I recently had the pleasure of talking with my colleague, Justin Jones-Fosu, diversity speaker and author of Your WHY Matters NOW: How Some Achieve More and Others Don’t. Justin interviewed me about my new book, Banish Burnout Toolkit.

Justin Jones-Fosu: We’re going to dive in to find out practical ways and strategies to reduce stress, no matter who you are or where you are. Janice, I’m super pumped to talk with you.

So one of the things that I’m really passionate about is why. My last book was focused on understanding our why in whatever we do. I’m just curious to know for you: why did you write Banish Burnout Toolkit? What was your motivation? What was your reasoning, that underlying urge to write this book?

Janice Litvin: It all began when a client called me a few years ago and said, “Can you do a presentation about stress? But we don’t want your typical mindfulness, nutrition, fitness presentation, though self-care is important. We want you to go deep.” And I was like, “Yes let’s go deep. So I created the Banish Burnout: Move from Stress to Success workshop, based on my studies of cognitive behavior therapy and research from my experience as a technology recruiter and a lot of college psychology classes.

The Banish Burnout program is based on the premise that everyone can change their behavior in reaction to stress. Every time I did the workshop I was enhancing the handouts, and finally, one day, I thought I should develop this into a book. So that was the genesis of the Banish Burnout Toolkit.

Justin Jones-Fosu: Wow it’s always great when you are able to find things that come from just helping people. So you are focused on helping people. You talk about six tools and I’m curious to know which of the tools is your favorite?

Janice Litvin: You know that’s funny. All of my tools are my favorites, but I guess the tool that I want to talk about today is the first tool which is STOP and AUDIT. And the reason it’s my favorite is because it’s the easiest change that you can start working on today.

S-T-O-P, which stands for Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and Proceed. When you’re in the midst of negative thoughts that could be when you’re fighting traffic or in a long line or when you’re having a disagreement with someone at work, you can STOP. When you feel the heat rising up inside you and before you say something you might regret, you can STOP, TAKE A BREATH, OBSERVE what your mind is doing and put the control back to your Pre-frontal cortex, your rational executive functioning, and then PROCEED.

To take the OBSERVE, part one step further, I created something called a Stress Audit, so you can look at how you typically react to stress. We start with physiological reactions. Sometimes our heart races, some people get knots in their stomach sweaty palms etc.

And then you write down what happened, how you reacted physically, verbally, emotionally, how upset you got, and what, if any addictive behavior you engaged in. So that’s STOP and AUDIT. That’s Tool #1.

JJF: I like that tool; that’s an amazing tool. One of the things that comes to mind is what I focus on – diversity and inclusion. How do we make diversity and inclusion, a part of our everyday lives versus a big mandate or big initiative, just a part of our mindset applying your Tool #1, Stop & Audit?

It could be really practical as it relates to engaging with those of us that are different, or being in a stressful situation or talking about stressful issues. Is that tool, or any of your other tools for people to have conversations around diversity and inclusion, which can be challenging conversations to have that may affect your stress levels?

JL: I’m glad you brought that up. Diversity and inclusion is extremely important at work and at home and everywhere else. We were just having that conversation last night around the dinner table. What makes people not appreciate other types of people, whether it’s bias against religion, skin color or different country of origin? The issue comes from the fact that we don’t know the other person, as an individual. Many people make assumptions based on previous people they’ve known or heard about. I think people are afraid of differences. I think that is why many countries go to war.

There are so many issues that separate us, and so my recommendation would be, why not get to know the person, why not really get deeply involved in who the other person is and what our similarities are rather than our differences. Let’s open up our world.

It would help with our social lives, which is another part of banishing burnout, loneliness, which is a huge issue in the workplace, these days, and even now with quarantining people. It’s really, really important to stay connected in whatever way you can with zoom or taking a socially-distanced walk with someone outside.

So getting back to D & I, it’s important to get to know the other person. Find out what makes them tick, by asking questions and being emotionally intelligent and empathetic to what they are experiencing.

JJF: Wow, that’s a great answer and a great way to really dive into the aspects of diversity and inclusion. In a nutshell, it’s a sense of belonging. People want to feel like they belong, no matter who they are, what they represent, or how they identify.

Just speaking of identification, one of the things that comes to mind is that there are a lot of books on stress, relieving stress, and managing stress. What makes your book unique, one that really stands out so that someone will say, “This is one that will rise to the top for me?”

JL: Based on my research, as I was preparing to write the book, I realized that a lot of people are focused on mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and nutrition. All those aspects and activities are very important, but Banish Burnout Toolkit picks up where other stress management books leave off. Where most books don’t go is deep.

The only way to really manage stress is to learn to change the way you react in the first place, and the only way to do that is to go deep. In Tool #3, we “Unpack Your Emotional Baggage.” A lot of people come to work with emotional baggage, which means they haven’t resolved the issues from their past.

That past could be childhood, or it could be a prior job. Some people carry issues around from one place to the other. The way you can tell if you are carrying around baggage or someone else at work is carrying around baggage is when their behavior seems a little out of character or extreme. By that I mean, let’s say you’re talking to someone and you give them a suggestion or constructive critique and they overreact.

This is very important for all of us, but especially for you managers. When you see an employee exhibiting aberrant behavior, it’s time to do something like taking them aside privately. When we get back to normal, take them out for coffee or go for a walk with them and say, “I see your behavior is a little bit unusual for you. Is everything okay? What can I do to help you? Would you like to talk to somebody in the EAP department, or what can we do to help you get what you need? Is somebody at home sick? What’s going on? How’s Billy; I know Billy plays baseball on the weekends; did he get hurt again?”

There was built into there a few different issues. Knowing the names of the two most important people in every employee’s life is a real key to emotional intelligence for the managers.

JJF: That’s a great suggestion and action step. If you do not know the names of the two most important people, listen to Janice. She has great information.

Speaking of great information, one of the things that 2020 provided for us and it’s kind of launched us into 2021 is a deeper emphasis on self-care. So can you talk about how Banish Burnout Toolkit really inspires people to do better in taking care of themselves?

JL: You know, it only takes five or ten minutes a day to take care of ourselves, and I’m being a little facetious. What I mean by that is… if something did happen during the day that was upsetting take five or ten minutes to work the Stress Audit.

When you write with a pen and paper, you learn what’s bothering you beneath the surface. Daniel pink says that you don’t know what’s going to come out until you start writing, and there are other authors who talk about that as well. Writing down how you feel brings out other issues that you have deeper in your subconscious.

JJF: So you talked about your number one tool Tool #1. Can you go through the other five tools and just a quick synopsis of how they can benefit the everyday person?

JL: Sure, so we talked about Tool #1, STOP and AUDIT.

Tool #2, Know Your Stress, is learning what the typical stress reactions are. The basic ones are overreaction and overgeneralization. For example, “Oh my gosh, my car won’t start. Now I need a new car.”

Well is that really true or is it just maybe that the battery is dead or something else is going on in the engine? And you just need to go to the repair shop. So that’s an example of overreacting.

Overgeneralizing – an example is: “The service at that restaurant is always terrible” Well is it really always terrible or is it just tonight somebody called in sick and they’re short-staffed.

So, first of all, recognizing what the typical stress reactions are. Then we put a reality spin on them, so that we can learn to calm ourselves down and like I said put control back to the Pre-frontal cortex. So all of that is tool number two.

Tool #3 is digging into our emotional baggage to understand what makes us over-react when a situation is not really that big a deal.

Tool #4 Practice Self-Care is about physical self-care – fitness, sleep, nutrition, and taking a walk  – getting out in the sun.

Tool #5 is Setting Healthy Boundaries another big important thing to learn. Basically it’s learning how to say no, with respect and to manage up at work.

Tool #6 is about finding an accountability buddy because we don’t want people to isolate. We want people to have someone at work to share ideas with, maybe role play some difficult conversations, or just help each other stay on track.

JJF: Oh, it’s amazing to see the practical aspects of this book, and one of the things I think that makes you unique in the writing of this book is this combination of your passion, your experience, and your expertise. So how has your expertise prepared you to write a book that is not only inspiring, but also very practical for people?

JL: It all started during the recession, when I had to figure out something new to do. I had been a technology recruiter for 20 plus years. So I knew a lot about human behavior and helping people, but I hadn’t really focused on self-care and wellness.

When there’s a recession and you have nothing to do what should you do and i’m sure you’ll agree with me, Justin, that’s the time to go to the gym and take care of our bodies, practice some self-care. So that’s what I did and found Zumba Fitness. Then I became a Zumba Fitness instructor and the week that I reached my goal weight, I got certified to teach Zumba by our founder Beto Perez. That was a big experience for me, very meaningful.

So I began to teach Zumba, which I loved but I realized, I needed a new challenge, so I went back to school to study exercise science.  I studied anatomy, physiology, nutrition and psychology as well as how to develop exercise programs.

Then, I began speaking about fitness and intrinsic motivation, which, for those who don’t know, means learning to find pleasure from within, the good feelings you feel after you exercise.

You feel happy because you’ve released endorphins and dopamine because you’ve gone for a walk with a friend and the pride you feel from having taken care of yourself. All of that adds up to intrinsic motivation.

Then I went on a quest to get more involved with workplace wellness. I loved the psychology piece, and I read some books about cognitive behavior therapy and I realized that in my own life I had already used it to help me change my behavior around food. So the Zumba and the healthy eating and my studies of psychology all contributed to who I am today.

JJF: If I ask you one last question: In five years after someone has taken your workshop and brought you into speak to their employees and they’ve read your book, what’s different about that person?

JL: Wow very insightful question. What’s different about that person is that they’re not taking things so personally when someone is rude to them or has a disagreement with them. Learning that instead of getting defensive they stay calm and think before they speak.

Let me sum it up with a story. I was at the grocery store and I couldn’t find something I knew was there. I was getting really angry because I was tight on time and I had to get this gift for a friend’s birthday party. And I could hear the tapes playing in my head, “oh my gosh this is so stupid. How could this store be so disorganized? They told me they had this gift. Now I’m going to have to walk all the way back to the front and I’m going to be late.”

As I was walking back to the front to find some help, I caught myself in the act of overreacting and I said to myself, “Does this situation warrant this degree of anger? I don’t think so. No one’s in the hospital. No one’s broken their legs. No one is in a serious situation at home. Everything is okay in my life. Now I challenge you to go to the front and smile and say to the clerk, “How is your day going?”

And not make it all about me and spread the love and spread the cheer.

So that is how my life has changed. I’ve learned how to stop in the middle of an overreaction. It’s normal human behavior to react when we’re stressed out. But now what I’ve done is I’ve added a layer of control over my behavior.

You know we can’t control everything around us. The only thing we can control is ourselves and our reactions. So I’ve learned to take control of myself and my behavior which by the way, in my 20s was the extreme opposite.

And I’ve learned to stop, breathe deeply, observe my behavior and then proceed, and to change my outlook in the middle of a stressor and tell myself, “You have the ability to be happy, you have the ability to smile, and you have the ability to be nice to the other people around you.”

JJF: Wow I mean that’s very insightful, especially since you’re only 10 years removed from your extreme 20s, LOL.

How can people can find out more information about the book, where can they buy the book and where they can go to find out more about you and your workshop?

JL: The Banish Burnout Toolkit – you can actually download a free chapter of the book by going to http://www.JaniceLitvin.com/book and scroll down to the bottom. There will be a form where you can put in your name and email address to get the first chapter free. Also the book is available at Amazon or BN.com.

And, you can email me at Janice@JaniceLitvin.com for more information about how to engage me to come to your organization so that I can teach people all these lessons that I’ve talked about today, how to change their behavior and reactions to stress. I want to thank you so much, Justin for that very thoughtful interview.

JJF: Absolutely. You have learned to enjoy life, and also to provide practical strategies for people to live and work meaningfully and to deal with stress.


Justin Jones-Fosu is CEO of Work Meaningful and speaks about leadership and diversity. His upcoming book is entitled, The Inclusive Mindset: How to Cultivate Diversity in Your Everyday Life.