Jim Posner, Wall Street Trader turned Mindfulness Meditation Teacher joins me to discuss the value of meditation and his journey from a life of anxiety and stress to one of wellness and contribution. We speak about the benefits of meditation. We also go into his decision to transition from a stressful career on Wall Street to a meaningful career as a Mindfulness Meditation Teacher.
Resources discussed: John Kabat-Zinn: Creator of MBSR (Mindful Based Stress Reduction) with an array of books worth checking out. The Don’t Panic Project Podcast by Jim Posner. Podcast (and on YouTube) empowering people suffering from anxiety, stress, and depression. Check out interviews with Andy Weir (author of The Martian) and Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf.
Is an active mind a healthy mind? Most people or think so. However, it turns out that our mind, while powerful, mostly gets in the way of our struggles to live a fulfilled and satisfied life.
In this blog post I’ll discuss a different way of achieving big things in the world, a way predicated on thinking less (not more) and following an unconventional and less mentally taxing route to living up to your full potential.
“Many psychologists assume that the mind, left to its own devices, is inclined to follow a well-worn path of familiar associations. But our findings suggest that innovative thinking, not routine ideation, is our default cognitive mode when our minds are clear.”
Note the final part of the statement: “…when our minds are clear.”
The jury is out on how many thoughts we have per day. The number 70,000 is tossed about online. It’s undoubtedly well into the thousands if my own experience is correct! It makes sense to me that all this mental noise can cover up the precious signal of insight and wisdom lurking down below.
If our minds are naturally innovative and creative, as Dr. Bar asserts, it’s worth better understanding what keeps us functioning this way most of the time. The impediment seems to be all that mental chatter going on upstairs. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the problem with our thinking.
The Problem With Our Thinking
We live in the feeling of our thinking, not as the world really is. This is true for everyone, all the time. It’s not a bad thing either. Thoughts carry all sorts of ideas and insights in their midst, that help us make our way in the world.
I’m happy that I get to think. It’s how I get to write these words. It’s how I get to plan my trips. It’s how I get to come up with all kinds of exciting games to play and adventures to pursue. You probably feel the same way. Your thoughts aren’t all that bad. In fact, it can feel kind of good to think!
However, what happens when you are stuck in a bad feeling? Someone cuts you off in traffic. Your boss passes you over for a promotion. A competitor beats you. Your cake comes out of the oven looking a little flat. Mental chatter amplifies and with it, a bad feeling arises that seems to last forever.
None of these external circumstances carry an inherently negative quality. The person cutting you off might be a surgeon rushing to save a patient’s life. The competitor might be the better athlete and more deserving. The flat-looking cake might still taste amazing. Still, we feel buffeted about by our feelings about the changing winds of an external world. This doesn’t pose a problem, until, well, we feel that it does.
The brain has a knack for amplifying the negative; therefore, we tend to overemphasize the less-than-positive thoughts which are felt as crummy feelings. We take our perceptions too seriously, instead of seeing them as merely the product of our personal thinking, which varies depending on who is the thinker and which side of the bed they woke up on!
As described by spiritual teacher Sydney Banks, in The Enlightened Gardener:
“Take that rose bush, for example. We are all looking at the same plant, but our perception of it varies according to the way we each think and see. One person may see a vigorous rose, another may see a rose that could benefit from a little pruning, and a third may see a mess that no amount of attention would save. The rose bush isn’t changing; it’s the way we personally perceive it that differs, the way each of us thinks that colors our perception.”
The truth is that it’s not the circumstances that create what we feel, be they positive or negative feelings, it’s our thinking about the circumstances that cast a spell. Spell? You might say it is magic or a curse, depending on the feeling that goes along with the thinking.
I’m spending so much time discussing the nature of our thinking, and how it runs our experience of life since this understanding is fundamental to sorting out how to make our way in the world more fruitfully. If our thoughts get us into trouble more often than not, wouldn’t it be logical to see that thinking less is a promising solution to our predicament?
How To Think Less
Let’s conduct an experiment: Try not to think about a what you are going to eat for your next meal. Don’t think about how good the food will taste, where you will eat it, who you will eat it with or what you will have for dessert!
How successful are you at not thinking about it?
What we push away grows stronger. Our thoughts are the same way. It’s not possible to force thinking to stop. I’ve never been able to do it, and I’ve wasted a lot of energy trying!
Instead of trying to eliminate your thinking, you can follow the path set forth by experienced meditators and spiritual seekers. This is a similar path that works wonders for top-performing Executives who are looking to improve their Emotional Intelligence and Elite Athletes who are looking for peak mental performance. It’s all about getting out of your own way. Noticing an obstacle makes it easier to contend with. The obstacle is your nonstop mental chatter.
Notice your thinking, and allow it to move through you. The less you hold on to your thinking, the less the thoughts weigh on you. No judgment. No story. Just let them go, each and every time. It’s a process of letting go vs. trying to do anything actively.
This is where a meditative practice can be invaluable. Dr. Barr, as mentioned earlier, calls meditation one of the few practical tools we have to cultivate a calm and clear mental state:
“It is clear to me that this ancient meditative practice helps free the mind to have richer experiences of the present. Except when you are flying an F–16 aircraft or experiencing extreme fear or having an orgasm, your life leaves too much room for your mind to wander.
As a result, only a small fraction of your mental capacity remains engaged in what is before it, and mind-wandering and ruminations become a tax on the quality of your life. Honing an ability to unburden the load on your mind, be it through meditation or some other practice, can bring with it a wonderfully magnified experience of the world — and, as our study suggests, of your own mind.”
The important thing, is to find a way to notice what is happening in the world, including in your thinking mind (your thoughts are part of the world too!). Allow your thinking to arise and flow through you without ruminating on them or buying into the stories you want to tell about them. Naturally and inevitably, your mind will settle and the benefits of a relaxed cognitive state will be revealed.
What benefits? Try it and see for yourself!
We do our best when we have less on our mind. We are more creative at work, superior athletes on the playing field and feel better overall. What gets in the way is over thinking and attachment to our thoughts.
Thoughts have a purpose, but when we engage in the world, we are best served by being present and connected to what is actually happening, not stuck gazing at the movie theater of our mind.
While we can’t stop our thoughts, we can notice them and remember to observe, but not grasp them. Meditation and mindfulness practices also work wonders. What is revealed through the settling down of the mind is a more creative, innovative and relaxed state that will undoubtedly lead to positive outcomes in many parts of life.
Modern scientific research, such as the work done by Doctors Bar, Goleman, Davidson and others; are starting to uncover these benefits. However, there really is no need to wait for scientific proof to catch up, you can experiment for yourself and experience the benefits if you are willing to try.
We are in a culture of meetings run amok. Most upper-level managers I know spend over 50% of their time in meetings. Even worse, research shows that 1/2 of all meetings are considered a waste of time! In spite of an environment where the tyranny of meetings is a new norm, I’m a firm believer that there is a certain type of meeting that is not done often enough, and when it is, it’s done poorly. I’m talking about one-on-one meetings.
Why One On One Meetings Matter
Human connection is the lifeblood of society. Relationships are at the core of what any business is and does. Your company is not a function of your product. Your company is a function of the creativity and productivity of people who choose to work there. One on one meetings are a way of taking care of the human connection in a way that people feel empowered with a clear sense of direction and an unwavering sense of safety and support from their leader.
This blog post is written from the perspective of the reader (you) being the leader. However, the insights apply equally to anyone who is looking to “manage up” and improve the way they relate to their bosses.
Before we get to what you should do in a one on one meeting, let’s talk about what not to do…
Please, Don’t Do This!
The worst use of a one on one meeting is to apply pressure and micromanage team members. No one wants to be micro-managed. If you find yourself issuing a litany of directives and checking in on the status of progress and tasks and other minutiae, you are not only missing a vital opportunity to coach your team, you are pushing them further away from their inner source of creativity and motivation. This is exhausting for everyone, including you!
It’s Not About You (The Manager)
Instead of using a one on one to tick off a checklist or spew directives, approach your one on one meetings with the opposite perspective. In my opinion, the purpose is to support the growth and development of team members.
Take care of project updates and administrative minutiae using email, use one-on-one meeting time to coach your team! If you, as the manager, do not have something to talk about, this doesn’t mean the one on one meeting should be canceled. The time is for your team members, not just yourself! Some of the best conversations happen when there is no “fire to fight” or project to micromanage. With a relaxed perspective and a willingness to explore, you would be amazed at what could emerge from even a short conversation.
One On One Meeting Structure: Three Questions
I like to think of three key questions to frame a one on one meeting. This is how I used to structure my one on ones when I was a team leader. You can be creative with how the questions are phrased, but ensure that each of the three topics are covered. I think you will discover (as I did) that this format of conversation helps team members to feel a strong sense of belonging and commitment to the team. You will also find that they help you (as a manager) to uncover meaningful topics of conversation.
Q1: What is going well?
Start on a positive note. Connect to something meaningful and supportive. Even in the worst times, there is always something positive going on. Encourage your team members to surface the things they are proud of. As a manager, don’t passively listen, but listen intently, to what is being said. If something intrigues you, probe deeply by asking powerful questions. For example:
“Tell me more?” “What happened next?” “How did you come up with that?” “Interesting, should we continue doing more of that?” “How can we expand the impact of that to other parts of the company/team?”
Q2: What would be even better?
We are all on a learning curve (perhaps several!) and face areas of developmental growth. No one is exempt; even Fortune 500 CEOs stand to improve in specific areas! Encourage your team to surface the things that they see as areas of growth. These may be challenges, missed opportunities or ideas for improvement in the future. If a project just completed and didn’t go according to plan, use this as a chance for your team members to reflect on what could have been better in their approach.
I like the phrasing of “What would be even better?” instead of “What’s wrong?” or “What isn’t working well?”. The former phrasing has a more favorable flare that people will be more receptive to.
As a manager, understand that it’s not natural for team members to want to share things that are not going that well, lest the messenger be criticized. It’s up to you, the team leader, to create a sense of safety in the conversation. Emphasize that you are really interested in hearing what could be even better for the sake of supporting their growth, and also, thinking broadly about how you can also assist in making things even better.
Q3: What, if anything, do you need?
Outdated management models dictate that team members work for bosses, who set goals, plans and allocate resources. Under this model, if things don’t work out, the fault lies with the individuals on the team who supposedly “failed to execute.”
However, flipping the management model makes a lot of sense for dynamic and modern businesses. After all, it’s your team that has a direct line of sign to your business operations, what’s working and where things could be even better. Why not allow your team to tell you what they need? Wouldn’t this both make your job of allocating resources easier and better serve the needs of your team and business?
I’ve discovered that just asking the question, “What, if anything, do you need?” holds remarkable power. It’s a coaching question that gets people thinking about their inner resourcefulness and what is really getting in the way of their taking positive action. Often, you’ll notice that they don’t need much to act on what you discussed, their awareness of what to do is all they needed!
Important: I am not phrasing the question as “How can I help?” Your offering to help might be needed, but should be offered only after your team member has tapped into their inner wisdom to solve their problems. Then, if they are still stuck, you might wish to ask if there is any way you can help. Just be careful not to “play hero” and solve everyone’s problems for them. Sometimes, I’ll let a team member sit with a problem for a while and then jump in only if I see that they are stuck. People can be remarkably resourceful if you allow them the time and space solve problems on their own!
How often should you conduct these meetings?
Only discussing these points during an annual review is the sad truth about how many leaders operate. Consistency is key, though the exact frequency can vary.
When I led teams of 5–8 people working on diverse topics, I would meet with everyone weekly for an hour each. This made sense since each team member worked on radically different problems, and our team was moving at a very fast pace. A lot would happen each week!
If your team is aligned to work on a similar set of problems, or if the pace is slower; bi-weekly or monthly one on ones would make sense. Some global CEOs set aside quarterly one on one meetings with their direct staff members due to the extreme demands on time and travel. Experiment and see what works best for your situation. Whatever you decide, make it a consistent routine. Treat your one on one meetings as sacred time.
I hope that you are now in agreement that one on one meetings are a vital component of your management rhythm. I also hope that you have a clear sense of how to conduct them. The three vital questions I included in this blog post are a fantastic starting point for you. Try them out and let me know how it goes! If you have any further questions, please leave a comment.
I love the Olympics. It’s inspiring to watch people who have worked their entire lives for a single moment on the world stage. When it comes to performance improvement, these athletes leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of excellence. The best training, coaching, nutrition and of course, mental preparation all have their place.
You would think there is a doorbuster sale. There isn’t. New Years Resolutions are in full effect. Too bad most will fail. 80% abandon their goals by March. 92% will give up before crossing their finish line.
Are these people insincere, lacking willpower or missing vital tools and techniques? I find that hard to believe. They all seem to care about their health. Why else would they be at a gym during a vacation? It’s a great gym. All the tools to sculpt and tone are readily available. Classes galore, from Barre to Spinning. Skilled trainers too.
Today’s podcast features an Interview with Sherpa John Lacroix, a fixture of the Colorado ultramarathon running scene and founder of Human Potential Running. Not only does Sherpa John organize some of the most scenic (and toughest) trail races around, he is also an accomplished ultramarathon runner himself. He’s finished 200-mile races, over a dozen 100-mile runs and countless other adventures in addition to his most recent one: a heroic attempt to run 300+ miles to raise awareness for mental health issues in our society. As a bonus, we are joined for part of this interview with his partner in Human Potential Running (and fellow runner) Hollis Lyman to provide further insights.
In this episode we discuss:
What it’s like to try running 305 miles, from Colorado’s lowest to highest points.
How much of distance running is physical vs mental.
Why he gave up a traditional career path to literally blaze his own trail.
The secret to accessing more of our human potential than we could ever imagine.
In today’s podcast, I bring you, Matt Frazier. Matt is the founder of No Meat Athlete, a thriving community of plant-based health and fitness members. Matt also happens to be a coaching client, and we have worked together throughout the past year to help Matt be his best self, and bring even more energy and enthusiasm to his business and community.
In this episode you will learn:
Why Matt left a Ph.D. program in Applied Math to pursue a career in blogging.
What he learned spending a week in Seth Godin’s office.
How he has grown No Meat Athlete into a thriving online business.
The truth about “Tipping Points.”
What he wished he knew when he first started his business.
I am now opening up enrollment for 2018 Coaching clients. If you are interested in working with me one-on-one in 2018, now is the time to learn more and apply. I have 5 spots available (as of today, December 11, 2017) and expect to close enrollment by the end of January 2018. Learn more and apply here: https://raviraman.com/work-with-me/
A conversation with Doug Cunnington. Doug decided to respond to a layoff from a well-paying job as an IT Project Manager by creating his luck and building an online business. To boot, he relocated to Bozeman, Montana to live a lifestyle more in tune with what he and his wife enjoy. Doug’s company is all about building niche affiliate sites that make money through referrals paid by Amazon.com. It’s a business I didn’t know much about before speaking with him. Now, after having built many successful niche sites for himself, he helps others do the same. If you have dreamed of leaving a corporate job and redesigning your lifestyle, you will definitely want to listen to this episode.