Redefining hustle culture with Robin Arzón (Transcript)

ReThinking with Adam Grant
Redefining hustle culture with Robin Arzón
February 20, 2024

[00:00:00] Adam Grant:
Hey everyone, it's Adam Grant. Welcome back to ReThinking, my podcast on the science of what makes us tick. I'm an organizational psychologist, and I'm taking you inside the minds of fascinating people to explore new thoughts and new ways of thinking. My guest today is Robin Arzón. She's the beloved head instructor at Peloton and an endurance athlete.

She's run five marathons in five days and a 100-mile ultramarathon. Robin's also the author of Shut Up and Run, a former lawyer, a new contributor to Good Morning America, and a survivor of a near-death experience. I have multiple friends who are devoted members of Robin's Peloton Wolfpack. And they tell me that sometimes she's the only reason they make it to and through a workout. So I was excited to talk with her about finding motivation, maintaining energy, and rethinking hustle culture.

Robin, anything you want to make sure we do or don't talk about?

[00:01:06] Robin Arzón:
Oh, I’m open. Let’s just rock.

[00:01:07] Adam Grant:
I wanna know, how do you go from lawyer to chief fitness instructor, head trainer? This is a massive career pivot. How did that happen, Robin?

[00:01:17] Robin Arzón:
I mean, I think like most change, it was slow and iterative. It was not a very dramatic, singular moment. I ran myself out of a law career. I was a corporate litigator in New York City, and I fell in love with running. So I started to really think about how I would be able to monetize this new passion, knowing that I would never be a professional athlete in a traditional sense. So, yeah, that, that's kind of how that pivot came to be.

[00:01:43] Adam Grant:
It's so surprising that running was a late discovery for you, given how central it is to your life now. Did, did you not run at all as a kid?

[00:01:50] Robin Arzón:
Not at all. I had anxiety in, in, in PE, in gym class, like the whole idea of being picked last for kickball or, you know, I used to get made fun of for the way I ran.

I am, uh, the daughter of a Cuban refugee and, um, a boricua from the Bronx. And sports didn't happen like maybe on your abuelo’s stoop, but it wasn't organized T-ball from when you're three and s occer practice at six. So I felt like I was late to the game by the time I was even exposed to this stuff in school. And it was really intimidating to think some of these kids had been doing it already for 6, 8, 10 years.

So I just told myself I was okay with that until I started to get an appetite for running and I realized, oh my gosh, like I can become my own source of confidence through movement. And I never looked back.

[00:02:40] Adam Grant:
How did that happen?

[00:02:41] Robin Arzón:
Well, it really happened initially through, through trauma, actually. I was held at gunpoint when I was in college, and I really used movement to help heal from that. I was in law school at the time. I was a 1L, and I had a pair of dusty, like, Keds or something in my closet, and one day I just decided to not drive to campus, the mile and a quarter to campus, and I walked, and then the day after that I was like, “What if I just jog this one block?” And that's really how it started.

It was truly, and I had, like, law books in my bag. I mean, it was messy. It probably did not look pretty. My form was probably horrendous, but that was really how it started. Very nascent beginnings. Very, very, very, very humble beginnings.

[00:03:20] Adam Grant:
Wow. And looking back, were there early signs that you missed? Like were, were you somebody who was always bouncing off the walls with energy?

[00:03:27] Robin Arzón:
Internal energy, yes, but I'm incredibly focused. When I'm in deep work, I can sit at my computer, at my journal, at my desk for hours on end. Right? So I think that focus allowed me to, to be okay, actually, to not bounce off the walls. But now that I have such an embodied, literally embodied practice of expression, I actually look at movement as from a very creative standpoint. I say I paint and sweat, like that for me is artistry, but it never called to me until adulthood.

[00:03:59] Adam Grant:
You get held at gunpoint and that becomes a catalyst to start running. And then one day you're running five marathons in five days. You’re running a hundred mile ultramarathon. Like, does, doesn't that seem a little bit absurd to you?

[00:04:13] Robin Arzón:
[laughter] I mean, I like extremes. I think every endurance athlete who's listening is like, “I get it.” You know? I mean, there's just something, and you're a runner too, so you probably, you have to get it. It's the, it's this question that is constantly asked every time you lace up or every time you sign up for a race.

It's just this little quiet hum that it's like, “What, what else can you do?” And I, I just continue to ask myself that question, especially when I first discovered running because I was like, oh my gosh. Like I can move my body from here to there and feel like a total badass? Like I'm in charge of the story that I'm telling, and you never regret a run or a workout. So that became, really, like rocket fuel for my hustle in every area.

[00:05:00] Adam Grant:
Never? Never? You've never had a workout you regretted?

[00:05:03] Robin Arzón:

[00:05:04] Adam Grant:
Wow, that's impressive.

[00:05:05] Robin Arzón:

[00:05:06: Adam Grant:

[00:05:06] Robin Arzón:
Let's unpack this. Regret what aspect of it? If you went too hard, if you wore the wrong shoes or, yes. There are pieces of it that you're like, “Okay, I learned X, Y, Z.” But the experience as a whole, absolutely not, because I put it in my back pocket and I'm like, all right, cool. Like I've got more fuel for tomorrow.

[00:05:24] Adam Grant:
I was thinking of times when I pushed myself to work out when I was sick and pushed myself too far.

[00:05:28] Robin Arzón:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But then you learn and then now you have more information, more data points. I know you love a data point from wi, from which—

[00:05:37] Adam Grant:
I do bring it on.

[00:05:37] Robin Arzón:
You know, to make, make the next best decision.

[00:05:39] Adam Grant:
I feel like one of the biggest challenges, particularly in endurance is feeling like you're stuck. Tell me about, hm, when you get stuck and what you do about it.

[00:05:48] Robin Arzón:
Um, okay, so one of my favorite mantras is “A plateau is a launching pad”. Motivation, I think is the biggest lie we've been ever told, we’ve ever been told. It, it doesn't matter when you feel, whether you feel like it, like we are not promised this song and dance of being distracted and entertained all day, every day. Like, the greats, however you inform greatness in leadership, in business, in sports. They did a ton of boring stuff. Thousands of hours of boring things that nobody ever saw to get to where they are.

Success is tedious a lot of times. We just don't talk about it. We don't talk about the tedium. If it's just like, “Ugh, today is another day. Gotta put in the miles.” Like, yeah, and? And? So, so that's, that, that's my internal conversation is like, “And? And go girl, like, nobody promised you that this was gonna be cute.”

And actually now as a parent, like I, I talk to my husband all the time. I'm like, we are not clowns. Like, I did not sign up to then wear a red nose and entertain this kid all day. Like, she'll figure it out. That's how I talk to myself as well. [laughter]

[00:06:59] Adam Grant:
I love the attitude, and I'm wanting to absorb a little bit of it. So let's take a personal example from me. Yes. I'm taking this moment as like, okay, Robin's my personal coach. So what I've always needed.

[00:07:09] Robin Arzón:
I love it.

[00:07:10] Adam Grant:
I’d been just, like, playing ultimate Frisbee and tennis for cardio, and then I'd started doing the elliptical. I, I like challenging myself, and I decided I was gonna do a four mile run, four days a week.

And within about three months, I shaved two minutes off my four mile time. It was super exciting. I was down to under 28 minutes.

[00:07:27] Robin Arzón:

[00:07:28] Adam Grant:
But then I got sick and it took me a couple of weeks to recover, and I've never been able to get back to that.

[00:07:34] Robin Arzón:

[00:07:34] Adam Grant:
It’s been over a year now, and the progress was extremely motivating, but now I'm frustrated. I'm training just as hard as I did a year ago, and yet like 30 or so seconds slower.

[00:07:44] Robin Arzón:

[00:07:45] Adam Grant:
Like what do you say to yourself in those moments?

[00:07:47] Robin Arzón:
So, first of all, those are what we call beginner gains. So it's when you're new to something—

[00:07:52] Adam Grant:
Are you calling me a beginner?

[00:07:53] Robin Arzón:
Any sport, anything. If, if I were to start something today, I, you know, and I consistently did it for, you said a year. In that year, you're gonna see progress, and you're gonna see those adaptations more quickly. Once you get to the upper edge of your natural and trained aptitude and capabilities, it's gonna become harder and harder to get that extra 1%, right? And the folks at the top of their game, they fight for half a second, you know? When you're really talking about like Olympians and stuff. So that's a totally natural bell curve and the frustration that you're feeling, you need to get enchanted with something else along the way, like there has to be something else that is your carrot. It's gotta be something else about the process. You're just gonna have to be super consistent. Consistency is the infinite game.

[00:08:45] Adam Grant:
I'm a hundred percent with you there, and this is what I find frustrating, like lifting weights. I don't always get stronger, but I can always maintain my strongest lift, like when once I reached a certain peak, I didn't know if I was gonna exceed it, but I could always get back to that level. And I think it's the feeling of getting worse as opposed to stagnating that really bugs me.

[00:09:04] Robin Arzón:
Okay. Okay. But what—

[00:09:05] Adam Grant:
So what do you do about that?

[00:09:05] Robin Arzón:
Right. But what if you change the game? This is what I'm saying, like, like fall in love with something about the process. Okay. Your heaviest lift. I'm kind of reaching the ceiling on my one rep max for this lift.

What can I do for five? What, what can I do for 20? Right? You can change the volume, you can change the consistency. You know, there's a lot of things that you can play with. That's how I choose to look at the movement game.

[00:09:26] Adam Grant:
Okay. So this is, this is your, I guess you're capturing a, a challenge that I have from a personality standpoint, which is I don't wanna mix it up. Like I, I found my goal, I'm attached to it, and I don't really want to take on a new challenge. And you're saying get over it?

[00:09:41] Robin Arzón:
Yes. Okay. Let me real with you. You're creating your own plateau by not changing up the stimuli.

[00:09:46] Adam Grant:
Yes I am.

[00:09:46] Robin Arzón:
So you have your own a—

[00:09:48] Adam Grant:
That’s what I do. Welcome to my life, Robin.

[00:09:50] Robin Arzón:
That's the thing. I mean, okay. So you try, you try some different variables. You get super charged on, you know. A little bit of achievement, different carrots, and you're gonna have new goals. It's, it's gonna be great. You have what most people are unable to achieve, which is the consistency in showing up. That's most people's downfall.

[00:10:10] Adam Grant:
You talked about finding something to enjoy in the process, and I think this, this goes to some of what I've been writing about around deliberate play and transforming the grind. I find this really challenging in an activity like running. Running is probably the most boring thing I do.

There's not a lot of variety in it. It doesn't feel creative to me. I keep myself entertained by watching TV or movies or listening to music or podcasts, but like compared to every other sport I've done or every other goal I've pursued, it's the hardest thing for me to turn into deliberate play. So what's your secret? How do you do it?

[00:10:44] Robin Arzón:
For me, running in a city and in an environment has always been part of my, my running narrative. I joke that New York City was like my first boyfriend before I got married because I had such a deep relationship with running in New York. It's how I healed from trauma. It's how I celebrated. It's how I metabolized life’s stuff energetically or emotionally.

So for me, the changing up the environment, even taking the same route backwards, goes a long way. Like you obviously have different visual cues. I forced myself to sign up for 50-mile ultra marathons so I could leave my, I think it was like an iPod shuffle or whatever at the time at home.

Like that was my cross to bear. It was like, I am gonna train for this ultra without these tools. And your mind just starts to click in a different way. Like, I, I, it’s really hard for me. I'm sure there are scientists and, and doctors who could explain that from, from like a biological level or you know, a brain health level, but that, that is what happened to me. Like I started ultra training and I was just able to get this immense flow state that was earned. It was not like this first run was a joy and a runner's high. Some of it was very much a grind, physically, of course it was, but I would say mentally, I was able to focus on different things.

I would be at a light and just focus on like the architecture in New York, which I never even look at, but I live here, you know? So those are the little things. Oh. But I will say, when I did those five marathons in five days across Utah, it was harder for me to use the landscape as fuel. For me, there's something about an urban environment, but obviously that's super subjective. That's not very prescriptive advice.

[00:12:33] Adam Grant:
No. That, no, I think that makes sense. It’s just another sort of prompt to look for more variety, not just in the goals, but in the process.

[00:12:40] Robin Arzón:
Yeah, but I think you're being so hard. I mean, so then what if running isn't your deliberate play? What if running is just your… It is your cardio. Like we don't have to make it more than it is all the time.

[00:12:51] Adam Grant:
I agree with that, and that's, that's how I've been looking at it actually, is just to say, “Look, this is a thing I do because it's good for me and I like the way I feel afterward.” And I, I guess I, I'm curious to hear your take on the timing of it all too.

So I read some research recently that if you work out in the morning before work, you're actually more engaged and less exhausted in your jobs.

[00:13:12] Robin Arzón:
More confident.

[00:13:13] Adam Grant:
Exactly. Yeah. That you get that early win and it not only boosts your energy but your efficacy too. You're like, okay, whatever challenge is in front of me, it's, it's one that I can conquer as opposed to a threat that I've gotta run away from.

And that, that led me to think, okay, there's a case to be made that we should aim for morning workouts whenever possible. But sometimes, like, uh, today is a good example. Like, I just felt like crap. I did my morning workout anyway. It didn't go well. And then I felt like I had to do another one to make up for it, and I'm like, ah, I should just waited till I felt better.

Like, how do you think about that kind of dilemma? Do you always do morning workouts? Do you mix it up depending on how you feel?
[00:13:49] Robin Arzón:
Ooh. Hmm, that's a really great question. Like when do you call it, like when is it pivoting and when is it failing? So 99% of the time, my schedule and my process and my discipline trump how I'm feeling.

The exceptions would be. Fever, you know, COVID, like stuff that is like, yeah girl, you are, you are staying in bed today. But the, the injury—

[00:14:14] Adam Grant:
Injury, yeah.

[00:14:14] Robin Arzón:
Injury. Super acute injury. Um, but those are outliers. I almost always feel better after a workout, but this is what you have to modulate is the effort, right? And I think that actually takes a greater amount of self-love and discipline and a greater amount of confidence to know when to pull back in those instances.

So it's less about “Do I show up or not?” But it's having the confidence and the discipline to say, “I'm gonna show up and I'm not gonna put extra weight on the bar. I am not gonna go that literal, extra mile because right now, today, this is my hundred percent and that's okay.”

[00:14:49] Adam Grant:
I like that. It reminds me of a meme I saw not too long ago where it was an image of your best looking different every day.

[00:14:55] Robin Arzón:

[00:14:56] Adam Grant:
Which is such a good reminder.

[00:14:58] Robin Arzón:
There's so much freedom in that framework because then it doesn't feel like failure. It feels like you are owning how you're showing up, because if you're feeling less than a hundred percent, but you still give up to what you have that day, that's still a percentage of your energy system. That's very real.

[00:15:18] Adam Grant:
You pushed me on something a couple minutes ago that I want to come back to, which is the question of do you have to get better? Like, why do I have to be obsessed with my personal best or my personal record? Isn't it good just to work out? It, it seems to me that you're of two minds about this.

Like on the one hand you really like to push yourself to keep improving, and on the other hand, you're telling other people to be content that, like, today was okay. Like I got through it, it wasn't great. How do you navigate that tension?

[00:15:47] Robin Arzón:
I live in that tension every moment of every day. I approach it in seasons. For me right now, I'm, I'm in a season of really focusing on power and lifting, and I'm in like a strength season of my life. I'm still running, I'm still cycling, but I'm getting a little bit more granular and specific on the weight that I'm putting on the bar, the barbell or, or on the dumbbells.

I went through a period of time for almost 10 years where it was signing up for race, trying to get faster, always trying to get faster, like the track and the splits and in the watch and the garment and the shoes and like, how can I move the needle 1%?

And I understand that hunger, but I burnt out. It was like my 25th marathon I think, and I was just like, “I hate every second of this.” And part of it, then also it was my job and there was like a re-recognizable aspect of it on the course, and I was really resenting the training and I thought, oh my gosh, no, I don't wanna give this up. I love it too much. So I have to pull back. So I actually pulled back, and that's when I really started focusing on lifting.

And then my last New York City marathon two years ago. I loved it and it wasn't a personal record, but it was a, a time that I was proud of, and it was also pretty newly postpartum, but so there are a lot of factors there, but zooming out allowed me to fall in love with it again in a different way, and now I have a more nuanced relationship with the run that will serve me much longer than this binary win or lose. Either I PR or I fail, and I wanted to hold onto the run, like, I wanna maintain this love affair for a lot longer.

[00:17:23] Adam Grant:
When you mentioned that motivation is a myth or a lie in some ways, and I think you prefer momentum, talk to me about the difference between the two.

[00:17:31] Robin Arzón:
So motivation hinges on whether or not we feel like it, whether we saw something on Instagram, like who cares? It's about taking action and being a self-generated momentum factory. I think when we can marry a process that works with a purpose that gets us out of bed, it doesn't matter whether we're motivated to do it. It is the momentum that is gonna create future motivation. Motivation’s like the nicely dressed person who shows up at the party two hours late. It's like, girl, we've been here, like, nice of you to show up.

[00:18:11] Adam Grant:
That’s that's such an interesting reversal of the way we normally think about motivation and psychology. I've been studying the psychology of motivation for quar—a quarter century now, and it's always defined as a set of psychological processes that focus and energize and maintain effort. And so it sounds like motivation has to proceed action, but I think you're spot on. And there, there are a couple bodies of evidence that speak to this, that say, yeah, if you have zero motivation, you're not gonna act, but all you need is a tiny bit to say, okay, I'm gonna go to the gym—

[00:18:42] Robin Arzón:
Like a smidge.

[00:18:43] Adam Grant:
Or I'm gonna like, I'm gonna go to bed in my workout clothes. So I wake up feeling like I already took a step. What, whatever that—

[00:18:49] Robin Arzón:
I just talked about this, I just talked about this on Good Morning America. It's making one small decision today that is gonna make tomorrow a little bit easier.

[00:18:58] Adam Grant:
So you need a little motivation to act, and then you're right, the action, as it creates momentum, as you have a sense of efficacy and progress, then your motivation rises with it.

[00:19:08] Robin Arzón:
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

[00:19:10] Adam Grant:
That's, that's such a cool reorientation of everything we think we know about motivation. Well played.

[00:19:17] Robin Arzón:
Well, I'm honored to hear that from you, Adam. Thank you.

[00:19:19] Adam Grant:
I think it's really compelling and it, I think we're actually teaching a lot of motivation theory wrong based on that.

[00:19:25] Robin Arzón:
I think it does more harm than it does good for people to expect this avalanche of motivation to come or this consistent trickle of motivation to appear. And that's just not the way it works. Like if you aren't taking action, it's an illusion.

[00:19:44] Adam Grant:
I don't wait for motivation. I just act. And that's what you do too.

[00:19:49] Robin Arzón:
Yes. Yes. Taking any element of action quells my anxiety. Establishing one point of focus quells my fear, and it really has helped me with my relationship with these concepts of fear and anxiety and motivation because as long as I can make one choice, literally put one thing on my calendar, send one email, put my shoes by the door, I know that I'm just gonna iteratively get there, like it will ladder up to something, even if that's something looks different than I imagined.

[00:20:24] Adam Grant:
I'm thinking about a Houser-Marko and Sheldon paper on seeing yourself as a doer, like when you get an identity as an exerciser, or, more specifically, a cyclist or a runner or a healthy eater, that that becomes something that you want to keep doing.

[00:20:41] Robin Arzón:

[00:20:42] Adam Grant:
One of the things you do in your day job now is you motivate people to take on those identities. Like I've, I've heard from people, Robin, who are like, like their identity is, “I'm a member of the Wolfpack.”

[00:20:54] Robin Arzón:
Oh, I'm honored.

[00:20:55] Adam Grant:
Which is a really strong statement that you've become part of who they are. How do you think about embracing these kinds of identities yourself, and then also, how do you help other people see themselves in these doer terms?

[00:21:08] Robin Arzón:
Well, I mean, it helps that I'm physically doing workouts on the Peloton platform with these folks, right? I'm not just sitting in an office talking into a microphone in their ear, right? So there's that shared experience. Robin's Wolfpack was really established as, like, you can be a lone wolf, but we're gonna navigate this together, and we're gonna sharpen our teeth on these workouts.

And I'm not afraid of that hunger. I wanna see more of it. Um, so that's kind of the premise or the value system that it sits at top. But the method is really doing the workout with someone and the things that I'm infusing in the workouts, the storytelling, the mantras, is stuff that I've journaled, that, probably that morning. It's stuff that I've told myself. I always do my own workout before I teach at Peloton, and that has been consistent for over 10 years because I need to kind of get and maintain my own energy before I'm now doing it in a shared space.

[00:22:02] Adam Grant:
Wait, I'm sorry, Robin. You're doing, you're doing a pre-workout? Before your workout?

[00:22:06] Robin Arzón:
Yes. Yes.

[00:22:07] Adam Grant:
This is like a cool down. What, what other people think is pushing themselves.

[00:22:10] Robin Arzón:
I mean, it depends. It depends. Like the other day I taught a really tough 45-minute intervals ride called a, called a hit and hills ride. I knew that ride was gonna be really challenging, so I did an hour of Pilates prior. I'm trying to balance it, and so if I know it's gonna be a little bit more of a strength fo-focus workout, maybe that morning I'll do my running intervals, right? I'm being smart and prescriptive with my own movement, but my workout precedes the Peloton workout. That's not my workout.

[00:22:35] Adam Grant:
Well, a lot of people, a lot of people's self-esteem just took a hit.

[00:22:39] Robin Arzón:
It's my job. It's my, it's my job to do that.

[00:22:47] Adam Grant:
All right, let's go to a lightning round. Are you ready?

[00:22:49] Robin Arzón:

[00:22:49] Adam Grant:
Worst advice you've ever gotten?

[00:22:52] Robin Arzón:
Stay in your lane.

[00:22:54] Adam Grant:
Favorite workout mantras.

[00:22:55] Robin Arzón:
Um, [laughter] this morning I was doing a workout and I, I mean. I just kept telling myself, “You are that bitch.” [laugher]

[00:23:10] Adam Grant:
What does that mean?

[00:23:10] Robin Arzón:
Uh, I mean, you know how some artists have, like, alter egos, like Beyonce is Sasha Fierce? Like I don't have a name for her, but there is a, there's something that switches in my workouts that it's like I am banging on my chest and, like, speaking in the third person. [laughter] Yeah.

[00:23:31] Adam Grant:
That's so funny. If you haven't read Ethan Kross's book Chatter.

[00:23:34] Robin Arzón:
Oh, okay. I'll add that to my list—

[00:23:35] Adam Grant:
There’s a whole psychology of that. Self distance, self-talk is more motivating. It feels like it's coming from someone else.

[00:23:42] Robin Arzón:
Yes. It’s like this disembodied voice that is actually not disembodied at all.

[00:23:47] Adam Grant:
Quite the opposite.

[00:23:48] Robin Arzón:

[00:23:48] Adam Grant:
Uh. What about the worst workout advice you've ever heard or gotten?

[00:23:53] Robin Arzón:
Hmm. That somebody needs to prepare in order to workout. Like just start. Start where you are. Meet yourself where you are, and do something.

[00:24:03] Adam Grant:
Your least obvious workout tip.

[00:24:04] Robin Arzón:
Sleep is the unlock for all of it. If you're getting less than six hours of sleep, any kind of consistent movement practice is gonna become so much harder.

[00:24:14] Adam Grant:
What’s something you've rethought lately?

[00:24:15] Robin Arzón:
Recently postpartum, I had to rethink achievement. I had to rethink what felt like success in my workouts. 'Cause slowing down and taking weight off and doing body weight and just starting from what felt like zero was incredibly humbling. So I had to reestablish what success felt like in that period.

[00:24:36] Adam Grant:
Is there a, a favorite non-workout form of movement you have as a, a person who likes creative movement?

[00:24:40] Robin Arzón:
Dancing with my kids. A ki—we have kitchen dance parties that are awesome.

[00:24:47] Adam Grant:
Why does that not surprise me? And what's a question you have for me?
[00:24:51] Robin Arzón:
Oh gosh. What has been the hardest lesson that you've learned, like recently, the one that it took you longest to kind of digest?

[00:25:00] Adam Grant:
I, honestly, right now it's, it's the one that I'm trying to learn, which is that once I lock in on a goal, I need to be willing to be flexible in both the end I'm working toward and also the means that I use to achieve it. It's incredibly productive, but it's often uncreative and too linear and sometimes leads right to a brick wall.

[00:25:26] Robin Arzón:
Mm-Hmm. And what are you most excited about right now?

[00:25:28] Adam Grant:
Right now? I’m, I'm excited that I have the space to figure out what I'm excited about.

[00:25:33] Robin Arzón:

[00:25:33] Adam Grant:
Is that too meta?

[00:25:34] Robin Arzón:
No, it's amazing. I don't know if you're like a vision board guy, but I do vision boards and I, it for me, they allow me to just dream, and then I take that vision board and I create action items, and then I put those action items in my calendar. So it gives me a sense of control, even if where I end up in the creative process looks nothing like that. I need something to plant some seeds.

[00:25:56] Adam Grant:
That’s so funny. Hannah, our producer says, “I imagine you are not a vision board guy.” Right you are, Hannah. My, my idea of a vision board is a Word doc.

[00:26:07] Robin Arzón:
Yes. I, I, I can see that. To each their own. But then how do you go back to the well? Especially when you have prior successes behind you, how do you navigate that feeling of like, is it all gone? Like, do I have any more ideas left?

[00:26:21] Adam Grant:
I think that feeling is irrational because ideas don't come from within. They come from the outside world for the most part.

[00:26:27] Robin Arzón:
Yes, yes.

[00:26:28] Adam Grant:
Or from the, the friction between my perspective and values and what I see and experience. And so if I feel like I don't have any ideas, I haven't read anything outside my wheelhouse, I haven't had interesting interactions or conversations or gone to events that are with people that are different from the backgrounds I usually see. So to me, not having ideas is a sign that I'm making a mistake in the way that I structure my day. Not that I've regressed.
[00:26:58] Robin Arzón:
Hmm. But the friction that's needed for the expansion also lives in widening the aperture of your runs and your movement practice. [laughter]

[00:27:08] Adam Grant:
Oh, you're just twisting the knife, Robin. Uh, you're, you're gonna make sure I internalize this lesson, but you're right, it's true.

Okay. So I wanna talk about motivating other people. You didn't go and study to become a trainer, a coach, an icon. You have this, this status in other people's minds. There are people who rely on you for encouragement. For confidence, Yes, even sometimes for, let's say, momentum, if not motivation. What have you learned through playing that role for other people?

[00:27:41] Robin Arzón:
I don't believe in practicing what you preach. It's preaching what I already practice, and what I myself as a Guinea pig, as my own personal science experiment, have done. Back when I was in this healing period from trauma, I was like, “I can be a victim or a victor,” and I'm gonna start writing a new story.

And I love superhero. I grew up with like She-Ra in the eighties and I loved the whole superhero ride—

[00:28:03] Adam Grant:
By the power of Grayskull.

[00:28:04] Robin Arzón:
Exactly. And you know, I was like, “I’m just gonna create myself into this person that I respect. Into a badass, and I'm gonna create a superhero toolkit.” And in that toolkit I put breath work and therapy and movement and healthy eating and all the things that we all know, right?

This is one Google search away from this information, but it's consistently going back to that toolkit. At different chapters of our lives and saying, “This is what I need right now.” And so I guess the motivation piece is consistently doing that and consistently revealing aspects of that toolkit, hopefully in a helpful way, but I'm just a small part of the story. It's people consistently showing up and meeting that version of themselves that they like.

People say, "Be your best self.” I think people have an opportunity when they are consistently moving and, and working out to become their favorite selves, and that is a bigger revelation.

[00:29:08] Adam Grant:
What's the difference between the two for you?

[00:29:10] Robin Arzón:
“Best” includes other people's definitions of success, and I think “favorite” requires befriending ourselves in our heads. I think there's something very, very crucial that happens when you are consistently moving in that you have the opportunity to speak to yourself like you would a friend. And even better, when you have somebody on the other side of the screen, like myself, who you perceive as, as a peer, as a guide, as a leader, as a friend. Great. You're part of the Wolfpack. Let's rock.

[00:29:43] Adam Grant:
I’m really curious about the spillover into the rest of your life. Like, do you, do you say to your toddler or your husband, like, “You are that bitch”?

[00:29:53] Robin Arzón:
Um, I mean, not my toddler. Not, not yet. Who knows what, what our conversations will look like in, you know, 20 years.

[00:29:59] Adam Grant:
Do you motivate them differently as a result of the work you do?

[00:30:02] Robin Arzón:
It's hard to turn it off. I, I'm not as prescriptive with every single person in my life, 'Cause that would be too, too much. But yeah, like, you know, sometimes it's allowing my daughter to feel frustrated. It's giving her mantras that we can do hard things, that she is brave even when she's scared. She sees me do sprints on the Peloton tread. She came up to me the other morning and she was like, “Ooh, that looks hard. That looks like…” She was kind of just judgy about it too at three years old. But yeah, I'm allowing her to see me struggle. I think that that's really important.

[00:30:33] Adam Grant:
I’m curious about why we have such different reactions to mantras in different parts of our life. So, we love them for workouts. We think they're really cheesy when they show up on a poster in the office. Part of that is they're always more compelling when they come from somebody that you like and trust.

[00:30:51] Robin Arzón:
Mm-Hmm. Oh, absolutely.

[00:30:52] Adam Grant:
And when there aren't ulterior motives behind them, like a boss trying to trick you into working harder.

[00:30:58] Robin Arzón:

[00:30:59] Adam Grant:
I wonder, I wonder if it's more complicated than that. Like how do you, how do you think about the application of mantras to different spheres of life beyond exercise?

[00:31:05] Robin Arzón:
I actually don't have that cynical reaction to those. Not every single one would necessarily speak to me, but if it doesn't speak to me, I just keep it moving. And if it does, I will often, you know, literally write it down in my journal or notes in my phone. I wanna live in that ecosystem where everywhere I look there's material for me to build myself up and, 'cause you never know what's gonna, like, resonate in any given day. So I actually love it, and I love it all, even if it's not individually for me in that moment in time.

[00:31:37] Adam Grant:
I, I was struck when you said that a plateau is a launching pad as a, a good example of a mantra that I find compelling. How do you think about launching to what? Like, let's, let's go back, for example, to your career transition. Like there, there are a lot of different directions you could have taken that. How did you decide?

[00:31:54] Robin Arzón:
I initially took a leave of absence from my law firm and I had a Tumblr at the time, a blog, and I just told myself that I was gonna start documenting my story and see who I could connect with. And it was, really, from a naive place.

I had no idea. I did have my billable hours model from law and I was like, okay, if folks find this interesting, I'm a consultant now. And there wasn't some north star of somebody's career that I could exactly model 'cause a lot of this stuff didn't even exist yet. Influencer marketing, Peloton didn't exist.

Like, there was a lot that was just being built. And I wrote down my skillset, and then I wrote another list of things that I probably should know, you know, get my running coach certification, my personal… stuff that I could control and educate myself on. It was quitting my law firm job, going to the 2012 Olympic Games with a cracked iPhone, and just, quote, “reporting” from the games, whatever the hell that meant for me as with no journalist background.

But I knew I could write. I left London with a job actually working for an agency where Nike Women was my client. And I got this job by playing around in London, interviewing athletes, completely hustling, reaching out, DMing. I mean, it was a complete crapshoot, but I slept on my friend's couch for three weeks and I figured it out.

So I left there with a job, what I thought was my dream job. 'Cause I thought, okay, this is social media. It's storytelling, it's sport, it's women in sport. It's one of the biggest brands in the world. And I didn't like it because I was hiding behind other people's stories, and I knew that I had a specific point of view and mantras and a burgeoning body of work that I wanted to get out there.

And I was also working on my first book at the time, Shut Up and Run, which is like a running manual. And then quitting that job truly felt like jumping off the cliff. And that is when… I was just, went back into the toolkit. I was like, okay, girl, what you got? And then I started reading a little bit about Peloton, and I sent them a cold email and I just said, “Hey, what's up? We should be working together.” And I auditioned two days later and I had a contract at the end of that week.

[00:34:03] Adam Grant:
Wow. Wait, you actually said "We should be working together”?

[00:34:06] Robin Arzón:
Correct. That e, email does, alias doesn't exist anymore.

[00:34:12] Adam Grant:
Wow, that's bold.

[00:34:16] Robin Arzón:
Very, very. That was 10 over 10 years ago.

[00:34:18] Adam Grant:
What, what do you think they responded to in that, and why was it such a quick audition to, to job process?

[00:34:24] Robin Arzón: This is a very traditional audition, right? So it's like camera on, you play your music. I was showing what I could offer. I think energy speaks volumes. Energy is absolutely a currency. And in that email, I just threw everything in there, how impassioned I was, how I had thought I had my dream career, but I knew it wasn’t.

And I wanted to be disruptive in technology and storytelling and go global. I believed in the dream, like I believed that it would go beyond a small cycling studio on 23rd street. I really believed that we could create a community to change people's lives. And I knew, 'cause I was teaching at a small cycling studio in New York City with like 15, 20 bikes, and I would just sit there and think, “This has to be able to scale bigger than this.” I just didn't know what that meant until I read the article about Peloton.

[00:35:10] Adam Grant:
I, I love this point that energy is a form of currency. It's exactly what I came away with when I met you last year. I, I must have been talking to two or three different people who are super fans of yours. What is it about Robin? Why are you so attached to this one person? Because I’m always, I, I'm like, you're not a cult leader. And yet…

[00:35:29] Robin Arzón:
No, no, no, that's, that is not on my 2024 vision board. [laughter]

[00:35:34] Adam Grant:
I hope not. But you, you have that kind of passionate following. And I wanted to know why. I'm guessing that's just something that comes naturally, but I wonder if it's something you've actually thought about, how you project it as a currency.

[00:35:45] Robin Arzón:
I don't necessarily think about how I project it, but I do think about how I protect it. I protect my energy like with a shield and a sword, and by that I mean I say no to most things. My home is a cocoon and is really protected. Like nobody enters my home unless they're in my personal life and really understand that energetic vibration that I wanna keep.

I've long understood energy to be a currency, my own ener-energy to be a currency. And I think about how I'm spending it or saving it very much how somebody might think about their finances. And that's why sleep and fuel and all these hydration, all the basics are, I, I actually consider, like, my full-time job. 'Cause nobody, none of my partners make money if, if I don't protect that.

[00:36:36] Adam Grant:
This captures something that I think so many people get wrong when they contrast hustle culture with self-care. There's a difference between intensity and volume.

[00:36:44] Robin Arzón:

[00:36:44] Adam Grant:
And that you can choose something extremely challenging and push yourself extremely hard to try to achieve it. But that doesn't mean you have to beat yourself up or burn yourself out.

[00:36:55] Robin Arzón:
Hustle requires the confidence to define what the ladder looks like, what the definition of success looks like. And my definition of success includes my own self-care practices. I'm redefining hustle.

[00:37:11] Adam Grant:
Yes. So how would you define hustle then?

[00:37:13] Robin Arzón:
I would define hustle as work ethic that is gritty but also gracious and, and I wanna create a sustainable hum. And to me that means being so proud when my head hits the pillow with a willingness and a freedom to go to bed at night.

[00:37:32] Adam Grant:
That's a hell of a vision.

[00:37:32] Robin Arzón:
It’s what I think about.

[00:37:34] Adam Grant:
I could draw that. It's, it's not gonna be on a vision board. But I could draw it.

[00:37:38] Robin Arzón:
I'll take it.

[00:37:38] Adam Grant:
Gritty, but also gracious. A sustainable hum. Love it. Well, I don't wanna keep you any longer. You have people to motivate and PRs to smash.

[00:37:50] Robin Arzón:
That’s right. Or naps to take.

[00:37:53] Adam Grant:
And I'm gonna inflict some of your mantras on my colleagues.

[00:37:57] Robin Arzón:
Love it. Spread the good word.

[00:38:01] Adam Grant:
Energy is currency. That might be my new favorite mantra. What am I talking about? I'm not supposed to have any favorite mantras. I am definitely a mantra skeptic, and my impulse was when I heard a mantra that I thought was silly or oversimplified to either dismiss it or debunk it. Now I'm thinking that even if a mantra doesn't motivate me today, it could be a source of momentum tomorrow.

ReThinking is hosted by me, Adam Grant, and produced by TED with Cosmic Standard. Our team includes Colin Helms, Eliza Smith, Jacob Winik, Aja Simpson, Samiah Adams, Michelle Quint, Banban Cheng, Hannah Kingsley-Ma, Julia Dickerson, and Whitney Pennington Rodgers. This episode was produced and mixed by Cosmic Standard.

Our fact checker is Paul Durbin, original music by Hansdale Hsu, and Allison Leyton-Brown.

My next step is gonna be, uh, any day I don't hit it, I’m just gonna punish myself by running longer.

[00:38:58] Robin Arzón:
Great. That's not what I said, but, but let me know how that goes for you.

[00:39:02] Adam Grant:
I will. It actually sounds fun.