Interview: Maki Moussavi.
Maki Moussavi is a coach, speaker, and author of The High Achiever’s Guide: Transform Your Success Mindset and Begin the Quest to Fulfillment. A former corporate professional, she shares tools she's used herself and with clients to help ambitious, goal-oriented professionals rewrite their programming and start living on their own terms rather than by the “rules” that have been set by others.
I couldn't wait to talk to Maki about happiness, habits, and productivity.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Maki: I go outside for at least a little while every single day. I put on my headphones, listen to music, a podcast or an audio book, and walk. Fresh air and being in nature always give me an energy boost.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I understand now that my happiness is up to me. It’s not anyone else’s job to make me happy. I can choose who I spend time with, what I spend it on, how I react to the world around me, and how to show up. It’s about being empowered and creating it, not expecting to feel it based on the actions of others. That said, I believe that the people you spend time with have a powerful impact on your happiness and I’ve made very deliberate choices in that regard.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
I like the idea of gaining a challenging healthy habit. For me, that meant creating the habit of being present in my own mind. I am naturally a Type A personality and at a time when I was chasing an externally-defined version of success rather than my own, I was in autopilot mode a lot of the time. It took concerted effort to tune in and be conscious of what I was thinking and feeling instead of going through the motions. The way I did it was by keeping a journal and taking a few minutes throughout the day to review the activities I had been engaged in up to that point and how I felt while engaged in them.
It only took a few days to realize that I spent 85-90% in a negative mental space without even knowing it. In order to keep making progress, I would use affirmations or phrases to reset how I was thinking. For instance, if I was sitting in traffic on my commute annoyed about the delay, I would say to myself, “It’s great to have this time to myself and can listen to anything I want.” If it was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner and feeling annoyed by the task, I would say “I’m so grateful that my family has food to eat and it’s a privilege to have something to clean up.” Having gratitude for the little things was key to creating the healthy mindset.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Upholder is my official result, but I have a lot of Questioner tendencies as well. It took a lot of stepping away from outer expectations to get to where I am today, but it’s absolutely true that I am reliable from my own perspective as well as that of others!
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
It’s funny you should ask, because my house was literally struck by lightning 3 years ago. It was at a time when I was waffling about what I would do after (if!) I left my corporate job. I would ping-pong between two or three ideas and not commit to any of them because it still felt like a weird, other-worldly thing to even be considering. I took the lightning strike as a message that it was time to make a real move in one direction and that’s when everything shifted for me.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
My personal go-to and favorite is “Everything is always working out for me.” I’m a big believer of being conscious of mental patterns and breaking the ones that keep us limited or stuck. This particular phrase works as a great pattern interruptor if I’m getting in my own head too much, going down a worry path, wondering why something is going in a direction I don’t like or hadn’t anticipated, etc. I say this to myself and it snaps me out of the spiral.
Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield was life-changing for me. I’ve always been an avid consumer of personal development content, but there was something about the timing of when I read this book and its message that resonated very strongly for me. I could have easily answered that this was my “lightning bolt” moment, as well. It created so much clarity for me around the idea of Resistance (fear), how it was playing out in my own life, and how to overcome it.
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