We live in a world where childhood trauma can become a make or break in life by coding your make up and staying with you as you grow.
What if you have the power and access to recode your programming?
As our guest says, you have the ability to ‘Design the life you deserve,” through tiny but mighty steps!
Juni Felix is the founder of Mastermind Behavior Design, an author of an Amazon Bestselling book, a world traveler, international broadcaster and speaker, a video gamer, a brilliant radio show host and an absolute joy and gem of a human being! Did we mention she also writes beautiful poetry?
Juni went through trauma from an early age…and, despite challenges along her life journey, has emerged stronger, kinder and more playful. Her energy will lift and energize you!
How does she do it?
Ashish, Anil and Juni dive into the power of recoding yourself by reflecting and sharing experiences from their own lives. They unequivocally agreed: “Repetition doesn’t create habits, emotions do. The redesign lies in simple and fun micro practices – through which, you can be made new.”
What does happiness mean to you and how has it changed from your younger years to now?
In my younger years I didn’t really dare too much exploring what happiness meant. I knew from a very early age, about age 5, that whatever this happiness thing was, it was available to some people, but for my mom and my sisters and I, we were in the other category. So for my younger years, you can’t really think about what happiness means when you’re literally growing up in survival mode. But I do vividly remember a time when my mom and my sisters and I were living in a homeless shelter in New Mexico and they had the television on – the Charlie Brown cartoon. There was a song they were singing and I was just a little bitty thing at the time, but I remembered this song and the song was happiness is 5 different crayons. You see how vividly I remember that happiness is 5 different crayons, climbing a tree, catching a firefly and setting him free.
At the time it seemed impossible and foolish to even imagine a happy life. But I know now how true the song actually is, but when you’re a little little person, growing up in this world, so full of many fearful things, it’s hard to imagine that happiness could possibly come to your life. Poverty and homelessness teaches some powerful lessons that are extremely difficult to overcome. But since then, I’m happy to share that I have indeed discovered what happiness means to me and it’s really quite simple. Happiness is loving life, loving people, seeking and finding and. celebrating what’s good, no matter how tiny.
I love that Juni. What a joy and what a gift it was from the first hello we exchanged when I met you. And you know, anybody who meets you or interacts with you, would not know your journey from your early childhood years, trauma that you’ve had to overcome, suffering, hardship, poverty. They would never know any of that. Because today, you embody a very different way of being.
Please tell us more about your origin story and key pivotal moments in life that shifted you, transformed you
I was born into a literal whirlwind of chaos, drama, abuse, severe neglect, homelessness. All kinds of trauma and I’m categorically a complex trauma survivor, which is the psychological term used to describe those of us who have multiple layers of trauma beginning in the formative years. I’m also a preverbal trauma survivor and, apologies for little ears, but I have second degree burns on my body from the time I was about six months old. So my origin story is one that I kept to myself for a very long time.
I’ve been in broadcasting for over 20 years now in my career, but I just honestly thought it’s such a bummer, who wants to hear about my origin story? And so, well into my adult years I’m learning that I was wrong about that. Yes, you know it is such a bummer, but it’s helping a lot of people now that I’m sharing and, as a young person, I did everything I could, and then, well into my adult years, I did everything I could to help look after and take care of my mother. And be there to help take care of my 6 siblings. I’m the second oldest of 7 siblings and so I did everything I could from my early early years.
My earliest memory of trying to take care of my mom, I was five years old and my mother was sick, as long as I knew her, I never knew her well, I knew her illnesses, I knew her sorrow, but I can’t honestly say that I knew her as a person because she never knew herself so I spent most of my formative years and really most of my adulthood so far, on suicide watch and wondering if tomorrow might be the day that she would lose hope and just give up on life.
You now channel that strength to help others to heal, what changed and helped you along the way?
You are clearly a person who has emerged stronger from trauma, but there are many who just give up hope, as you say, or just become smaller versions or get really embittered and angry at the world. Along the way what happened and helped you?
Well I started trauma therapy at about age 4, and I loved to research, so I did research, I called it Juni 1:1 and so I just researched everything I could find about my life in those early years. I actually started trauma therapy when I was 4 years old, but my healing journey really began when I was about 9. I was frequently escorted out of class because I would sit quietly in the back of the classroom crying and hoping that no one would notice and of course my teachers noticed, but when you’re a child growing up on suicide watch for a parent, you know, you try to be as quiet and invisible as you can. One teacher just put my desk in the hallway. And I’ll never forget the guidance counselor, she would take me and we would sit backstage in the auditorium of the elementary school and she would talk to me. I would think why do some adults care and some really don’t, some just don’t?
“I decided there must be a way to become a person who cares, and though I didn’t really know or understand what I was realizing at that moment as a nine year old, that was something that was really important for my journey”.
We talk about the identity shift in behavior design and that was one of those moments for me that I now have words for.
What is the importance of making a choice on who you want to be?
I made a very specific promise to myself as a twelve year old, I decided there’s enough evil, enough abuse, enough hunger, enough homelessness, enough want and need in this world, I promised myself, that day, that somehow, some way, I was going to figure out how to be a part of what’s good in this world. Logically, it’s possible. If humans can be that evil, then there must be a human way to be a part of what’s truly good. So I took my first computer programming class in the tenth grade and that’s when I fell in love with programming and creative content and communication and collaboration and the true unlimited power here’s the real thing. The real important thing about my journey. I learned the power of tiny things.
“I made a very specific promise to myself as a twelve year old, I decided there’s enough evil, enough abuse, enough hunger, enough homelessness, enough want and need in this world, I promised myself, that day, that somehow, some way, I was going to figure out how to be a part of what’s good in this world.”
You have written your own book, “You are Worth the Work.” Could you please share 2-3 tips from this?
As an expert behavior design teacher, I wrote this book because I wanted to share some of the treasures of wisdom that I discovered from more than 25 years of research and personal practice. I call behavior design the science of love because it’s all about the ways that you can design a life overflowing with ongoing tiny celebrations that are loving first toward yourself and overflowing toward others. The first tip is to be brave and dare to believe that your situation is not your destiny and sorrow is not your permanent address. The truth of who you are It’s so simple. You are a human being.
You are deeply loved regardless of what you’ve been through, what lies you’ve been told, what happened to you matters, because you matter, and, I know this on a deeply personal level, there are some things that can never be made right, but you can be made new.
“The first tip is to be brave and dare to believe that your situation is not your destiny and sorrow is not your permanent address. The truth of who you are It’s so simple. You are a human being.”
And what happened in your life, people need to hear what happened to you. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. You did not deserve it and trauma, it’s just like bad code. It causes every system and process to malfunction, body, mind, spirit and soul. But no matter what you’ve been through. You can recode the system. One tiny decision after the next, it’s wildly courageous work until you believe that you’re worth the work. All the tips and tricks in the world are not going to help you. You must first choose to believe that you are worth the work.
What are some of your best practices on how people can build those habits?
This is one of those moments where we’re audio, but I wish people could see the video because I’m just smiling so bright! I love this question because it gives me the opportunity to say goals don’t work, but systems do. This is something that we say often in behavior design. Just as a quick overview – behavior design is a comprehensive system for thinking clearly about human behavior and designing simple ways to transform lives created by Dr B J Fogg at Stanford University. This is one of my favorite things to teach, that goals don’t work systems DO.
I also teach a workshop, it’s called Why Willpower Won’t. If you’ve read my book, there’s a section in the book called Why Willpower Won’t and it’s based on one of Dr Fogg’s discoveries with my colleagues at the Stanford Behavior Design Lab about the top 10 mistakes and behavior change that those that we guide will for the rest of their lives pretend that willpower doesn’t exist. It’s the first step to a better future. Goals are nice but they’re too vague and abstract just like happiness.
This is kind of what happened in your journey that I know about Ashish. You were trying to design happiness based on someone else’s objectives and aspirations and not your own. So just like happiness, designing a personalized system that works just for you, even happiness, is an abstraction and it’s impossible to design effectively for abstractions.
One of the reasons goals fail is because they’re too vague, they’re too abstract and the human creature that we are, are designed to move forward incrementally and systematically with literal baby steps. We need concrete objectives, not abstractions and they need to be tiny and they need to be simple so the go big or go home, culturally conditioned mindset, it just sets us up to fail, it produces shame and blame and self-condemnation in comparison because it goes against human design. When you fail to keep your resolutions, it’s not because something is wrong with you, it’s just a fundamental misunderstanding about how human behavior and psychology actually works. Those big leaps are completely unsustainable unless you’re like a superhero!
“One of the reasons goals fail is because they’re too vague, they’re too abstract and the human creature that we are, are designed to move forward incrementally and systematically with literal baby steps. We need concrete objectives…”
The thing about behavior design is taking everything and making it tiny and simple because the formula for human behavior, motivation, ability, and prompt, you have to take that ability into the equation. When the objective is tiny and concrete, you don’t need a lot of ability to succeed toward taking your next tiny step toward your aspiration and you do not need willpower. One of the most helpful things you can do when you’re creating new habits and leveling up, as we say in the video game community, in the skill of change because change is a skill, think of willpower as a prompt that reminds you of what you value and what’s important in your life. If you can’t throw it out altogether, eventually with practice, you’ll be able to throw it out altogether. I do not miss it , goodbye willpower, we broke up for good! It’s just a prompt that reminds you of what matters in your journey; like a prompt on the smartphone, and so let that prompt inspire you to do the next tiny thing that moves you forward and then always celebrate every single time.
It is important to remember and know that repetition does not create our habits. It’s not doing a certain thing that you really don’t want to do for a certain span of time. The research reveals it’s emotions that create our habits. At the root of every habit, for better or for worse, is an emotion and you’ve got to do the work to get to the root if you want sustainable results for good.
Do you know how we can move past goals, past willpower, and make change happen? Could share an example with a client.
Well I think one of my most memorable client experiences is also in the trauma space. I’m in that space a lot these days, but one client who survived many, many terrible things in their formative years, from all outside perspectives this person was a success – credentialed, working in an ivy league school, making wonderful discoveries in a lab in the field of neurobiology, a faithful volunteer in the community and at the church, but, at night, could only go to sleep with prescription sleeping pills and vodka. Yeah, dangerous.
Over the years, on the days off for this person, they struggle just to get out of bed and this is a very extreme situation, but you know we’ve all felt that from time to time when you’re going through something that’s really hard. It’s a struggle even to get out of bed.
This was on a profound level for this individual. The sadness and sorrow would just debilitate them on the days off. So after we began journeying together, working together on their unique tiny habit behavior design strategy, we call it a master plan for victory over that sorrow, I’ll never forget that day that I got a text from this individual and the text just said “I made it to the couch” and so I immediately called and we celebrated together that tiny, but mighty victory over the darkness. Within a few months celebration after celebration of those tiny but mighty victories based on that person’s ability, the ability is a key component.
We never focus on motivation in behavior design. We don’t ramp up motivation, or do something to ramp up motivation, no. Make the behavior simple and easy as possible, so within a few months after those tiny celebrations of tiny victories one after the the next, this person no longer needed vodka or prescriptions to stay asleep and it’s because they learned how to create their own personalized success momentum. That’s another term that we use a lot – personalized success momentum, baby steps and each success was a tiny seed of hope. There’s the key – that lovingly intentionally cared for, that tiny seed of hope that helped them to level up at the pace that was best for their personalized strategy and the healing journey.
What are some tips that you would share with our listeners that they can start practicing from today?
First, please take good unapologetic care of yourself. Self-nurturing is so important and it’s never selfish; only be kind, there’s enough bullies in the world; please don’t bully yourself. Second, go outside, play, get out from in front of the screen or stop hiding behind that screen. At least one time a day, get outside and just please schedule fun into your everyday. Third, is to take good intentional care of your most important relationships. Real love does no harm so please resolve to love well at every opportunity in all the tiny but mighty ways that only you can.
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