Isabelle Mercier: The Power of Zero Tolerance at TEDxStanleyPark (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of brand strategist Isabelle Mercier’s TEDx Talk: The Power of Zero Tolerance at TEDxStanleyPark conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the bio here.

 

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Isabelle Mercier – Brand strategist

So, there is a five-letter word that’s used by the majority of the human race every day. Many times a day actually, for some of us. Yet, this word has the power to kill. This simple combination of letters kills creativity, it kills individuality, it kills performance, and, worst of all, it kills dreams. And that word is: worry.

1980 was the year when I had my first face-to-face collision with worry. This is me. Oh, yeah. I’m nine years old on there, I am full of life, and, as you can see on this picture, I’m also completely unaware of my slight fashion deficiency. Let’s leave it at that, all right? Look at those glasses.

However, what you cannot see on this picture is that I am eaten alive by worry. Really? What do I have to worry about? I’m nine years old, for crying out loud! I’ve got a roof over my head, mortgage-free. I have food on the table, I have my favorite color pens in my pencil case. What more could a creative kid want, right?

Most importantly, I have parents who absolutely adore me. Yet, for an entire week, which, I’m going to tell you, felt like months, all my energy, all of it, is spent avoiding at all cost, one girl: Stephanie, the bully. Why? Because she has decided that, in order for me to prove my worth, I am to steal her a pack of cigarettes at the corner store. Really? Did you see that face earlier? That face over here? Does this look like the face of a criminal to you? No?

And “no” is precisely what I want to say to Stephanie. I want to say “no” to her, but, honestly, I can’t bear the thought of the consequences that my “no” could, and, in my nine-year-old head, would absolutely unleash.

So, my solution? I avoid her some more. Well, do you know how exhausting it is to be at avoidance mode 24/7? Well, I’m going to tell you. It’s a full-time job, that’s what it is. The shenanigans I did to avoid her, Oscar-winning performance is all I can say. Believe me, you do not want to mess with this girl. She is the biggest bully and she’s also the leader of my inner circle of friends, and I am petrified.

I don’t want to be known as a wuss, and I certainly don’t want to create my own social suicide at nine years old. Oh my God, I realized that my “no”, me saying “no” to her, could literally ruin my entire life. Remember, I’m nine years old. This is dramatic here.

So, the phone rings… and I quickly say to my mom, “Mom,” she’s right there – “remember the deal, right? ‘Je pas icitte!,'” I am not here.

Well, she answers the phone. To my surprise, I hear this, “Just a sec, Stephanie. Isabelle happens to be right here.”

“What?”

“Oh, yeah.” She leans in, hands me the phone, and says, “Isabelle, ‘Pauvre petite fille!'” Literal translation, “Poor little girl!” Actual meaning, though, in her tone of voice, “Why? Why are you doing this to yourself?” And she went on and said — in French, of course, but I’ll spare you — she said, “Do not, I repeat, do not be afraid to speak your truth. If you can’t say no to what you don’t want, Isabelle, you will never have the time and the energy for what you do want.” Yes. Thank you.

However — however nice this was at the time, I was livid. Livid! I am livid, but yeah, in that moment, my life changes forever. Yes, I do muster the guts to say no to Stephanie, the bully, thank you very much. And no, my world doesn’t implode, it actually expands. And, as a result of that, over the years, I became completely obsessed with what causes worry versus peace of mind. And I noticed a very interesting pattern — a pattern that helped me uncover the culprit that leads to most of what we worry about and that robs us of our peace of mind, and it goes like this: What you tolerate you worry about.

What you tolerate you worry about. What I’m saying is what you are tolerating right now you are worrying about. Meaning, when you say “yes” and you really want to say “no” — you know those moments where all you want to do is say no, or should say no? — is what you tolerate, and what you tolerate will always, sooner or later, drive you to worry.

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Now, would it surprise you to know that 95% of North Americans either go to bed or wake up worrying about something every single day? We, ladies and gentlemen, are a bunch of professional worryaholics. In fact, we worry so much nowadays that the phrase “I’m thinking about this” has now culturally been replaced by “I’m worrying about this.”

Yet, 40% of what we worry about will never happen. It will never happen. That, my friends, is like putting a 40% down payment on a house you’ll never own. How ridiculous would that be, right? Putting a 40% down payment on a house you’ll never see, smell, experience, or own.

Yet, when it comes to worry, we do it every day. 30% of what we worry about — get this — has already happened. Has anyone ever accidentally hit “reply all” — on a massive rant email that was meant for Bob’s eyes only? Need I say more?

12% of what we worry about are needless worries about our health. For example, you got a headache for three days in a row, and, boom! You are worried about a brain tumor. Oh, and if you have the brilliance of consulting with “Dr. Google,” now you go from having a brain tumor to having six months left to live, right?

10% of what we worry about are petty miscellaneous worries, like what to cook for dinner, or what shoes to wear for a TED Talk, for example.

Now, I don’t know if you’re calculating this, but that leaves 8% for real, legitimate worries, eight percent, which means that 92% of what we’re worrying about is complete nonsense, and that nonsense, by the way, not only keeps us from being at our best — oh, no — it keeps us from actually living.

So, what if, what if we took all this energy that we used to worry about this crazy 92%, and what if we repurposed it? What if we repurposed it to do something good, something positive? How about this? Something tangible might be nice.

Well, as a very proud recovering worryaholic myself, and a strong believer that we’re all on a journey to increase what I call our units of happiness, our peace of mind, I created a simple formula to help me basically repurpose this crazy 92% and quickly snap me out of the rabbit hole of worry that I find myself in on a regular basis — and, if I’m to be transparent with you today, absolutely every day, including this very moment.

And I call this my “HERO” formula. “H” is for “Hush.” First, you’ve got to hush the noise and hush the chatter, upstairs, in the drawer, so that you can reconnect with what you truly want. What do you wholeheartedly believe in? What are your non-negotiables? What are you willing or not willing to do to get from here to there? “Yes, I want you to come for a visit. No, you cannot stay 30 days.” “Yes, I will donate $50 to your school fundraiser, but no, in no way, shape or form, will I bake 250 cookies. Believe me, you wouldn’t want them.” “Yes, I want to work with you, but, no, you cannot take 90 days to pay me. I am not a bank.” Because what you tolerate you worry about.

“E” is for “Evaluate.” Evaluate what and who you are tolerating in your life. Are you tolerating a jam-packed schedule every day? How about high-maintenance clients, right? How many of those are slowly but surely dimming your light? How many of you — and this will require a little honesty on your part — how many of you, show of hands, have one special, ever so special, family member? Oh, and, if your hand is not up, here’s a hint. It might be you!

So, basically, what and who is causing you more gray hair than it’s worth, and what difficult conversation do you need to have? Because what you tolerate you worry about.

“R” is for “Ritualize.” Ritualize the habits that have the potential to bring your best self, bring your best “you” to life. Elizabeth Gilbert, Arianna Huffington, Richard Brandson, Michael Jordan. What do they all have in common? Well, apart of course from being game changers and trailblazers like we know them to be, they all have a few simple daily rituals to be and stay at their best. Not working past 3 o’clock in the afternoon, for example. Wouldn’t that be nice? Sleeping eight hours a night. Now that is a concept this girl here has no idea about, because I’m about halfway there on that one. Having daily inspiration time, which I call “me time.” Just ask my partner how intolerable I am without my morning yoga.

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Now, keep in mind that not all rituals have a positive impact. Oh, no, that would be way too easy, wouldn’t it? How many of you have one of these bad boys, and look at emails within one hour of waking up? Bad news for you. This little habit alone is proven to reduce your performance by 27%. Don’t think that’s much? Add that to the crazy 92% of useless worry, and you might just have yourself a recipe for disaster.

Successful people know that their performance is a direct result of their daily habits and of their daily rituals. They truly do know what they need to be and stay at their best.

So, I’m curious. What’s your winning ritual? Is it an early-morning walk before the kids get up? Is it a hot bath at the end of every day to melt all that stress away? Good idea for me today. Or is it as simple as watching an inspirational TED Talk before going to work? What do you need to do, on a regular basis, to feel happy, healthy, and fulfilled, instead of being worried?

And, most importantly, what the heck are you tolerating that is keeping you from doing it? Because what you tolerate you worry about.

Hush, evaluate, ritualize, and finally my absolute favorite: “Own.” See, it’s not enough to know it, you’ve got to own it. Own what you stand for. Own your non-negotiables. Own the fact that you are responsible for what you choose to worry about, and that, as of today, right now, you will no longer tolerate the things, the people, and the habits that are causing you to worry. Peace of mind is a choice. It’s a choice that requires a lot of commitment, I’ll grant you that. It’s also a choice that requires a whole lot of guts and courage. Why? Because it’s not easy to say “no” to someone we love, of course it’s not, but it’s freeing.

No, it is not easy to go to the gym day in and day out after long, hard days at work, it’s not, but it’s energizing. And it is certainly not easy to treat ourselves as importantly as we treat everyone else, but it is massively rewarding.

So, the next time you worry about something, first remember you’ve got a 92% chance that what you’re worrying about is a total waste of time and energy.

Second, apply the HERO formula — hush, evaluate, ritualize, and own — and ask yourself, “What am I tolerating? Who am I putting up with?” And, if all hell breaks loose and you can’t remember the HERO formula — which probably will happen, right? — here is my backup plan for you: I want you to set yourself a date with worry. Oh yeah, set a date with it.

A friend of mine has a time slot on Fridays reserved exclusively to worry. And I actually think it’s absolutely brilliant. As she goes through the week, and as worry hits her in the face, left, right, and center, here’s what she says, “Pause. Would you be part of the 92%? Probably. I will schedule you in. I will schedule you in and I will worry about you on Friday, between 10:00 and 10:30.” And, as ridiculous as this might sound, when Friday comes, how many worries are left in her worry slot, you think? Most of the time, none.

Now, I was nine years old when I embraced the HERO in me. Thank you to my mother. And, recently — Thank you. Recently, my mother had a nice, little opportunity to reconnect with the HERO in her. We’re sitting at the kitchen table, having the most intense and passionate conversation — as always in my family, there is no other kind; we are Quebeckers after all. When the phone rings, as I go to pick up the phone, I see my mother going, “Isabelle, je pas ici,” I’m not here. “Are you kidding me? This is way too good to be true. Who do I have to pay for this? Because I feel like we’ve been here before.”

Oh yes, oh yes. I lean in, hand her the phone, and say, like it’s payback time, “Mother, ‘pauvre petite fille!’ Don’t be afraid to speak your truth. If you can’t say ‘no’ to what you don’t want, you will never have the time and the energy for what you do want.” Don’t you just love karma?

So, my question for you is this: If — and “if” being the operative word here — if you are worrying and tolerating something or someone right now in your life, will you choose to worry, or will you choose to embrace the HERO in you? Thank you. Thank you.