On the 275th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, we’re joined by Dan Clark. Dan is the CEO of Brain.FM, science-first functional music technology that supports focus, meditation, and sleep. In this episode, we uncover how neuroscience and music can work together to improve your productivity and trigger your flow state for maximum concentration.
- Having a moment of realization that makes you shift your focus to finding your purpose.
- Why it’s a good idea to try new (and impossible) things to build confidence and break through your comfort zone.
- How “no” will always be your answer if you never ask for what you want.
- How does functional music work to bring you to your flow state?
- The difference between functional music and Art music.
- The science behind getting into your flow state within 5 minutes.
- Can functional music help with ADHD and neurodiversity?
- Breaking down 3D sound and how it supports focus.
- Is it possible to train your brain to go from night owl to morning person?
- The differences in the focus, relaxation, and sleep modes of Brain.FM.
- Energy management as a business owner and CEO.
- How to make the most out of time with specific habits.
- Psychological triggers that help bring your brain into flow state.
- How to utilize your surroundings to enhance productivity.
- Creating a blueprint to help more people and driving your business forward by working backward.
- How to stay focused on one thing at a time when you have a multitude of visions.
- The importance of creating intentional space to move the needle toward specific goals.
- Why hiring support from experts, coaches, and consultants will save you time.
If you’ve ever wondered how music (or sounds) has the power to help with concentration and how you can take it a step further, be sure to listen in on this episode or check out the transcript below.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
The Copywriter Club In Real Life Event
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Brain.FM 30 day free trial
Rob Marsh: Discipline, focus, mindset, getting things done, these are the topics that Kira and I both find ourselves coming back to again and again, and they’re the things that we’re trying to practice from day to day, and we’re not alone. Lately, it feels like we’re hearing from a lot of copywriters who are struggling with their own focus. Some are even dealing with things like attention deficit disorder, and none of this is new. There have always been distractions in the workplace. It’s just that now that so many of us are working from home, we’re easily distracted by family members, virtual school, spouses, partners, pets, any number of things that keep us away from the work that we do.
If that sounds familiar to you, you’re going to like this episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Our guest is Dan Clark, the CEO of Brain.fm. That’s a music service that provides functional music designed to help you focus, sleep, and relax better. You might call it a Spotify for your brain. Dan talks about the science behind this unique music and how it relates to focus and flow state, neurodiversity, productivity, and managing your energy, but before we get to our interview with Dan, let me introduce my co-host for today’s episode. It’s Chanti Zak. Welcome back, Chanti.
Chanti Zak: Thank you so much. I am very excited to be here and talk about one of my favorite things.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. This is going to be fun. So longtime listeners are going to remember your name partly because it’s been mentioned by so many people who’ve been on the podcast, but also because we interviewed you way back in episode 54, where we talked about building quiz funnels. Chanti, you’re a growth strategist. You’re known as the queen of quizzes. You’re the founder of Empathy Marketing Ecosystem Agency. You’re the chief evangelists at Interact. You’re doing so many things that weren’t even in your mind the last time we talked on the podcast. So I’m really stoked to have you back.
Chanti Zak: Yeah, it’s been a minute and I am stoked to be back.
Rob Marsh: Plus, you’ve had a couple of kids, three kids, and yeah, you’re doing awesome, awesome stuff. I’m thrilled to have you here. So we also need to make sure that you know that this week’s sponsor is The Copywriter Club in Real Life. That’s our annual event for copywriters. This year, it’s scheduled from March 28th through the 30th in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s not your average event. You’ll hear from copywriters who should be familiar to you if you’ve listened to the podcast for a while, people like Mike Kim, and Brigitte Lyons, and Aly Goulet, and Jude Charles, but it’s not just presenters.
We know what it’s like to show up at an event as an introvert… (I’m an introvert. Kira’s an introvert.) and not actually know anyone. So we’ve structured the events so that you can’t leave without making a few friends, and among the 200 other copywriters that will be there, there’s tons of opportunities to do that, to have people who will support you in your copywriting business. I promise you’ll leave with a notebook full of actionable ideas that you can use to grow your own business and improve your processes.
If you’re interested in that, go to thecopywriterclub.com/tccirl-2022 to purchase a ticket now. You can find that link in our show notes. Chanti, you actually, well, the first time you and I met in person was at the very first TCCIRL.
Chanti Zak: Yeah. You know what? I was fidgeting with my fidget cube the other day that I won during the scavenger hunt that we did in New York City.
Rob Marsh: That’s right.
Chanti Zak: I was just thinking back to that time and how much fun it was. I got to serenade Ry Schwartz with Bohemian Rhapsody. We laughed so much. It definitely stands out in my brain as one of the most magical experiences. I mean, both of the live or have I been to three? I can’t even keep track anymore.
Rob Marsh: You’ve come to three because you were in San Diego, too, because you had your baby in San Diego, and you spoke on stage when we were in Brooklyn and gave this amazing talk where you had paddles and we had to walk across the room. People were going from one side of the room to the other. It was hilarious, and it was a ton of fun.
Chanti Zak: A quiz from stage, yeah.
Rob Marsh: Exactly. It was great.
Chanti Zak: Oh, my gosh!
Rob Marsh: It was so fun. Anyway, well, like I said, I’m thrilled that you’re here to talk about some of this stuff. So let’s get into our interview with Dan Clark and learn a little bit more about how he came to be involved with Brain.fm.
Dan Clark: So, to really start from the beginning, when I was younger, I was bullied mercilessly. My parents signed me up for martial arts, ended up getting my black belt, and then teaching other kids on how to be more confident and transformed kids from being shy to leaders. I was doing that for a while. I ended up getting involved in technology. I made my first website when I was 13, and I made the academy’s first website. They went from getting 20 leads a month to 120 leads a month. Before long, I had a little business making these martial arts websites to getting lead generation.
I went from helping people transform and using martial arts as a vehicle to do that to let’s just figure out what I can do with technology, and I really started optimizing for financial success. I kept doing more complicated things, selling and buying businesses, getting parts of businesses that I would help grow the next level. It wasn’t until I was a digital director of a company and selling TV and radio ads, which I actually realized that I wasn’t really happy.
So on the outside looking in, I was making really good money. I was doing all the things. I was pretty young at the time. I was 23 selling million dollar contracts, and I just felt like I wasn’t doing my purpose, so to speak. Then, I had a near life-or-death situation. I actually had a gun pointed at my face with one of my clients.
Kira Hug: A what?
Dan Clark: Long story there. Yeah. So what happened was I used to sell TV and radio. A lot of that I had to go to clubs and different kinds of things. We were leaving a club once and I actually had someone point a gun at me and it made me … I actually thought I was going to die. I didn’t, spoiler alert, but it made me really realize that my life got off track to what I really wanted to do, which is help people be the best version of themselves.
So I actually three days later quit my job up to the chagrin of my parents and people around me and walked away from everything, and I said, “How can I actually use technology and help people?” I was looking around for three months, and I remember trying Brain.fm for the first time. I was always very interested in tuning my focus, so to speak.
I used to work from 10:00 PM to 4:00 AM because I found that there was that magic moment where I could find this state where everything was effortless, and I could just go. Now, both of you and listeners may be familiar with now it’s called flow state, right? So I could find my flow state in that magic zone. I’ve tried everything. So I tried nutrition. I tried neutropics, which are different kinds of vitamins you can take. I’ve tried binaural beats and all these other kinds of things. I remember seeing Brain.fm and I was like, “Oh, well, this is probably binaural beats and this isn’t going to really work for me, but I’ll try it anyway.”
It was probably around the afternoon, like 10:00 AM or 12:00 PM, and I remember putting it on and listening to it, taking my headphones out for an hour later and being like, “Holy crap! This is going to change the world. I just want to be part of this thing.”
It was the first time that I could actually control that flow state by triggering it, by just listening to music. I was super skeptical. I remember digging into the science, really seeing like, “Is this real? Is this not? Is this placebo? What’s going on?” I changed my diet. I would do it at different times. I eventually found, “Wow! This is something that anyone can listen to no matter what language you speak, and it works across all varieties of individuals based on neuroscience.”
We could talk about that later, but I ended up calling the company 12 times. They finally talked to me and I said, “Listen, I just want to work for free for you guys. I really want to be part of this thing. I will provide value in this company.” Then I did that for about two to three months, ended up becoming lead of technology, building out their tech team. I actually eventually became CEO, and then a few years later, I ended up acquiring the company.
So it’s been a wild ride, but at the end of the day, it’s really been fueled by this mission to help people be their best version of themselves, and what is a tool set that we can enable people to do just that.
Rob Marsh: Okay. Yeah. Wild ride is maybe an underestimate. So as far as a negotiation tactic, gun to the head, positive, negative, it feels like maybe that doesn’t work so well.
Dan Clark: No.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, yeah. I mean, maybe you’re familiar with that metaphor. It’s like…Hey, if you had to make a decision with a gun to your head, or whatever, but here you talk about it, I’m thinking, “Okay. That’s maybe a bad metaphor. Maybe not the best driver.” Okay. So a real question, though, I want to go back to your involvement with martial arts because, for sure, we’ll talk about what Brain.fm does, but I’ve never been into martial arts. I know a few people who have, and they’ve talked about how it does help with control and focus and even at least physically getting into a flow state. Will you talk just a little bit about your experience there and maybe, is there something we can be doing physically that would help us before we start talking about some of the mental and environmental stuff that you do with Brain.fm?
Dan Clark: Yeah, of course. So I think martial arts, as well as other physical activities that are about precision, really build this physical connection with our brain. So while you’re practicing and while you’re learning, what happens is you have more control of your 3D space around you, right? Actually, I don’t practice martial arts daily anymore or weekly, but I can still move my hand and stop it like an inch before the light in front of me if I wanted to.
I think what’s interesting about that is the more you can understand about the space around you, it actually has some translative effect into your brain, into the way your mind is. In martial arts, again, we use this as a vehicle to transform people. So a lot of people you can’t just tell them, “Hey, be confident,” but what you do is you say, “Hey, let’s take something that you’re not good at, maybe it’s kicking, punching, whatever, and then we teach you how to do it,” and for the first time you realize you’re like, “Wow! I’m actually good at this thing. I’m learning. I can see myself getting better.” I think physically, it’s much easier to see that.
So it doesn’t have to be martial arts. It could be CrossFit or something that’s more personal, but if you can only lift a certain amount of weight and then a month later you can lift more weight, you can see progress. I think that translates to the confidence that we elicit in ourselves, and the ability to then explore that in different methods in things that are not as tangible, like our intelligence or our abilities, whether it be writing or speaking or whatever it may be. Does that make sense?
Rob Marsh: Yeah, definitely makes sense. I mean, it seems like there’s this principle where success in one area translates into success in a lot of areas. So being able to learn a new skill isn’t just good for the new skill, but it’s also good for your confidence in other areas as well.
Dan Clark: Yeah. That’s a great summary. I would definitely agree with that.
Kira Hug: So, I have young kids, and so when you shared your story about being bullied as a kid and then helping other kids go from shy, feeling shy or possibly being bullied to becoming leaders, that really grabbed me. So I guess as a two part question, how did martial arts help you? Did you feel that change in you immediately? Did it take a while? How did that work for you? Then as a follow-up, what would you recommend for parents today who are raising kids in this virtual environment where bullies are just all over the place? How can we help our kids with some specific examples?
Dan Clark: Yeah, and I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to jump into this. So I was bullied a lot to the point where I would cry every day before going to school. My parents would fight me and be like, “You have to go to school. This is how it goes.” I think that’s why they were searching for different tools on what they could equip me with to make things easier because that’s what tools are, right? We can loop back on this when we talk about Brain.fm.
I think the way martial arts helped me was twofold. One, it gave me some of the physical confidence to be able to stand up for myself. So what’s nice about martial arts is that it gives you confidence in your physicality. It gives you confidence in jumping to different levels of like video games almost where you’re like, “I’m good at something,” but it’s also really good because it matches with this physical ability to defend yourself. So you’re getting better at really practicing to defend yourself.
So if you stand up for yourself, you’re like, “Well, I have something to fall back on in case this doesn’t go well.” I think in the beginning, I was just humoring my parents to be completely honest. My brother really wanted to do it, and I ended up just going with him. I really fell in love with it and liked it.
So probably for the first two years it was just something cool that I was doing, but I didn’t really see the effects because it was fifth and sixth grade that I was really bullied, but when I went into seventh grade, which was me going to a different classroom and a different selection of peers, that’s when I was like, “Hey, I actually have the ability to change this,” and I stood up for myself for the first time. It was this empowerment that I’m actually extremely thankful for because it gave me the ability to realize as a child, I think, that if I want something or if I want to change something, I can just change it. Again, standing up for myself for the first time allowed me to do stuff like that.
So I would say that that’s been a huge thing for me and for a lot of children and people, even adults. We used to teach Krav Maga to women and men. The results that people would experience were amazing.
To the second part of your question, I think, how to raise kids in this world, so I’m not a parent right now, but that’s definitely in my future. The things that I think about a lot is creating, again, those right tools for parents to have for their kids, and then the right core values, and how do you instill those in your children, right?
So I guess this isn’t finalized, but it’s been something floating in my mind so I’m happy to dive in, but if one of your core values for your children is being curious, is being confident, is being able to express themselves, how do you have them go into practices that allow them to do that and be rewarded for such? Again, martial arts is one of those. Maybe art is another, but I think figuring out how do you really equip your child with the right values and the right skills will allow them to really flourish, but also if they’re blown off course from other individuals that are … People bully other people because they have their own wounds they’re trying to heal. If they’re equipped with understanding that, if they’re equipped with being able to have these tactics, I guess, I think that’s something that could serve them.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. I know Kira asked that question about kids, but it feels like there’s an application here to even adults who are starting something new. Obviously, there are a lot of copywriters, freelancers who are entering into new situations all the time like pitching a client or even starting out in business, and it feels like those same skills and ideas translate really well to what we’re trying to do.
Dan Clark: Yeah, 100%. I mean, I think anything you do for the first time is going to be scary, whether you’re kid or you’re adult, but the cool thing is that we can get through it, and that scariness is you hitting the bounds of your comfort zone. As you push your comfort zone, you get a resistance, but when you break through it, that’s how you become the next level of yourself. So it’s uncomfortable, but if it was easy, everyone would do it. I think that’s something I think about all the time.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. While we’re talking about this, I want to ask about your approach to Brain.fm. You’re on the outside. You’re basically begging for a job. Again, I see a lot of similarities to what we do as copywriters. We find these ideal clients we want to work with. Don’t know how to break in. Will you just talk a little bit about I guess the confidence, but also the sticktuitiveness that you had to have in order to get the answer, to get the job? What were you doing to foster that conversation?
Dan Clark: Yeah. So one of the best things anyone has ever told me was that no and not asking is the same thing, right? So if I don’t ask a girl on a date or if I don’t ask a client to work for them or if I don’t ask, I’m never going to get a yes. So I might as well get a no, and that’s one of the things that I was always looking for. So I was actually looking for a no. When I was talking to Brain.fm, knocking on their door, I never got the no so I just followed up and followed up, and I realize that that’s hard. That’s challenging for some people because they’re like, “Ah, they just don’t want to talk to me,” but I like to think about giving them the benefit of the doubt. So maybe they’re busy. Maybe they have other things going on with them. Maybe they have all these other things. Until I get a, “Hey, this is not something that I’m interested in,” I’m just going to keep following up in a very courteous, professional way and get that no and then I can move on, but until I get that, if I set a no, then I’m doing a disservice to myself.
Kira Hug: So what was that moment when you were there working or working for free and you were like, “I want to become CEO. I want to acquire this company. I am all in. This is my future.” What was that moment, and then what did you do afterward to actually take action?
Dan Clark: Yeah, that’s a great question. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that as a plan, to be honest. The real thing that ended up happening was I went all in on I’ll work for this company for free and help them get to the next level. I was like, “Oh, wait. There’s some stuff here,” and, “Oh, there’s some more stuff here and there’s more stuff here and there’s more stuff here.” What really has been the driving force has been the capacity to, “What do we need to take Brain.fm to the next level? How do we serve 25 million around the world and help them be their best version on demand?”
What’s happened slowly at the time was leading in technology, and then it was leading in some of the marketing stuff, and then it ended up leading the company, right? Then it was something where I was like, “You know what? I believe in this thing so much that this is somewhere I want to make my home, I guess, for however long it takes to achieve the goal.”
Then there was just financial and business sense to acquire the company, but it hasn’t been about the financial success or about necessarily being CEO or not. It’s more about what does the company need to be able to help more people. That’s something that’s been a driving force for me this whole time.
Rob Marsh: So let’s talk a little bit about Brain.fm and what it is. From an outsider’s perspective, it feels like you’re competing with Spotify or Apple music or maybe Sonos and some of those kinds of companies, but on the insider perspective, I’m guessing that you see it a little bit differently.
Dan Clark: Totally. Yeah. So starting from the top, Brain.fm we create functional music designed to help you focus, relax, and sleep better. So what we’re doing is we’re adding neuroscience with skilled musicians to create music that from the ground up shows that it can affect your brain, to affect your mental state. When you’re listening to our music, it’s designed to change blood flow in your brain, and it’s something that is not only something we create from scratch, but we’re doing it all with science-based principles. So we’re testing all this stuff with video games. We’re testing this stuff with FMRI, which is looking at blood activity and where it’s going in your brain and what parts of your brain it ends up moving to. We’re doing this with EEG, which is electrical impulses reading it from your brain.
What we’re really trying to do is align, well, people have been using music for thousands of years for getting a certain state. Then we’re trying to build it, modernize that and saying, “Okay. Well, why? How does this work? What knobs do we push and pull?” and we’re combining that together to basically have something that I press a switch in my pocket and I switch into focus when I want to and I switch out of it when I am done.
That’s something that has really been able to be done for the first time. There’s people that have tried this before with binaural beats and stuff, and we can talk about the differences in a little bit, but we’ve been able to not only uncover what knobs to fiddle with, but also, we have patented a technology that is probably into more of science. So I’ll come back to that, but we’re really the leaders in this field and we have funding from the government to do so. So in summary, really, we are trying to create music to affect your brain and to help you control your state on demand.
Kira Hug: So, can we talk a little bit about the impact of the other options out there? So why should I maybe not listen to Spotify if I want to be in flow or the alternatives? What should we think about when we want to be in flow?
Dan Clark: Yeah, of course. So basically, there’s two types of music, right? There is Art music with a capital A, and then there’s this functional music, which we’re creating. Art music is really made for listening experiences. A lot of the music that we’re finding on Spotify, the first purposes of that wasn’t to elicit focus, right? It maybe just sounds like a good backdrop to listen to or for focus, right. At the end of the day, they’re trying to find music that’s appealing to people so that they listen to it more because that’s how they financially win, right?
While having music that you’re listening to working, people are doing that to block out distractions, which is great, but there’s certain effects of how the music is created that isn’t aligned with the functional purpose. So, I’ll talk about first those controls, those different knobs, and then we could talk about our patents, and the main difference between it.
So there is music, if you look on all of music ever created, that is better for focus and less better for focus, and you can think about it from heavy metal to maybe lo-fi or jazz or something like that. One of those is most likely better for focus and it’s the latter, right?
What we’ve done is we’re looking at these different kinds of knobs that we’re talking about. So one of those is salience, right? Salience is the difference of sounds. So what you’ll find with Brain.fm in comparison to Spotify is that all of the music actually is really long. So we have 30-minute plus tracks. What happens is one of the basics of that is every time the track plays or changes on Spotify, you’ll find that a part of your attention realizes that the track is changing or there’s a different background context of what you’re happening, and even if you’re not conscious to that, that actually is stealing some of your energy from your brain because that’s how our brains are made.
Going back into 10,000 years ago when we’re walking in a jungle and we hear a twig snap, it’s because there’s a lion in that bush and we’ve got to run away, and it’s that difference that alerts us. So it’s like a really loud bang going on from a car. You look at it and it’s taking your attention. So even in a much more subtle way, it’s still taking some of that attention, right? So we have this salience that we’re applying to music that allows us to make it so that your attention is forward.
Another thing that we do is we have no lyrics in music, and this is probably obvious, but if you’re hearing lyrics that you can understand and decipher, part of your brain is trying to translate that even if you’re not paying attention. There’s no such thing as not listening. A great example of this is if you’re in a party and someone across the room says your name, you all of a sudden hear it, and it’s not that your brain is always listening to that stuff. It’s just that it comes to the forefront of your consciousness or your attention, right? So that’s one thing that we do.
Then finally, another thing we do from the knob standpoint is actually some really cool technology called 3D sound. We actually make it so that it sounds like the music is coming, at least for our focus, coming in front of you so that it’s drawing your attention to the work in front of you. In comparison to our sleep or relax music, some of those actually, the 3D sound moves back and forth almost like you’re in a hammock and rocking you to sleep sometimes. That’s just some technology that, again, it’d be weird for music to have that, for Spotify and things like that because it’s not designed for that purpose.
Then finally, we have all these patents that we are developing. The way we look at Brain.fm is we’re actually a modulation company. So we’re a brain modulation company. So what we’re trying to do is get you into that state, and upon all of our research, we discovered that by adding amplitude modulations to music in certain frequency ranges, we’re able to basically align the functional networks of your brain to communicate more effectively together, allowing you to switch into your mental state with much more ease.
By doing all of these together, we’re able to create a thing or a product that is more usable, right? It’s more approachable, and it’s also something that can be measured with science, and that’s the really fun and exciting thing that we’re building here at Brain.fm.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit more about the science. I’d love to go deeper on this. In the back of my mind, the reason I’m really interested in this, when I was a new parent long ago, there was this product called Baby Mozart, and you’ve probably seen the videos, whatever, bright colored toys or whatever, and then dumbed down Mozart that would play on these videos for, I don’t know, 30, 45 minutes, and you were supposed to put your kids in front of the TV and it would stimulate brain development, and they said that there was all kinds of science behind it, and then it turns out that the science wasn’t actually that defensible. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t. Lots of questions.
For those of us who put our kids in front of the TV and tolerated the horrible versions of that music, you’re just like, “Wait. We just listened to that stuff for two years and it didn’t really help.” So I’m curious. How serious is this science and what does it really help us do in our brains to accomplish more?
Dan Clark: Yeah. Let’s dive in. So let’s talk about some of the differences in these approaches before. So Mozart music is a great example. We have those isochronic and binaural beats, which is another one, and then we have the stuff that we’re doing. So a lot of the stuff that Mozart music and these other kinds of platforms did was create music that elicits effects that can be seen and they say, “Cool. This is great. Let’s go. Let’s stamp this and sell this thing,” right?
Even the person that created binaural beats, for example, they actually later disproved that and said, “Hey, this isn’t really a thing that has a lot of effects. There are some, but not for long term.” I guess, let me give more context to all of this stuff on what it is.
So binaural beats, for example, is when you play one frequency in one ear and one frequency in another, and what happens is as you’re listening to this music, in your brainstem that combines to create an amplitude frequency, which then through a process of entrainment or basically matching. It basically spreads through your brain. The challenges with that specific example is your brainstem is one of the earlier parts of your brain which makes it less effective on basically creating those entrainment properties, right?
Brain.fm, because we’re doing amplitude modulations directly in the music, we’re able to entrain higher cortical functions, which allows us to have a greater depth of resolution allowing someone to feel effects in five minutes rather than 30 or an hour, but also allows us greater depths of control.
For the Mozart music, which is mostly classical music, it was based off of leading research at the time. It really was marketed as you listen to this music to make your baby smarter, but in reality, as we’re learning more about neuroscience in the years, it’s actually finding that it’s not about necessarily some of the music, it’s about what the music is transformed to in your brain into electrical impulses, and then how that spreads throughout.
What’s really interesting about neuroscience, and we have a neuroscientist on our staff, so our doctor always tells me that we know more about Pluto than we know about the brain because there’s still so many things that we have theories on, but we’re not really sure on. That’s actually why science is so important here is because, one, I’m a user first and I want a product that I use every day to get better, but then two is we need to make sure that we understand more about this because this is like hitting the boundaries of neuroscience and really figuring out how our brain works, and it’s really finding that.
So with us, we talked about some of the patent stuff, the modulations. Some of the other things is how do we learn more. So we actually have funding from the National Science Foundation, from the US government to basically say, “Hey, there is something here. Let’s figure this out.” This is specifically about ADHD and about how to help people with music to have effects of controlling those things.
We actually have a paper that we’ve developed from that research in review in Nature right now, which is one of the top scientific journals, and it shows that if you know someone has certain kinds of tendencies or neurodiversity, if we understand that, we can actually build better experiences for people.
What’s interesting about specifically ADHD is it’s not you have it or you don’t, it’s a spectrum, right? I think it’s 40% of Americans or 40% of the population actually has some level of ADHD and only 20% are actually diagnosed. So there’s a lot of stuff that we’re trying to really push with science and really understand so we can make a better product. The idea is if we make a better product, more people will use us so that we can invest more in science, make a better product, and it’s a loop upwards.
Kira Hug: So Rob’s talking about Baby Mozart. I think when my oldest daughter was a baby, we let her listen to Walking Dead. We just watched the show Walking Dead and we were pretty confident it would help her.
Rob Marsh: That’s, yeah, a little different.
Kira Hug: We opted out of Baby Mozart. I’m glad we did and leaned into Walking Dead instead. So when you were talking about 3D sound, that sounds so cool. I’ve never thought about that and where this sound is coming from and how that impacts your work. Can you talk a little bit more about that and how you do it and the importance of it?
Dan Clark: Yeah. So 3D sound is really interesting. How do I not go into too much science? So the ear, if you think about it, is actually extraordinary. So when we talk about how you can see things, it’s pretty simple to understand where or simple-ish, where light is reflecting off of surfaces that is directly getting hit into our eye, and then we have receptors that are seeing pixels that then translate that to electrical impulses into our brain and so we could see things.
So it’s like you can follow, you can see that and make sense, but what’s really interesting about hearing is that all you’re hearing is vibration. So you have 3D vibrations all around you and your ear is taking that and transcribing it into an analog wave, I guess, because your eardrum vibrates, and then from your eardrum, any electrical impulses we’re able to basically divide that and create semblance of the world through is it something three feet away from me or 10 feet away, is it on my right side or my left side, and then how does it work.
I talked about this thing earlier, but our neuroscientist, our head neuroscientist that works for us, his name’s Dr. Kevin J. P. Woods, and his thesis for his PhD was basically the cocktail party problem. It was you’re in a busy cocktail party, and how can you hear one conversation, but then you hear on the left something you’re interested in and you shift your ear’s focus to the left side, right?
It’s interesting because with your eyes, you just look that way, but with your ears, you just think that way. So it’s very interesting and there’s tons of papers that we can talk about on this. Again, that’s one of the reasons why we snagged Kevin to work with us, which we’re really happy and excited for, but suffice to say that it’s all about timing.
So when you hear things in your ears, you can think of on the right side you’re going to hear that sooner than your left side and your left side, vice-versa, but in front of you is really interesting. I can’t actually go into the acoustic differences. Someone like Dr. Woods could, but suffice to say that what we do is we take advantage of these different kinds of acoustic properties, and we tested it with thousands and thousands of people to know that, “Hey, this is the correct place to have sound coming from you if you’re trying to focus.”
So in our platform, we actually have focus, relax, and sleep, and then we divide it into activities. So under focus is deep work, is learning, is creative, and what we’re doing is we’re using 3D sound to support those activities while adding different things of genre or different things of modulation or timing, BPM, all of this, and we’re basically combining it all to make a product that you press a button and you get to get what you want.
Rob Marsh: All right. So this is a great place to cut in and talk about some of the stuff that Dan’s been sharing. Chanti, did anything jump out immediately to you from what Dan’s been talking about?
Chanti Zak: Oh, my gosh! Well, I am interested in this martial arts connection and his story of experiencing all of this bullying as a child and how that’s influenced him as an adult.
Rob Marsh: That stood out to Kira, too. Maybe there’s something about being a mom.
Chanti Zak: Right, because you can’t imagine your child going through that, and at the same time, you can see if, well, I think we’ve all had experiences of being bullied where it makes you stronger in the end.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I loved how when Dan was talking about martial arts, I could almost envision going through the motions of it and how it incorporates the space around you. I know I mentioned I’ve never done martial arts other than watching The Karate Kid, if that even counts, but it’s just interesting to me how much space plays a role in that whole activity and being involved in your space. It’s probably a little bit like yoga that way.
Chanti Zak: Yeah, absolutely, and having, I think we’ll get into this more, but having a connection around what’s going on in your body, too, and how that influences your brain.
Rob Marsh: Totally. Yeah. Totally makes sense. So let’s talk a little bit more about that because you’re a yoga master.
Chanti Zak: I don’t know about that.
Rob Marsh: I mean, if I remember right, you trained in India at least to learn some yoga.
Chanti Zak: That’s true, and I do love me some yoga, for sure.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. So tell me more about that because to me, yoga’s a way to make me sweat for 15 or 20 minutes and then start swearing because I can’t really do it. It’s so hard, but yeah, talk a little bit about that connection and all of that.
Chanti Zak: Yeah. Well, part of yoga, the biggest part of yoga, and I imagine martial arts, too, is finding the present moment and being able to just be with your breath, and your body, and your mind, and what’s going on in your head. I’ll start a yoga practice and I’ve got this crazy woman upstairs who’s yelling at me to do all the things, and she’s a bully. Holy! She’s aggressive sometimes. The more I breathe, the more I consciously slow down and get connected to my heart and move out of my head, the more I’m able to just be present. Actually, that’s so connected to the ability to focus because what takes us away from focus is often just that mental chatter of this unnecessary commentary that’s not even useful or true most of the time.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, and I know that there’s going to be a connection to, we’ll talk a little bit more about the music and how that plays into it, too, but just the idea of being able to calm the chatter. That resonates in so many ways and is one of those things that stands in our way of getting so much done.
Chanti Zak: Yeah, right? So yeah, super cool that experience with martial arts and it makes me want to give karate a go or something.
Rob Marsh: There you go. One of the things that stood out to me was when Dan talked about how he fell in love with Brain.fm and just wanted to be involved and how he called him, I don’t know, 10, 20 times. He’s offering to work for free. He’s doing everything that he possibly can to get involved in this dream that he realized he had. As I apply that to my own experience or to someone who may be listening and thinking, “Okay. What does it really take to succeed?” looking for the opportunities to not take no or especially if somebody hasn’t said no but they haven’t said yes to just keep on keeping on until it becomes a yes. I think there’s a huge lesson that a lot of us can take from Dan’s experience just getting that first job inside Brain.fm.
Chanti Zak: Yeah. I’m one of those people who I don’t even ask most of the time. So to see he’s like, “Just keep asking until you hear a clear no,” is, I mean, it’s inspiring because, yeah, you don’t know until you know and to not ask is a no.
Rob Marsh: Exactly. Yeah. So how does that play out with some of the things that you’ve done because you’ve worked with some pretty amazing people? How have you not looked for the no or just moved ahead until people said yes?
Chanti Zak: Well, I’ve certainly put myself in that uncomfortable place of asking even when I don’t want to. I probably talked about that on the podcast I did with you guys, that cold pitching experience of making the ask, but to be totally honest, once I feel some momentum in my business, I totally stopped doing that. I didn’t do cold outreach after a certain point. I just started getting referrals and people started coming to me or someone would make an introduction and it started to be pretty easy in that way.
At the same time, I wasn’t necessarily stretching my comfort zone and asking and thinking like, “What dream client can I reach out to?” So it’s funny because Dawn, who’s on my team, she took Bree Weber’s course. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had her on the podcast.
Rob Marsh: Yup, we have.
Chanti Zak: She’s got a cold pitching course. So Dawn did it. She made a list of dream clients we have for the agency and it’s on our business vision board to start doing that again. So I’m a little nervous, but this is a good sign that we can keep asking until we get the no.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, for sure. It’s interesting, too, when you talk about that because when you were doing your own thing, it took going after it and over and over and over, and then you get to that point where you start getting the referrals, you’re known for the thing that you’re known for and it flattens out. Now, you’ve got the agency. You’re back in that beginner mode again where you’ve got to do the asking again until you get to the point where it just grows on its own. So it’s maybe the kind of thing that happens over and over. There’s a cycle that we go through where sometimes it’s the only thing that works, and then the business starts like a flywheel supporting itself.
Chanti Zak: Yeah. To make a martial arts and Gary V metaphor, the jab jab, jab, punch, maybe it’s like, “Discomfort, discomfort, discomfort. Okay. Now, you can chill for a bit,” but it’s going to start all over again.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. I like that. There’s probably a podcast just in that idea like that. So let’s also talk a little bit about the music. You’ve tried Brain.fm. I’ve been using it for the last few weeks since we talked to Dan about a month and a half ago. I got to say, I love it. It really does work in a way that’s very different. Usually, when I’m working I’ll throw on some jazz, and it’s almost always jazz because I don’t want to hear the words. Dan mentioned that if you hear the words, your brain is focusing in on those. So I could just let the music go, but I didn’t realize the stops and starts and the different melodies and tunes and the different impact that that has on my listening, too, until I switched over.
I mean, it’s true. In five or 10 minutes, my ability to focus changes. I know this is sounding like an ad for Brain.fm. Maybe Brain.fm isn’t the thing that does it for somebody who’s listening, something else does, but just using a tool to get into that kind of a flow state is really helpful when you’ve got to focus. What was your experience when you tried Brain.fm?
Chanti Zak: Yeah. I haven’t been using it lately, but I think the reason is I’ve been doing less actual, heavy writing lately, but for years I used it anytime I had a big writing day where I’ve got to sit down and spend five, six hours working on an email sequence or a quiz, and it was almost like a subconscious trigger for me. I only ever used one track. I never used any of the music. I only ever used focus and water, and it was like a subconscious trigger. I would put that on, put my noise canceling headphones on, and my brain knew. When that happened, it was time to focus. I would use the timer function, too. So they have a 30-minute, 60-minute, 90-minute, and I’d put that on, and then when it stopped, that was on a Pomodoro, essentially. I would know to get up, take a break, and it was so helpful in that way. The more I used it, the stronger that became.
Rob Marsh: I love that. I haven’t actually tried it with the Pomodoro. I always just turn it on infinity and just listen until I’m done, but now that I think about it, I’m like, “Maybe I should be doing it in this 30-minute breaks and take the quick break and come back.” I’m going to try that.
Chanti Zak: Yeah. Well, it’s a weird experience. That water one in particular, I would turn it on and when it shut off and I took the headphones off, it was like an altered state. It was like I was high or something.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. It’s so cool. I mean, again, yeah, I know, again, sounding like an ad for it, but just the way it changes your brain, your ability to think or focus is it’s amazing.
Chanti Zak: Yeah, absolutely. No, I stopped using it, and I got to get back into it because I certainly still have things I need to actually focus on and do deep work with, but now my background music is, yeah, random, chaotic playlists full of lyrics that you want to stop and contemplate, and that’s not ideal.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, no doubt. All right. Well, let’s go back to our interview with Dan and listen to what he says about some of how he plans for the business at Brain.fm and his own productivity schedule.
So if we’re talking about sound in space, if we’re using a product like Brain.fm, should we be listening to it through headphones so that it’s happening right outside our ears or do we need to set up the speakers in our offices, in whatever space we work in in order to put the sound in the right place? How much thought as a consumer do I need to put into that to make sure that it’s working for me?
Dan Clark: Yeah, great question. So it actually is interesting. So the highest fidelity you’re going to ever find is on headphones, but it actually matters what mental state you’re listening to. This isn’t exactly how the neuroscience works, but let’s just make it an abstraction, make it easier. So if you think about your brain resting, the way your brain communicates itself is through oscillations, right? It’s through this pulsing. If your brain is trying to focus from a relaxing state, your brain has to talk to itself faster, so to speak, right? So it speeds up, and what you’ll hear in a lot of our focus music and our different kinds of activities inside that, the music is not necessarily faster, but the modulations inside of it are faster.
So what’s happening is from this core technology of Brain.fm is, again, these frequencies and it’s not modulating frequency, it’s modulating the amplitude, right? What will happen is these patterns that we’re adding to music, they’re really, really fast, and what’s happening is it’s syncing your brave to match them, right? So with focus, you definitely want to use headphones, and if you have noise canceling headphones, the effects are going to even be better.
It’s really nice because it builds a cocoon almost for you where you’re like, “Okay. I’m in focus mode,” and you go, right? It has some mass in qualities in case you’re in noisy environments, but if you compare that to some of our relax or our sleep, we’re not trying to speed your brain up, we’re actually trying to bring it down a little bit so that it’s slower, and because of that, you can actually use relax or sleep off of speakers and have the same kind of effects because when it’s going in a room, it doesn’t matter if it necessarily bounces off different kinds of things, but you’re always getting the best effects.
So really, what I always tell people is definitely for focus use headphones, and for the other ones, really experiment what is best for you because if you can sleep with headphones then power to you. I know I can’t. So I threw it on a Bluetooth speaker myself and I get the same effects and have a great experience.
Kira Hug: Can we talk about the impact and what this could do for all of us, and maybe if you could share an example of what surprised you the most in your own life, something you were able to do or stop because of Brain.fm, and then even just expanding upon that, maybe something that surprised you, a story that a community member shared after they used this tool and what they were able to do?
Dan Clark: Yeah. So one of the biggest things for my life has been being able to control my focus state. I didn’t realize at the time, but I actually could control being a morning person or a night owl for the first time. So forever, I was a night owl, right? After being able to understand that, “Oh, I can just wake up and put this on,” I’ve actually trained my brain to wake up at 7:00 AM no matter what. I never thought that was possible. So that’s been exciting for me. So now, I usually jump into my flow state around 8:30-9:00 and then get into this full productivity pattern, which if we have enough time I can talk about.
Other things that we’ve heard from community is it’s been really outstanding. So we have a whole love letters channel. So if you ever write in how much you love Brain.fm, it will be posted internally. There’s a lot of different things. So some people are like, “Wow! This is amazing. This is the great greatest thing ever. What kind of black magic is this? How are you doing this?” because it’s a really experiential product, but then we have really deep ones.
So we have some people that have struggled with PTSD for years and they can’t sleep and they’re on different kinds of medications and all these things, and they say, “I listened to Brain.fm last night and I slept the first time like I was 10 years old.” They create videos for us and they’re crying, and they’re like, “Thank you so much.”
We have other people that have been told that they’re never going to do well in school, and some people, specifically parents, use this for their kids, which have high amounts of ADHD or they can’t focus or other people or kids on neurodiversity like autism or Asperger’s or something like that, and they’re like, “Thank you so much for this,” and really dive into that. It’s allowed us to understand that there’s actually different modalities that we can really go in here.
So while we’re not focusing on it right now because we have some other really exciting things that we’re doing, we know that we can help kids sleep better, so maybe the next evolution of Mozart music. We know we can help people with neurodiversity really figuring out that. We actually have some semblances and understanding that we can help people little Alzheimer’s, potentially. It’s really amazing because we can help a lot of people. I think the hardest part as a business owner is really figuring out like, “Okay. I want help everyone, but if I help everyone at the same time, it’s going to be not effective. I have to figure out one thing to focus on, unintended, I guess, to be able to really help people,” and that’s what we’re doing here.
Rob Marsh: So I don’t know if this is possible or not because we’re not sitting in a studio with you, but I would love to talk through some very specific examples or hear the music that we would do for say focus, for sleep or whatever. Can you tell us a little bit about those things, and then, hopefully, you can maybe send us some samples that our editor can drop in so we can take a listen to what some of these things sound like?
Dan Clark: Yeah. I’d love to do that. Right now, I’m going to play some focus music. (focus music plays)
Now, you can get a sense of what that sounds like, right? What you’re listening to the music is actually something that makes it sound good that you actually want to listen to, but as you’re listening to the music, it actually meshes into the background. I think of this as the world’s most advanced background music, right? You’ll sign in that music that it’s stimulating and it’s exciting to listen to, but there’s a small pulsing, which you have to really focus on to listen to, and that’s actually some of those patterns that we’ve talked about.
Now, if we switch from that focus music to a relax session, and here we can listen to it right now.
(relax music plays)
So you’ll find in this example that the music is a little bit slower, right? It’s a smaller pulse that you’ll hear, but it also has different kinds of things that we attribute to relaxation. So what we’re trying to do is combine all of these scientific properties that we’re talking about and also things that we want to feel relaxed in or what we attribute to relaxation. So there’s some psychology as well as science in all of this to be able to create this product.
Then finally, you’ll hear very similar things to relax already, but here are some of our sleep tracks. (sleep track plays)
You can hear a difference between all of these tracks that sleep is really the slowest one, that it’s moving slow. I think of these really long pulses, and that’s really designed, again, to slow your mind down. If you can ever relate to lying in bed and having all these thoughts and all of these concerns and things like that, I call that our monkey mind, right? What we’re trying to do with our sleep music is really calm your monkey mind, try to calm everything. So instead of thinking about things, you can clear your head and go to sleep.
What’s really cool about this music specifically, and I don’t think I went over this before, is this music is all designed to work in five minutes. So it’s not something that you listen to for 45 minutes and you’re like, “Oh, did I hear it? Did I do it yet?” It actually starts working in the first 30 seconds and it ramps from there, and it’s something that as you listen to, it’s an effect that is measured, but is approachable and is easy. So it’s designed to work every single time, whether you’re a first time user or this is your hundredth time using it.
Kira Hug: Very cool. Well, let’s talk about the productivity. I think you said productivity time. I know that’s something that copywriters, we all struggle with productivity. Can you talk a little bit more about what that looks like in your own day as a CEO, as a busy CEO running this company how you think about and approach productivity time and your own schedule?
Dan Clark: Yeah, of course. So I think the biggest thing I would say is that it’s all about the habits that we train in ourselves because that’s the only difference, right? Actually, I would say habits and tools. So the difference between humans now and 10,000 years ago is not our biology. It’s actually just the technology that we have. What’s up to us, I think, in this time is actually finding the technology that best suits what we need to do.
So for me, I am constantly tinkering and changing and things like that on different kinds of techniques, and I realized that the only difference between myself and a CEO that I look up to is probably 1%, right? It’s not that he doesn’t need to eat food. It’s not that he doesn’t have the same human desires that I have. It’s the habits that he builds and the tools that he acquires.
So for me, what I do in my productivity time is I actually, first thing off, is block my calendar. So you cannot book me anytime before 11:00 AM, usually. Sometimes I make some changes for podcasts like this one, but what I do is I always block that part of my day out. What I’m starting with is I wake up and I have a habit of showering, doing all that stuff, sitting down with a nice coffee, and then I turn on Brain.fm. With Brain.fm, I do two specific things. First, I do creativity, and creativity inside of our focus category is really made to elicit being creative, but it’s also made for goal setting, ideation, different kinds of flow starting, and that’s where I start my day.
I take out a piece of paper and I write down how do I feel, right? I find that if I brain dump everything on my mind, it really creates clarity so it doesn’t distract me for what I’m going to have to do. So I write everything personally and professionally down, “Oh, I have to tell my mom to do this,” whatever it is, and I write it down so I don’t have to have those thoughts trigger me throughout the day.
Then I write down what do I have to do today. What are the top items that would make today’s success? I write those down. Then once I feel like that’s good and I spend probably no more than 15 minutes doing both of those things, I switch into deep work and I try to do a 90-minute session of the top priorities that I have.
So for writers, it may not be switching in deep work. It may stay in creative or it may be even actually switching into learning. It’s really figuring out depending on the topic and who you are as a person. Then what I try to do is I do that actually every single day. There are some things that you’ve probably heard of where you want to do the hardest things first in the day. So that’s one of the reasons why we want to do that, but there’s also things on doing it per week.
So what I try to do is I do the hardest things on Mondays and Tuesdays, some of the easier things than Wednesdays and Thursdays, and Fridays are more of some of my free-floating days. What I’m really conscious of is the energy it takes for my mind to do activities. At the end of the day, we are machines. We only have certain much energy reserves. What I’m trying to do is align the tools that I have with the habits to be able to get the most return on the energy throughout the day and week.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. I love thinking about all of this stuff, energy management, being productive. As we think about trying to get into a flow state more often, and maybe all we muster is 60 minutes a day or whatever. We talked a little bit about at the top of the podcast how space can impact that. Obviously, music and what we’re hearing impacts that. Are there other things, Dan, as you think about getting yourself into a flow state that you’re taking advantage of? You might have mentioned nutrition and neutropics and some of that stuff early on, but what else plays a role in making sure that you can achieve that flow state and accomplish more?
Dan Clark: Yeah. So there’s this really interesting thing. I think I’ve mentioned some things around it, but our brains actually are mirroring or matching the environments that we’re in all the time. So that’s why you go to a spa and you hear relaxing music and it’s very calm, the lights are low because it’s all created to build relaxation in your mind, right? Brain.fm is doing the same thing with sound. It’s one of the easiest ways to induce certain kinds of rhythms in your brain, the matching, but if we go beyond Brain.fm, it’s really about the environment you’re in like you’re saying.
So it’s about having a clean desk, about having a place that feels great to you. It’s funny. When I was traveling, I never really had a home. I was a digital Nomad. Until I actually got a desk, I realized, “Wow! This is super important,” because it allows me to feel like I’m in a safe and creative place, and you don’t necessarily need a desk to do that, but what you do need is to find the things that allow you to feel grounded, and that could maybe not through desks. Maybe you’re not into that thing, but it could be through getting a green tea and starting your day with that.
There’s actually really interesting things about combining tools like Brain.fm and psychological things like triggers, which allow us to tell our brain almost in a Pavlonian way that, “Hey, it’s time to focus or be creative now.” So when I’m going through my day, one of the things I’m very aware of is actually is sound, obviously, is the environment that I’m in, what things am exposing my brain to, right?
So one of the things I think a lot of people are guilty of, and I am myself sometimes, which I try to be better, is if I know that I’m about to perform, whether it’s a podcast like this or a really deep focus mode, I try not to look at social media. I try not to put any negative thoughts or anything in my head because that’s going to actually set me up for failure, where I’m more set up for success if I’m like, “Okay. Today is an amazing day. This is what I have to get done today. Let’s go,” right? Then I can look at that stuff later because nine times out of 10 that doesn’t affect my life. I think it’s about really setting the scene physically for your success and then also mentally and combining those both together.
Kira Hug: I love that. As soon as you mentioned a clean desk, I looked at my desk and I was like, “This is not clean.” I was judging. I was judging myself. Yeah, definitely judging myself. So my last question around just CEO question before we start to wrap is you mentioned earlier on that you ask yourself what does the company need to help more people, and I think that’s such a powerful question for all of us as CEOs. So how do you break that down? It’s such a big question and an important question. How do you reconstruct that so that you know what the right thing is to do in your own company?
Dan Clark: Yeah, great question. So the way I like to think about this is Google Maps, right? So a lot of us are operating street level, right? It’s not until we actually zoom out sometimes to the next level, like state level, that we actually know where we’re going, right? That’s usually how we set goals is we are in one street and we want to go to another street, so we look out, I guess, city level, right? We say we are going north, south, west, whatever. Then as we set farther goals out, we zoom out even more. We go to state level, and then if you zoom out more, it’s country level, and then you’re on earth, right?
What I try to do is first set out really strong, vivid vision. It’s something by Cameron Herald. He talks about basically imagining yourself in the future, but not like, “Oh, this is how much money I’m making,” or whatever. It’s more like imagine where you’re sitting. Imagine the conversations that you have around you. Imagine what people say about you and your company. You really create this vividness of, “Where are we going?” I think about this country level, a five or 10-year play. Then out of that, what I do is I break down and create core values for the business.
So it’s what does Brain.fm stand for and believe in, right? We have core values of something called Kaizen, which is constant, never-ending improvement. We have user first. So obviously, you’ve heard that we are really obsessed with helping people and making a product that delivers on that. So that’s one of them. We can go through the others, but basically, we’re creating these core guiding principles for this is what the business looks like in 10 years from now. This is what we’re doing. We’re affecting and we are helping 25 million plus people around the world.
Then what I do from there is I zoom in a little bit knowing that I’m going in this direction and say, “Okay. This is what I need to do in three years to be able to affect that, to go in the same path.” Then I have some vividness around that and then I say, “Okay. This is what I’m doing for the next year.” If I can do all of these things, then I’m going to hit that 10-year mark and help those 25 million people, but what I need to do focus on right now is getting to five, and it really allows me to stay focused, to really figure out, “Is this fire that comes up, does this actually matter or is this something that is a distraction?” I think when you put things in perspective that way, it really allows us to make better decisions and put energy where it should be.
Rob Marsh: I was just going to wrap here, Dan, but listening to you talk about that triggered a last question for me, and that is, as you are operating in the CEO role and trying to think bigger, do you work with a coach? Are you working with other resources? How do you make sure that you are playing at the top of the game and getting the inspiration that you need to lead your company as best you can?
Dan Clark: Yeah, great question. So it’s funny. It’s December when we’re recording this right now and I am redoing that practice right now. So I actually just yesterday reset the vivid vision for 10 years from now, realigned it. I actually wrote down in my journal, and I can just read it right now is what are the things that I need to do to make sure that I hit that, right? So it’s actually I think a few things. One is creating intentional space. That’s probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past few years is saying something as a priority and saying, “I will get to it eventually.” Never happens, but if you put it on your calendar and you say, “Hey, I’m good at work on this for four hours this time,” at least you worked on it for four hours that time and it lets you move towards that goal.
So I really believe in creating intentional space and the ability to do that, and even sometimes conversations with other people. I believe that being able to discover and having the time and the opportunity to research is really important, and then definitely hiring coaches and consultants. So I think it’s a practical thing that we always, I don’t know, we want to figure it out, but when you really dig into that, that’s sometimes our ego when there’s people that want to help you. There’s people that are there, that they’ve rode the roller coaster before. I really look for coaches and for consultants to come in and really guide us in that, and really make sure I’m staying on track where if I say, “Hey, I want to help 25 million people,” and then I go to my coach and I say, “This is why I think I’m going to do it,” or not why, how, and he goes, “Well, what about if you just did this, this, and this?” It could save us a year, right? Some things like that are really important.
Then finally, I think it’s really, really important to have check-ins. So one of the things at Brain.fm, and I know I’m really diving into this, but I very much care for everyone listening to this podcast, whether you use Brain.fm or not, is how do you achieve your goals, right? I think one of the biggest barometers of doing that is not saying, “I’m achieving them,” or “I’m not,” it’s actually adding a third level of,” Well, how far away am I?”
So one of the things what we do here at Brain.fm is we do red, yellow, and green. So when I talk to my leaders, I don’t say, “Hey, are you achieving it or not?” I say, “Red, yellow or green?” Green means, “Yup, we’re on track,” or “We’re beating it,” right? Sometimes we say super green, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s just green. Sometimes it’s yellow. So we’re not there yet, but we’re close or red, we’re just not on the mark. It allows us to really have deeper conversations of how can we improve, how can we change it.
I got this because you hear diets, right? It’s people are in their diet. They’re totally off or they’re totally on, right? I think it’s just really important to have that kind of barometer for success. This is actually something by Alex Hormozi that is really effective.
Kira Hug: Yeah. We may need to test the red, yellow, green exercise in our team discussions, too. I like that. Talking to you has motivated me to shift from nonstop holiday music to Brain.fm. So I’m going to make the shift. Can you share for any listeners who are also ready to test and try Brain.fm where can we go? How do we jump into this?
Dan Clark: Yeah, of course. So you can go to Brain.fm or you can find us on iOS or Android devices. What we can do is I can give everyone … We usually do three days free trial for everyone to try it, but I can extend that offer with a special URL we can put in the show notes underneath.
Kira Hug: Very cool.
Rob Marsh: Awesome. Yeah. Yeah. Make sure you check out the show notes here on our page, The Copywriter Club, where we’ve posted this and we’ll have that offer for everybody there. Thanks, Dan. This has been really, really interesting, and like Kira, I may have to give up Frank Morgan and Winston Surfshirt and all of the music that I listen to and actually start using music to help me focus and get more done. So thanks for that.
Dan Clark: Yeah, and what I would say, too, is that, again, Brain.fm is not trying to replace music.
Kira Hug: You’re not trying to replace holiday music.
Dan Clark: No.
Rob Marsh: No, no, no. It’s too late. It’s too late. It’s all gone. I’m tossing the CDs out in the trash today.
Dan Clark: Well, if you need to do that, you can, but when you are focusing or trying to get something, maybe having that discussion is better, but for relaxing or for doing whatever you want, holiday music is always going to be there, especially when you go the grocery store.
Kira Hug: I know, I know, and I’m already sick of it, but thank you so much, Dan. Thank you for your time. We really appreciate it.
Dan Clark: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Rob Marsh: It has been great.
Let’s jump back in and talk about the last few minutes of this interview. So Chanti, again, there’s a lot of stuff that stood out, especially as we listened to those samples of music, but I know you are really into productivity, making sure that you’re able to focus. Dan talked about his schedule and how he plans not just his day, but also focusing in on his role as a CEO. As you’ve built your business, what does your process look like for that?
Chanti Zak: Well, it’s all over the place because I have really young children. So I dream of the day when that morning ritual will fall into place and I’ll get to sip my bulletproof matcha latte and meditate for an hour and read three chapters of a nonfiction book and have a workout, but that doesn’t happen right now. So I’m trying to optimize in really small ways. Recently, so my little dude is getting up at 5:00, which is way too early for anyone. Oh, my gosh! Although I used to get up at 5:00 on purpose, but now I’m like, “No. I need sleep.”
So at 5:00 in the morning, what I used to do was make my coffee, get him settled, pull out my phone and just start scrolling, check my emails. I would do that first thing. One tweak I’ve made recently is I don’t do that anymore. I’m not going on social media until noon. That’s my new rule for me.
Rob Marsh: Wow. That’s nice discipline. I like it.
Chanti Zak: It’s just so much better because I would way rather open up my e-reader and read a bit of a book even if I’m getting up every five minutes to like help one of my kids. It’s still so much more grounding and nourishing than just scrolling through Instagram or getting right into what I need to do that day.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. One of the things that I liked about when Dan was talking about his schedule is just how he talked about it’s less about managing time or tasks, and he talked about managing energy, and the energy levels. Are you creative early? Are you creative late? How do you manage the things in your day so that it matches up with the energy that you have? I’m guessing you’re probably pretty good at that. This is something that I’ve really had to dial myself into over the last couple of years.
Chanti Zak: Yeah. Well, it’s such a smart perspective because often we think, “My worth is based on how many tasks I can get done and how productive I am, so I better just get right into it,” and that’s so untrue.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. Agreed. Yeah. I mean, it really comes down to how you feel. You’re getting up with little kids. Sometimes you’re not sleeping through the night or whatever. So to get up and think, “Oh, my most creative time is going to be immediately in the morning,” may not actually be true or maybe it’s the kids throughout the day that would make you tired, right? So really dialing in and knowing how you’re feeling before you figure out what it is I’m going to do today or this week or even maybe it’s a monthly cycle or whatever that impacts how people feel.
Chanti Zak: Yeah, absolutely. Before, even a year ago, I would assume as my husband would take over with the kids and I would go into the office and sit down to work, the first thing I would do is sit down to work. Now, what I’ve started doing is I come into my office and instead of working right away, I do something. I do some form of movement. So if it’s a 30-minute yoga practice or 10 minutes of high intensity interval training, doesn’t really matter, as long as I’m doing something that’s priming my brain to be way more effective when I do sit down to work.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. That makes a ton of sense. I also really like how as Dan approaches his business, he’s starting with the guiding principles, the goals, what they’re trying to accomplish as opposed to jumping in and answering emails. I know that’s the ideal. It’s like, “Okay. What are my principles? What are my values? Let’s base everything on that.” It’s so hard to execute against that. So regardless of how good we are at doing that ourselves, it’s a nice reminder that our daily activities really should impact at some level those goals that we have for ourselves and our business over say the next 90 days, the next year and maybe even beyond that.
Chanti Zak: Yeah, but when he’s talking about 10-year goals, I don’t know how this hits for you, Rob, but that is so intimidating to me. I’m like, “10 years from now? I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s going to look like.”
Rob Marsh: Yeah. Well, part of that I think is probably just where we are in life, but yeah. I can’t also. I can’t envision, “10 years from now, am I going to be doing the same thing?” I can’t imagine that I am going to be doing the same thing. I mean, obviously, there’s all kinds of evolution, but even to dream about what that evolution might be could be a really useful practice from time to time.
Chanti Zak: Yeah. I’m definitely going to sit with it as a question because I often just maybe look ahead a year, and he’s talking about 10 years and then what are we going to do in the next three to five years, and you can see why it would be important to look at that even if the reality doesn’t match up when you get there. Just to cast that vision of what you want to create would be so powerful.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, and then as he talked about using the red, yellow, green measurement, rubric for his team and for their goals, I really like that because rather than assigning, “Yeah, it’s being accomplished,” or “Yeah, we’re a success or fail,” it gives us an opportunity to say, “Okay. Where can we reallocate resources or time? What can we pay attention to that we’re not paying attention to?” We actually do this exercise in the Think Tank once or twice a year where we evaluate businesses individually. Each copywriter in the Think Tank does this and assigns red, yellow, green on several different parts of their business.
Occasionally, people will get a scorecard that’s mostly yellows and reds, and it’s one of those things like, “Wow! I didn’t realize how broken things are,” but in reality, what it says is, “Look how far we’ve come, and we haven’t yet got things perfect. We haven’t yet figured it all out,” and imagine what it could be when the score cards are all green. So seeing him use something similar in his own business as he evaluates his team, I think is really remarkable. Again, rather than success/fail, it shows us where the opportunities are to make some nice improvements.
Chanti Zak: Yeah. Absolutely. I’ve done the red, yellow, green assessment in my own business, and whenever I do it, I get super overwhelmed because inevitably, it’s like there’s so much red, there’s so much yellow, and there’s so little green, but I love your perspective on it that that signifies possibility and potential.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. If you’ve got a business that’s mostly reds and yellows and you’re still able to pay the bills, you’re still able to take weekends off, spend time with the family, you’re doing something right, and there’s so much opportunity to make things green.
Chanti Zak: Yeah. Absolutely. Someone yesterday on a coaching call was like, “Yeah. My website, how important is it? How often do you update yours?” and they’re going on, and I’m like, “Well, to be totally honest, I think I made some minor, minor updates to my website after four years of not touching it just a few months ago and nothing has burnt down.”
Rob Marsh: Yeah. I totally, totally relate. Finally, the last thing that jumped out to me from the interview is just when we’re talking with Dan about where he gets his inspiration, whether he’s working with coaches, that kind of stuff, and just the idea that I’m going to take away to apply in my own business, but creating that intentional space to block out time and really focus on goals as opposed to always being focused on doing the work or the copy or whatever it is, really taking that time and then getting the feedback that will help me from my mentors, others, partners, and peers that can help us make sure that we’ve got the right goals and we’re spending the right focus on getting those things done. So just a final takeaway that I want to apply in my business.
Chanti Zak: Yeah. I love that, and how rare is it that we zoom out and look at the bigger picture and get really intentional about what goals actually matter? I think, too, we have these surface level goals, but really getting to the heart of what counts.
Rob Marsh: For sure. Yeah and some of those surface level goals are oftentimes other people’s goals for us as opposed to even the things we care about.
Chanti Zak: Exactly. Exactly, but you don’t know that until you create some space and it can be hard to do, especially when you just, yeah, you’re constant, go, go, go. We had our recent annual review and some of my team members were like, “Actually, I think it’d be really nice if we took some more pauses just to celebrate and create some space around how we can improve moving forward, what things look like moving forward instead of just moving onto the next thing right away.”
Rob Marsh: That is a huge thing and something that we definitely need to do in our business as well, yeah, taking time just to pause, to enjoy the success, and figure out what’s the right next step instead of, yeah, the next thing that’s on the calendar or the next thing in the appointment book.
Chanti Zak: Yeah. Yeah, and then having outside guidance from people that you admire, who know more than you, who can tell you, “You’ve got this blind spot. That’s probably a red,” is so helpful.
Rob Marsh: For sure. We want to thank Dan Clark for joining us today on the podcast. If you want to try Brain.fm, we’ve got a special offer for you. Like Dan mentioned in the interview, normally you can go to Brain.fm’s website and get a three-day trial, but if you use the link in the show notes from this episode, you’ll get a full 30 days to try Brain.fm out for free. If you listen to music while you write, you’re probably going to find that Brain.fm helps you focus. Like I said, I’ve been using it, definitely helping me.
Chanti Zak: That’s the end of this episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. The intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter, Addison Rice. The outro was composed by copywriter and songwriter, David Muntner, and if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard, please visit Apple podcasts to leave your review of the show.
Rob Marsh: If you’re ready to hang out with a couple hundred amazing copywriters in person, join us at TCCIRL in Nashville this March. You’ll find a link to that in the show notes. Finally, if you’ve enjoyed what you heard today and you want to jump in and listen to something else that’s related, we talked about productivity with Dave Ruel on episode number 237. That’s pretty much a masterclass in time maximization. You might also want to check out our interview with productivity expert Charlie Gilkey about getting things done. That’s episode 178. Finally on episode 68, we talked with Ashlyn Carter about how she gets so much done in her business. All three of those are really easy to find in your favorite podcast app. You’ll find links to those in the show notes, and don’t forget to listen to episode 54, which was our interview with Chanti, my guest for today. Chanti, thanks so much for hanging out with me.
Chanti Zak: Thank you so much, Rob.
Rob Marsh: It was awesome. Thanks for listening and we will see you next week.