Season 3 Episode 10 "Beyond the Bootcamp" is now available. Listen now.
Aug. 5, 2022

Building a mental health app with Courtney Carlsson

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#016 Councillors, therapy, meditation - Courtney Carlsson tried them all but what she needed was a structure to ask herself deliberate questions consistently to learn more about herself. Courtney is a CEO and Founder of the mental health app Paradym which she started after battling with her own mental health challenges. Courtney shares her personal journey of self-awareness and how she build Paradym, working with experts from around the world.

In this episode:

  • The importance of asking yourself deliberate questions consistently
  • What causes burnout and how to avoid and address it
  • How to use feelings to build habits
  • Reframing how you see any situation


Access your 1-month free discount to the Paradym app

or go the Paradym website and use the code ‘feeling22’

Courtney on LinkedIn

Courtney on instagram

Courtney on Twitter

Paradym on Instagram

Paradym on Twitter

Episode 4 with Dr. Zorana Ivcevic Pringle

Show credits

Illustrations by Isa Vicente

Music by Brad Porter



[00:00:00] Courtney Carlsson: So I discovered that actually I've gotta solve my own problems. and the role of the therapist is to help asking the right questions. And what I found was that it was a combination of things that worked. Self-reflection a little bit of meditation and mindfulness, but also actually asking myself deliberate questions.

[00:00:14] Nirish Shakya: That's Courtney Carlson, founder and CEO of Paradym a personalized mental health app program. Courtney's mental health journey started when she was 10 years old. When she saw her first counselor and for 25 years, she's tried everything under the sun therapy, meditation, you name. In this episode, Courtney shares her personal journey and how that led to her starting Paradym as an evidence based mental health app. We also talk about avoiding burnout, using feelings to build habits and doing what Courtney calls mental acrobatics and keep listening for your free one month discount for the Paradym app only for Design Feeling listeners.

[00:00:57] Shivaun: This is the Design Feeling Podcast with your host Nirish Shakya. 

[00:01:11] Nirish Shakya: Hi, I'm Nirish Shakya, and I'm a designer, educator, and the host of my new podcast Design Feeling. Most of the time, you'll probably find me helping organisations put their customers first, or you might find me teaching design thinking and creative innovation, but I'm on a slightly different quest here - to explore the human behind the designer - who you are, what drives you, what frustrates you and why, and ultimately how you can bring more impact and meaning into your work.

[00:01:46] On this podcast, my expert guests, and I will be uncovering ways to increase your self-awareness, creative confidence and meaning.


[00:01:57] Nirish Shakya: Courtney Carlsson, welcome to Design Feeling.

[00:01:59] Courtney Carlsson: Thank you so much Nirish. It's wonderful to be here. 

Courtney's mentla health journey

[00:02:02] Nirish Shakya: Courtney, tell us a bit about, yourself and how did you, get to where you are now, where you are a founder of, a mental health app called Paradym

[00:02:13] Courtney Carlsson: I actually think I've, I've always wanted to start my own company and it's because my father's an entrepreneur. And so from a very young age, he's been saying to me, do not sell your time. And I took that to heart and I just always knew that I was gonna start something.

[00:02:30] I didn't know what, and I started out my career in luxury fashion. So, I think one of my earlier ideas was actually a luxury fashion tech company. But I grew kind of, I guess I, I had a very long mental health journey and it started out when I was very young, about 10 years old. I saw my first counselor and it didn't work for me, sadly, but I'm very resilient and stubborn.

[00:02:59] Courtney Carlsson: So I kept looking for something that would work, tried everything, different therapists, clinical psychotherapy, so really serious with assessments and, doing all the tests, with, with an ex professor as well. So I actually thought that he'd be able to tell me what all my problems were. He wasn't able to do that by the way.

[00:03:14] So I discovered that actually I've gotta solve my own problems. and the role of the therapist is to help asking the right questions. so tried everything from the serious really academic side of mental health support all the way to the other side, meditation, mindfulness. And what I found was that it was a combination of things that. workedself-reflection through me a little bit of meditation and mindfulness, but also a actually asking myself deliberate questions, finding the right therapist, someone who could understand me and my cultural profile and just the complexities of what I'd been through. I also, for me needed someone who was very empathetic and compassionate and, and then also peer to peer support.

[00:03:54] So being able to actually tackle these questions outside of the therapy room. So not just once a week for one hour, but consistently be focusing on, challenging myself and asking myself and digging deeper. And when I found what worked, it completely changed my entire life. It, my relationships are better.

[00:04:12] I was able to find the right kind of partner for me. I was able to find more confidence in my professional life. And it was just so eye opening that I wanted to start a mental health company. and I wanted to start something that was. Scientifically sound cuz there was a lot of stuff out there when I decided to start paradigm a couple years ago, end of 2018. And I think what was missing at the time was something that was truly evidence based. So not just using existing theories, but actually doing the work to test out the app to make sure that it can work and that it does work. And so we've done that work. we've got peer review research out there showing how we increase wellbeing and decreased depression.

[00:04:53] Very proud of that. And yeah, so we started paradigm. I partnered with a bunch of experts, scientists or psychologists, neuroscientists researchers from Oxford university, UCL, Harvard medical school to create something, that was firstly really engaging and enjoyable to use, but also affordable and accessible.

How Paradym works

[00:05:18] Nirish Shakya: us a bit about, paradigm, like, how does it.

[00:05:21] Courtney Carlsson: Yeah. So it's, we wanted to make it really easy. So 10 minutes of your day, you log in, we're actually about to launch a new version, which is hyper personalized. You have your own pathway. And so you'll come in, you'll answer a couple of questions about where you are right now, what you wanna focus on.

[00:05:36] And then we, we essentially feed you the chapters, that are relevant to, to your current experience, your current state, and it's things like we've got, we use different modalities, essentially. It's like integrative therapy, self therapy. we focus on all kinds of all kinds of things like general self awareness for, general personal growth.

[00:05:55] love, if you wanna focus on attachment style, improving your relationships, success. So looking at motivation, how to avoid burnout, Body looking your relationship with your body, connecting with your body embodiment. and then lastly identity, which we look at all kinds of things. really just understanding who you are and trying to help people figure out their, your values and,trying to weed out, maybe what your parents wanted for you versus what you actually want for yourself.

[00:06:22] Courtney Carlsson: I, cause I think often we don't really have time to do that kind of work. we are, we live in a go go go world where everyone's so busy and working all the time. And so to take 10 minutes a day, just to focus on what you need to focus on and, You can read or listen to the content, and then we've got daily reflections where you can journal, monthly assessments.

[00:06:42] You can actually measure your improvement and that's all based in, these scientific measures, but we make it really fun. so you can actually see how you're doing on a monthly basis and whether you're improving through your paradigm process or not. Yeah.

Why Courtney founded Paradym

[00:06:57] Nirish Shakya: So, and what made you decide to, found paradigm? What was that moment in time? Where like, okay, I'm gonna start this company.

[00:07:07] Courtney Carlsson: Yeah. So I think I mentioned my MBA. maybe I didn't, I, so I did an MBA and during that MBA was actually when I had quite, that was when I found this, the sort of tools that, that worked for me, the techniques and tools that worked for me and. I remember though, that when I started this journey, this kind of final push cause I'd been on a very long, 20 plus year journey of trying to find the right mental health support for myself, that a lot of the meditation apps had come out.

[00:07:38] And I remember downloading one of those meditation apps and thinking, okay, this is gonna help me solve my, the problems I'm going through. and I think it was helpful. In its own way to help calm me down and to get into that contemplative state. But it didn't really help me answer any of those deeper questions.

[00:07:58] And

[00:07:59] I had 

[00:07:59] Nirish Shakya: of, what kind of questions were

[00:08:01] Courtney Carlsson: just like, thi yeah, I was trying to answer. so at that time I was in a relationship and this was actually the third, very close person to me, second boyfriend, but third close person to me that had told me that I was very volatile emotionally, and I didn't really know what that meant.

[00:08:20] And I knew I needed to do some work, but I didn't really know what that entailed. And so I thought maybe meditation, I, because I tried all these therapists, none, none of them had worked. So I thought maybe I need something else. Maybe therapy doesn't work. What worked was getting the right answers for myself.

[00:08:40] So answering those deeper questions, like, going back to childhood and trying to figure out, okay, what was. What was the emotional environment that I grew up in, what was my relationship like with my parents? What were the behaviors that I developed based off of that, and then digging into my attachment style.

[00:08:57] And that was work that I did both with my therapist, but also outside of the therapy room, reading, learning more about, the various attachment styles and, and how childhood behavior can impact your future behavior. and we will have these patterns, right, which we develop in childhood, but we can unlearn them later if they don't serve us anymore.

[00:09:16] And the patterns that I had built in childhood were not serving me anymore because I wasn't able to have the close, relationships that I was looking to have. and so that really ignited it. It was that I couldn't find accessible, affordable support to get those, to get to the answers that I was looking for.

[00:09:35] I had to get a therapist, which is very expensive. Most people can't afford it. And so I wanted to be able to bring that same level of quality to more people. And that's why I built paradigm.

Who Paradym is for

[00:09:47] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. And like, who are you aiming this at?

[00:09:52] Courtney Carlsson: So we, we say it's for gen Z as a millennials, it's basically for anyone, any modern person that wants to take a deeper look at themselves. And that, even if you are in therapy, doing, doing the paradigm app, in between sessions can be really helpful. Because I to get the best results from what I've seen and you need to, you need to ask yourself the questions too.

[00:10:15] it's not just, it shouldn't just be reserved for that one hour in the therapy room with your therapist, you should be thinking about this stuff also in between it it'll accelerate the progress. Right. But what what's interesting is that we've seen an array of people come to paradigm. So really much younger people, the, the younger people now I've got two half sisters who are 18 and 19, and they're just so much more self-aware than I was when I was their age.

[00:10:43] Courtney Carlsson: And I think that that whole generation is just a lot more evolved. So we've seen a lot of really young people on the platform. And interestingly, we, we recently had this huge wave of much older people as well. So people in their late sixties, seventies, downloading and using paradigm, which I was really interesting.

[00:11:01] Nirish Shakya: Yeah, I think, is it maybe due to, because,the stigma of,seeking, support for mental health is probably reduced now, as opposed to, back then, when, well, first of all, maybe there's like better access to mental health services and now, plus there's, less stigma and it's probably like more talked about on social media and stuff.

[00:11:21] Courtney Carlsson: Maybe I, yeah, I definitely think it's becoming a lot more mainstream. I dunno about access though. I think it's still really hard. I think the apps have made, made it more available, which is great, but there are also drawbacks with most of the apps out there, which is that they don't do their homework on the science side.

[00:11:39] So we don't actually know which ones really truly work. And then on the access side for one to one therapy, it's just, the waiting lists are crazy. I've been seeing so many articles about how the NHS is turning down children. Accessing therapy support. Cause they're just so overburdened right now and in the us, it's the same thing.

Most common mental health challenges for professionals

[00:11:59] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. And what's the most common mental health challenge that, you see, especially professionals, like us facing right now in terms of like, know, what you've seen in the, in the industry or, people, seeking health from power.

[00:12:13] Courtney Carlsson: Yeah. It tends to be. It's really interesting cuz I think, obviously everyone is different and. There are some people that will recognize the challenge really early on. then there are others that might not, and they might be, they might share like a, a completely unrelated, more surface level challenge, but ultimately what a lot of the, what if a lot of it boils down to, for our paradigm users, paradigm community is, burnout, understanding how to balance, finding yourself, loving yourself, and then also confidence.

[00:12:42] so those are three quite big themes for us, which, I think we all, as humans struggle with that on a regular basis. Like, just because we've, we may have solved it at one point in our lives, but then we're going through a new challenge. Maybe we've got a new job and a new client, and it's a bigger client, a bigger job, and we're nervous about being able to perform and,meet the.

[00:13:05] Courtney Carlsson: Our own expectations and meet the client's expectations. and so just taking a look at that and where, where the fear is coming from using the app to help kind of, I think gain more clarity is, can be helpful and sort of help you to, to thrive and, move forward, which is where the wellbeing side of things comes in.

[00:13:22] Nirish Shakya: Yeah. And it's interest. Interesting. You mentioned how,these changes in life or miles, different milestones or events in life can cause that, anxiety or certain, mental health, conditions. And I can definitely relate to that as well. For example, when I'm starting a new project at work, I'll always feel anxious and nervous and, feel like, oh, am I good enough?

[00:13:40] Or, or whatnot. And even if I've done a similar project in the past,that bubbles up again, even if I have addressed it in the, in, in the past. so I think it it's interesting, you mentioned that because it seems like, is it more of a, I don't know, a natural, survival instinct that we're programmed, with in terms of, using those emotions to, I dunno, guide us, alert us of something or dip a possible danger.

[00:14:02] I, for us, the, the, what we like to say about emotions is that they're like a compass and they guide us throughout our lives. So, if we talk about anxiety here, I think, well, I think generally our society is just like quite an anxious generation. I think there's too much stimulus happening and it's hard to separate whether, well, it's, I think it's hard to separate it out.

[00:14:25] Courtney Carlsson: Like if you are living in the city and your bedroom faces a street and you can hear sirens when you're going to sleep sirens, when you wake up

[00:14:33] Nirish Shakya: That's pretty much everyone in London.

[00:14:34] Courtney Carlsson: Right. And then you've got a stressful job. You are gonna be constantly on alert. You're constantly in that photo flight mode. And then it's hard to distinguish what, what are the real emotions there?

[00:14:48] And I think, you've gotta be in a good space and this is where the self-awareness piece comes in. It's being able to distinguish, am I just on this kind of anxious level right now? Do I need to take a, a step back rest and then really listen to myself. but I suppose even the anxiety can, is a good sign to help you to slow down a little bit so that you can listen to what's really going on.

[00:15:09] well,

How self-awareness helps mental health

[00:15:09] Nirish Shakya: How does, um, self-awareness help with this? Like just listening to

[00:15:14] Courtney Carlsson: it's just even knowing that you need to take a step back, right? Like there's, there's so many layers of self-awareness, but if we take. The, and by the way, that, that kind of scenario, that, that was me living in New York, over 10 years ago, just sirens all the time work was crazy, getting up, having to be in the office by a certain time.

[00:15:34] And people noticed, right. If you're a little bit late back back then, maybe it was the pressure I put on myself hard to distinguish. And so that was the situation that I was in. And I think just knowing that that kind of situation will put you on high alert. And when you're on high alert like that, you can't make your best decisions.

[00:15:53] So that's one, one step of, for of self-wareness the next like to go deeper then is, do I, do I want to, why am I doing this? Do I wanna be in this situation all the time? Is this good for me? Is living in a city, which is constantly on good for me. And I think it was at the time, but I don't think as a. What, what I decided on was that you can't constantly be pushing at 150%, for years, for me, what I found works best for myself is, having basically doing sprints.

[00:16:23] And so that's the self-awareness piece, right? It's even knowing, okay, what works best for me. I actually burnt out after being in New York, after being on like basically operating at such a high level all the time for many years, and that was too much. And so it kind of forced me to take a deeper look of like, what, what is, what is it that I need for my life?

[00:16:43] What do I, what do I want? but all of that is self-awareness and where I was able to land through that self-awareness is, in a role that I really enjoy and it's still really stressful and it's still high paced, but I know how to balance everything. And I've sort of switched paths and, I'm on a much healthier one.

[00:16:59] Now, one that brings me a lot of joy and I don't get so stressed and I don't feel anxious every day like that.

[00:17:07] Nirish Shakya: And what's, what's changed now. What's different.

[00:17:12] Courtney Carlsson: So many things. I think London's a lot quieter than New York. firstly, so I think choosing a city that. It's more balanced. It has its pros and cons. Cuz now I miss, I feel like I've been in London long enough now. Now I miss the energy of, of New York city. But

Impact of your physical environment on your mental health

[00:17:27] Nirish Shakya: so what you're saying is your physical environment where you live also has an impact on your mental wellbeing.

[00:17:33] Courtney Carlsson: oh, a hundred percent. I, I think that everything will impact your mental health. So where you live, do you live in near green? is it quiet? Do you. Live closer, far close or far from the tube. Are you rushing every morning to get to that tube? all these things are very nuanced, so, and this is again where the self-awareness piece comes in.

[00:17:54] So if you know that you've gotta go to work every day and be there very early, it would probably be very helpful to then live near a really reliable, good public transport station so that you can get to your work, on time and on a regular basis. Because if you were having to stress out every single day about your commute, that's, that's not very good for your mental health either to be in that constant state of anxiety, is not good for you at all.

[00:18:23] So, yes, where you live is very important. And then if you like green, which I think there's a lot of research that shows that being in nature is helpful for us. trying to be close to parks. Trying to find somewhere quiet is also helpful, to get some relief and peace from the sounds of the city when you get home from work or if you're working from home.

[00:18:41] yeah, having that peacefulness. So, yes, I there's a lot of EV everything can impact our mental health and including, it's all around us. Like the quality of our relationships, whether we like our job, do we feel like we're moving forward in a forward trajectory? Do we feel like we're moving up, in whatever we're doing, do we feel like we're improving?

[00:18:58] even the quality of our thoughts, how we talk to ourselves, all of that will impact our mental health, which actually, and mental health is very closely

[00:19:10] Courtney Carlsson: and inextricably linked with our physical health. So when our mental health is good, usually our physical health is good. and there's actually research really, interestingly, that shows that, if we suppress our emotions or we're not able to express ourselves properly, it can actually lead to problems, physically things like stroke and, heart problems.

[00:19:25] There's a really good research paper on that.

What causes burnout

[00:19:28] Nirish Shakya: Mm, and I can certainly relate to your story of, burnout of having, ex experienced that myself. So, why does it take a burnout for us to stop and think about these things?

[00:19:39] Courtney Carlsson: I think it's because we are always on. Right. And so if you are not making at least five to 10 minutes a day to kind of reflect on your day or where you're going, it's easy to get caught up in what everyone else wants from you. It's easy to be on autopilot. So. burnout is basically just continuing to chase your goals.

[00:20:04] Like you don't wanna stop. And actually really interestingly, burnout comes from a feeling so the very there's this burnout cycle, which I can share, but the very beginning of burnout usually comes from a feeling of inadequacy. So not feeling like you are good enough and and then you're on that kind of rat wheel of trying to prove yourself, prove yourself, prove yourself.

[00:20:25] And it's hard to stop unless you take that time to stop. And you don't take that time unless you make the time. And unless you know exactly why it's so valuable. And usually it takes, a situation like a burnout or some kind of challenging event, right? Like, so one of, for me, it was, there was a burnout, there was also.

[00:20:47] A boyfriend giving me some really challenging feedback, telling me that I was volatile, that it was hard to be around me, which I didn't like. And I didn't, I didn't want that. That was the third person to say that to me. And, I finally decided to listen because I thought, okay, this, this data is, is

[00:21:03] Nirish Shakya: Three people can't be, can't be wrong.

[00:21:05] Courtney Carlsson: yeah, exactly.

[00:21:06] Well, three close people, right?

[00:21:08] Nirish Shakya: yeah.

[00:21:09] Courtney Carlsson: Yeah. I think, I, so I basically to answer your question in a shorter way, I think it's just easy to get caught up in the wheel of life. And this is why reflection is so important so that you can ensure that you're going on the right track, that you are happy with the way that your, your life is going.

[00:21:25] and that you are moving in the direction that works for you.

Courtney's favourite techniques

[00:21:29] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. And what are some of the, the techniques that, what are some of your favorite techniques that you, you can recommend in terms of being able to, first of all, I don't know, having the awareness to slow down and stop for 10 minutes, cuz a lot of times, we know what the right thing to do is I know what the right thing to do is, but I don't do it.

[00:21:49] cause you know, it doesn't cross my mind. And even if I put a reminder on my phone, I'm like, oh, I'll just snooze it for now. And then I forget about it. so what what's, what's worked for you in terms of, turn the, turning that into a, a habit or a routine.

[00:22:03] Courtney Carlsson: Yeah, it is. And it you're exactly right. It is turning it into a habit and a routine for me. I always like to think about the feeling that I feel after I do it. So just remembering that feeling of, I, I usually, when I take the 10 minutes to focus on myself or if I have a one hour coaching or therapy session, or if I go to the gym, at six in the morning, Often there are, there are plenty of times where I'd rather continue with my work or sleep in or, do something else.

[00:22:36] But when I remember the feeling that I feel afterwards, which is really satisfied and a feeling of accomplishment, that's what motivates me to go, cuz I know the impact on me. And so for me, that's, that's, what's worked really well,

[00:22:54] Nirish Shakya: And is that something that you discovered,through constant practice in terms of, okay, this is the feeling that I get and I enjoy experiencing these feelings. So I need to get more of these.

[00:23:06] Courtney Carlsson: Yes. Exactly. So, so have it change it, it is just one small step towards the direction you wanna go in. And it's trying to make that a repeatable step. We make time for things that we, we wanna make time for ultimately. And I think it's really easy to say and, and understandable to say, no, I, I have to finish this piece of work or I have to pick up the kids or I have to walk my dog, or, but if you structure your day or if you do the best you can to structure your day in a way that you can just take, you can steal that 10 minutes away somewhere, whether it's, on your lunch break, from work, or maybe it's in the car on the way to pick up the kids where you are giving yourself a little bit of time to think about, to kind of stop, you're still on your way to pick up your kids, but you've got a few minutes.

[00:23:58] To yourself to think things through. it's really just building it into your day in a way that you believe you can make it happen. so everyone's gonna be different. I, I actually schedule things in my calendar like you, but I don't tend to snooze it unless, and actually that's, there's one exception and that's meditation.

[00:24:16] I'm not good at following my meditation reminders. but I am good at my 10 minutes in the morning where I like right before I, for me, what, what works really well. I always work out in the morning and then I, sit down at my desk and then I usually will meditate for about five minutes journal. Write my thoughts down, and answer some of the reflections in the paradigm app to help shape the, the thought process.

[00:24:42] And so that works really well that, just making that space in the morning, sometimes I'll get to my desk earlier. So I've started waking up earlier and earlier to make sure I can get the time in, because I found I'm more effective. If I'm able to have this in my day, I'm not so easily swept up by firefighting or problems or,anything that's kind of coming across my desk.

[00:25:06] I'm really, when I set my day up that way, I'm able to take a step back. Usually I'm just a lot more, mindful throughout the day when I set myself up like that. So for me, it just, it reaps the rewards immediately, even.

[00:25:20] Nirish Shakya: It's kind of like, grounding or anchoring yourself, to something you can hold onto, which kind of makes you feel safe,throughout your day

[00:25:28] Courtney Carlsson: Yeah. And I, and I think for creatives, like it's so essential too, right? Because in order to be really creative, you need your mind to be in that peaceful, safe, calm state. Cause we know that anxiety is great. If you wanna do like task oriented things, like quick check the box stuff, but to actually build something, create something your mind does need to be in a calm, safe space so that it can explore and wonder and expand.

[00:25:59] Nirish Shakya: Yeah, absolutely. we talked about this, with, Dr. Z Savage Pringle in our episode four, where she mentioned how, For us to generate lots and lots of ideas, we need to be in a positive state of mind. and for us to then, trim down all the, the bad ideas and, and hone in on that one good idea.

[00:26:19] That's when you need to bring in the constraints and, put on a, more of a, guess a pessimistic kind of hat, of, what is not possible. So, I think, yeah, like you said, emotions play such a key role, in our lives as problem solvers and, and creatives when it comes to, how we, generate ideas and how we build on those ideas. 

Conducting research for Paradym

[00:26:36] Nirish Shakya: Cool. So, obviously like, a lot of, us listening, to this episode, our designers, we design products, and services and experiences and, and UI user interfaces. and paradigm is, is, is a product itself. it's, it's an app. tell us about,the, the process you went through in terms of, coming up with ideas for paradigm and, and how did you, conduct your, research with your potential, customers and users.

[00:27:03] Courtney Carlsson: Yeah, this was a long process. We did a lot of research before committing to paradigm full time. so we did everything from re like, sorry, from sending out surveys, mass surveys. we used the mom test to help us,create the questionnaires and ask the questions in the right way. I think that's a really good,

[00:27:22] Nirish Shakya: What's the, what's the mom, the mom status again?

[00:27:25] Courtney Carlsson: So the mom test was created by, I, I'm not sure. What the guy's background is, but I believe that he was a product designer or at least an entrepreneur founder. And essentially it's a, almost like a foolproof way of asking questions so that you don't get biased answers back. Cause I think it's really easy to go to your network or to, even to anyone on the street and tell them that you're building this thing.

[00:27:51] And what do you think? And obviously people, people tend to be nice generally. And so they're gonna want to tell you what you wanna hear.

Encouraging honest responses from research participants

[00:27:57] Nirish Shakya: Yeah. Especially with,product like paradigm, which is about, mental health, which a lot of times, people find it difficult to be honest.

[00:28:05] Courtney Carlsson: right. So we, which is also why we use these like anonymized. we use, I remember we, we used survey monkey, God, that was a long, long time ago. We used survey monkey. We, we sent it out to a couple thousand people, in our target market. And that was kind of the initial phase. We also worked with a PhD psychologist from Cambridge, to start thinking about ideas.

[00:28:31] We got advice from, another PhD psychologist from Stanford as well. And she was advising on, best practices of how to build something from scratch. I took a lot from my own personal experience with this, and then there was a big brainstorming session of, okay, what do we, what do we wanna build?

[00:28:51] What do people wanna see from the surveys that we did? and then we continued to iterate from there and we started to actually talk to some of these people, have like longer qualitative conversations to understand what they wanted to see what was important to them. what would be helpful and,

[00:29:05] Nirish Shakya: And how did you get these, know, people from these universities to help.

[00:29:10] Courtney Carlsson: oh, gosh, So I think actually that's one of my strengths. I, I don't, I have no problems like called emailing people that I would like to get in touch with. and I think I write a really good called email as well.

[00:29:23] Nirish Shakya: have you got a template

[00:29:26] Courtney Carlsson: no, there's no template for these. these are like, well, really personalized, very deliberately crafted emails that I put together.

[00:29:36] And sometimes it can take up to an hour to actually think about how I wanna write the email. So really thoughtful. but yeah, I, one of them, she was actually a professor at lbs, which is where I did my MBA. So she taught me, so she knew me. our other expert that we initially started working with, we actually found her through, I put up a, a job posting, like a posting at UCL and a number of other universities.

[00:29:59] And I remember she was, I think she was teaching there and she, she found us through, through that posting, but the, the, the PhD, academic community is very small. So if, what I've found since then as well is if you get in touch with,some, some relevant, academics, and if they're not interested or if they don't believe they're the right fit for you, then, they're always very happy to help and share.

[00:30:24] Cause I think there's a really nice synergy. Bringing in some of that academic, knowledge into a consumer product. I think it's well, one it's it's vital for the quality of the product, but also for them, what's exciting is that they get to bring their research to life. Cuz often they're doing a lot of research and the background and then, they get all these results, but then nothing is actually done with them.

[00:30:46] so through working with a company like paradigm, they're able to actually see their work, come to fruition, which is super exciting.

The biggest hurdle faced by Courtney in the process

[00:30:54] Nirish Shakya: What was the, the, the biggest hurdle for you that you, that you faced in this process mindset? Like your mindset? Mm-hmm

[00:31:00] Courtney Carlsson: I think the most important part or the most challenging part has been mindset. And I think it's because entrepreneurship is really hard and it's often glamorized, but actually it's a real slog. It's really lonely. It's it can bring you down if you are not able to do those mental acrobatics and a lot of those acrobatics, I think in order to be good at it, you have to be very confident in your abilities.

[00:31:30] So,

[00:31:31] Nirish Shakya: sure. So, Courtney, what, what did you mean by mental acrobatics?

[00:31:35] Courtney Carlsson: So being able to switch your mood, basically like if you come in to work things, aren't going so well, maybe an investor pulled out of something or product is being delayed and you're not able to launch, which is impacting a whole other slew of things. All these things have happened to me, by the way.

[00:31:54] A lot of that is disheartening and it can be disheartening for the whole team. And my job is to make sure that people can see the mission, the goal of, what we're trying to achieve. And in order to, to help kind of push people to continue to move forward, push the team, to move forward. being able to communicate in a way that is engaging and realistic, but optimistic, is really important.

[00:32:25] And sometimes that's hard to do when things aren't going so well. So being 

[00:32:29] Nirish Shakya: do that? So

[00:32:32] Courtney Carlsson: well, it takes a lot of, I think it takes a lot of work. It's kind of mastery of your emotions and, and really understanding for me. Yeah. When I think about the big picture, that's what helps me to, to kind of make the switch.

[00:32:47] And when I try and reframe my thoughts as well, that's really helpful. So yeah, everything could look bad if you look at it from a certain way, but if you look at it from another way and you've gotta do this exercise with yourself, what is the, I think one great exercise that we have in the app is like, what's the opposite way of looking at this.

[00:33:05] and and 

[00:33:05] Nirish Shakya: of looking at this.

[00:33:07] Courtney Carlsson: like, so if you had take a really, let's take a really sad, bad example, for example, what's, what's a good one here. That's that might be helpful. okay. So for example, product is delayed and it means that, we're not able to launch on time and it means that we can't get the users who are on the wait list on board. And it means we aren't gonna be able to yeah. To move as quickly and to operate the business in the way that it needs to be operated.

[00:33:35] so that's, that's kind of the negative perspective, right? Okay. Or it's, maybe it's real, it's real and slightly negative if we flip it and try and look at it in a more helpful light. It's that? Okay. Well, product actually, they're doing the best that they can, like that it's gonna be an awesome product when it does come out and it's gonna be even better.

[00:33:57] Courtney Carlsson: And what else? Like the. I think that that's kind of the, the train of thought that I would go on if I was experiencing that situation and I have experienced that situation. So that's exactly what I thought. Like I remember in the pandemic, we were three months delayed launching the first version of the app.

[00:34:15] Nirish Shakya: Mm-hmm

[00:34:15] Courtney Carlsson: And I remember being really stressed out and just thinking, Ugh, gosh, we're delayed. We need to get out there. We need the users so that we can raise the next round, all this stuff really unhelpful. And actually when we launched the app, it was in, it was incredible. Like, our, like CTO had used this incredible language that allowed us to build both in, iOS and Android and it made us very efficient.

[00:34:43] And so just trying to see that other perspective versus. It's easy to, it's easy to sit in the negative. I think it's really easy to say what's wrong with everything and all the bad stuff, but actually to flip it and see what's the good stuff and why this could be better,

[00:34:59] Nirish Shakya: Mm-hmm

[00:35:00] Courtney Carlsson: is much harder. And

[00:35:01] so doing that exercise 

[00:35:03] Nirish Shakya: Yeah. Maybe the delay gives you more time to fine tune it, test it more, improve the experience or the, the quality of the product better probably.

[00:35:11] Courtney Carlsson: exactly. exactly.

[00:35:13] Nirish Shakya: Hmm.

[00:35:13] little, yeah, there's little things like that. Or for example, if you, if, if there was investor that you were speaking with and, or maybe a client for, well, the kind of creatives and freelancers and that client fell through or the investor fell through, I actually often think that then it just wasn't meant to be like, there's so many things you just never know.

[00:35:33] Courtney Carlsson: Like if, if that client didn't vibe with you or. they didn't see the value in what your, what your, the work you're putting out there is you could easily take it really personally and say, oh, I'm not good. I'm not good at what I do. I could get that client, but actually the best partnerships are the ones where you each see the value in each other.

[00:35:55] Right? Like you are, there's a, you, you're excited to work with that person. And that's what you want because that's, what's gonna make a beautiful partnership. You're gonna be able to create something great together. so I just think it is, I can't remember the question that you asked in the beginning.

[00:36:10] It was, Oh, the biggest challenge. So mindset just kind of seeing all the different sides of things and really seeing what, what could be helpful to move things forward. Cause I do think at the end of the day, it's a mindset and energy game. even leading a team, it's really easy to here's another example.

[00:36:26] It's really easy to say, oh, well, this person should be, should just know what to do or this person should be working this way. Cause they're very senior. you don't know what that person's full experience is what you consider senior. I don't know, this, all this stuff is arbitrary. So what I've found actually is if getting in the mindset of how can I, how can I help them?

[00:36:44] How can I unblock whatever blockage they're having? that's also been really helpful. So it's all, it's just all mindset. Everything has been mindset. Every challenge I've experienced has been mindset. Like the solution has been mindset. there is nothing that you can't figure out with the right mindset in my opinion.

[00:37:02] Nirish Shakya: absolutely. 

What Courtney would do differently

[00:37:03] Nirish Shakya: And so knowing what you know now with the power of hindsight what would you do differently if you had to do something the whole thing over again?

[00:37:14] Courtney Carlsson: Well, I think God, there's a lot of stuff that I do differently. I'm trying to think what's relevant here. Like we could talk really tactical or we could talk kind of emotional and mindset side of things. what do you think is better?

[00:37:29] Nirish Shakya: Well, because the podcast's called design feeling. Let's go for the feeling side of

[00:37:34] Courtney Carlsson: Okay, great. actually on the feeling side, I don't think there's much I could have done differently to be honest, because I think that there was a lot of stuff that I've learned. And I, I think when it comes to, emotional resilience and emotional mastery mindset mastery, a lot of that comes from learning the lessons and those lessons generally are learned by doing and experiencing.

[00:37:56] So I mentioned that confidence is really important when you're building a business. And you have, well, you just have to believe in yourself. And if you don't, you're gonna run into problems. And early on in this journey, I was definitely more insecure. And that did cause problems.

[00:38:13] It actually caused slowdowns in the way that we did things. It, it was, there were some areas where I did feel so confident. And so I was worried about actually executing on certain things that I had that we had to do to move forward. and I basically had to experience that to be able to push myself towards it.

[00:38:30] I wouldn't have been able to, overcome any of those things if I hadn't experienced those things. So I don't think, I, I don't think on the emotional side, anything should or could change because I needed to learn all those lessons to be where we are today.

[00:38:44] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. And what about on the tactical side? What's the one thing that you would do differently?

[00:38:49] Courtney Carlsson: So, I think one, one of the bigger kind of like strategic tactical things that I've learned is that there is no one way. I think it's really easy as a founder to look at. The Facebooks and the Googles and all those like huge venture backed companies and think, okay, that's how I've gotta do it.

[00:39:04] I've gotta join YC and then raise a seed round. And then within one to two years, ideally one, if you're gonna be very successful, raise a, a series a, and then there's this whole kind of schedule. And you, a lot of companies do build successful companies that way, but there's also companies that build successful companies.

[00:39:24] Other ways, like there was a guy that I spoke to, recently who'd built a software company they'd raised one and a half million in the early days and that was it. And then it, it became a billion dollar company. It went public, it was profitable, like old school, traditional profitable company. I. A lot of these like venture heroes have really skewed the market.

[00:39:45] There's many ways to build a business. and I think just knowing that is really helpful because it basically means you could do whatever you want. But I do think if, if I were gonna build a venture backed company, so powdering is not venture backed we've, we've raised, we've raised angel crowdfunding, and from family office.

[00:40:04] And I really like building that way for a healthcare company because it means there's no, there's not been sort of external. Commercial pressures to, grow and focus on revenue generation. That's why we've been able to focus on quality first. but if I were to start a venture act company, I think the learning would be, you do need to raise early, so don't leave it too long.

[00:40:25] I think that's the biggest, biggest learning for me. And then I think also the other, the other learning is that your team is your team is so important. Everyone always says that, but I don't think you realize just how important building the right team is until you're actually in it. So making sure that you find, I think the best people, as soon as possible, because, because that means that you can create exponentially.

[00:40:49] Courtney Carlsson: Like when you get a bunch of really smart people in the room that are all really invested, I think a lot of magic can happen.

[00:40:56] I find it really, interesting how you said, like there's no one right way to build a business. And I think you're right in terms of how we see like so many influencers and influencers on social media, telling people, this is how, why is the best way to build a business? They're all like hustling and, never resting, never stopping.

[00:41:14] Nirish Shakya: And always, it seems like they're always like doing, doing, doing, and maybe that sense, that's like a certain benchmark of what is the right thing to do. and we always try to achieve that benchmark. And like you said, maybe, some of the feeling of, inadequacy maybe comes from that where you are never, never able to achieve that ideal benchmark because you're always playing by someone else's rules of, what is the right thing to do and how to do it.

[00:41:39] Courtney Carlsson: Yeah. I couldn't agree more with what you just shared. And I, I think it's really unfortunate that unfortunate that for some reason, our society believes and I believe, I, I've definitely been stuck in that same mindset, which is that like, if I'm not working really hard, I'm not working well, actually there's.

[00:41:56] there's hard work and then there's smart work. And I think that is another big lesson that I've learned, which is that you wanna be able to be the smart worker, right? Like you don't wanna be the one doing 18 hour days just to do 18 hour days. You, in an ideal world, you do one hour and you get maximum results.

[00:42:13] Courtney Carlsson: I, I think that's wishful thinking, cuz you do need to work really hard to build a business. But I think there's, there's efficient ways of, of doing that. and some of that even comes down to hiring the right people, right? Like if you hire more experienced people that really know what they're doing, you can see actually the difference in when someone really knows what they're doing and it takes them like two hours to achieve what it would take me.

[00:42:36] For example, if I didn't know if I didn't know how to do performance marketing, for example, it would take me like maybe a month to figure it out. Versus if you find an expert and they can set you up. Okay. It wouldn't take two hours, but they can set you up within a week. I think that's a really good example of working smart, not, I think basically not feeling like you need to do every single thing cause you don't, you can work with a team.

[00:43:01] whatever resources you have, we all have resources. Even if, and resources doesn't need to mean money. It could also mean a friend. Who's an expert that might help you out. You know you,

[00:43:09] Nirish Shakya: Yeah, absolutely. 

Courtney's last words for humanity

[00:43:11] Nirish Shakya: So, Courtney, imagine it's your last day on earth and someone comes up to you, you with a tiny piece of paper and asks you to write down your last words for the whole of fame, humanity that we will just, put up on a big billboard for everyone to see. what would you wanna leave, on your last tea with what are the words that yeah, you would write on that piece of paper.

[00:43:31] Courtney Carlsson: That's a really hard question. I think I would want two pieces of paper and

[00:43:35] Nirish Shakya: All right. You can, you can have two

[00:43:37] Courtney Carlsson: Okay. Great. Two. So my 1, 1, 1 of the pieces of paper would say, seek to understand, and I actually have that tattooed on my arm here.

[00:43:47] and what I mean by that is I think that every single conflict on this earth, even if it's with yourself, is motivated by not fully understanding the other perspective.

[00:43:59] Courtney Carlsson: And I think if you just try and have a little bit of empathy and understand where that person is coming from, even for yourself, if, if in your head you're fighting with yourself and you think that you suck trying to have some empathy for yourself and understand the other perspective, it can just change everything, including, everything that's going on right now with, in the us, with Roe V.

[00:44:18] Wade. I think if we just tried to understand each other's perspectives and have a, a real conversation, things could be a lot different, but people just, people are so entrenched in the differences versus in the similarities. And actually, I think one of, one of the other learnings from paradigm and coaching people and hearing people's problems is,we are all ultimately looking for very similar things in life.

[00:44:42] We all want love. We want meaningful connections, joy, purpose. And this is actually also in science by the way. So seek to understand. And then the other thing that I would want to put out there is like, I dunno if I have a succinct sentence, but basically like challenge yourself and enjoy life. Cuz that's what it's about.

[00:45:02] I think it's really easy to get and I've done this, to get caught up in like the every day and having to work really hard and get to your goal. But I think at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you're enjoying your life. And that looks different for everyone. Right.

[00:45:18] and what variations of different things will be different for everyone. But I think a lot of people, including myself can easily forget that actually the point is to enjoy.

[00:45:28] Nirish Shakya: Awesome. Thank you so much for that, Courtney. 


[00:45:31] I'm just looking here at my notes to see, what I've learned, from our chats then, and I've definitely learned loads, in terms of, the value of self-reflection, in asking deliberate questions, questions that you mentioned such as, what am I doing and why am I doing this?

[00:45:45] Nirish Shakya: Because a lot of times we don't, take the time to. Stop and ask some of these questions, to ourselves. And, a lot of this can lead to burnout, in terms of that, know, feeling of in inadequacy and, trying to prove yourself because, we are not aware of, why we're doing things.

[00:46:01] And one thing that, I definitely, you know, picked from that was around the importance of also, remembering how you feel after doing such an exercise. Because a lot of times, I just tend. For example, do my regular journal and then just move on with my daily life without actually, sitting down to really feel, how does that activity make me feel?

[00:46:21] and it seems like that is something that actually helps you sustain that activity. you also me mentioned the value of, mental acrobatics, when you're leading a team where you are able to, juggle different emotions and, project emotions that are productive and, and useful for your team.

[00:46:37] also another question that I learned from you, that I can ask next time something goes wrong in one of my projects is what's the opposite way to look at this. So this is more of a, a reframe in your mindset in terms of, how you see the same situation in a more positive light. And I love your tattoo that you've got on your arm, that says, seek to understand. And I think that's such a, a crucial, skill for us to learn or improve on cuz a lot of times, a lot of these, conflicts and situations do come from us, not being able to understand, where other, the other person is coming from.

[00:47:12] Nirish Shakya: And we probably expect other people to think and feel and act and do, just like us, which is not possible in the real world. So thank you so much for sharing your learnings and insights with us today, Courtney. 

[00:47:24] Courtney Carlsson: thank you so much, nourish really appreciate you sharing that. 

[00:47:28] Nirish Shakya: Great. 

Getting in touch with Courtney

[00:47:28] Nirish Shakya: So, Courtney, where can people, get in touch with you or find you. Well,

[00:47:33] Courtney Carlsson: Yeah. So I'm on, Instagram as court Carson, I'm on LinkedIn as Courtney Carson. I don't think there are many other Courtney Carsons in the world, and from paradigm. So you'll, hopefully you'll see that, Twitter as court Carson, and, I'd love to also extend a one month free for all of the listeners, design feeling, which we'll share in the notes.

[00:47:54] Right. Awesome. and yeah, and then if you wanna, I'm also like a, quite an open book. So if you wanna email me, I'm, I'd love to hear from you. I love talking to people and I'd love hearing feedback. So feel free to reach out. 

[00:48:07] Nirish Shakya: Great. So, Courtney, thank you so much for joining us in the design feeling, podcast. it's been great chatting to you about, mental health, about paradigm, about your own story of burnouts and how you, how you battle it and how you're creating a product and a, and a community for people who are going through, similar, similar kind of things.

[00:48:24] So really appreciate, appreciate you being here for your time and for, for sharing your learnings and insights. And hopefully I'll see you again soon.

[00:48:31] Courtney Carlsson: Awesome. it's been awesome Nirish. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed our conversation. I actually forgot it was being recorded and I just felt like I was chatting to a friend. So thank you for this lovely experience. 


[00:48:42] Nirish Shakya: Thank you so much for joining us in this chat. To access your free one month discount to the Paradym app, go to Or click on the link on your show notes on your podcast app you're using right now, or you can just go to the Paradym website and use the code 'feeling22'.

[00:49:01] If you are enjoying listening to the Design Feeling podcast, please do consider leaving an honest review on Apple Podcasts. It'll really help get this podcast out to more people. And please do share the podcast with a Design Thinking friend who could benefit from these conversations. See you next time.