This Is Your Brain on Change: Q&A with Charlie Harary, Author of ‘Unlocking Greatness’

Mary Lorenz

“Your future is a lot more in your control than you might think,” says Charlie Harary, author of the new book, “UNLOCKING GREATNESS: The Unexpected Journey from the Life You Have to the Life You Want.” For Harary, an adjunct clinical professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University, the book started off as a personal project to find new opportunities for growth in various areas of his life. But it quickly snowballed into the basis of a business course and eventually, an entire book. Below, Harary discusses the main concepts of the book, including how our beliefs dictate our actions (for better or for worse), and how it’s possible to rewire our minds in order to create our own success.

One of the main concepts behind the book is neuroplasticity. Could you tell me more about that?

The book is based on the idea that our minds are machines that we don’t necessarily use well enough, and if we understood how to use it, it would be able to play a much bigger role in what we see, opportunities that are in front of us, and how we feel about them. The core of that [idea] is neuroplasticity, which means that our minds are malleable and can regenerate themselves based on what we focus on. You can take control of your life by changing your thoughts and changing your mind, which then changes your schema, which gives you the ability to see things you wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise.

In the book, you talk about the “mental obstacles” that hold us back from success. What are some of those obstacles?

One of the greatest blocks to our success is [making] resolutions. Resolutions are terrible for us because they don’t align how our brains work with what we want to accomplish. [With] resolutions [we] say basically, “I want to go to a location.” In order to get to that location, usually I need to change who I am and use loads and loads of self-discipline to get there. Scientists have found that everyone has a limited amount of discipline we can use in any given day. It’s called ego depletion. For example, we might say to ourselves, “I want to lose weight, so this is what I’m doing.” And along the way we fail, because that’s not the way our brains operate. Then we feel bad about it and create a belief that we can’t change.

You say a lot of companies don’t approach diversity the right way. What is it that companies are doing wrong?

Let’s use the concept of the 1980 Olympic hockey team. In 1980, Herb Brooks took a bunch of college kids and turned them into the best team in the world. And he did it by getting the players to see that the name on the front of the jersey (USA) was more important than the name on the back of the jersey (their names). And that’s the message of unity. Unity is a collection of individuals who care more about the thing they’re working on than themselves along the way. If you’re operating a company and you have people working for you who care more about their checks, your company is not going to be as successful as it could be. When you’re unified to one purpose, you need diversity. Diversity is what allows you to create the puzzle that’s different. If I’m focused on winning a championship, for example, I need different types of players. I need different perspectives. Diversity is a value in itself that people should be striving for, because that’s how you’re able to create diverse products that can appeal to a large group of people.

What’s the one thing employers can start doing now to create a more diverse workforce or attract more diverse candidates?

The first thing is to be clear in your mission and goals. When you’re clear on your goals, on what you’re trying to accomplish, it becomes less about the people in the office and more about what you’re giving to others. When you’re unified in mission, there’s less emphasis on the differences of the human being. When you’re not, it comes across. Those people come in the room and feel different, because there’s more of a subconscious emphasis on the people versus the product. When you care about product and service, what ends up happening is everybody starts to see past the external differences and at the internal talents, and that’s when you know you’ve hit on something.

If there’s one thing you want people to take away from your book, what it would be?

The key aspect is the capacity for us to change and the place in which change takes place. We misunderstand change and growth as being macro – it’s not true. Greatness is micro. It’s really small. It’s in the next five minutes. It’s this conversation right now – being focused on trying my best to give the right answers. That’s where my greatness lies right now. Every one of us has thousands of moments every day to up the standard of how we operate. When you see greatness as micro, it becomes something that you do every day, and you practice. Eventually the macro comes to you. What I hope people take from the book is a real, research-based path to changing the greatness standard for their life in every micro moment, which will ultimately change what they get out of life.

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