Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Search Inside Yourself

For years now, Google has offered a mindfulness-based program, called Search Inside Yourself, as a way to help some of the smartest, most talented people in the world perform even better and simultaneously increase their levels of happiness and well-being (which also has been shown to improve performance).  The focus of the program is to improve emotional intelligence.

Search Inside Yourself creator, Chade-Meng Tan (known as Meng), is an engineer by training who decided to reverse engineer high levels of performance.  He knew that emotional intelligence has been shown in numerous studies to be the single greatest predictor of high levels of work performance and leadership ability (in fact it is twice as important as the next most important ingredients), even among tech employees (4 of the top 6 competencies of star performers in the tech sector are emotional competencies).  He also knew that mindfulness practice is arguably the most powerful method there is for developing emotional intelligence.  Armed with this knowledge, Meng, along with a group of leaders in the fields of mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and leadership development, created a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training program.

In Search Inside Yourself, Meng provides us all with access to essentially the same training that is provided to Google employees who go through the course on Google’s campus.  He breaks the training down into three components: attention training, self-knowledge/self-mastery, and creating useful mental habits.  Attention training, he says, is the basis of all higher cognitive and emotional abilities.  We then use our trained attention to create a “high-resolution” perception of our own cognitive and emotional processes, which enables deep self-knowledge and self-mastery.  Finally, to help us out while we’re training our attention and gaining self-mastery, he offers very helpful, evidenced-based tools for developing useful mental habits, like kindness.

Although the summary above may sound a little technical, and Meng does cite quite a bit of scientific research to support claims made for the benefits of mindfulness, the book is extremely easy to read and very enjoyable.  Meng is so logical, and he has an excellent ability to break down complex ideas into simple, step-by-step methods for practice.  He also has a tremendous sense of humor.  I found myself smiling a lot while reading the book, and even laughing out loud a couple of times.

I highly, highly recommend this book.  This is the best book on mindfulness I have ever read (I’ve read almost 100 books on mindfulness), and it is definitely in my top 10 favorite books across all categories.  Search Inside Yourself has the power to help readers perform better and increase levels of happiness, and it just might help create the conditions for world peace.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Magic Balloons and Building Influence as a Leader

It has been said that influence is the foundation of leadership.  I was recently reminded of the essence of influence and how to create it as I watched some rather magical balloons float up to the heavens.

I was grabbing a bite to eat on the lovely terrace outside the Terrace Café at Shands Cancer Hospital here in Gainesville.  It would be an almost 13-hour day at Shands working on our Kids Kicking Cancer program, and it was nice to just take in the view of the sky, the clouds, the trees, and the Fountain of Hope, all of which were in clear view as I ate my dinner.

Suddenly, the view changed as I noticed two balloons floating up in front of me, only 20 feet away.  I’m not sure if they were released intentionally or by accident.  Maybe it was a bit of both.

They floated up rather quickly, but I noticed as they rotated in the breeze that both balloons read, “Get Well Soon!”

Almost as if the balloons were intending to do so, they headed over towards the windows of the patient’s rooms.  And, as if to further give the impression that these balloons were somehow magical, a couple times they seemed to pause for a second or so as they floated in front of a patient’s room.

I could only imagine how nice it must have felt for a person sitting in a hospital room to receive such a lovely gift – a magical balloon that seemed to be meant just for them, wishing that they be well.

This is a gift that we can give each person we meet, which just might also be one of the most important things we can do as leaders, whether we have a title or not.

Influence is the essence of leadership.  If we are unable to influence the behaviors of others, then we are not effective as a leader.  Some people still think fear is a good way to influence behaviors, but most of us know that it doesn’t work very well, and certainly isn’t sustainable.

A very effective way to build our influence is to show people that we truly care about them.  When people know that we are committed to their well-being and success, they are much more likely to follow us.

A wonderful and simple technique for building our capacity to care for and help others is to make a new mental habit.  As you approach an interaction with another person, you can simply ask silently in the mind, “How can I help this person to be happy?”

You don’t need to immediately have an answer.  You just need to ask the question.  A way to help them may present itself while you interact, after you interact, or not at all.  What’s most important is that you set the intention for the interaction as one of service.  People will pick up on this unconscious signal that you care about them.  You might find that when people talk about you they say, “I feel good when I’m around her.” 

You definitely don’t need a title to attract people to you when they feel good in your presence.  I believe that this is the essence of truly great leadership.

What question are you asking in your mind when you approach another human being?

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

This Breath Is A Miracle

All too often, we forget that each moment of life, pleasant or unpleasant, is a miracle.  Indeed, the breath we're taking right now is a miracle.  

It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the dramas we create in our minds, isn’t it?  If the drama is exciting, we feel alive.  If it’s dull and boring, we may feel depressed.

This drama can pull us away from the simple truth that our existence in this moment is an absolute miracle.  Think of all the things that had to happen just the way they did, since the beginning of time, for you to be alive in this moment.  Think of the nearly infinite processes that are occurring in this moment allowing you to live.  The sunlight, our atmosphere, and thousands of processes in your own body are all absolutely necessary for you to be alive in this moment.

Although I think it is very helpful to reflect in this way from time to time, we can’t be thinking about these things all the time, right?  We have things to do!

Fortunately, there is a miracle that is always happening, wherever we are, in all activities – the breath.  And, luckily for us, we don’t need to think about the breath to be in touch with the fact that it is a life-sustaining miracle.  All we need to do is be aware of it.  In fact, becoming aware of the breath actually enhances our engagement in the present moment.

Simply being aware of the fact that we are breathing, we can become aware in a deep way, beyond thought, of the miracle of being alive in this present moment.  We see our personal drama in perspective and are freed from its grip.  Our mind and body become united and whole, and we are present for ourselves and those around us.

Surely, the mind will doubt that there can be any value to simply being aware of the fact that the body is breathing.  Nevertheless, I invite you to practice awareness of breathing and see for yourself how powerful such a simple act can be.

You might just find yourself smiling – aware in a subtle, intuitive way, that this moment is indeed a miracle.

This breath is a miracle.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Developing an Abundance Mentality

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Having an abundant outlook is something I have struggled with a lot over the years.  Opening up and accepting that there is more than enough to go around for everyone seems to go against some force of habit I have to make sure my needs are met before I can think about meeting the needs of others.  This is the scarcity mentality.

Although I’m still growing in this area, I feel as though I have grown a great deal over the last few years and that the growth is taking on an upward curve.

I’d like to share why this is happening.

First, what does it mean to have an abundance mentality?  An abundance mentality, made popular by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is the belief that there are more than enough resources for everyone, which means it is possible to find win-win resolutions.  This is in contrast to the scarcity mentality, which leads to people believing that only one side can truly win in a transaction.  

Second, what are the benefits of an abundance mentality?  The intangible effects on our character occur each time we think and act with the attitude of abundance.   We move closer to reaching our full potential as human beings.  With the exception of feeling good, most the tangible benefits of an abundance mentality are not immediately apparent.  Benefits such as improved relationships, material objects, etc., come much more slowly, but they do come.  This is the law of the attraction so many successful people attribute to being the “secret” to their success.

So how do we achieve this abundance mentality?

Actually, an abundance mentality is not something we gain or achieve.   The abundance mentality is actually an aspect of our true nature.  It has simply been covered it up with the conditioning most of us receive in our natural development as human beings.

The reality is that our minds and bodies are deeply interconnected with the “outside world”.  Although we may know this intellectually, most of us have not had enough personal insight into this truth to break us free of our habitual attachment to the idea that our minds and bodies are somehow completely separate from everything around us.

The practice of mindful investigation of reality can help us to gradually see more clearly the deep interconnection between everything in our world.   In his masterwork, The Law of Success, Napoleon Hill, perhaps the most well-respected expert on success in history, said that the basis for the secrets to success is harmony with all around us, which comes from understanding the interconnected-ness of all things.   

As the truth of the interconnection of “things” becomes more clear, we begin to realize that we are already connected to everything we could ever want or need.  There's nothing we have to get that isn't already ours.

In what ways do you see your interconnection to everything around you?

Thanks for reading this post!  As a gift, I'd like to give you this excellent eBook for FREE!  

CLICK HERE to learn more about the eBook, featuring chapters from John Spence, Jeff Klein, Charlie Kim, Michael Carroll, Ted Prince, David Marquet, and Ben Lichtenwalner.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why Mind Wandering Leads to Unhappiness and Poor Performance

While I was confined to the brig, my secret to happiness was a simple one: train the mind not to wander so much. 

This week, we’ll discuss some fascinating research by Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth that points out how mind wandering not only leads to poor performance, but to unhappiness as well.

I think it’s pretty obvious that if we’re easily distracted, we’re not going to perform as well at any task as someone who is not so easily distracted.  However, maybe it’s not so obvious that being free from a wondering mind also increases happiness.

When we are free from being pulled around by our thinking, and are fully present with what we’re doing now, we are no longer victims of the comparative thinking that tells us, “You could be happy if you were just someplace else, or if you just had _____.  You’re happiness will come later, at some point in the future.”

When we are no longer caught up in comparative thinking, we realize that the present moment is usually pretty OK.  In fact, I realized that the present moment is actually perfect.  It is our thinking that makes it otherwise.

Of course, those of us who are skeptics immediately think, “What about when the present moment is inherently unpleasant?  Surely it would be better to allow our mind to wander so that we’re not so aware of the unpleasantness.”

Actually, the research found that people with a wandering mind were actually less happy during unpleasant experiences than people who were more present.

One of my favorite quotes from a great master of mindfulness practice was his reply to the question, “What do you practice?”

The master said, “We practice walking, eating, cleaning, and sitting.”

“Everyone does that!”

The master replied, “True.  But when we walk we know we’re walking, when we eat we know we’re eating, when we clean we know we’re cleaning, and when we sit we know we’re sitting.

Here’s a great TED talk that goes into the research a little more.  Enjoy!

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Monday, January 6, 2014

3 Ideas for Being More Charismatic

Have you ever noticed how truly great people have an incredible ability to make you feel as though you are the most important person in the world when they interact with you? 

One of the most important things we can do to dramatically improve our success as leaders is to cultivate the ability to make other people feel important. 

Over the last three years, I’ve spent a lot of time at Shands hospital at the University of Florida, working on our Kids Kicking Cancer program.  Every time I walk the halls of the hospital I am both surprised and amused at how few of the staff members make eye contact as they walk by.  These people are looking at my ID badge instead of at me.

I’ve thought of some fun ways to wake people up from their label-obsession-induced slumber.  The most kind way I could think of is to say, a little louder than necessary, “Hi there fellow human being!”

When we look closely at our mental habits, we can see that we’re constantly labeling and classifying the people around us, aren’t we?

She’s the grumpy, middle-aged, mailroom lady…  He’s the overweight, arrogant, sales guy… She’s the flaky, new-age, granola bar-eating, receptionist…  The mind is always doing this, isn’t it?

If we want to build influence with others and improve our effectiveness as leaders, we need to work at transcending this habit of mind and improve our ability to simply see other people as fellow human beings who ultimately want what we want: To be happy.

Eye Contact and a Smile

A great first step is to make the habit of always making eye contact with people walking by, smiling, and saying, “Hello.”  If this becomes a habit with strangers, it will become a habit with people we work with as well.

While at work, we should greet people by name.   If we don’t know their name, we should learn it immediately.

Wishing Happiness

Once we become more comfortable making eye contact, smiling at, and greeting everyone we walk past (everyone possible anyhow), we’re ready to take it to the next step.  As we’re walking around, we can mentally wish, “May she/he be happy and well,” for each person we see, whether or not she/he makes eye contact with us.

Being Genuinely Interested

Wishing people happiness helps us with the next practice, which is cultivating genuine interest in others.  When we’re genuinely interested in other people, we ask a lot of questions and do a lot of listening.  We look for and comment on the positive we see in people. 


People often say that great leaders have charisma, which is defined as “compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.”  Practicing these three ideas gives you charisma.  Nothing is more attractive or charming than caring for and being genuinely interested in others.

Do you ever feel as though people only see your label? 

Who do you know that really sees you and is interested in you?  

Thanks for reading this post!  As a gift, I'd like to give you this excellent eBook for FREE!  

CLICK HERE to learn more about the eBook, featuring chapters from John Spence, Jeff Klein, Charlie Kim, Michael Carroll, Ted Prince, David Marquet, and Ben Lichtenwalner.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Being Our Ideal Me

Have you ever done or said something that you wish you hadn’t?  I think we all have.  Why do we do that?

I think we could all agree that the less often we find ourselves in that situation, the better off we are in all areas of life.  So I’d like to share some thoughts on being free from the tendency of doing or saying things we’d rather not, and consistently being what my friend and mentor John Spence calls our “ideal me”.

A major obstacle to being our ideal me is not really knowing exactly who our ideal me is.  I suggest you really think about who is your ideal me, and then write it down.  

What type of qualities do you most aspire to have?  How does the ideal you treat others on a regular basis?  How does the ideal you respond to intense situations, like when someone is treating you unfairly, unkindly, aggressively, or in another way that could give rise to difficult emotions like anger or fear?  

Write these down in the present tense.  For example, “I am kind.  I respond to annoying people with patience and kindness. Etc. “

Once you’ve written a clear, brief description of your ideal me, I suggest that each morning, at some point before getting into the flow of the day, you read out loud your description of your ideal you, so that it becomes firmly planted in your subconscious mind.

Although these first two steps are very important, they will be of little value if we haven’t developed a high level of self-awareness.  When difficult emotions or conditioned, habitual reactions arise, we will find that we forget all about being our ideal me once we get caught by those habitual reactions.

Thus, having a solid daily practice of mindfulness is essential for consistently being the person we want to be, which means being a person of integrity.  

The stronger our practice of mindfulness, the easier it is to see our habitual reactions arise internally and have some space around them.  As long as there is some space between our awareness and whatever thoughts or emotions are present, we are able respond in a way that is in accord with our aspirations.  We can consistently be the person we aspire to be.

A particularly helpful practice for consistently being who we aspire to be is below (it is much more effective if we already have a strong daily practice of mindfulness).

Whenever you notice a thought pattern or emotion that is not in accord with your ideal me:

  1. Mentally note the emotion/thought and stop interacting with the perceived cause of the reaction except to ask for a moment or excuse yourself.
  2. Take 1-3 consciously controlled breaths.  This stops the emotive response in the body.
  3. Investigate the emotion with awareness.  What is anger like in the body?
  4. Take a moment to think of how you would like to respond to the situation or person in a way that is in accordance with your ideal me.
This is one of the most powerful practices I know of.  Please let me know if you use it and how it works for you.

May kindness and compassion inform all you do,