In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, ICE Chief Operating Officer Alan Fredendall discusses the “golden triangle” or the foundation of personal & professional success where time, money, and autonomy overlap. Alan shares research supporting a direct relationship between money earned & happiness, as well as the importance of respecting time & autonomy in the workforce.
Take a listen to the podcast episode or read the full transcription below.
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Team, good morning. Welcome to the PT on ICE Daily Show. Happy Thanksgiving. We hope your Thursday morning is off to a fantastic start. We’re here on Thursday, Leadership Thursday, talking all things small business management, practice ownership, that sort of thing. Thursday, Thanksgiving Thursday, still means it is Gut Check Thursday. This week’s Gut Check Thursday is a little bit of a tradition around here at ICE. We are gonna do a hero workout called Burp. This is a very long bodyweight workout. Starts with 50 burpees, a 400-meter run, 100 pushups, a 400-meter run, 150 walking lunges, a 400-meter run, 200 air squats, a 400-meter run, and then now we’re going to come back down that pyramid. 150 walking lunges, 400-meter run, 100 pushups, 400-meter run, and then finally finishing with 50 burpees. So, very long workout. This is gonna take most human beings about an hour to finish. Obviously, you can tell a lot of redundancy in there with the running, the lunges, the air squats, and then the burpees and the pushups. So, if you do not have an hour today to work out, scale this. Cut all the gymnastics reps in half. Maybe cut the runs down. If you know you’re a better biker than a runner or something like that, sub out a rower or a bike for the run. Obviously, the more you reduce the volume, the less time it’s going to take. This workout is not for the faint of heart. This is going to make your upper body and lower body sore between all the lunges, squats, pushups, and burpees. But it is challenging. We love how simple it is. You don’t really need to warm up or really have any sort of particular skill or range of motion to do this workout. So that’s why we love Burp. Courses coming your way, I don’t want to bother you with those today. Check out p10ice.com, click the Our Courses tab, and see what’s coming your way. We do have a couple more weekends of live courses starting back up again next weekend before we take our final holiday break over Christmas and New Year’s. So check out ptonice.com and click on our courses if you’re interested in jumping into a live course before the end of the year.
THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE
Today I want to talk about a concept that I call the golden triangle. Talking about when folks reach out and they describe maybe an employment situation that they are not happy with. This is kind of how I evaluate what I think of the three pillars to success when you are not only working for someone else but just working in general. Even if you are self-employed, even if you do run your own business, carefully managing the three sides of this triangle, I believe is really important for your own personal and professional success, but also for those of you leading others in charge of others, I think even more important to fundamentally understand these concepts. So those three concepts are money, time, and autonomy, and we’re gonna break each of those down here in a little bit. I want to start here though first, and this may be a weird place to start, but I promise we’ll bring it back around again. I want to talk about what is the role of the human brain. A lot of us may think the human brain is for high-level computations and calculating the physics of a black hole, but that’s not how most people’s brains work. That’s how very few amount of people’s brains work, but for most of us, Our brain is a survival mechanism. It is a comparative analysis engine. And it’s really good at making comparisons. Your brain is making one billion billion calculations per second. That’s a one with 18 zeros. That is a million times faster than today’s standard cell phone laptop or desktop computer. We call that an exaflop. It is the most powerful processor on the planet. It is always gathering data, both internally and externally, and making comparisons. Am I hot? Am I cold? Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Am I not making enough money? Is my coworker making more money than me? Is my boss doing better than me because I noticed that he just bought a speedboat? Those sorts of things. Yes, very basic survival mechanisms, but also higher-level stuff. And that kind of brings up the next point of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If our brain is this comparative analysis engine, what is it really focusing on? Well, psychologists would say it’s focusing on comparing ourselves on this pyramid, this hierarchy of needs, where at the base we have our physiological needs. Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Am I tired? The next level up is safety and security. Do I have a safe place to rest and sleep at night? Do I have a place maybe that in my mind when I compare to others I call my home? The next level up, the third level, love and belonging. Do I have friends? Do I have a family? Am I raising children? Not only do I have them, but do I feel like I’m thriving in those relationships? And now as we get to the top of that pyramid and we approach that peak, the fourth level is esteem and the last level is actual actualization, self-actualization. So do I feel like I am doing something meaningful, and do I feel like I’m doing something meaningful very well basically You know what is my life’s work, and how am I doing at that? And now the brain is always comparing both to environmental factors and to other human beings where we sit on that hierarchy. Trying to chase the top tiers before addressing the bottom, I think is the cause of a lot of dissatisfaction in our daily lives. So shelving that for a little bit, the brain is a comparative analysis engine and hierarchy of needs. Let’s get back and talk about the golden triangle.
The first I want to address is money. Money is uncomfortable for some people to talk about. It’s often a pain point for almost every single one of us. I think really understanding that about three-fourths of people live paycheck to paycheck and about half of all people now work two or more jobs. really helps us understand that we’re not alone in being concerned about money. Most people are concerned about money, but also that it’s okay to be concerned about money, right? That kind of sits at the base of that pyramid of those physiological needs, that safety and security. We do need money in modern society to do things like buy food and pay the rent on our apartment or the mortgage on our house. There’s often an adage of don’t focus too much on money because money can’t buy everything or money can’t buy happiness. And I would refute that. I would say that that is categorically untrue. We have some really interesting research from the 90s and 2000s that found money and happiness do correlate. There seems to be a plateau, at least in the earlier research, of around $100,000. Research from the 90s and early 2000s found that if you make about $100,000 a year, The more money you make. beyond that doesn’t really seem to increase your happiness. Now, the thing to recognize is that if you’re not making that, there is room for happiness between that and $100,000. New research, specifically from this year, an article from Killingsworth, I love that name, Dr. Killingsworth and colleagues, this year, March 2023, from the Journal of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, titled, Income and Emotional Wellbeing, a Conflict Resolved. Strong title, I like it, let’s talk about it. These folks repeated the studies, some of it their own research from the 90s and 2000s, and they’re looking specifically at the relationship between income level and happiness. What they found this time is interesting that folks tend to fall into categorization buckets. Hey, we know all about that in physical therapy, right? What are these buckets? Well, human beings tend to fall into three different buckets. The first bucket is what they labeled as the least happy group. These were folks who kind of demonstrated the same results as the initial studies, where these folks seem to have a happiness plateau at about $100,000. What does that tell us? That tells us this group of people is probably motivated enough by money that once those initial levels of the pyramid are met, they’re able to feed themselves every day. They’re no longer worried about their next meal or making the rent or paying their bills. Beyond that, they don’t seem to get any more happiness from an increased amount of income, right? So this could be somebody who, I imagine these people is the folks from the documentaries that have to you know free climb El Capitan or summon a mountain or something of that’s really what drives their brain and kind of their intrinsic motivation and having enough money to do that stuff gets them to the level of happiness where they can pursue other things. The next group of people they labeled, the researchers labeled the medium happy group. These folks had a linear increase even beyond $100,000 a year with happiness and income. And then the highest happiness group had an exponential increase with income beyond $100,000. They could not seem to get enough money. Money on the opposite side of the least happy group, these folks seemed to be almost entirely intrinsically motivated by accumulating wealth, right? So these are our oil barons and our real estate moguls, our Warren Buffets maybe, folks who have a high value on money and its worth in their life. And then most of us are probably in that medium happy group. As we continue to make more money, we’re able to buy nicer things, but it doesn’t necessarily define us, but we do like to have that money. All that being said, there is a direct relationship between money and happiness. It’s really important we recognize that paying people well, of feeling like the work that you do is rewarded with the amount of money that you place value on, is recognized both yourself personally, but also when you’re leading others. What I found over my career Keep in mind, I’ve been working full time since I was 12 years old for about 25 years, is that the folks who tell you there isn’t money for a raise, there isn’t money for bonuses, or even that they maybe need to take money away from you, are telling you that because they don’t want to give you more of the company’s money, right? There is always more money, especially in the context of physical therapy, for an increase in your wages. We all have what we would refer to as a revenue-neutral position, which means the revenue you generate from the work you do is creating more wealth than what you are taking back from the company. I can’t imagine a situation where a physical therapist would be getting paid more than what the clinic is collecting in revenue for those patients being seen. So it’s really tough to talk about. I recognize that it can be awkward. It can be weird. It can be upsetting to personal and professional relationships, but I promise you when you draw a firmer line than the sand around what you’re paid, when your comparative analysis engine is telling you, you’re not being rewarded for the time you’re putting in. That can be a pain point for dissatisfaction and the research would support that you are not wrong in believing that the money you’re currently being paid and the money you think you would like to be paid is creating a happiness gap. It literally is, right? Killing’s worth 2023. Messing with people’s money on the leadership side is a recipe for disaster. It is never okay to cut someone’s pay, to inflict some sort of monetary penalty aside from something catastrophic, right? Dave accidentally drove his car into the clinic and destroyed the clinic. Okay, Dave, you got to pay for that, right, man? But aside from really rare, unbelievable, catastrophic stuff like that. There’s no reason to inflict a monetary penalty on someone or to take their benefits away. An example I have of this is my time in the army where if you messed up, if you were late to duty, If you didn’t shave, you could be punished monetarily for that, right? It was called in Article 15, it is non-judicial punishment. That means usually you have to work extra duty and it usually means that they cut your pay that month. And that really puts a strain on people, especially in the context of the military where they’re not already making a lot of money. And I fondly remember watching people have half their paycheck, all their paycheck taken away, and just instantly how it ruined that person, it ruined their career trajectory. So without a doubt, as a leader, that’s something you do not want to mess with. We saw that mess with a lot during COVID-19. We saw pay being cut, and we saw benefits being removed, and then not returned. And it’s no surprise that now, several years removed, we have the era of time that we now live in, what we call the Great Resignation, where folks are more than happy to say, give me a raise or I’m leaving, and they will literally leave, right? And for us as practice managers and owners, that’s devastating. Attrition is one of the highest costs you can encounter, and you need to avoid it at all costs. When someone leaves, it’s going to cost you $3,500 for every $10,000 that person makes. That’s money you won’t get back on maybe trading you did with them, time you spent with them, money and time you’re now going to need to spend trading somebody else. And then of course lost revenue because that person is no longer working for you generating revenue. So keep that in mind when you’re thinking, I’m going to withhold raises, I’m going to withhold bonuses, I’m going to otherwise inflict some sort of monetary penalty. It never goes well. And again, it’s okay if money is a pain point for you personally, and if it’s a pain point for the people underneath you that you’re leading. Pay should always increase over time to match inflation at the minimum. I have said this a thousand times and I will say it a thousand times more. Every year you do not get a raise, you are taking a pay cut because everything in your life now costs more money to buy. So keep that in mind. I will beat that dead horse until we’re all on the same page about that. And finally, I think this is something no one wants to hear. Both those of you who are maybe unsatisfied with your position because of the money and those of us leading others it is okay for people to leave a position if it’s not working out for them financially, right? You cannot feed your kids with the promises of potential future money. Your landlord will not accept the ambitious dreams of your clinic owner and payment for your mortgage. and you cannot get any sort of retirement return on zero dollars invested. So it is okay to move on if this is a pain point that doesn’t seem to be addressed. So money is the first part of our golden triangle.
The second part is time. Time is a finite resource that we’re all running out of. I think every day now the moment I turn 37, I am statistically halfway dead. And statistically, every day beyond that point is that much time left I have on Earth. Time is interesting. Some folks don’t feel the value at all. Some folks tend to place a great emphasis on it, maybe even more so than anything else. Humans are the only creatures that can perceive time, so I think it’s unique that we’re able to perceive the flow of time, and we’re kind of aware of moments where we have maybe too much time that we might call boredom, and moments where we feel pressed for time. A lot of us, the majority of the human race, will spend most of our lives using our time to generate money and then trying to use some of that money to buy some of our time back. And that’s the way it is, even if it is a little bit sad. But I think recognizing that that’s how most of us are going to move through life is important. For some people, time will always be more valuable than money. It does not matter how much you offer someone, how much you may offer them for overtime, whatever, their time doing other stuff is important. There are those people, the clock strikes five, they’re out of there and we need to understand and respect that that is one of their values and work around that in whatever way we can. Very few people though, even folks who maybe don’t seem to value their time a lot, very few people do not like to have their time wasted for no reason. And this happens a lot in life. It happens a lot in day-to-day life. It happens a lot in the workplace. Think of every situation where you’ve shown up early or stayed late for a meeting or some other event that was canceled delayed or rescheduled even without notifying the people currently sitting and waiting there for that to happen. Every time someone schedules a meeting with me and doesn’t show up, that’s a strike in my mind against that person. Very few of us have the tolerance to have our time completely wasted in that manner. but it happens a lot and it happens a lot in the context of the physical therapy workforce. Think about how many times you’ve come to work and the first two patients on your schedule have canceled or rescheduled, right? And you’re thinking, what the heck? Why didn’t anybody text me or call me, right? I could have gone to the bank or I could have sat and had breakfast with my kids at home or any, literally anything else would have been a more valuable use of your time. We also, are often asked to work in situations where we know it’s not a good use of our time, right? I think of every time I have been asked in the past to work on Christmas Eve, right? Especially in the context of patient care. I know as soon as I’m asked to work on Christmas Eve that no one is going to come to their appointment on Christmas Eve. I remember it’s burned in my brain, I spent one Christmas Eve with a completely wiped-out schedule, laying on a treatment table, and I watched all six Rocky movies in a row, right? I watched like eight hours of Rocky movies and did not see a single patient. What a monstrous waste of my time, and the clinic’s money, just a bad situation for everybody. The Japanese have a term for that. It’s called “Isogaghii” is the act of pretending to be busy. Even when you have nothing to do, we hate that. That is not something that we should encourage. If you don’t currently have something to do, don’t be here. I live my life by that model. When I catch people sitting in the clinic and they’re just kind of pushing buttons on a computer, I always ask, what are you doing here? Oh, you know, I’m, you know, final, I’m like, okay, go, go home, right? Go away. No “Isogashii”. We do not need you to sit at your computer doing nothing until 9 pm just to appear busy. So that’s money. That’s time.
The last part of the triangle is autonomy and independence. It’s important to know that we developed this very early, and we all have a strong sense of it, even if we don’t voice that it’s one of our values, right? I think of my son, he’s about to be 11 months old. A couple of months ago, we were hand-feeding him, already he has that sense of autonomy. Now when I go to feed him, he slaps the food out of my hand, and then he grabs it and feeds himself, right? He’s already expressing, hey, I’m not a baby. I don’t need you to hand-feed me. I can feed myself, right? And that’s already present in very, very small children, right? Those of you with toddlers, you know, that independent streak starts and doesn’t stop. Those of you, especially with teenagers, you know, it gets more aggressive. And then obviously all of us as adults, have a very strong sense of autonomy. Again, even if we don’t express it explicitly as one of our values. Just like time, autonomy is violated on a very regular basis in very unfortunate manners. This happens a lot in the workplace. A lot of you work for employers who control how you’re allowed to dress. how you’re allowed to speak and talk with your patients, how and when you’re allowed to perform very basic physiological functions about when you can eat food. Some of you work for employers that don’t let you eat or drink at work. You have to leave the building and eat outside by the dumpster like an animal because you’re not allowed to eat in the building because the owner or the manager doesn’t like the possibility of crumbs. That is a huge autonomy violation. We also see this in our workflow as well. A lot of us are performing unnecessary documentation so that someone can check our work, right? So that someone can audit our notes just for the purposes of having a checklist where they audit our notes, right? It serves no actual purpose as it relates to helping the patient by documenting what we did with the patient. And for those of us who take insurance, create a claim that goes to the insurance company. There is no point where it’s required that all of these extra processes that we add to our workday are mandated. Nonetheless, many of us work for an employer who has all of this extra work, all of these extra checks on our autonomy just to have extra checks. That’s very insulting and it creates a lot of redundant work that also simultaneously affects our time. So we are getting a one-two punch of time and autonomy when we’re doing a bunch of busy work that doesn’t respect our time. It doesn’t respect that we’re independent clinicians who have often been working a while with a bunch of advanced education. The final thing I’ll say here is that what you’ll unfortunately find is that leaders who micromanage more, and who place more limitations on autonomy are often the same leaders who have minimal or no restrictions on their own autonomy, right? The person who is a stickler about a dress code is often the person in the office in shorts and a t-shirt and sandals working on the computer, right? So be mindful of those things. As you are maybe seeking out a new position or evaluating your current position, there’s no double standard on autonomy.
THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE AS A ROBUST BASE FOR SATISFACTION
So the golden triangle, the interdependence between these three things builds a very robust base personally and professionally. However, I think it’s very important to note that if we take our comparative analysis engine in our brain and compare it to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, What some of us are doing is trying to aim for the very top of the pyramid, aiming for esteem, aiming for self-actualization, and trying to become the best physical therapist that can be when those other bases of the pyramid are not being met, right? We don’t have our basic needs met because we don’t have enough money coming in. We don’t have control over our time. We don’t have control over our autonomy. We talked last week about the pitfalls of social media, trying to make you think that the reason that you’re unhappy is you’re not buying enough stuff or consuming enough content. With that stuff in that content, mainly being focused on trying to push you to the top of the hierarchy of the needs when really what you need to do is address the base, meet those basic physiological needs, safety, security, love, Make sure that time, money, autonomy are on board before you consider purchasing that $10,000 self-help retreat or the mentorship program or the mindset program. I think a lot of our perceptions of concepts like burnout or imposter syndrome are really just the result of our comparative analysis engine and our skull recognizing differences and asymmetries between what we’re doing every day and the results we’re either achieving or not achieving compared to other people. And when we look and step back and look at this golden triangle, we see, okay, I am not making the money I think I should, especially compared to my peers. My time is not being respected. I’m working more than I think I should to make the money I’m making. And oh, by the way, I’m being treated Like an infant at work by having a dress code and having all of these extra redundant Processes at work that I need to do that consume more of my time and we are always again It is part of our survival. It’s hardwired in our brains to make these comparisons. We’re always consciously aware of the time and the work and the money and the autonomy compared especially to other people and kind of comparing again back to that hierarchy of needs. And that if we allow one or two or all sides of this triangle to be violated, that’s where we find a lot of frustration, and trying to jump your way to the top is not going to get you there. You need to address that base. When folks reached out and they described their appointment situation, I used to be a lot more polite with my thoughts when people emailed us and said, what do you think? I’m seeing 20 patients a day. I’m making $62,000 a year. And every month that I see more than 250 patients, I get a $500 productivity bonus. What do you think? I used to be a lot more polite when answering those emails. I am not polite anymore, right? A lot of the dissatisfaction, a lot of the burnout, I hate that term, a lot of the burnout, though, can probably be addressed if we’re a little bit more firm and reinforcing and adhering to our values of Again, money, time, autonomy, are all of those things in place? Okay, now we can begin to look more up that hierarchy, begin to pursue maybe specialization, become the best physical therapist we can be, or even if that’s not something you value, the best whatever you see yourself becoming. But again, we can’t get there if we don’t address the base. Doing anything else is just addressing the symptoms. It’s not addressing the root cause, right? We need to address the root cause first. We can’t just keep treating the symptoms by buying stuff and taking vacations and that sort of thing to try to solve the unhappiness that we’re perceiving. We need to know that it’s all related and that we need to address it first before we can begin to kind of reach beyond the top of that pyramid. So I hope this was helpful. I would love to hear any feedback or comments you all have. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and we’ll see you all tomorrow. We’re gonna talk about rowing.
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