How do you avoid losing your mind during a busy week? There is so much going on, it can be easy to lose control of time and priorities.
The constant stress of your phone buzzing you about another meeting, text, tweet, or phone call. The anticipation of presenting what you've been working on to your colleagues or bosses. Traveling off site to a client's office or a conference, wondering whether there's going to be parking, or if they'll have coffee or should you get it beforehand. That's just work.
Then, there's your personal life bleeding into your day. The reminder to pick up your dry cleaning, move money to another account, get a birthday card for a friend, set your alarm to leave early the next day, call your doctor's office to renew your prescription, read the bios of the people at tomorrow's networking event.
And no to-do list item stands alone, rather it has multiple parts to it that vie for your limited attention.
I had one of these weeks not too long ago and what resonated with me was the mindful approach of "naming meditation." I don't mean formal meditation, where you sit on a cushion in a quiet room for 20 minutes. I mean that as the day passes, you start naming different parts of it "busy", "necessary", "essential", "boring" or whatever word best fits the situation.
The "naming" separates you from the experience for a brief moment so you can observe it objectively. You're still doing the work, talking in a meeting, listening attentively, but you're removed from all the ego-based thinking: "This is too much for me," "Why do I have to sit through this?" "I have so much work to do!"
That kind of "stinking thinking," as one of my clients calls it, gets absorbed in the name you've given to the situation. Here's how it works:
All of this will take 30-60 seconds in your mind, perhaps longer in the beginning simply because you're practicing the method. You will now be separate from that which has been taking control of you. You will be able to point to it in your mind and know it for what it is, and what it may continue to be, and go back to what you were doing.
The quote that comes to mind to best describe this is:
"Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you"
— Ali ibn abi Talib
If you're saying to yourself, "Isn't the naming itself judgmental?", then take a second and think about the thoughts and perceptions that are getting the better of you. The thoughts are already judgments of the experience you're having.
"Naming" is just a way to recognize the judgmental thinking, call it out in a single word, and go back to the task at hand.
Try this out and leave a comment or email me about your experience! I'm curious about how it works for you personally.
Conscious Magazine has been kind enough to allow me to continue posting articles on how mindfulness can empower social entrepreneurs in their work.
Below is an excerpt from my latest article:
"Hands-on experience is hard to come by when information is ubiquitous and cheap. It’s too tempting to keyword search your audience. Too easy to pull up competitor websites, buy market data, read conference reports, or run a lit review. Defining who your audience is with these facts and figures is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with pieces of information that come second-hand from another person's experience.
You're a journalist before you're an entrepreneur..."
Read the full Conscious article here.
"Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits."
Self-Reflection Made Easy
The most long-lasting and powerful way to develop deep personal insights is through self-reflection, finding quiet time you can set aside to think or just be for a few minutes.
This is easier said than done in our fast-paced, information-heavy, overly-busy modern world. Why would you spend valuable time doing nothing?
Here are a few reasons:
Down time is incredible, but difficult for many to incorporate into their lives. And though I'm being light-hearted, I'm very serious about how it can improve your day-to-day life. This is why I want to make it easier to practice regularly.
Meditation, Journaling & Group Dialog
Over the last few months, I've been testing what I'm calling the "Insight Club." Nine motivated and interested people have helped me to develop a forum for self-reflection, including meditation, journaling, and group dialog.
Starting today, I'm opening it up to everyone. Go here to join.
The Insight Club includes:
This is entirely FREE!
Self-reflection can't be bought, but it doesn't come cheap in terms of effort. It requires a little work on your part. You have to show up!
I started this to make it easier for you to start. So you have a place to go. I'm inviting you into my personal practice. It's completely up to you how much you put into it.
You can join any time and partake in any part of the Club, though the benefits of being "all in" will open up parts of yourself you didn't know were there, and you will discover creativity, productivity, and resilience.
Try it for 2 weeks. Sign up here and you'll receive a "How To" guide with dial-in information and details about the journaling to get you started.
What participants have gotten out of the Insight Club
"The hum on the phone is audible, I can feel everyone meditating with me!"
"I have a better perspective on others and myself. I journal every so often during the week, but feel like I'm more aware of my blind spots.
"I don't know what's blocking me sometimes, and this gives me clarity."
Now it's your turn: What's stopping you from taking 5-10 minutes out of your day to sit or think? If you are too busy, then in fact, are you too busy? How can you develop a routine or a toolkit to reflect on your day?
Learn more about the Insight Club and try it out to see if it works for you. At the least, you'll learn something you can practice on your own.
Excited to have my article featured on Conscious Magazine about the struggles social entrepreneurs face when they're building their product or service. Below is a snippet.
“Here, in my solitude, I have the feeling that I contain too much humanity.”
"When you're working towards a social good you feel like you have two bosses, you and the world. Your bank account needs attention, but so do the people and communities you're trying to help. This seems manageable at first, even motivating when it's not just about you. Then you come across tough decisions that juxtapose the two."
Read the full Conscious article here.
“First we build the tools, then they build us.”
Your first and last words
What are the first words you wake up to? The last words you read before you go to bed? Are you allowing random words in emails, books, and articles to affect the start of your day or how well you sleep?
Words, at their very root, are signposts for experience and emotions, priming you to feel happy, sad, angry, focused, anxious, creative, fearful, etc. You can use simple words that are powerful for you to trigger a specific response.
The words in and of themselves are not important, but your emotional association to them can affect your behavior. For example, if I said the word, "tired," it would have more of an emotional association to you than "cansado," the Spanish word for tired. Unless you knew Spanish and had developed an association between the emotion/feeling and the word, it would be meaningless to you.
Think about a swear word
Words may just letters put together in a specific way, but your attachment to them can be incredibly potent. When someone swears, there can be a lot of emotion and feeling attached to it. That energy gets transferred where it's directed, creating a more volatile environment for those involved. Road rage, violence, or hostility may come to mind.
Or, you may swear often and casually, just for emphasis. It may still strike a chord for those around you, but you don't find it particularly negative, just a useful way to cut through formality and lighten the air. Swearing, in a way, let's you connect more closely with those you're communicating with.
The emotional weight of a word is what primes you, and priming occurs all around you, especially through ads you see every day. Think about headlines on CNN, or Weather.com, or Buzzfeed.com, and how they use just a few words to generate fear, panic, or curiosity.
So how can you use words instead of them being used on you?
A post-it note for success
Be more aware of what words surround you on a daily basis, especially the words you see when you first wake up or just before you go to sleep. You don't want negative words to trigger unwanted emotions as you start or end your day.
Instead, use specific words to prime you for what you're looking for. Money, love, happiness, confidence, energy, attention, focus, care, respect, etc. Take your definition of success right now, and find the words that you associate it with; words that have strong, contextual, and personal meaning.
Now take the words you've come up with and write them down in a place where you can seem them every day. A post-it note on your computer, nightstand, or on your bathroom mirror works well. If you have a whiteboard, write them down there. Take a picture of a word and make it your smartphone background. Get creative.
These words will do their work on your psyche, whether you notice them or not. I recommend updating them every once in a while. Try this out for yourself, and you'll notice another byproduct of this exercise. You'll become more situationally aware of how others prime you, and gain more control over your reactive decisions.
Now it's your turn: What do you read the first thing you wake up or right before you go to bed? How are the websites you visit every day priming you? Have you tried priming yourself with words before?
Please let me know in the Comments section below, and please do share this post with your network. Thanks!
"Learning is experience. Everything else is information."
Why do you do what you do?
Beliefs are stories we tell ourselves about why we do what we do and in some cases, the most obvious being religion or politics, we even share them with others. But until confronted with the reality of how your actions point to your beliefs, you are usually unaware of the belief operating in the background.
For example, you may be someone who doesn't vote. You don't even think about it. It's not a part of your life. But when someone explains how important your vote will be in the next election, you have to confront your underlying belief that you "don't care about voting." Otherwise you would vote.
Suppose then that you do some research, and realize voting does matter. You examine the details for yourself and change your mind. Now your underlying belief has changed, through the actions of pursuing a thorough inquiry. This continues and results in more actions that start reshaping who you are.
Beliefs In Action
Your beliefs evolve through the actions you take to examine them. You start following the news, reading political magazines, paying attention to facts vs opinions, and basically becoming more involved. Now that you "care about voting," you know the nuances of the voting debate. It changes how you talk to others. When you encounter someone who "doesn't care about voting," you in turn influence their underlying belief by making them aware of those nuances.
What you believe is the biggest influence on how you operate in the world. Examining your beliefs reveals the wizard behind the curtain influencing your decisions and judgments.
For example, limiting beliefs that make you think you can't do certain things, like lose weight, or make more money, or get a promotion. Or unlimited beliefs that make you imagine beyond your limits, like starting a company, quitting your job, traveling long-term, or being president.
But your beliefs are hard to examine because you're the one who has them. They're just in your head most of the time, and it's difficult to step away from your thinking with your thoughts, no?
How do you become an objective observer of yourself?
Journal. It is an external action where you reveal to yourself what you believe you did during the day. Instead of recapping what's happening in your head, you put it on paper or on screen and literally take a step back from your mental revisions. You see in reality, not just in thought, how your mind translates your actions.
Journaling has many other benefits. It's cathartic, especially when you're having a bad day. It's surprising, especially when you find yourself saying, "Hm, I didn't know I thought that." It's energizing, because you validate or reject priorities you thought were important, eliminating the noise and focusing on what matters.
Is this a treatise to promote journaling? To a degree, yes, but more importantly it's a literal "call-to-action," questioning the logic of thinking about your thoughts, and whether that is truly unbiased or objective. I urge you not to think about this, but to do something about it.
Now it's your turn: What are some actions you're taking (or not taking) that point to hidden beliefs? How do you uncover them? What is the best way for you, in particular, to examine what's shaping your beliefs?
Please let me know in the Comments section below, and please do share this post with your network. Thanks!
Want to learn how to have more peace of mind in just 5 minutes? Click here.
The Myth of Peak Productivity
Behind every person aiming for peak productivity is a body on overdrive; cortisol overloads, fragmented attention, high blood pressure, and much more. It's similar to looking at a skinny person who eats junk food all the time, the "skinny fat" as they're sometimes called. They have the metabolism and body constitution that belies what's going on behind the scenes in their cardiovascular system.
Early to work, lunch at your desk, meetings all day, late to leave, doesn't make a good employee or leader either. It makes a person disjointed; dissonant to the normalcy of a world where people work to live, not live to work.
Think instead: balanced productivity, relaxed focus, calm drive.
Striving vs. Thriving
What can we expect from measuring success by output versus value? A systematic cancer that goes undiagnosed. And we all continue to participate because the level of our salary and title is tied to it. When those with a marginally greater ability to manage stress, attention and workloads get promoted to leadership positions, others who may not have the same makeup must follow suit, creating an inherently unsustainable cycle.
Even the ones at the top who can mentally and bodily handle the work cave on the social contract in other ways. Quality time with friends and family takes a toll. Not only do you spend less time with your loved ones, the time you do spend with them is crowded with email, and thoughts of what you must get done. In fact, a desire to work emerges in this risk/reward system that like a pez dispenser offers an adrenaline or dopamine hit every time you opt in and keep working.
How do you get off this roller coaster?
Ask yourself why you're doing what you're doing while you're doing it. Think of those instances when you work out of habit. When you sit at your desk, when you pull out your phone, or when you open up your laptop. What's the first thing you do? Do you jump into your work immediately? Do you check your email? Facebook? Twitter? Why? What is the most optimal task you could be doing? What is the best way you can help yourself and those around you?
Questioning your next action is one of those basic habits that forces you to be accountable. It may be annoying at first, since all of us are culprit to just moving on from one thing to another without question. And if you don't like questioning yourself like this, you've fessed up and realized it, so you're not ignorant anymore of being on autopilot. You're conscious of your choice and that puts you in the driver seat. It's still another form of accountability.
Now it's your turn: Why are you working? Have you defined "enough" for yourself? Do you know when you've crossed the boundary from value to overdrive? What keeps you bought in?
Please let me know in the Comments section, and please do share this post with your network. Thanks!
Ruth Bader Ginsburg on work/life balance
In the first 2 minutes of this video, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also known as the Boss by her colleagues, tells stories of how her young daughter helped her get a better sense of what matters.
The video is part of a bigger article on issues of women's rights, paternity leave, and "having it all," a theme that comes up several times. Below is a short excerpt.
It’s easy to assume that celebrated figures like the Boss possess superhuman levels of discipline. But an insight one gains working at a place like the Supreme Court is that we all face similar constraints on our time, energy, and intellectual bandwidth. During my year at the Court, I sought to understand how the Boss managed to successfully balance her family and career.
Most good advice is simple and boring
We often read about what is good for us, nod our heads, and go back to what we usually do. Why is that? The advice seems banal, almost cliche, and we shrug our shoulders, telling ourselves that it's obvious. "Take breaks." Duh.
It's all a cover-up for the real reason why we shake it off and move on. Change is difficult for most people, and though we acknowledge the value of good advice, it still seems like a shift in the regular rhythm of our lives.
Until we contextualize the advice into our day-to-day, and get a feel for it, we don't truly realize its benefits. When we read it, we only know it to be true in abstract, not in reality. This is where trial and error come in.
What's great about "take breaks" is how easy it is to implement. You can take action on it right away. Then, you can decide whether it's worth your time. You also come out of the experience with more nuance about how you define a break, when you take it, whether you take it, and what you listen for when you hear others talk about it.
Instead of leaping to "yeah, that's easy," or "no, that's hard," try it out for one full week. Run an experiment to test your assumptions. If you stick to it, then you can evaluate how you feel afterwards, and if you can't even do a week, there's no real loss anyway. It's worth a try.
What sound advice have you gotten lately that you're avoiding? Why are you not following through on it? Can you try it for a few weeks to see if it suits you?
I'm excited to hear your thoughts, so please share them in the Comments section or via email, and please pass this on to someone who'd be interested!
Most of us have very busy schedules.
With work, children, friends, errands, email, and living to do, it’s hard to pause and find time to do what you want to do.
How can you slow things down? Even if it's just to allow yourself a few moments to think? To give yourself breathing room to make a decision about what to do next?
Check out the rest of the post on LinkedIn.
"Getting Hooked" on Phones
About 80% of smartphone owners check their devices within 15 minutes of waking up! This probably isn't a surprise to you, especially if you use your smartphone as an alarm clock. It's too easy to tap on the mail app on the bright front page of your phone as you turn off your alarm.
Does this sound familiar? Do you know why you're doing it? Are you in control or has it become a craving that must be satisfied?
A recent article in the Economist, called Getting Hooked, alerts us to why it's not necessarily your fault or that you may not even feel bad about these phone habits. There are companies specifically creating products to vie for your attention, at all times of the day. "Behavior Designers" is an official job title in digital product companies.
Email and social media are part of our modern culture, but when and how we choose to partake is up to us. Understanding ways companies aim to re-habituate you makes you alert to the choices you have, and can also teach you how to build better habits.
Click on the link above to read a more detailed essay on how technology companies are getting into our heads, and what choice we have in the matter.
Free Half-hour Coaching Session
I have had 3 very-fulfilling free coaching sessions and have another 2 scheduled this week. If you are interested in a 1/2 hour private phone coaching session, simply email me with 3 dates/times that work for you.
More details below:
I am offering a no-strings-attached FREE half-hour online or phone coaching session for the New Year. Simply reply to this email to schedule a time in December or January (more details below).
This is completely open-ended. You can choose to discuss any topic that you like. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
These are just a few examples, but you can be as specific as you like.
I use principles from psychology, personal development, and mindfulness during sessions with my paid clients, and this will be no different.
Schedule a Time
Here is how to sign up. Email me with three dates and times that work for you within the following time frames:
This offer is open from now till the end of January. Please forward this to a friend or colleague who you think might benefit!
Here is what others have said about my teaching:
"Akshay provided simple and clear methods I can easily incorporate into my life to relieve stress and increase productivity."
"I am confident that I am NOW a better person and well on my way towards where I want to be in my life. Akshay's coaching methods have been helpful professionally and personally in tandem."
"Akshay is adept at explaining the meaning behind some esoteric terms and conveying how they relate to everyday life."