Chris Helder

Cutting through the noise

12 May 2019   |   Culture

Chris Helder

Cutting through the noise

12 May 2019   |   Culture

Everyday you are hit with information, headlines, and messages that we interpret as “You aren’t doing enough. You are doing too much. You aren’t home enough. You aren’t productive enough. You are doing it all wrong.”

Many of us get paralyzed because we’ve got all these different kinds of noise hitting us, making it hard to identify information that counts. How do you parse this data and settle on what really matters?

Chris Helder walks us through some techniques to dismiss all the noise and guilt that surrounds our professional life and replace it with something more positive.

What we learned from this episode

Cutting noise is all about focus. So, when you’re home, put your phone away and be home. When you’re at work, be at work. When you’re at the gym, be at the gym. When you’re actually at yoga class or you’re on a walk and having your ‘me’ time, do that. Be there and try to identify what your outcome is consciously in each one of these areas.

Planning is the key to prioritize the areas of life that you need to spend time in. It helps you know which one gets more time today or which one has to pull back and has to wait until tomorrow.

Your output every day is based on how you show up, how you control your mind, how you control your levels of guilt, and how you control your levels of focus.

What you can do right now

Identify things like email that you can drop from your life if required that are distracting you and practice accelerated focus on what does the most for you.

When you start to feel guilty, embrace the guilt for 10 seconds. If there’s nothing you can do about it move on. If there is something, change it.

Aim for planning out 70% of your day and be less reactive.

Key quotes

“Perfection sets us up to feel bad about ourselves. We’re not allowed to age. That’s a problem in the modern world today that you’re not allowed to age and we’ve got a world where we are inundated with image at all times.”

“If I’m managing 20 people, I can look at 20 and I think we can ask ourselves the question who in this room is engaged, who is not engaged. And we wouldn’t ask that of them. I’m asking that of myself as a leader and really try to help identify that if we can bring everybody back into a place of engagement, the results go through the roof. If we have a team that’s disengaged, the results will follow suit.”

“Perfection gets in the way of an outstanding life.”

Today, our guest is Chris Helder. He’s a keynote speaker and author of the book “Cut the Noise” and this episode is Work Minus Perfection. Hi, Chris. How are you?

Hi, Neil. Very well. Thank you. How are you?


I’m excellent. We’re excited to chat with you. Why don’t you start off just telling us a little bit about yourself, where you are, and what you do?

Originally American, graduated from Colorado State, grew up in Colorado and then I met an Aussie girl, wouldn’t you know? One thing led to another and moved over to beautiful Australia where really literally for the last 20 years I’ve been a speaker and speaking all over Australia but all over globally as well. And it’s great. I have an opportunity to talk about mindset and talk about effectiveness and helping people get more effective at what they do.


So, how did you get started in that? Going over there as a foreigner, what was the impetus to get involved in it?

People always ask that. My background is psychology and sociology. I was passionate about that and literally 20 years ago I went to work for an Australian speaker here, became his right hand man and learned the business. Too bad, Neil, he actually didn’t want to promote me at the end. Surprise, surprise. He was enjoying the fruits of me working for him and so literally had to go start my own thing and I’ve never looked back. It’s been amazing and I average about 140 presentations a year here in Australia. So, we’re able to really send a powerful message out here.


It’s great and people should definitely check out your videos, lots of energy, lots of excitement that’s going on there. So, we’re talking about the Work Minus The Noise. So, tell us about what do you mean by the noise?

I think right now we’re living in this world where every day, it’s something different. Every day, it’s something new. And every day, it’s somebody else trying to make more noise. And yet, here we are on a podcast so obviously wanting to cut through that. But it is amazing, every day, whether it’s how we’re supposed to look or new ideas here and I think a lot of people are becoming paralyzed. And I was joking that I was listening to The Today Show here in Australia and I was in a hotel getting ready for a gig and this guy jumped on and he said we’re not advocating stretching anymore. And he was a health and fitness guy. And I thought, “What? We’re not advocating stretching anymore? Like, I stretch every day. What do you mean?”

And every day, it is something different. We’re eating carbs. We’re not eating carbs. Carbs are evil. We’re eating protein. We’re only eating meat. We’re just eating fruit. Now we’re not even eating fruit. We’re just eating juice. Then no sugar at all. I was taught have a good breakfast, you’ll have a good day. Apparently not. Now we’re finished at 6:00 p.m. eating. Don’t eat again for an 18-hour starvation period. I don’t know. Now they got me on something called keto and I’m putting butter in my coffee, Neil.

Every day is different and I think for all of us truly right now living in this modern world where we are hit with, in this digital space, with so many different audiences that I really realize people right now that are the most successful are able to cut through that noise and they are truly able to identify what’s the stuff that matters and what’s the stuff that doesn’t. So, that’s going to mean any number of things to different people and everybody can choose on how they want to go about living their life. But I think there’s a lot of people right now who are just paralyzed because we’ve got all these different ideas hitting us and really identify what’s the stuff that counts for you. What’s the stuff that actually counts?


The Business world is the same. There’s so many trends that are out there people are talking about. We’re trying to navigate what’s new, how to adapt those things, how to bring them into the business world. So, it’s definitely a problem that cuts across any kind of lifestyle that’s there. So, when it comes down to it, what do you see? Do you just focus on what you know works and stick to that or how do you always receive new information without being inundated by the noise?

Well, I think it’s probably a couple of things to it. I think, first of all, I looked at really taking a look at six different areas of people’s lives and there are six things that are ultimately most important to human beings, and in no particular order, but family is obviously one and number two is work, number three is our friends, number four health, number five is me time which is one that a lot of people would like a little more of, and number six is community, what we’re going to do for a little bit of soul food in that space.

And really with these six things, one of things that we, of course, realize is that we’re working hard and we’re not at home as much and we feel guilty or maybe we’re home because you’re picking up the kids from school and you should’ve been at work so you feel guilty. Maybe you’re busy home and work and then you don’t have time to go to the gym or spend time with your friends or actually do something with the school or to help out with the community. So, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, and what we’ve got right now is we’ve got an entire society of people feeling bad about themselves and really this thing we can’t control in their pursuit of perfection.

And one of my biggest thing, though, is just to say, hey, listen. This pursuit of perfection everybody seems to need and want and we’re not allowed to age and we’re competing against airbrushing and everything is going on all this pursuit of perfection. To me, it’s very much about perfection gets in the way of an outstanding life. Perfection actually, the pursuit of perfection makes us less perfect. So, the book, “Cut the Noise,” is about focus. So, when you’re home, put your phone away and be home. When you’re at work, don’t feel bad about the fact you’ve got to work some hours and get things done. And work is an important part, by the way. Work is a huge part of our self esteem and it’s how we spend over a third of our lives. Money’s important and success is important and modeling success for your children is important.

So, when you’re at work, be at work. And number three, friends, when you’re with your friends, dial in. Don’t talk about yourself. Actually ask them about them. It’s incredible how many dinner parties I go to and here’s people that can’t talk about anything other than themselves the whole time. So, when you’re at the gym, go to gym. When you’re actually at yoga class or you’re on a walk and having your me time, do that. And if you’re volunteering at the school or the community, be present. Be there. Be there. And try to really identify what your outcome is consciously in each one of these areas.


I really resonate with what you’re saying, especially about the guilt side of things. I think all of us feel that, “I should be doing more of this. I should be doing more in these areas.” And I’d like to come back to the idea that you have about focusing on where you are. But I’m going to step back one step further and talk about scheduling because when you start off the day, I got the full day ahead of me. I know I have these six areas of life that I need to spend time in. But how do I know which one gets more time today or which one has to pull back and has to wait until tomorrow?

Love it. I think the biggest thing obviously is the planning. But in the planning, I think one of the biggest mistakes people make, and of course, we hear this all the time, work life balance, work life balance. It’s not a balance. In most people’s jobs, in most industries I work with, it’s not a balance. A balance would indicate there’s some sort of fair number that goes between the amount of time you’re at work and the time you’re at home. I’m a huge believer that it’s much more of a swing. It’s much more of a teeter totter, if you will. The fact of the matter is sometimes you have to work and when you’re at work and there’s going to be a time, maybe an end of quarter period, or I certainly have times in my life that are incredibly busy for conferencing.

And then, nobody in Australia has conferences in December or January. So, that’s our summer vacation. Close right down. So, I take eight weeks off there. I take all the school holidays off because that tends to be less conferencing. But then there’s times that’s busy. And you know what? In February and March, I can tell, I’m booked every day and that’s my time. And look, I’m not going to be home as much during that time frame. At the same time, December, January, I’m going to be there every day, all day. So, I think for me it’s a swing and while my life’s probably more extreme than a lot of people’s lives, I still think there’s times that are busy, there’s times that are less busy.

For you to be conscious about, “All right. I’m looking at the next six weeks. In the next six weeks, I realize that week is going to be pretty hard. I’m going to be stuck at work for a lot of time that week.” And that’s okay. No guilt about it. Communication. Communication with our partners, communication with our children, communication with each other. And no guilt. And then another time, we go, “Hey, listen. That’s going to be my chance to take the foot off the pedal a little bit.” So, we look at the next six weeks and we map out the workout plan, how are we going to train, how are we going to work out, where are we going to the gym, what’s our outcome there.

So, for me, it’s planning just on a weekly practical thing, just for your listeners, the only thing I advocate is the Sunday skeleton, and that’s really to sit down on a Sunday night and just do a skeleton plan of your week. Make sure you’ve got all your meetings, everything that’s going to take your time, school pick ups, whatever’s got to happen there. And then, especially just to have that level of preview of what needs to get done, set your outcomes for those weeks and then go back and just review every night. And I would say if you work 70% to an excellent schedule, it’s not about getting 100% right, if you work 70% to an excellent schedule, you’ll be much more, much more productive than people who are just in reactive mode and are not focused.


Talk to us about you said that perfection gets in the way of an outstanding life. So, what’s the difference between perfection and outstanding?

Well, I think it’s a full lived life. Perfection sets us up to feel bad about ourselves. We’re not allowed to age. That’s a problem, Neil. That’s a problem in the modern world today that you’re not allowed to age and we’ve got a world where we are inundated with image at all times. And you’ve got people that even though they’re sitting in a meeting, they’re still half thinking to themselves, “Wow. While I’m sitting in this meeting I’m actually thinking about how I did that little post on Instagram this morning. I’m also curious how many likes I’ve gotten on that post.” I just think for me, when we take a look at how hard we are as a society on how we look, how hard we are as a society on competing with the Joneses, on making sure that what we have is equivalent or better than our neighbors’.

Right now what’s going on in the U.S., just even some of the blatant stuff around what people are doing to put their kids in different schools that they want to get into, I mean, this level of competing. Is this about the kids? No, you’ve set those kids up in a bad way. It’s about the parents. We start thinking about all this pressure, all this competition that’s out there and how is it that we actually have a perspective on what we’re doing so that we’re clear about what our value system actually is and we’re clear about what’s the right thing here and the wrong thing here, and at the end of the day, that we can look at it go, “All right. I don’t need to be everything,” because if you try that, you’re going to be miserable. One of the things I teach, Neil, and you might have a kick, this might be a bit of fun, but I this idea of “10 seconds of guilt… move on.”


Tell us about this.

“10 second of guilt… move on” is me saying, “You know what? Man, I’m going to miss my kid’s basketball game tonight. You know what? There’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve got an international meeting. I can’t help it.” That’s my reality and I’m a big believer that there are two things the stop growth, Neil, in human beings. Number one is focusing on, complaining about, carrying on about, carrying on about, complaining about things you can’t control. That’s number one and we all know that. But number two is even more important that’s focusing on, complaining about, carrying on about things you will not change. So, if you’re not going to change it, well, then I say you have a useful belief about it and part of that useful belief is to say, “You know what? I can’t change this reality right now.”

So, me feeling guilty about it is not going to help me be more effective in my international meeting. Me feeling guilty about it is not actually going to serve me. It’s not going to serve my customers. It’s not going to serve my clients. And ultimately, it is what it is. There’s nothing I can do to change it. So, I said 10 seconds of guilt, let’s just feel it for a minute, boom, feel that guilt. And then you know what? Exit the feeling. 10 seconds of guilt… move on. And that’s it because it’s not serving anyone to do anything else. We can’t get it right all the time. By the same token, there might another time to flip it and go, “Listen. I actually am going to my kid’s basketball game. It’s a championship game. I’m not going to miss it. Well, I’m upset somebody at work, and you know what? I’ve made that a priority today. That’s what I’m going to do. So, you know what? I’m sorry that that person is upset with me. We’ll fix it up. We’ll figure out how to deal with that.

But in the mean time, 10 seconds of guilt… exit the feeling. I’m not going to focus on it because, again, it’s something I can’t control. I think we live in a world right now where we are so dialed into other people’s perspective on us, and of course, that goes to social media, that goes to likes. We really get to a place where we go, “Hang on. It’s not about for me, it really is not about for me that if I’m focused on what everybody else is thinking…” I guess I put it like this. There’s one thing that we all control every that and that one thing we control every day, Neil, is our output. Your output every day to how you show up, and how you control your mind, and how you control your levels of guilt, and how you control your levels of focus, and frankly, a lot of people are a pinball on a pinball machine, and you know what? When you’re that, you get bounced around and you have no control over your life.


So, I want to ask you about guilt and change. Like you said, guilt is not a useful belief that you have. It just brings you down. It doesn’t really help things. But a lot of guilt over time may be a bigger signal that you do need to change. So, when do you make that decision that, “Hey, I’ve been feeling this guilt a lot. I’ve been doing this 10 second thing a lot. And I think it’s time to change”?

I think it’s exactly that and I think it’s exactly as you said. So much is just being conscious, Neil, as you know. And I think there is a point to go, “Listen. Hang on a second here. I’ve been having this talk to myself every day and actually I’m finding right now that this is something I could change and it’s not something I’m happy about. It’s not something that I feel good about. It’s not something that I feel connected to my life about.” And look, sometimes, again, let’s go to the guild concept here for a second. There’s a couple of different ways to look at it but I think sometimes changing something in your life or even quitting something in your life that’s not working for you, I mean, that’s okay. That’s part of reality. In fact, some of those decisions are the best decisions you ever make. So, not for a minute am I a person that is saying you’ve got to just plow through regardless and no guilt because we’re obviously not talking about the kind of guilt from your behavior patterns which are destructive.

But we’re talking about that feeling where we’re not consciously in control of our lives and I think if we’re in a place where we feel like this is happening over and over and over again, then I think we do need to make change and the easiest way to make change or the easiest way to manage it is, again, to look at those six things and say, “Okay. If I was to change this, how does that affect these other things?” And again, to me, I don’t need those six things in any sort of harmony. There are going to be times in my life that I’m going to focus on work, family, friends, health, boom, that might be it. And there might be another time in my life, there’s other people listening to this who go, “You know what? I’ve just spent so much time in those areas. I need a little me time. Or you know what? I really am in need of some stole food and I need to go do something for the community.” So, there’s not a right answer and I think sitting down, though, with those six things, sitting down with family, work, friends, health, me time, community, and sitting down with those six things and having a look at it and going, “All right. How do these things work for me?” And again, it’s not balance. It’s choice, and conscious choice.


Definitely. Walk us through your concept of accelerated focus. What do you mean by that and how can we apply that to the business world?

Again, let’s just take the word component of it, that, again, we are flying from meeting to meeting, we’re flying from call to call, we’re getting hung up on emails. Email is one of the greatest distractions of all time. And again, let’s cut the noise. So, what’s the stuff in your life that you need to focus on in your business life. So, simply put, identify, be clear about, know what are the things that are income producing, what’s the stuff that makes you money, what’s the stuff that gets you results, identify what needs to be done around that and then what needs to be delegated. We have a lot of people who, again, perfection gets in the way of an outstanding business in that I feel that I have to be in control of everything and I’m not willing to delegate. And the next thing you know, you’ve got people who should be doing nothing more than growing and developing business now spending time doing paperwork and menial tasks.

So, identifying, same thing, accelerated focus, what’s the stuff that counts, what’s the stuff that matters? I haven’t done an email in 18 months, Neil, what can I say? It’s the greatest thing in the whole world. I have a personal assistant who’s a gun, and you know what? I trust her completely. She is fantastic and she knows how to deal with every one of those things so that I can be in a situation where I’m out there growing my business. I’m out there talking to people. I’m out there face to face and I’m doing the things that matter because that’s not me sitting there booking my flights. That’s for sure. I shouldn’t be sitting there worried about whether I’m going to catch the transfer between Sydney on the way to Adelaide. That’s not going to help me at all. So, for me, I need to be in front of clients. I need be talking to people with that level of focus and identifying what needs to be done and what needs to be delegated.


Well, Chris, my last question here is going to be a shift in focus. I want to hear about the people you interact with as you’re going to give a conference because a lot of our listeners, they’re leading large teams, they may be trying to organize some team event, trying to organize a conference themselves. What are the signals among their team when they look and say what do we need to hear, what do we need to see, what should they be looking for that might signal that, “Hey, my team is under a lot of guilt right now or I feel like there’s a lot of perfection driving in here and I want to address that.” What are some of those signals that they should look for in a team to say, “Hey, maybe we need to address this”?

Well, I think, first of all, it is making sure everybody in your team probably has the freedom and the ability to be across these ideas. So, again, obviously a lot of leaders out there what I see and a lot of “team leaders”, there they are and it’s obviously a results driven business, it’s a numbers driven business, and everything else doesn’t matter. Well, obviously, when you take a look at the modern world and we’ve got employees coming up and millennials and how they interact, it’s more important than ever I think that people have the flexibility to understand that we all have lives and one of the great distinctions of the millennial employee today obviously is that, if you go back a generation, there were almost two parts to people’s lives, there was work and home and they didn’t cross those over. But today, one of the challenges is I think people have so much going on. They’re on Facebook and they’re on social media and everything’s combining, everything’s in combination. They’ve got one big thing called life. And that’s really why this distinction of taking a look at those six areas becomes important.

So, I think the first step, for me, as a leader, is to make sure that everybody’s across it. Everybody knows these are the six things that are important to people. We want to help you in those areas. I walk into two kinds of offices. I walk into offices that are energized, that have motion, that have posture and connection and energy. And I walk into others and I’m like, man, Neil, what time’s the viewing of the body? Like, man, this place is bad. And I’m a big believer that leadership, boom, a fish rots from the head. Show me a poor leader, I’ll show you a poor team. It’s no different in sports and I work with a lot of the athletes over here in Australia. Show me a great leader, show me great leadership, and I’ll show you an engaged team. Most people want to be inspired, Neil. That’s what they want. They want to be inspired and they want you to lead from the front with energy and I think that when you have a meeting, have that meeting for one or two reasons. I mean, everyone should walk out of that meeting with information and inspiration. That’s it. So, they’ve got more information than they had and they’re inspired, more inspired than when they walked in. Anything short of that, probably wasn’t a good meeting.

So, starting to think about how do we create an environment for my team that they can flourish in all six of those areas or that I sit down with my people and I talk about what are their goals for the year, what’s in those six areas, what do they really want to hit, how can I help support them in terms of their better flexibility that they need to be successful in these six areas. So, I think if I’m managing 20 people, I can look at 20 and I think we can ask ourselves the question who in this room is engaged, who is not engaged. And we wouldn’t ask that of them. I’m asking that of myself as a leader and really try to help identify that if we can bring everybody back into a place of engagement, the results go through the roof. If we have a team that’s disengaged, the results will follow suit.


It’s been great talking with you, Chris. Where can people go to stay in touch with you to follow along with what you’re doing?

Go to If they can’t remember that, Neil, my name’s Chris Helder and you can add dot com. But they could certainly join me on Instagram which is great, join me on Linkedin for sure and there’s lots of little free video clips of different things that you can go to YouTube and take a look at that. And obviously the books and everything else on my website. But we love to hear from the team and I’m usually in the States probably between 7 and 10 times a year doing conferences there as well. So, I’m over in the States a lot.


Fantastic. Well, Chris, it’s been great to speak with you and we look forward to chatting again later.

Thanks, Neil. Appreciate it.

Chris Helder is a business communication expert and master storyteller whose presentations have radically transformed how thousands of people worldwide communicate with clients, customers, colleagues, staff and teams. He has been a professional speaker for 18 years and has done over 2,450 presentations around the world.

He is the bestselling author of three books “The Ultimate Book of Influence” which has been published in five languages, “Useful Belief”, which is one of the highest selling Australian business books of all time and “Cut The Noise” which is about achieving better results with greater focus.

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