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The Importance Of Checking In (With Sean Burke)

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Audio Transcription:

Tim Reitsma

I am aware that I am aware. So does that make me self-aware? Wow, that’s a mouthful. What does self-awareness? Is it simply knowing how you are doing? Is it thinking or always right, because, well, you’re aware? What’s the point of self-awareness and how does it help us as business owners, leaders of teams or in our personal lives? In the rush of everyday life, we often miss the opportunity to check in with ourselves and realign the trajectory of our days. Today’s guest, Sean Burke, is a founder of Checking In, a company that brings greater clarity towards your individual purpose and how you show up in the world. He’s created a tool to help us create a better world for ourselves one check-in at a time.

Thanks for tuning in. I’m Tim Reitsma, the resident host of People Managing People. Welcome to the podcast we’re people managing people and we want to lead and manage better. We’re owners, founders, entrepreneurs. We’re middle managers. We’re team leaders.

We’re managing people. And yes, we do human resources. But we’re not HR, at least not in the traditional sense. We’re on a mission to help people lead and manage their teams and organizations more effectively. So if you want to lead and manage better, if you want to become a better organizational leader and more effective people manager, then join us. Keep listening to the podcast to find the tips, tricks, and tools you need to recruit, retain, manage, and lead your people and organization more effectively. And while listening to the show, please subscribe and join our mailing list on peoplemanagingpeople.com to stay up to date with all that’s going on. So welcome, Sean.

I’m really excited to have you as a guest today. You and I go back a couple of years and I’ve known you and watched your journey as you’re building up this new company. So I appreciate you joining us today.

Sean Burke

Yeah. Thanks for having me. It’s great to talk about it and get to just casually chat about what self-awareness is and how we’re making a difference in this world.

Tim Reitsma

I love that little, little guided intro. So for our listeners and, you know, for my simple brain, what does self-awareness in a nutshell? Why does it matter?

Sean Burke

Well, we can give you the short answer. The long answer, a long answer will take this whole podcast. So simply put, we look at self-awareness as really understanding who we are and how others see us. But a little bit more broadly it’s about being present and in touch with the world around us and understanding how that impacts our emotions and our thoughts and how we’re showing up.

Tim Reitsma

So being present, so that’s like actually more than just saying “uh-huh” and “yes” to the people around us. It’s actually, you know, being aware not just of our selves, but of others. Is that correct?

Sean Burke

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think we all want to, you know, have deeper connections with others. And one of the best ways that we can do that is understanding how our actions are impacting others and conversely, how other people’s actions are impacting our feelings, because we ultimately, at the end of the day, can choose to regulate how we interpret those other actions. So, yeah, definitely. I would say, you know, being present is more than just about oneself, but expanding to that in, which is immediately kind of around that individual.

Tim Reitsma

In my intro, I kind of talked a little bit about, you know, I think I’m self-aware. So does that make me aware? And what are your thoughts on that?

Sean Burke

Well, I got to admit, at first I was listening to it kind of like, hm…where are we going with this one? But the reality is, is that I think when it comes down to, you know, some of the foundations upon which CheckingIn is created, the first and most important principle is about simplicity. So am I aware that I’m aware? I mean, if we start going into the philosophy behind that, I think that the most important thing to understand is are we asking ourselves a simple question that allows us to provide space to know what’s happening to us or and around us. So, you know, without going into a kind of depth of that, I think. Are we aware of whether or not we’re aware? Really to me, I would just rephrase that question and ask myself, how am I feeling?

Tim Reitsma

Mm hmm. It’s just a very simple way of clarifying my intro. Maybe I’ll take that for my intro and really ask a question, how are we feeling? How often did you ask yourself that question before starting CheckingIn?

Sean Burke

The honest answer is never. You know, I think it’s interesting because it was actually going through, you know, a similar going through the same program with you Tim and really being able to understand how feelings are impacted by the different thoughts and activities that are happening to us. But really than taking those feelings and internalizing them and either understanding how we’re impacting other people or how we’re expressing those feelings, that ultimately is where the lessons are being learned. So prior to kind of that experience of just understanding the power of asking that simple question. I was always sort of brought up in a world where emotions were important and feelings were important, but not really understanding how to label those emotions or how to understand how that emotion is physically making me react. So it wasn’t really until going through, you know, this Brue course that I really kind of realized the power of our emotions.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. For our listeners, the program that Sean’s talking about him and I went through a leadership program is way deeper than a leadership program. And we started off every day just really asking the question, how are we feeling on a scale of one to 10? And a word to describe how we’re feeling. And if you download CheckingIn, you’ll notice that those are the first two things. First, two questions. Rate yourself out of 10. How am I feeling? And a word to describe it. And so if we do this in and as a business owner or if you’re leading a team, why is it so important to really just check in with ourselves? So on a scale of one to 10, what why is it so important?

Sean Burke

Yeah, I think most people will say that we’re either too busy, it costs too much or it’s too complex to really develop emotional intelligence or practice self-awareness. So for us, when we thought, OK, well, how can we bring this element? The simple practice of checking in with oneself, how can we do it in a way that addresses those three barriers? And so once we started getting into the depth of it and really going through and doing different customer feedback and surveys and really getting that understanding of what people wanted.

The short answer is they wanted something super simple, super quick, and easy to understand. So that’s really where it came out to say, what’s your number? What’s your word? A number to describe the energy level that you talked about and a word to describe how you’re currently feeling. And, you know, beyond that, you have the option to add some additional context and clarity behind why you might be feeling that way or what’s the activities that are associated with that feeling to help sort of. Just sort of distill a little bit more and get a little bit more granular with that specific emotion or feeling, and a lot of times that’s actually therapeutic for people as well just to sort of get their thoughts out on paper into the app. And over time you can start to see no different trends that are coming up, different insights that you might not have noticed had you not documented that.

Tim Reitsma

Mm-hmm. It just makes me think about when I was working in a corporate setting, I would go to bed thinking about work and I’d wake up thinking about work. And immediately I would put on work the brain and think about the, you know, the big list of things I needed to get done. And in fact, it would have. It would have repercussions on the people around me because that was my brain, my brain was now rewired to just think about the tasks I’d been using, checking in for a while. And as part of my morning routine, I get up and drink coffee, maybe go for a walk and then I check in, how am I actually doing today? And then come up with a word of how I’m doing and being honest, because, you know, how often do we walk down the street and we ask people around us, you know, how’s it going and what’s the common answer? Good. But with checking in, it really kind of dives into the personal feeling of how am I actually doing today? And in my opinion and maybe we can speak to this. It then helps me reframe how I’m going to show up during the day. So if I wake up and I’m miserable and I know I’m feeling a three out of 10 and my word for the day is miserable. I know now that with my wife and kids of the people I’m working with, I need to be conscious of that.

Sean Burke

Yeah. You know, the first and most important thing I think that you hit the nail on the head there, which was creating a safe space where you feel like you can be vulnerable with yourself. And that’s what we’ve tried to build with CheckingIn so that when you are checking in with yourself, first of all, this is a non-judgment space and you are in control of your check-ins. So we don’t have access to see or view that confidential information. And what it does is it allows you to go into the depth of your true self. So if you are feeling that three miserable, well, you know what? That’s great. You’ve acknowledged that that is a real-life and that may be at that moment in time that you’re feeling that way.

But that doesn’t mean that that is who you are and that doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily where you have to stay. So for us, what we try to build is a reflection component within the app as well that helps people choose whether or not they want to shift from that feeling or emotion, or maybe they just want to sit with it. But really gets them to start reflecting and thinking about, you know, what that current feeling is, what’s the source of that? But also, then, do we want to shift from it? If not, OK, how can we sit with it and learn from it? So, you know, it’s great to hear that that’s the experience that you’re using, you know, the app with. And we have, you know, thousands of other people as well who are using it in their own ways to help them create and live a better world for themselves. And it doesn’t have to be solely about your work self or home self. We don’t believe that that really exists. We see, you know, yourself as your true whole self. And whether that means it’s something to do with work or something at home, at the end of the day, it’s all one. And so we want to be that safe space for you to really check in with yourself and own those emotions.

Tim Reitsma

I love that. Yeah, it’s really about tuning into self regardless of the app or regardless of, you know, the technology behind it. It’s really just checking in with ourselves, which I don’t know least from my personal point of view, and in my circle of people that I’m with this summer, we don’t do very well. And then we carry that with us throughout the day or throughout the week or whatever it is. So if we’re waking up consistently at 3 and miserable, guess what? It’s going to have an effect on the people around us. Absolutely.

Sean Burke

And you know what? If that is the case, then what’s the underlying behavior that’s driving that? You know, what’s what is something that we can learn from that, that if we want to shift from it, then we can make a meaningful difference. And that’s ultimate, I think, why we’ve created what we’ve created is to help empower those people to live healthier, happier lives.

Tim Reitsma

And I’m curious about so, you know, you’re the founder of CheckingIn. You founded a few other companies on your journey. And so, you know, now you’re moving into this app space. And what have you learned about yourself through this process? So you said you’d mentioned kind of before checking in. You really hadn’t checked in or before the program that we took. So what have you learned about yourself in this journey?

Sean Burke

Yeah. You know, I think the last business that I was a co-founder of and obviously the introduction then to my new coach, Judy Brooks, one of the things that I realized through that experience and founding that company was I was not self-aware. And simply put, I didn’t understand the impact that had on myself, but also to my co-founder and the rest of my employees. And so through this process, through this transformation of starting to understand how my feelings were impacting others, that was ultimately this realization that. You know, and I can still remember this specific quote that my coach said to me and it was, “what’s got you here isn’t going to get you there.” And so it was this realization that everything I was trying to do, I believed I was doing it for the good of the organization. And I believe that you know, I was giving it everything that I had. But the reality was, is that it might not have been serving me.

And so through this process of really trying to drive for results, strive for accountability, build together strategy and teamwork and culture. But failing to realize how the overall emotional state and well-being of the people were, that was to the detriment of what the benefit of the company could have been in the success that we could have seen grow at a faster rate. So I think through that, it obviously took a toll on my personal relationship with my co-founder and ultimately led to the decision that one of us had to go our separate ways. And so that through that experience that’s ultimately within led me to kind of reflect on that period of time and is being that person who left front funder. It sort of made me realize that, hey, there’s a lot of lessons and learnings that I can take from this experience. And the biggest and most transformational was the process of check-in and tuning into those energy and emotions.

And so after, you know, if. I’d say probably a couple of months I started testing this idea of, hey, this thing had such a big profound impact on my life, I wonder if it could do the same with others. And so started a little bit of beta testing with some friends and families and got them to do a similar checking process. And they, too, we’re sharing some of the positive feedback and just the impact that the check-in practice was having in their lives. So that’s then what led me to the bigger sort of market validation and hypothesized testing and then obviously to building a prototype to see engagement rates. And that was all super successful, which then led me to build the first version here of what we see with checking in on the app store. So so yeah, it’s starting to go pretty well. And that was kind of the journey that led me to build the app.

Tim Reitsma

I really appreciate the vulnerability in that story. And I think it speaks volumes to the growth, the growth in you and the growth and in your path as well as I’m sure it’s having a profound impact on how you’re now building this new company and leading this new team. It’s I love what you said about you weren’t necessarily aware of how your feelings were impacting others.

And often with a lack of self-awareness, how we’re feeling really comes out and we aren’t really sure we don’t maybe don’t even care how it affects others. We may have the best of intentions, but it does have an impact. And so I love that journey of personal growth. From you know, I know you’re a go-getter and you’re a super-smart guy and had the best intentions. But going through that massive change and transition out of your last organization to really kind of step into, ok, what’s going on with me and how can I become more self-aware and see that different? So so I appreciate that.

Sean Burke

Yeah. You know, I can. Well, thank you. I think one of the biggest things that, you know, I’m starting to see is some of the transformations as well with others are starting to take ownership of our own feelings and thoughts and how that’s ultimately impacting others. So what I mean by that is how am I part of this problem? Whenever there’s a problem with, you know, two of our colleagues or dealing with, you know, customers, I think one of the things that we really try to do and take a step back from now and focus on is what part is my part in this equation and how can I focus on understanding that piece? Ultimately, that’s the part that I’m in control of. To yield the most desirable outcome or whatever the most beneficial outcome is.

Tim Reitsma

Hmm. And is that and this approach is not necessarily new for you, but it’s some. But it’s something that you’re you’re practicing. It’s a practice. It’s not necessarily something that comes naturally to everyone.

Sean Burke

Absolutely. I think, you know, there are times where it comes out a little bit more naturally and sometimes we mess up. But I think that that’s the whole part of being human and just understanding that, hey, you know what? Maybe I could have approached this a different way and being reflective and just understanding that it’s never going to be perfect. We’re never going to constantly live in a state of joy or happiness. And it’s the times where, you know, maybe we’re we’re a little bit more fearful or anxious that allows us to show up as our best selves. But maybe, you know, it’s only a portion of that that can drive some of that motivation and knowing when to turn that on and when to step off the gas. I think that’s where real true superpower of self-awareness comes in, because now what we’re doing is we’re basically using our emotions to drive certain behavior or shift certain feelings or emotions that we want to experience to live our lives of whatever that true self is.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, I love that. I think you know, we have best intentions as we are building organizations or building teams. Maybe whoever’s listening is a member of a large team and the importance of checking in with ourselves and then checking in with the people around us. We’ll have a massive impact on our organizations. I worked at an organization and I was introduced to a version of the check-in, I guess a couple of years ago. And I brought it to my team.

And what we did was every morning we’d have about a seven-minute, seven-minute meeting with my team and we would all kind of stand around in a circle and we’d go around and answer two questions. You know, how am I feeling on a scale one to 10, what’s my energy level and a word to describe it? And at first, it was awkward. You know, people would constantly be a 7 and fine or good. But, you know, after a couple of weeks of doing this and building up this renewed sense of trust, we’re starting to see vulnerability in people. We’re starting to see the vulnerability of people say, you know what, I’m a four. I didn’t get any sleep last night because of a personal issue. And as a leader, I was excited because we’re building that vulnerability in as well as building up teamwork. I’d have the team you know, the team would go around in a circle if somebody was low instead of me saying, hey, you know, how are you doing? How we support you. The team was then there supporting each other on a deeper level instead of like, hey, what do you do for lunch today? But you know what’s going on in your life? And so what are your thoughts on, you know, just the there’s the personal self-awareness and the personal check-in. But bringing this into a team environment?

Sean Burke

Yeah, it’s a great question. And I’m obviously a huge advocate of bringing, bringing, checking in into the work culture. And I think one of the main reasons and one of the biggest feedback that we’ve been receiving from companies that are already doing this is it starts to develop a deeper connection with all team members. So where once, as you mentioned, somebody might just, you know, do the casual. Hey, how you doing? I’m good. Are you good? It starts going much deeper and we start building, building more relationships. So there’s more empathy, there’s more vulnerability, but there’s just a greater sense of teamwork that’s facilitated through understanding who you’re actually dealing with. And I think that one of the things that we’re starting to see with companies that are are using the practice is it’s shifting the culture from this, maximizing productivity to maximizing the employee experience.

And what the people of these companies are saying is this is something that the company is now acknowledging myself as an individual and having a unique experience within the organization that I’m part of. And if we can start to provide our employees with this individual customized experience where they can be their true selves at work, well, then we get to benefit as organizations on the diversity in which we all bring our true selves to work. And that’s really where the power of creativity and teamwork and leadership really comes into play. So, you know, I’m a huge proponent of it. I think that especially with the new questions I’ve been there, but the younger generations being larger percentages of the workforce and wanting these custom experiences, I think this is one of the ways that we can start to address and fill those needs.

Tim Reitsma

Can you imagine having somebody on your team who checks in with themselves, you know, uses the check-in happen is a three or four and is really struggling and then comes to the office and as a leader, we don’t realize that? You know, I think I’m just kind of putting myself in those shoes.

And as a leader, we’re responsible, you know, for not just the organization. We’re not necessarily responsible for providing you know all these fun, fancy perks in our companies, but we have responsibility for our people and creating that deep sense of trust. Right from the get-go. You know, I want to know if people are happy if they’re excited if they’re struggling. How can we support each other? You know, so it’s not like, you know, I’m a three on a miserable and I drive to work and I sit in the parking lot and then I got to force a smile on my face just to get work done. Well, guess what? You mentioned it, Sean. Creativity is going to be down. The work ethic is going to be down to the sense of teamwork is going to be down. And so it’s so important to be in tune with our teams. But it does start with self. We got to lead from example.

Sean Burke

Absolutely. And, you know, there’s a million statistics out there. But when you look at the rising cost of insurance claims, the largest is coming down to disability claims. And so much of that is the number one driver is mental health. And so I think that. When we look at the holistic benefits package, mental health is starting to become a significant component of that, and providing different resources really is going to help not only provide the benefit to the individual but ultimately companies will see that benefit in return because you’re going to have more loyal staff. You’re going to have stronger, more collaborative teams. And I think at the end of the day, being more self-aware is good for everyone. And that’s ultimately what we’re striving for.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, it’s so important, again, I think we’re kind of hitting the witness a few times. It’s so important to just move away from the language of I’m just too busy to check in with myself or I’m just too busy to check in with my team to see how they’re actually doing, because it’s easy to just say know, hey, Sean, how’s it going? Good. Hey, Tim, how’s it going? Good. Well, you know, I think that’s one of the questions that that drives me absolutely crazy because we never get a true answer to that question. But it does drive into the productivity and the health, not just the physical health, but the mental health of the people around us, our teams, but also ourselves. You know, I’ve been using checking in now for a while. And late last year, I was going through something and I was using checking in as a way to see how I’m doing. I was not happy. I was not I was going through a pretty rough time.

And I can say that you know, adding a check-in every morning really helped me frame what’s going on, how I’m doing, how am I going to show up. But it also allowed me to reach out for help. And I think that’s a hugely important piece to this, is we’re excited and happy all the time. That’s awesome. We need to be spreading that joy in our workplaces. But I think, statistically speaking, well, not all of us are happy all the time. So how do we allow for that safe space in our organizations and our friend groups and in and with ourselves and with our partners to really dig into this? And so, yeah, it’s a passionate subject of mine. And I’m sure we could go on, but. Yeah. What are your thoughts on that?

Sean Burke

I think that just you know, the consistent feedback that we’re hearing as well is it is how quick it can be to check-in. There’s no excuse for anyone to say that I’m too busy to pause. Take a deep breath. Ask yourselves, well, how am I feeling and how much energy do I have right now?

In that brief moment right there, you could have done your check-in. And I think it’s the times that we say to ourselves, we’re the busiest. When it’s time to take a moment and check-in with ourselves. That’s ultimately when we’re gonna be able to see how am I feeling right now? Am I? Is this the best use of my time? Am I being productive? Or, you know, is there something else that’s bothering me? And maybe there is. But maybe you know what? We need to recognize that we need to put that aside. But at least we’ve acknowledged it. And we’ve told ourselves when we’re gonna get back to it. So there are all these different reasons why people might choose not to build the practice. And at the end of the day, really, you’re gonna get out what you put into it if you never download the app, if you never, you know, use some sort of digital tracker so that you can monitor your check-ins and see how you’re doing over time.

The number one most important benefit of doing the check-in is just asking yourselves those two questions. So I would strongly encourage, even if you don’t want to download an app. Obviously, I’d like you to, at the end of the day, doing the practice itself. You’re going to see results, you’re going to see benefits if you make it a consistent habit. And to your point, Tim, you’re not alone. This is the thing when it comes to moments and in periods of time where, you know, we’re feeling whatever those feelings are. And, you know, I’m not a big proponent of having positive and negative feelings. I just think that all feelings are feelings. But if what society kind of portrays more negative thoughts and feelings. And we’re going through a period of those feelings. I think that’s where it’s even more important, like you said, to check in with yourselves and to see what are some of the things that are going on in my life that aren’t always that kind of more negative feelings, because we do have all these cyclical emotions and feelings. And, you know, at any given time, there’s always moments of joy, happiness, excitement, curiosity.

So being able to really define and label and get that nuance, vocabulary of what that precise emotion is, that’s granularity is going to be a huge factor in determining how and where we can get help, but also to know who we maybe want to talk to this kind of stuff about because that is so important. And the deep stigmatization around mental health, around personal well-being and personal growth. It doesn’t need to be for one person. The check-in can be for all of those different types of people or different experiences that they’re going through. And it’s going to yield positive results where people are living healthier, happier lives.

Tim Reitsma

I love it, Sean. I know, we could probably talk for a couple of hours on the subject. And as we wrap up, you know, just like to remind our listeners of those two questions again. But, you know, I would love us to do a check-in with each other. Let’s do it right here on the podcast. So, you know, I’ll let you start. Ask me the two questions and I’m gonna ask you and then we’ll wrap up.

Sean Burke

Awesome. Well, I just checked in before this call, so, and not much has changed. I’m a 9 and I’m joyful. And if I can add a little bit of context as to why I had a great dance party this morning. Listen, some country music with my 2-year-old daughter at home.

Tim Reitsma

I love it. Yeah, it’s. Yeah. I was doing some line dancing with my kids before. Before they went off to school this morning myself. And so, you know, my check-in, my energy, how I’m feeling is an eight. And my word that has come to my mind this morning, I went for a super early morning walk and I am humbled. Just lots of cool things going on and in life. And so just purely humbled by that. And see. Wow. Just a simple two things it takes—I was watching the timer on the podcast—less than 30 seconds and it made you laugh and put a smile on my face. So it’s just that easy. So with that. Sean, thank you so much for joining me. We’ll make sure that we put a link to Checking In in the show notes and a link to you. And so people can find you, but you can find Checking In on the Apple App Store and it’s coming for Android shortly.

So for those who are listening, thank you so much. We’d love to always hear your feedback and comments. So had two people managing people dot com and with that, have a great day.

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