What you look for, you find

by | Mar 23, 2022

Darcy Luoma is one of America’s most highly credentialed coaches. She’s worked in 48 industries, with more than 500 organizations, and has impacted tens of thousands of leaders and employees.

I’m so excited that my 15-year old daughter, Josie, will get her driver’s license in five days. I’m definitely ready to move beyond the “mom Uber stage!”

Since learning to drive, Josie has developed an unusual habit. She keeps a running tally of all the dead animals she passes on the road. And, for those of you who’ve never been to Wisconsin, there are a shocking number!

And when Josie’s in the car with Jadyn, there’s another game they like to play. When one of them sees a yellow car, they say “Mustard car, no talking!” The person who’s nominated is not allowed to talk until they see a red car and say “Ketchup car, I can talk!”

You wouldn’t believe how many red and yellow cars there are suddenly in the world…These two stories got me thinking: in life, we tend to find what we seek.

Do you ever find it hard to keep up with the changing times? Try an unusual source of insight: comedy!


Darcy Luoma (00:02):
Hello and happy Thoughtfully Fit Thursday. I already am having the best day ever, because I’ve had some pretty conversations with my amazing guest Neil Mullarkey, who has brought some laughter and humor and joy into my day. So, Neil, thank you for that. What a gift.

Neil Mullarkey (00:22):
Thank you very much. And Mullarkey is my real name. It’s my actual name. People think it’s a made-up name, but I was born with this gift of a name.

Darcy Luoma (00:30):
And you were destined to be in… I was born a Luoma. That’s like a finished grit, resilience. So maybe there’s something to the fact that your life is all around improv and comedy. And I’d love to just have you share a little bit about how you got to do what you do. I think it’s fascinating that you have taken these skills, and what I see as natural ability, to bring in humor, and you found ways to help your clients and corporations, to be able to thrive and be creative and be nimble, and particularly, in this crazy world that we’re in at this moment right now. So maybe you could just share a little bit about yourself for us.

Neil Mullarkey (01:16):
Sure. Well, I studied economics and social science, but at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. I went there because they have a comedy group called the Cambridge Footlights, and Monte Python were there, and Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson and Alydia Coleman, Sacha Baron Cohen. But when I graduated, I was still with that group, and I was doing a small theater with this gang. And there was a guy selling tickets, who’d been attracted by the name Cambridge Footlights, because he knew Monte Python. And that man’s name was Mike Myers. So we got talking, he made me laugh; he continues to make me laugh to this day, and he taught me improv. Now, before, we were chatting… You’ve never seen an improv show, you are missing out. I’d never seen an improv show before I was in one. So this is where the audience gives suggestions to the actors, and then we act it out, there and then. It’s an amazing thing.

Neil Mullarkey (02:07):
We don’t know what we’re going to get, and the audience is trusting us to play with their suggestions. We have to listen to one another. That’s the main skill. That’s what I teach in business now. I have to listen to what you are saying, you listen to what I’m saying. And the great thing about improv is you go there together. It’s co-creation, it’s collaboration, it’s diversity. “I didn’t know I was going to say this. I didn’t know you were going to say that.” And together, we create stories. And there’s lots of things about the importance of listening. There’re things like how do I make my partner look good. Instead of trying to win on my own, it’s all about making her look good, and she’s doing the same. So then I bring this improv stuff.

Neil Mullarkey (02:48):
People may have seen Whose Line Is It Anyway? They may have seen Second City as well. That’s where it all started. Second City, a lot of people… I’d heard of Second City, because I’ve sat in a live movie called The Blues Brothers, and then Mike had come from Second City, Canada. But Second City started actually, the person who founded it was his mom. His mom was a social worker in the 1920s, just creating exercises to give confidence to children at school, who were a little bit nervous. And then he said, “Let’s take these exercises, and create a form of theater.” And now they’re all over the world, thousands of shows every night.

Darcy Luoma (03:24):
That’s incredible. And you were right there on the front lines, and the people that you have been exposed to and created friendships with. It’s awesome. And even as you were talking about listening, you wrote a book on this. And I remember reading, you said you can be a sponge or a trampoline. There it is, Seven Steps To Improve Your People Skills.

Neil Mullarkey (03:46):
Yes. It’s funny, I borrowed that, and I recognize from a Harvard Business Review by Zenger Folkman. These are very clever business folks. But they talk about listening being an active thing. You might think listening is all about soaking it up like a sponge. And actually, they talked to three and a half thousand executives, that listening is more active. And are you a trampoline? Are you bouncing back ideas, bouncing back energy? Are you listening to validate the other person? Are you listening maybe to challenge them, to say, “Is that what you really think? Well that’s, maybe not,” rather than just letting it wash over you.

Neil Mullarkey (04:20):
Improv is very much like that. I’m in a scene. You say, “Good morning, doctor.” I’m a doctor, it’s the morning. I’m going to go with that. It’s all about yes and, “Yes, I accept the offer,” and I build on your idea. We try not to block, but improv is all… Sometimes you said something I didn’t expect. That’s not a block. It’s just an offer in disguise. It’s what I do with it that makes it… It’s what I do with what you say, that makes the meaning, and helps us to move forward.

Darcy Luoma (04:48):
This is so awesome, Neil. So my intention; I always have an annual intention, and this year it’s to be bold. And I just feel like there is no accident that I have met you, and that I am enthralled with you, and that you are giving me a different maybe invitation, and making it not quite… I’m incredibly intimidated by the thought of improv or comedy. And yet, in our Thoughtfully Fit model, one of the six practices is agility. And agility is being able to respond effectively when you’re blindsided. Now we typically look at agility as like a people problem. So somebody catches you off guard in a board meeting, or you get a nasty email. And yet I’m noticing, as you’re talking, that agility is just being able to be light on your feet. And I’m guessing that you actually use agility in comedy.

Neil Mullarkey (05:38):
Yes, and you use it with your teenage daughters, I bet. It’s about listening, about saying, “Okay.” And I like your thing of pause, think, act. Improv, I’ve made it three things: listen, what she said, what’s happening, what’s the reality; accept, okay that maybe I have to change my worldview. I can’t do what I planned; and then create, move the offer to move forward. And so the improv mindset… Actually, it’s interesting. We’re not trying to create funny, we’re trying to create story. We’re trying to create rapport. And from that, funny may emerge. And Nancy, this bold year, is going to be when you are going to do some improv. You’re going to go along to an improv class, you may take your daughters also, and you’ll find it’s not so intimidated. I’ve seen you perform. I’ve seen you working with an audience. I’ve seen you laughing. I’ve seen you have a wonderful sense of humor.

Neil Mullarkey (06:31):
And we all have this sense of humor. The agility that I talk about in improv is, “That wasn’t what I expected, but I can still work with it.” I’m in the moment. And sometimes, even I’m listening to my inner self that says, “I should say this, but I’m not sure I should.” A lot of improv workshop, we’re trying to overcome some of the self-censorship we have; all that feeling of, “I’ve got to do it all on my own.” No she’s given me something great I can work with that. He’s listening to me, I’m going to listen, and we’re going to co-create a scene. And so that’s the journey for improvisers. This form is really about collaboration.

Darcy Luoma (07:08):
Yeah. So the three steps: listen, accept, create.

Neil Mullarkey (07:15):
Yeah. Listen, what’s actually being said here. Now it might be that you’re listening to the market. You’re listening to technology, or you’re listening to that person you’re working with. What are they saying, or what are they not saying? What’s being implied, what’s the verbal, what’s the non-verbal; accept, okay that’s how she, that’s how he sees the world. I can’t negate their emotion. I don’t have the same perception perhaps. But can I, for a moment, be in their shoes and say, “That’s how they see the world. Let me start from that point.” And you have a story about that in one of your YouTubes that I saw, about it’s not how do I feel, but how is this person feeling, because of what I’ve done; the impact I’m having. I may want to tell them why I’m right. But actually, that isn’t helping. Right now, I’ve got to validate.

Neil Mullarkey (08:01):
Actually, in my book, I quote somebody called Robin Dreeke. He was an FBI guy. He used to be head of behavioral analysis at the FBI counterintelligence unit. His book is about influence. It’s called It’s Not All About Me. He says, “Listen to validate, rather than to judge.” Listen to understand their goals and objectives, which may be different from yours. So the yes and, of improv is, “Yes, that’s what you are saying, and here’s how I can help that move on.” And maybe I may disagree with you, but I have to accept that that’s how you see the world. Let’s start with where you are, not where I am. Let’s start not with the script I had in mind of stage, but where we are now together, in this moment.

Darcy Luoma (08:44):
So did you know, when you started on this journey, and were born a Mullarkey, decided to go into improv comedy? How much of it would translate into the business world? And you are being able to create, from that, with clients, and create a whole business around this?

Neil Mullarkey (09:06):
I didn’t know. And by the way, one of my brother is an accountant, and one is a chemical engineer. I did a show once called All That Mullarkey. Anybody called Mullarkey could get in for free. And there were no other comedians called Mullarkey as yet. But normally [inaudible 00:09:22] determinism is, only me took the Mullarkey to be comedy. But I knew improv had something more than the stage. It started with children. It started with helping give confidence to young people, and we’ve brought it; many of us in the applied improv world, have brought it back to that place. But of course, my workshops are always fun. But I always had that sense that in fact the key message of improv, is listening. And not just listening, but passively to kind of saying, “What you said is of value to me. I’m going to use that.” I may use a concept, an idea, an offer, a word you gave, to move forward.

Neil Mullarkey (09:58):
And then gradually, I found all sorts of ways. Like it could be useful in selling, it could be useful in leadership. I do leadership courses. It can be useful in teamwork, in team building, how do we work better together, or bringing together two teams that didn’t know each other before, but now they can do that. And also, there’re business schools that have whole models based on, how do we deal with uncertainty, and changing reality. And so many of our models tend to be, “I start here, I go there.” And the plan doesn’t go in a straight line. But of course, once you realize, actually things will change, things will be disrupted, you begin to think, actually, that’s fine, that’s creative.

Neil Mullarkey (10:39):
How can I use what’s changing? How can I spot opportunities as much as deal with unexpected difficulties? So I’ve learned a lot from my clients, who said, “Oh wow, I didn’t realize that thing you are talking about, as a stage, metaphor, technique mindset, applies to what I do in geology, in cardiology, in management consultancy, in retail.” All these ways, wherever people are, there’ll be improv. Wherever people are, there’ll be diversity. And for us, that’s a strength; the diversity, the creativity of difference.

Darcy Luoma (11:17):
It’s beautiful. And I will say, Neil, I’m having this aha moment, which I’m not going to make it about me, for the rest of the interview. But for just this moment, I’d love to reflect on, the favorite thing that I do is coaching. And I’m coaching individuals and teams. And I’ve never thought about the intersection or even improv. Like I said, I’ve been like allergic to it, and intimidated by improv. But there’s so much of what you’re saying, that I’m doing in that moment with clients. And I’m listening deeply, and getting curious, and holding them as the expert, and holding them as capable, wanting them to look good, and bouncing back that trampoline saying, “Ha! So, when you said that, your energy shifted. What’s that about?” I’m just noticing that there’s probably a lot of improv, in even a coaching conversation.

Neil Mullarkey (12:10):
Yeah. There’s so much of what I do that has many analogies in many sectors, certainly coaching. We just use slightly different words. I’m doing it on stage to entertain an audience. You are doing it for the benefit of your coachee. You are still listening, you’re rolling with what she says, you’re seeing what’s beneath it, what’s really being said here. Sometimes you challenge, sometimes you just support. Sometimes, you say the obvious thing, sometimes you disrupt her thought pattern of, “Oh, hang on. Is that what I really mean?” So you are totally listening. And I bet you are tired after a coaching session, just like I’m tired after an improv performance, although it’s fun.

Neil Mullarkey (12:51):
And the best place to be in improv is to be in a relaxed state of concentration, like in coaching, so it could go anywhere. But you might have a plan. The plan is lightly held, and you are working with what the client gives you, for her or his benefit. Improv is the same. It’s different from real life, when I’m just talking to a friend, when we’re both playing. And I may feel like I don’t want to say much today, so I’m kind of not in that state. But that’s okay. The improv state is like a coaching state, I would say, which is, “I’m here for you. I’m truly in the moment.”

Darcy Luoma (13:26):
That is fascinating. I appreciate the gift of that perspective. And I’m going to take your challenge, that this year, 2022, is the year. At a minimum, I’m going to go see a live improv show. I’m not sure if I’m going to exactly sign up or jump in. So let me-

Neil Mullarkey (13:44):

Darcy Luoma (13:45):
Oh, good.

Neil Mullarkey (13:49):
I think you can do it. I bet… Well, I don’t know what your daughters will say, but maybe go together. But yes, go see a show, and you’ll see that it’s not all great. Some of it’s a bit messy. But because of that, you are so delighted when it works. And as much of the story, of the show, is how the team; there are six in the Comedy Store Players in London at which I am part, we perform every Sunday, the story is as much as the sketches, the vignettes, as much as these six people playing together. There are different shapes and sizes, there’s him who does this, she does that. But together, we’re still listening. We’re still individuals, and yet fully team members also.

Darcy Luoma (14:27):
It’s beautiful. And there’re times when coaching sessions are messy. And they don’t wrap up with a nice little bow. And it’s still good, it’s still important. So let me just build on what we’re saying, and ask you, Neil, here we are, two years into this crazy COVID chaos, and pandemic. And I’m wondering if there’s any wisdom you can share, about the need for virtual work and remote environments. How has that affected the need for agility in corporations? And how, if at all, does improv and humor and agility work, when you are behind a screen?

Neil Mullarkey (15:11):
Very good question, because people talk about winging it. Do you know that phrase, winging it? It actually comes from the theater, the wings. Somebody had failed to learn their lines. They’re in the wings, trying to learn their lines or getting a prompt. Winging is when there’s a script, and you don’t know it. Improv is when we say we don’t have a script, but we’re going to co-create something for you now, together, audience, performers. And too many people have been winging it in lockdown, which is, “Hey, let’s just do the meetings like we used to, but now, we’ll just turn on our laptop camera.” And we’re having a bad lighting, and you’ll see out my nose and I can’t see you because there’s a lot… there’s something behind me, what’s going on? My face is obscured.

Darcy Luoma (15:54):
Hearing your son playing too in the background.

Neil Mullarkey (15:56):
Yeah, exactly. So I say, first of all, in improv, we say, what is the offer? And the offer here, one of the things we can use is, I can work from home, so I can get to see my cat, my children, my roommate, my plants. I can water them. I can go for a walk at 11:00. That’s great. People say, “Well, I can’t see your body language.” Yeah, face to face is great. But look, I can see your face closer than I would in real life. And also you are six hours behind me. You’re in Madison, I’m in London. And so this medium, which was around, we’ve now found new ways to use. And I talk a lot about… I do a session called Bring Some Vavavoom To Your Zoom. Number one…

Darcy Luoma (16:40):
I love that.

Neil Mullarkey (16:41):
… make it fun. Make it personal. If there’s a picture behind you, talk about it. If there’s the Amazon delivery man coming in, make that part of it. That’s part of the offer, what’s really happening. And also, we all have had… There’s been a leveling here. We’ve all had it. No matter how high or low, you’ve got to deal with noise in the background. It’s funny, the very senior person at a big four consultancy said to me, “I’m just so tired of shouting at children.” And you can imagine, a lot of men just didn’t spend time with their family, and didn’t realize what was going on. And in this talk, I saw you talk about how, “What a relief it is, they’re back to school,” but actually, there were times when you spent more time with your family. So let’s try and use the best of lockdown, which is, we don’t have to travel so far to have a meaningful conversation. So when we do, let’s make it really worthwhile. Let’s make the office a place of collaboration, of true creativity, rather than a drudge you’ve got to go every day.

Neil Mullarkey (17:45):
Make sure this medium is used to be much more personal and social. So have some laughs. People don’t have to dress up, but that’s fine if you do. Even things like, just remember the 3D nature of it, because this is a good one, I heard the other day, Zoom fatigue, Netflix intrigue. So when you watch Netflix, there’re 20 cuts a minute, different size of the screen and stuff, where Zoom, it’s just one person, probably badly placed, not even looking at the camera, looking down at their notes and being boring, or looking at Tinder or something.

Neil Mullarkey (18:23):
So make meetings shorter, so demand more attention from people. So have a proper agenda, make the meeting shorter, half an hour, 25 minutes, and then make sure there’s a good output. You have to facilitate more strongly. Make sure that everyone is heard, everyone on screen is heard. Not just that loud person. Even turn the camera off every now and again if there’s a moment where we need to reflect, to think you, and then turn it on again later. But try and keep everyone camera on or camera off from a difference of hierarchy there. So we can make this work. And that’s how-

Darcy Luoma (18:59):
I love it. And it feels like this is tied with your whole concept of The New Nimble, and I’m wondering if you could just share with us. I was reading in some of you’re… You’ve got a great website and videos. And your books, it’s awesome. And you’re saying we’re not yet in the new normal, but we do need The New Nimble.

Neil Mullarkey (19:19):

Darcy Luoma (19:19):
What is that?

Neil Mullarkey (19:20):
Well, it was just, I thought it was a clever pun.

Darcy Luoma (19:22):
Yeah, I do.

Neil Mullarkey (19:24):
I’m always looking for other ways to say improv. Because just like you, Darcy, some people think, “Improv, you mean performing? Not knowing what I’m doing? Thrown to the lions?” And actually, if you look at it from the other way, improv is facing reality and making the best use of imperfection. So nimble is being on your feet, and that’s spotting, being agile; agility and flexibility are two of your words, also endurance and strength, which is actually, I can cope with this. It’s not a plan, but I can cope. So New Nimble is, what are we using? How have we made some advances in the last two years? How can we use those more? I’ve learned to use Zoom. I’m standing up. When I present or I’m doing a podcast, I stand up, because I got more energy, and I try to energize the screen.

Neil Mullarkey (20:17):
The New Nimble is we can have the best of the period when we were remote, and also remember what it used to be like before, what we take for granted. Let’s make those moments when we are together more meaningful. But also, isn’t it great that we can now have people who, maybe, because family situations, can’t go to the office every day? Now they can still be in the team, if we make it… I’ve had some great things where we’ve done events where there’s somebody in Argentina, somebody in Singapore, and then some group, some people in the room, everyone’s involved. But it does mean you have to make sure that… We had multiple screens and stuff. So it costs some money and effort. But nevertheless, you can still do things like on a Zoom screen, just get people to sway. And on the gallery view, there’s a bit of energy there. Get people to move about, get people to go and get an object, which they wouldn’t bring to a conference. But if you say things like, “Go get an object that means something to you,” and they get it.

Neil Mullarkey (21:23):
And sometimes, I’m talking about presentation as well. When I’m about this thing that I care about, my whole body, my face energizes. “So tell me about a new business thing.” And then we go, “Well, we are really excited about alignment, leverage and sustainability.” And it just [crosstalk 00:21:41], how can we make the best of the two worlds? One client said to me, some of that so-called shrinking violets, have done really well in lockdown, because they’re at home and they feel they can speak up. Others have felt really sad, because they don’t have that human context. So how can we bring in everyone who has a slightly different priority, in terms of going to work, not going to work, doing work from home, which you can get more done at home if you’re not being interrupted. But others thrive on the communal energy.

Neil Mullarkey (22:16):
And so let’s try and allow everyone to be part of that. It’s going to be difficult. If everyone’s coming just Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, what happens Monday, Friday? Well, this is where the improv mindset says, “How can we use this? What’s the reality?” Instead of saying, “We’re going to send an edict down,” and that’s what’s happening now. The boss says, “This is the way I want it. Everyone do it the same,” rather than just like as a coach, what is really happening that people feel they can give their best.

Darcy Luoma (22:46):
And I’m really struck by the fact that, what you’re highlighting is that people are different and they’re unique. And then where you are in that spectrum, if you are alone and you’ve been on lockdown in quarantine, and can’t go to the theater, can’t go to in-person shows, and all that, and you’re feeling isolated, it’s a very different experience than if you are your small flat with your kids and your spouse and your cats, and you’re just overwhelmed. And so, I’m almost hearing you say like the improv mindset and having that agility and that humor, it allows you to meet people where they are and say, “That’s all right, you can have your camera off.” We’re not going to create a rule that everybody has to have their camera on, because for some people, that’s going to create anxiety, because they’re worried that you’re going to see what’s going on. I don’t know. It just feels like that’s a part of The New Nimble that you’re sharing.

Neil Mullarkey (23:44):
I think so. And just allowing people, the fact of being themselves, and that we aren’t always sure who we are. I’m 700 years old. As I said, I’m still working out who I am, and we can use the emerging stories here. So for me, my life was a disaster. I remember you said you lost many speaking engagements in March 2020. Me too. Now I thought, “I can’t do it, what’s going on?” And then somebody said, “You know what? Zoom. Do breakout rooms.” And that’s great for me, because a lot of what I do is, we do a little exercise, and I send people away. And breakout rooms are great. So that was a great offer for me. And also, I can get to see people’s faces, and also I can use the chat, a great offer.

Neil Mullarkey (24:33):
In face to face, I say, “What do you think about this? What do you think?” And after, 10 people takes 10 iterations. If I say, “Everybody, put in the chat right now, what do you think,” we have 10 answers straight away. And even things like, I always try and say to people, “Where are you?” And they’ll say, “Madison, London.” That’s fine. But where are you actually? Are you in the living room? Are you in the cupboard under the stairs? And just acknowledge the reality. That’s what improv is. And then, “Are you wearing socks? Are you even wearing anything under here?” Just things like that. And people say, “Oh my, I’m wearing slippers because my feet are cold.” And then things like, “Oh, I’ve just got to go now, because I’m getting a delivery.” That’s fine. Acknowledge that. And it’s interesting how that would’ve been very much frowned on. That’s not business-like.

Neil Mullarkey (25:18):
But now, we’ve all seen and we’ve had to deal with that. And we’re questioning, “Why should I have to travel three hours for a one hour meeting?” And I dare say that may help the plans as well. I don’t know, but we managed to survive for some time without flying too much. I miss seeing countries other than my own. I have to think about that. But The New Nimble is a cute way, I think, of saying, an improviser says, “What’s the reality? What’s actually going on? How do we use it?” An improviser doesn’t say, “Oh right. Things didn’t go to plan. I’m going to cry.” We say, “We don’t have props. Maybe somebody from the cast didn’t turn up, but we’re going to make the show anyway.” That’s The New Nimble, for me. It’s yes, let’s acknowledge the reality and use it. And also in that using, we’ll find new way.

Neil Mullarkey (26:09):
And the improv mindset, if you like, is two things, just the sort of interpersonal skills. If I’m listening, I’ll have better conversations. Then the mindset of opportunities may occur. If I’m really listening, in a broader sense watching, observing what’s really going on, oh actually there’s an opportunity here, a commercial opportunity. Maybe people aren’t doing what they used to. So for example, in London, the central sort of Pret a Manger, it’s takeaway stuff, not doing so well. In the suburbs, doing really well now. So then the idea is, oh how do we service those people better, who aren’t going to work, but still may want to go out for a coffee? How do we make meetings happen? And, “Let’s have a meeting in a park, rather than in the office.” And then what is the office for? Is it where you must go every day to change your desk, or is it something that celebrates, and is a sense of creativity? We come away energized, then maybe not to come in the next day to work, but using what’s really going on. That’s improperly.

Darcy Luoma (27:23):
There’s just so much inspiration in what you are sharing. And I feel like, for me, and I hope that people are watching or listening, that the sense I’m just getting is really accepting, like with improv, that you don’t know what’s coming next, and being able to just be nimble, to say, “Oh okay, that’s what’s happened next. Then where are we going to go from there,” instead of being rigid or locked down or, “He didn’t say what I thought he was going to say, and now…” You just have to accept it and listen, accept, create. I love that.

Darcy Luoma (28:05):
And we always end our sessions talking about the core, and how you can pause, think and act. And so to me, there’s just an opportunity right now to pause, and think about where… I know for me, where can I use this more in my life? What do I want to do, to embrace the agility, the humor, the improv, to meet the world where it is, and meet people where they are, and then act from that place, instead of resisting it or trying to be upset that it’s not how you thought it would be.

Neil Mullarkey (28:39):
Yes. Thank you, Darcy. And pause, think, act. Very good. Pause, what’s really going on. One of the examples you said was, “I want to punch that person. I want to hit them. I want to cry.” Pause, what’s really going on? Maybe that’s not what they meant. What’s the impact I want. Think, okay what do I think is going to be helpful for this? But as you say, I saw you speak. It’s not just pause, it’s not just think, it’s not just act. It’s pause, think, act, in that order. And also, certainly improv is: listen, accept, create, but keep listening, accept, create. You don’t just go, “That’s it.” You go, “Okay, how did that idea work?”

Neil Mullarkey (29:17):
There’s a loop here. So once you’ve acted, I think you pause again. “How did that go down? Maybe I didn’t give enough thought.” “Actually, do I need to pause for this moment?” “Actually, no I need to think, because actually, why did it happen that way, or what could I do better,” and then act. Pause, think, act is obviously the way you’ve lived things lately, and you’ve come to this through lots of research, I know. Pause is a good one. Think, of course we don’t think often. But the pause, think, act, as a continuum seems very profound to me.

Darcy Luoma (29:55):
Thank you. I need more of you in my life.

Neil Mullarkey (29:58):
That’s right. I’m just… For a moment, did I call you Nancy at some point? I can’t remember.

Darcy Luoma (30:03):
Yeah, and I just went with it, because my best friend [crosstalk 00:30:05].

Neil Mullarkey (30:05):
Yeah, but I suddenly thought… I realized that, and I wanted to call you Darcy. And then of course, I’m thinking Darcy, pride and prejudice, but also, I’m thinking…

Darcy Luoma (30:11):
Oh, I love it.

Neil Mullarkey (30:13):
… that Nancy is nimble Darcy. You see? That’s your new improv name. So when you want to improvise, you just become somebody else called Nancy. There you go.

Darcy Luoma (30:22):
That is so amazing, because my best friend is Nancy, and she is witty, is all get-out. And she could do improv, no problem. And I always tell her, “I wish I was witty like you.” And she says, “Darcy, it gets me in trouble more than it’s [crosstalk 00:30:36].”

Neil Mullarkey (30:36):
Yes, well she’s right. But I think maybe the Darcy and Nancy show, that could be a double act. It could be great.

Darcy Luoma (30:43):
That’s good.

Neil Mullarkey (30:45):
So, that’s my promise to you. You do some improv. Thank you so much for having me, Darcy.

Darcy Luoma (30:49):
Oh my gosh, thank you. And where can people find you if they want more, like I want more?

Neil Mullarkey (30:53):
All right, so I just started a thing called Substack, which is making me write something every wee, and get some interaction. Well, neilmullarkey.substack.com, but I’ve given you a Bit.ly shortened URL, bit.ly/TheNewNimble, there you go, The New Nimble, thank you. So that’s the way people can say hello, see my writing, interact as well. I’m just excited by the idea you can do audio and video. It’s a new way of communicating with people. So neilmullarkey.com is my website as well. But if ever you’re in London, Darcy or indeed anybody of the 3,000 million people watching today or listening…

Darcy Luoma (31:32):
Yeah, it’s millions of people.

Neil Mullarkey (31:32):
Millions, they’ve broken the internet, there’s so many people today, the Comedy Store Players, in London, Sunday nights. Comedystoreplayers.com, come and see the improv, and experience the joy of not knowing. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We do have a structure, so that’s the thing for left brain, right brain. We know it’s going to start at this time, finish at this time. So there’s enough structure, so we have the strength to have then the moments of spontaneity.

Darcy Luoma (32:00):
Oh, beautifully said. And what a great way to underscore everything that you’ve talked about, like have the structure and then be nimble and allow for spontaneity in the moments in between in your life. Thank you so much, Neil, for joining me today. It is a pleasure. I love the message that you are bringing to the world. And invite people. We’ll put all of your links into the comments as well, and the books that you have, and the classes and everything. Thank you for putting yourself out in the way that you do.

Neil Mullarkey (32:31):
Thank you. And I hope to meet you in real life soon.

Darcy Luoma (32:34):
I look forward to that. That would be a really bold move. If I could make it there, I’d just see you on a Sunday night in person. I’m going to just put that intention out in the universe. Thank you.

Neil Mullarkey (32:45):
I will intend to come to Madison as well. I’ve been there before, I want to return.

Darcy Luoma (32:49):
Perfect. And then we can go to Chicago and do a little spin city. I don’t know. Is it still happening?

Neil Mullarkey (32:53):
I don’t know.

Darcy Luoma (32:55):
I don’t know either, we’ll find out. Thank you so much everybody…

Neil Mullarkey (32:59):
Thank you. Take care.

Darcy Luoma (32:59):
… for joining us. See you, take care. Happy Thoughtfully Fit Thursday.

Confirmation bias

The technical term for what I’m describing here is “confirmation bias,” and it’s something we all experience, to a greater or lesser extent.

If you believe Fred is secretly out to get you, you’ll find confirmation for that in his behavior, regardless of how kind-hearted he is in reality.

But if instead you think he’s a good friend, you’ll be more likely to remember the times he’s been there for you, listened to you, and spent fun weekends hiking with you.

Or imagine you start a new job. You have good rapport with most of the managers, but there’s one called Sadie who never seems to say much to you.

You could assume Sadie doesn’t like you, and then find evidence for that in your next few months on the job. Or maybe she’s just really introverted and doesn’t say much to anyone!

In a nutshell, people are prone to believe what they want to believe. Or, simply put, you see what you look for.

Choosing how you respond

So how can you apply this knowledge in your own life?

In your work, you probably have one colleague that has a tendency to be a bit difficult, whether in meetings or over email. Perhaps they’re the dismissive type, or they can sometimes be contemptuous.

You can’t control your colleague’s behavior. Nor can you magically wish it away. We don’t want to advocate that you only focus on their positive traits, because that would be toxic positivity.

What you can do is recognize the bias you have. You probably already see this colleague as difficult, and are therefore more likely to interpret their actions in an unfavorable, even defensive light.

But, when you’re Thoughtfully Fit, the way you respond to their behavior is always up to you. In other words, it’s a choice you have. How can you respond in a way that gets you closer to the work relationship you want with this person?

So the next time a colleague winds you up the wrong way at work, try the following core workout:

  • Pause: Take a moment to breathe. Close your eyes, if you need to.
  • Think: Is confirmation bias at play here? What choices do you have? How can you respond with Strength and dignity?
  • Act: Take the next step that creates the relationship you want to have.

And, if all else fails, imagine they can’t talk again until they see a red car!

Thoughtfully Fit One-Minute Workout inside the Thoughtfully Fit Wheel


When you’re training to overcome your internal trash talkers, it’s helpful to start with the little things. This is a concept Rick Hanson, Ph.D. encourages his readers to internalize in his book, Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. Recommended by Thoughtfully Fit coach Sharon Barbour, Hanson offers simple, scientifically supported practices that help readers build greater inner strength and confidence.