole body. We’re whole people. We need to connect with our nervous system that runs through our whole body and with understanding just a little bit about the brain. So, there’s a model of the brain, you’ve probably heard of this, called the triune model of the brain.

Hal Elrod: Vaguely, but keep going.

Adair Cates: It came about in the 1960s. And it was a way to just simplify what’s happening in the brain. And we’ve learned a lot about the brain since then, but we can still use this model. It’s useful. You said earlier that when we breathe, it actually helps our brain, right? Well, the triune model of the brain divides the brain into three parts, which is the brain stem. I’m holding the back of my brain right now. This is your survival center. This is where 90% of your body function comes from this center. It’s what keeps you alive, your heartbeat, your breathing, your circadian rhythms, etc. That’s the brain stem.

The middle part of the brain is our limbic system. It’s the seat of our emotions. It’s the seat of our love, our belonging, our amygdala. If you know about the amygdala hijack and when you go into fear, the fight, flight, freeze, that’s where that is happening. And then right behind your forehead is the prefrontal cortex. That is the part of our brain that makes us human. This is where we make decisions. This is where we’re able to have those eureka aha insights that we have. The challenges, it’s only about 4% of our total brain area in that prefrontal cortex. So, it’s finicky. We’re not automatically there. Guess what? We’re most of the time reacting in the lower brain center all day long, which that’s why stuff is bothering us.

So, we have to train ourselves. And again, we do this through our mind and through our body to pull the energy up to the prefrontal cortex part of our brain, so that we are in the higher state of our brain. When we are reactive, we are spiraling down into the fight, flight, freeze survival part of our brain. And Dr. Danny would say that happens to us when the demands of the moment exceed our ability to handle those demands. So, when demands exceed resources, we usually are spiraling down, fight, flight, freeze, lower brain center, autonomic response. That’s probably not great because it’s probably some old pattern that we’ve had.

Hal Elrod: Let me, I want to insert this just a quick…

Adair Cates: Yeah, go ahead.

Hal Elrod: Say that again. How did Danny say that?

Adair Cates: So, when the demands exceed our resources, yeah.

Hal Elrod: I wanted to highlight this. This is the importance or one really important case for personal development. And I know that for me, when I’m learning, growing, reading, and I’m gaining new resources, I’m able to better meet demands. If someone has zero tools, zero strategies, I mean, that’s what conscious leadership is, is like, hey, here’s a toolkit to self-manage, self-optimize. When I went to the Conscious Leadership training, I was like, “Oh, wow. There’s this practice and this practice and this perspective and this framework, and wow, all of these resources, all of these tools.” And simply, you become more capable of dealing with all of the stresses that life throws at you every day.

Adair Cates: Stress is not going away. Chaos is not going away. Negativity, hard things, they’re not going away. In fact, in some ways, they’re actually getting worse. Because this is our time, this is our time to expand consciousness by resourcing ourselves. So, I’m not going to blame anymore, I’m not going to offload. I’m going to be responsible in my own body for my response. And I do that through learning to breathe. I do that through meditation, a lot of what you talk about with the SAVERS, right? That is how we resource ourselves is through these practices.

Life is going to be hard. Sh*t’s going to happen, right? But we can continue to expand our capacity to handle whatever is given to us. And that is what I believe is what we kind of where we started. That’s how we turn pain into purpose, is we continue to expand our capacity. Not that we’re trying to bring hard things into our life. It’s not about that. But we’re not avoiding difficult things, difficult people, challenging situations. We’re not avoiding them because we’re expanding our capacity to take on those challenges with heart, with love, with good energy.

Hal Elrod: It reminds me of something I learned from one of my mentors, Dan Casetta, who you know Dan well.

Adair Cates: Yeah, I do.

Hal Elrod: And I think he probably learned it from Jim Rohn. Everybody learned everything from Jim Rohn, by the way, like the godfather of personal development.

Adair Cates: Or like Brian Tracy.

Hal Elrod: Yeah, all those guys, right?

Adair Cates: Earl Nightingale.

Hal Elrod: Yeah, that’s it, man. No, but it was real simple. He said, don’t wish life were easier, wish you were better. And to me, it’s not wish you were better. It’s don’t wish life were easier, commit to getting better. And as you become more capable…

Adair Cates: Every day.

Hal Elrod: That’s right. The same thing can happen to two different people. One person’s a wreck. It’s the end of life as they know it. And the other person is, like, I got this. This sucks. It’s difficult. It’s the worst thing that ever happened to me, but I’m going to handle it. I’m going to learn, I’m going to grow, I’m going to evolve. And there’s a better version of me on the other side. So, let’s go. Same challenge, same tragedy, same circumstance. One person’s far more resourced and they’re able to handle it.

And everybody listening to this podcast, by the way, like props to all of you listening because that’s who you are. By default, right now, you’re engaged in your personal development. You are learning, growing, evolving by listening to this podcast, by doing your Miracle Morning. All right, couple more questions, Adair, and I will let you get out of here. I would love to know one of the biggest things or strategies that you all teaching conscious leadership is learning to ask generative questions.

But I learned that from Berghoff when we worked together for years. This is for years. And I would always make statements. He’s like, “Hal, why don’t you ask a better question?” I’m like, “Stop telling.” But he was right. I just didn’t have that skill. I didn’t know how to ask the generative questions. I just would come to my conclusions, like 99% of human beings do. So, I’ve gotten better at it, but you all are the best. So, what are some examples of generative questions that people can ask to impact themselves as well as their relationships?

Adair Cates: Yeah. This is where I want like a second mic with Jon on the mic. So, maybe we can both come on at some point. So, here’s what I’ll say. With the conscious leadership work, we always believe that it starts within. However, we also teach practices for leading other people, and this is one of the main tools for being a conscious leader when you’re talking about leading groups of people. A generative question is a question that is asked, number one, from a place of being well-resourced yourself. These questions are not accessible if you’re in survival brain, right? You could parrot these questions off and just say them, but it’s not going to be genuine unless you are truly in a place of being well-resourced. So, I’ll say that first. That’s why everything starts with self-leadership.

But a generative question is a question that, from a place of curiosity, is asking a question of possibility, a question of strengths. So, for example, if there’s something challenging happening in my life, I might ask a question, like, what will it take for me to see this with new eyes? Or what might become possible if I see this through a different lens? Or let me think back on, like, I literally just did this this morning in my journal, like, I’ve lived in Ohio with Jon for two years exactly two years today. And I’m like, “What are some of the lessons that I’ve learned since being here?” And so, asking questions about what am I learning, what might become possible, both of myself and then of other people. So, in your relationships, in your life, and Jon is the best at this, I’ve learned everything I know about this, I’m not kidding you, I’ve learned from him, is all about asking better questions. And I mean, he uses it just as much at home in our family as he does at work every single day.

But really, it’s questions that are opening up possibilities, curiosities, strengths versus what’s wrong with me? Where did I mess up? And it’s not to say I still believe our moments are challenging moments and our moments of reactivity are great teachers for us, but we actually have to then ask the right questions about them, right? What can I learn from this? What’s happening inside of me that’s causing me to get triggered by this person? Is there a belief? Is there a story? Is there a paradigm that I want to shift based on what’s bothering me right now? So, those are questions that can lead us to a life-giving place, a place that’s going to help us grow our capacity and grow our capability as a human and as a leader.

Hal Elrod: Yeah. And transform our pain into purpose and turn our tragedy into triumph, I mean, right? Like, take…

Adair Cates: Right. You get to choose that, yeah.

Hal Elrod: Turn lemons into lemonade. I mean, you could use any phrase that you want, but it is just making the simplest way. You got to make the best of what life throws at you. That’s it. Period. There’s no other option other than– well, there are other options, but they suck. It’s suffering. It’s giving up. It’s being a victim. What did you say?

Adair Cates: Victim. Yeah, being a victim, I think that’s the biggest one, yeah.

Hal Elrod: Yeah. No. Completely. And for anyone, I always love to use different language for, like, if the word generative question doesn’t ring true for you, think about an empowering question versus a disempowering question. And they can be one and the same, by the way. When my car accident happened to me, I asked, “Why did this happen to me?” But not in the tone of why did this happen to me? I don’t deserve it. Like, why did this happen to me? What can I learn from this? How can I grow from this, right? So, an empowering question versus a disempowering question.

I don’t know who taught me this, but when I was 20, someone said, always ask success-seeking questions. It’s questions where the answer leads you to a better place. So, those are just different frames, different ways of looking at generative questions. I’m going to ask you just one last question here. And for listeners who are new to the concept of conscious leadership, what advice would you give them to get started, to take the next step?

Adair Cates: Yeah, yeah, it’s great. It’s such a good question. And the cool thing about this work and what I love about it the most is that it’s humbling, right? As soon as my ego thinks I got this figured out, I come home to our five kids and I react. I do something I’m not proud of. I yell, you name it. And so, it’s incredibly humbling. So, you have to commit to the path of constant continuous growth. It is not pretty. It is bumpy. It is messy. So, leaning in to reactivity, notice what bothers you, and then learn to pause. Learn to pause. Instead of staying unconscious and just reacting the way that you would have reacted yesterday, if you hadn’t listened to this podcast, it’s just noticing what bothers you and then pausing. That’s it. Just start there. Just start there. And then if you want to add in a breath, go for it.

Hal Elrod: Yeah. To reflect back, so if noticing and pausing, and I want people to realize that what happens when you notice and pause, your consciousness is elevated because you go from being unconscious, which is that programmed reaction that whenever my partner says this or my kids don’t do their homework, I unconsciously react this way. In the awareness and in the pause, your consciousness is elevated because consciousness is just awareness. You’re now aware, oh, I was about to yell. I was about to allow these crazy emotions to fester and come out. And then my kids would have been the recipient of that anger or that negativity, or my partner, or so on and so forth, right? So, in that pause, you get to think, what could I say? What’s a better positive? I guess, in the pauses, it can be a generative question that can emerge, right?

Adair Cates: Yeah, exactly. And that’s what our practices are all about. We talked about, there’s multiple different practices, is like you can choose what works for you in that moment. Maybe it is asking a better question. Maybe it’s just taking a breath. We teach mindfulness as well. So, maybe it’s just a mindfulness practice of see, hear, feel. We use a practice called unified mindfulness. So, in the pause, you can choose that. The other thing I want to say that’s really important is you’re going to mess up. You’re going to pause and then you’re still going to react.

Hal Elrod: Yeah. Especially in the beginning, by the way. Especially in the beginning, right?

Adair Cates: Yes. Here’s the deal. If you notice yourself reacting more than you’re doing it right, keep going. Keep going. Just keep going. Your reactivity is actually going to go up before it starts to come back down. We are never going to get rid of reactivity because life is going to throw different curveballs at us, but we are going to continue to grow every time we get reactive by pausing and by choosing a practice. And you’re going to mess up. So, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t beat yourself up. You’re going to mess up and just recognize, I’m human. I did my best. And what I’ve learned is the most beautiful things can come from that.

For example, I had this scenario where my daughter, I was trying so hard not to react to her. She wanted to find and take to school this little brush for her stuffed animal, and she couldn’t find it. And I’m like, “We have to catch the bus. We cannot find your little stuffy brush. You need to go, brush your teeth, and get your shoes on. We don’t have time for this.” And I tried not to react. I was calm, and then I just lost it on her and I was like, oh my gosh, that really stung. But you know, what’s wonderful? At the end of the day, right before I put her to bed, I said, “I just want to say I’m sorry for how I acted this morning. I’m sorry that I got so upset, but I was worried we were going to miss the bus, and I still shouldn’t have yelled at you.” And she said, “Mom, I overreacted too. I’m really sorry.”

Hal Elrod: Nice.

Adair Cates: So, if we can use those moments of reactivity to then go back and make a repair with someone, you’re going to, more times than not, create a vulnerable, loving experience and deepen your relationship if it was a reactive moment with someone that you love.

Hal Elrod: Yeah. What a great way to end it. That’s such an important lesson because we all make mistakes, but often, our ego doesn’t let us admit the mistake or we just hope, we’ll just– I don’t want to say anything. I’ll just let time pass and eventually, they’ll forget it, right? But no, to your point, it’s kind of like with customer service, if a company makes a mistake, but then the way they handle it is awesome, even though they messed up and you were mad at first and you were hurt or upset, now, you’re even more dedicated to that company. You’re like, wow, they really took care of their customer, right?

Adair Cates: That’s so good. That is such a good example of what we’re talking about here. Yeah, that’s awesome.

Hal Elrod: I’m going to use a lot of yours, so you can use that one.

Adair Cates: Okay, I love it.

Hal Elrod: Awesome. Well, Adair, I love you so much. Where is the best place for people to connect with you, keep learning from you, explore conscious leadership, etc.?

Adair Cates: Yeah. Well, you’re more than welcome to go to my website and we’ll put a link inside of– you have show notes somewhere. I’m sure we’ll put a link in to that, and also, to xchange.

Hal Elrod: Give me the website, though still, in case somebody…

Adair Cates: Yeah. It’s AdairCates.com. And I actually have…

Hal Elrod: A-D-A-I-R C-A-T-E-S.

Adair Cates: C-A-T-E-S, yep. And if you go on there, you’ll see a little bit more about me and what I do in the world of conscious leadership work and some other things. I have a free course on there that I offer as well. And then if you want to learn more about xchange and awakening conscious leadership trainings and work, you can go to xchangeapproach.com.

Hal Elrod: That’s the letter X C-H-A-N-G-E, xchangeapproach.com. And awesome. Well, hey, we should do this again, not too far off. I can’t believe it took us this long to do our first podcast together.

Adair Cates: I know.

Hal Elrod: But I definitely want to do another one. Or maybe, I think, actually, having you and Jon on together would be super fun.

Adair Cates: We’ll do it together. Yeah, it would be a blast.

Hal Elrod: We’ll do that the next, like this summer or something. Cool. All right, Adair. Love you. Tell Jon I said hi. Give him my love.

Adair Cates: Definitely. Well, you do the same to your family.

Hal Elrod: And goal achievers, thank you for tuning in to the podcast today. This is Adair Cates. You can find her at AdairCates.com or xchangeapproach.com. And I love you so much. Make it a great week. I will talk to you next week. Take care.

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