Home » Mindset

Category: Mindset

Looking to improve your mindset?

Let me teach you the best of what I know when it comes to building a happy and productive career and lifestyle! My blog posts contain the best insights and lessons-learned from my years as a corporate strategist, product management leader in the high tech software industry and yoga teacher. I’m also drawing on my current insights as an Executive Coach for leaders at top-notch tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and numerous startups.

Embracing Uncertainty

“Freedom from the known is the essence of intelligence.”

– J. Krishnamurti

How much of your life is a quest for certainty?

Most people are driven by a deep-rooted striving for the reliable, predictable and certain. What if, instead, life was all about expanding your capacity to embrace uncertainty instead of striving for predictability?

This seems like a much better way of living. Life is inherently uncertain. Don’t believe me? Try to predict what you will be thinking in the next 10 minutes or what you will be doing at this time next week!

So much of what happens only makes sense in the rear view mirror.

    • Sitting at the computer terminal at the Lakeside School, how much did Paul and Bill really know about where their hobby would lead
    • Following a chance encounter at Stanford, what did Sergey and Larry expect about their futures? Did they have a SMART Goal??? 🙂
    • Dropping out of college to explore the nature of conscious (i.e., to travel, meditate and take a lot of psychedelics…), did Sam ever imagine the possibility of packing auditoriums around the world, becoming an intellectual rock-star of sorts?

As you look at the current state of your career and life, how much could you have predicted, even just a few years ago? Probably not much.

Why then, are we (and most humans I know) so fixated on being precise about outcomes?

Expectations vs reality

I’m continually amazed and sometimes startled, at the gap between expectations and reality. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, sometimes different and occasionally the same (rarely, but occasionally) – fixation on outcomes, goals, and future-states is a curious natural mode of the mind.

I say ”curious” because we strive for certainty in the future (“certainty” is a cornerstone of human needs psychology), but the world is inherently uncertain. We all can dream and envision. Yet, we all know that our vision is nothing compared to reality.

The same idea applies to work and life. I spent my entire career building visions and plans for new technology products. Yet, even in the midst of helping large teams of engineers rally around a common goal, I knew that the real purpose of any vision or plan was as much to get people working and collaborating together from a common intent, as it was actually to deliver every feature included in the plan.

It’s not that the plans didn’t matter, it’s that the purpose of planning was different than most people thought!

The only thing I could predict about my planning efforts was that things would not go as planned! I also knew that if smart people were working well together, great things would happen.

As a Professional Coach, I now see how fixation on outcomes (without understanding the uncertain nature of the world) is a significant source of stress and can cause us to overlook the innate creative capacity of the mind.

So much cool stuff comes from the “unknown.” As any leader in a growth company will tell you, innovation is the most valuable thing a company does. Innovation is born from uncertainty. A great book, The Click Moment, goes into this theme in detail from a business and innovation standpoint.

Why fight it the uncertain nature of the world? To me, it seems much better to move along with how life actually works than to pretend we can be its master and commander. More importantly, how can we be more comfortable with uncertainty?

The method-less way

To explore this question I recently turned to an interesting book, one of J. Krishnamurti’s works (transcribed from his talks by an editor), Freedom from the Known. Reading J.K. is both frustrating and enlightening. He shoots straight to the heart of what causes psychological suffering – painting a picture of the issues and a promise of how life can be different (and dare I say “better”) with a richer understanding of how the mind (and our reality) works.

Yet, Krishnamurti offers no tools, techniques or methods; emphasizing the utter futility of trying to pierce the veil of thought with more illusory thinking. Not unlike the challenge of understanding the mind as illustrated by Alan Watts (here’s me paraphrasing): “..we are faced with the predicament of trying to pull ourselves up with our own bootstraps. In doing so, we are more likely to end up on our fanny than anything else…”

For someone, such as myself, so interested in understanding the mind and how to cultivate a more productive relationship with it, this is both frustrating, but also fascinating. Not unlike a movie with a cliff-hanger, it creates a sense of interest and curiosity that wouldn’t be present without such an instruction-less finality.

Just like a child tossed into a pool without a life jacket will be more likely to learn how to stay afloat and swim properly….

Without a clear how-to guide for controlling and transcending the mind, we are left with the only thing we ever really have, the results of direct and personal experience at the moment. Without a tool to apply or new habit to build, the mind naturally turns inward, looking and searching for a deeper insight or truth.

I see the incredible value of such an open exploration.

What can we do about it?

However, there are a couple things we can “do.”

First, we can make a choice. We can decide that understanding the truth about how the mind works is of crucial importance no matter what the goal – be that living a great life or being outstanding at work.

Second, we can allow the process to happen naturally and organically. A starting point is to turn our attention away from external life hacks, how-to-guides and trademarked methods for self-discovery; and turn our attention inward, to what we see about the nature of the mind, and what lurks beyond it.

We can start looking for what is really true and what is not. We can yearn more for what we learn from our experience than what a pundit has to say about his or her own experience.

Through experience, we can start to understand that we all live in a world of our thoughts, not the world as it is. We can know this to be a fact, and with this deep understanding, start playing in the world (creating, building, enjoying…and yes – even setting goals!) with a sense of freedom and “okay-ness” that isn’t possible when we approach life from a “goal-achievement-at-all-costs” mindset or in following someone else’s strategy for living and working.

Conclusion

So many of the amazing things I’ve experienced in life were only predictable in hindsight. I’m glad life seems to work well that way, and that something is calling the shots beyond my own thoughts, plans, and schemes.

Heck, I never would have predictive I’d be a Coach, even a few years ago!

As a Coach for leaders and professionals in the Tech Industry, I also see the tremendous value in having a thought partner to work with on this journey into the unknown. Specifically, working with a coach who is willing to allow the time and space for a client to sit with the “unknown” and allow the mind to generate insights naturally about how to live well and do great work.

If you are interested in exploring how coaching can help you in your journey forward, click here to learn more.

Here’s An Easier Way To Solve Your Business And Career Problems

The nature of imagination and the creative insights that smuggle within its flow; is a mystery. Ideas seem to pop up out of the ether. Almost always, thoughts are utter nonsense. Sometimes, that needle pops out of the haystack, and an innocent idea has an “oh my God” quality to it. Lots of noise. Little signal. The good news is, we only need a tiny bit of signal to create breakthroughs and solve world-class problems, so long as we are paying attention.

Read more

How To Climb Learning Curves Quickly With Deliberate Learning

“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

~ John Dewey, Education Reformer and Psychologist

It’s never been easier to learn. There are MOOCs, meetups, professional organizations and thousands of non-fiction books per month being published. Not to mention all the blogs and podcasts and YouTube videos coming online every day.

We are awash in information, and yet, it seems like we are getting further and further from understanding the things that really matter and digesting the content we are eating. We are sitting at an endless buffet of knowledge and getting heartburn in the process. If only they made Tums for knowledge overload! As a way to cope with the onslaught of new material, a common reaction is to stop consuming so much information, and instead, to move into action mode. Start doing stuff instead of just learning about stuff.

“Don’t consume, create! Don’t think, do!”

This makes common sense. If I want to get better at hammering a nail, I should hammer lots of nails. If I want to get better at writing, I should write a lot. If I want to be a better coach, I should get more coaching hours under my belt. If I want to improve my running ability, I should log those miles.

At work, learning by doing implies that the best way to learn is by identifying something you want to perform better at and selecting projects that employ the use of those skills. It all makes common sense. I do learn better when I am engaged in work, as opposed to just thinking about what is to be done.

The Missing Link

However, learning by doing overlooks a critical aspect of how we are built to learn. And yes, we are built to learn. We wouldn’t have gone from living in caves to flying around in metal tubes in the sky if we weren’t.

We learn reasonably well by doing something time and time again. We don’t, however, become excellent at a task through brute force repetition alone. If I hammer a thousand nails, I might get good at hammering, but I also might get good at shanking the metal and dinging the wood. If I run a thousand miles training for a marathon, I might improve my endurance, but I might just as well engrain an atrocious running form into my body.

Repetition, without reflection, will end badly.

Case Study: Wipro’s Experiment

I stumbled upon a research paper, “Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection In Individual Learning” while plunging down a rabbit hole on the Internet. I was trying to understand how we learn most effectively. This paper illustrates just how vital reflection is to the learning process. It struck a chord, in part, because it hits on something so simple, but often overlooked, when it comes to how we learn at work (or in any other aspect of life for that matter). The authors contrast the effectiveness of Experiential Learning (learning by doing) with Deliberate Learning (learning by doing with built-in time for thinking and reflection on what’s being done).

One of the experiments cited by the authors was a field study at Wipro, a large business-process outsourcing company. In the study, a group of customer support agents-in-training were assigned to one of two groups: (1) reflection or (2) practice. Both groups went through the same training program, with one key difference. The reflection cohort was instructed to spend the last 15 minutes of their days articulating the main lessons they learned during the day. The practice cohort didn’t reflect, and instead spent the final 15 minutes of their day continuing with other training activities.

At the conclusion of the training period, all trainees were given a knowledge assessment. The cohort that was given 15-minutes to reflect on their lessons learned each day scored 23% higher than the control group. Even more interesting, after graduating from the training program and put into customer service roles, the reflection cohort was found to demonstrate a 19% higher likelihood of getting a “top-rating” by customers.

I can’t think of an easier way to boost performance by a large margin!

Conclusion

One study doesn’t make a rule of law. However, this idea seems to have legs in other domains. As a coach, it is common knowledge that a powerful question to ask clients in concluding a coaching session is one that prompts reflection on insights gleaned and lessons learned.

Personally, I use journaling as a way to reflect on learning from day-to-day. My typical journal entry will include a brain-dump of (1) What happened today? (2) What did I learn? (3) What’s next (based on the lessons learned)?

Most of us work in fields where learning is vital to our relevance on the job. How can we maximize our potential and learning aptitude? It’s clear that learning by doing is only part of the picture. The consolidation and integration of whatever we learn is a vital part of the process. It doesn’t have to take a bunch of effort. 15-minutes seems to do the trick.

The aforementioned study sums things up well:

“Together, our results reveal deliberation to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey” “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

The Truth About Getting More Out Of Less

What does it take to achieve more? For most of my life, I’ve lived with an underlying assumption that to produce more, I must do more. If I wish to make more money, I must work more. If I want to be better at a sport, I must practice more. If I want to improve the quality of my life, I must try more new things.

Turns out, I was wrong.

The confusing thing is that doing more of something does often produce more significant results. If I’m looking for a new job and speak with ten people I know, and learn about one new opportunity, I might get more opportunities by talking with another 10 or more people. If I lose a few pounds each month by walking 10,000 steps a day, I will probably increase my weight loss by walking 20,000 steps a day…for a while at least.

This fact, that effort tends to yield results – so more effort will lead to even more results – kept me from seeing an even more powerful way to get better results from less. We can take this notion further, and make a bolder claim – that doing less can yield even more results than doing more ever could.

Let me emphasize this again. You can not only achieve the same results with less effort, but you can also produce dramatically more than usual from less output. This seems to be the way the world works, not only in business but in all aspects of life – relationships, finances, health, careers and more.

It’s counter-intuitive but true. Nature agrees. Try micro-managing a potted plant and see how it dies right before your eyes. I’m speaking from experience! Little bits of a few key ingredients are all nature needs to thrive.

Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian polymath, did the groundbreaking research that led to what is now called, the Pareto Principle, and further popularized by the series of best-selling “80 / 20” books by Richard Koch – management consultant turned champion of the “getting more from less” movement.

The 80 / 20 principle states that 80% of the results are a function of 20% of the causes. Conversely, 20% of the results are a function of 80% of the causes. In other words, the highest value causes are 400% as effective as all the other stuff being done. This principle (or more extreme versions of it, like 90 / 10 or 99 /1) show up in almost every part of our world. A vast majority of outputs are a result of a few inputs.

If all you (or your team, your business, your family, etc.) did were focus on the 20% (or less) of high-value causes, you would have the lions share of the results with 80% (or more) of effort and time freed up. Further, if you decided to only “halve” the amount of time and effort spent in total, but focused on the high-value activities, you would more than double your results – with plenty of free time and energy to do other things….or just relax!

It gets even better – the free time and energy aren’t lost opportunities. We all know that creative thinking and problem-solving improve when we aren’t pushing our nose-to-the-grindstone. Insights are inevitable when you have more space and calm time in your days.

Where will those fresh insights and ideas lead you? It’s worth finding out.

Explore:
1. Which areas of focus – your work, business or lifestyle – would you love to get more results from less effort?
2. For a specific area of focus in your life, what few causes are creating the majority of your results?
3. What are you willing to do less of, for the sake of allowing more space for high-value activities to flourish?

Intuition Is The Military’s Secret Weapon. Shouldn’t It Be Yours?

Mark stopped abruptly. An innate warning commanded him to STOP. Moments later a bullet flew past his skull, so close, he felt the wind brush his hair. This commanding voice, of inner nature, had saved his life.

Mark is no ordinary man. He is Mark Divine, a 20-year veteran and former trainer of the Navy SEALs. His story of life-saving intuition is recounted in his Unbeatable Mind podcast. I was surprised to hear Mark’s sharing of the role intuitive and extrasensory training has had in the shaping of elite fighting forces.

I picture Navy SEALs and commandos as being driven by rationality, logic and strategic planning. The last thing I would expect to learn is that listening to gut feelings and intuition would have any meaningful role in their training. Mark shatters this assumption through his focus on awareness and intuition one of the “five mountains” of his SEALFit training method and in recounting how he was trained as a SEAL.

The military’s secret weapon

Mark Divine is not alone, Navy SEAL Mike Jaco has written a book on the topic called “Intuitive Warrior.” Jaco states, “By fine-tuning my intuition as a Navy SEAL, I was able to predict and avoid attacks to protect myself and my fellow soldiers.

These are not two isolated cases. In 2011, the Navy funded a $4 million and 4-year long study into intuition, and it’s military application, slyly referred to as a study in “sensemaking”. In a job where one wrong step could mean life or death, I can see how greater sense perception can be worth its weight in gold. More than $4 million worth of gold for sure.

This is all about cultivating a broader sense of awareness for what is really happening, both externally and internally, with regards to a human observer. When awareness is broad, more data is captured and bias is removed. With a broader and unbiased data set, intuition can flourish as it flows in the background of our consciousness, making sense of all the data and bubbling up insights and ideas to guide our way forward.

Intuition and sensemaking in daily life

If the armed forces see value in the cultivation of intuitive and sensemaking powers, what is the relevance for those of us who are business owners, students, athletes or merely looking to get along more effectively in life? Let’s explore this idea.

Business owners could benefit from the enhanced understanding of the viability of a deal or investment. Not to mention the massive improvements to the quality of overall decision making.

Students could benefit from a better sense of how to communicate ideas and cross-pollinate thoughts when writing papers, in exams or engaging in class.

Athletes could better tune into and engage with their bodies in motion, the environment and other players on the field.

Working professionals could benefit from massively improved communication, listening and collaboration skills. As leadership can be defined as one’s capacity to communicate and create an engaged following, there is perhaps no superior way to be a stronger leader than to strengthen one’s sensitivity to what’s going on around them.

Improving your intuitive capability

“Intuition is a skill I believe that can be developed. Every one of us has it to some degree, but a lot of times we ignore it, or we deny it,”

Mark Divine, Navy SEAL Veteran, SEALFit Founder.

Step 1: Improving intuitive capacity is no different from improving any other sense or skill. The first step is to become aware that we all can make sense of the world around us in a more profound way. Logic and reason are vital, but never paint the full picture of what is happening around us or within us.

Step 2: The next step is to broaden one’s awareness of surroundings. Mindfulness meditative practice is one way to do it. Mindfulness can be cultivated when moving as well as stationary. Tune into inner signals and outer surroundings. Start noticing smells, sights, sounds, and feelings as you move. Turn off your smartphone and tune into the real world.

Step 3: The last step is to “keep score” of your intuitive signals. That is to say, begin listening to the more profound intuitive sense you already have, and notice what it is telling you. Intuition communicates in ways that are often subtle and feeling oriented (though in the case of Mark Divine, when his life was on the line, his intuitive warning to STOP was clear and abrupt). Are you able to correctly interpret your intuitive signals? Where is it spot-on? Where does it leave you confused? Where is it dead wrong? Keeping a journal of the intuitive signs and insights noticed can help.

Conclusion

Logic and reason are powerful capacities. However, it’s also important to harness latent intuitive power for the sake of making better choices. Intuition is no longer limited to the realms of mystics and seekers. It’s equally relevant to all of us who are looking to make our way in the world with less struggle and more success.

Connect Deeper

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for my newsletter to get my best personal development and career tips, a few times a month.

Think Less, Do Better: The Power Of A Clear Mind

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.

The Full Potential Of Our Mind

A New York Times article by Dr. Moshe Bar, Professor of Neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, cites a curious quality of the mind:

“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?

Not very.

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.”

Mindfulness and meditative practice is an art. There is no right or wrong way to do it. You can practice it while walking, eating, writing, working, playing or doing any other activity. While I personally enjoy going for a quiet walk or sitting for 10–20 minutes in silent meditation, you can cultivate whatever practice seems to work for you. I highlight three simple ways to meditate here.

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!

Conclusion

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.

Olympic Thoughts on Low Pressure, High Performance

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.

Read more

How To Have All The Motivation You Need, Right Now

My gym is packed.

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.

Read more