"The Mind of calmness and clarity you experience while sitting in mindfulness meditation is very nice, but it only becomes life changing when you can bring up that mind on demand, in day-to-day life."
Search Inside Yourself is a fantastic book written by one of Google’s first engineers, Chang-Meng Tan (“Meng” by his friends). When you first pick up the book, it may seem as though it’s another book on meditation and how to achieve personal happiness.
It is. But it’s also so much more.
This book melds the traditional Eastern approach to mindfulness and meditation with the more modern and scientific aspects of Emotional Intelligence in Western society. The interesting point that’s made very quickly is that mindfulness and emotional intelligence are, essentially, the same thing.
Meng helps us better understand the role that mindfulness, meditation and emotional intelligence can plan in our own personal happiness, but also in our work success and the success of our companies.
The Process of Mindfulness
"There is nothing mysterious about meditation. It’s really just mental training."
Before getting in the practice of mindfulness, it’s important to understand what it is and how works. According to Meng, mindfulness trains two important faculties in our minds: Attention and Meta-Attention.
Attention is something that’s pretty well understood. Basically, it’s taking possession of the mind in a clear and vivid way.
Meta-Attention, on the other hand, gets a bit more complex. It’s attention of attention. Really what that means is that it’s the ability to pay attention to your attention when it’s wandered off.
It’s also the secret to concentration.
When our meta-attention becomes strong, you can bring back wandering attention quickly and often. By doing that, you create the effect of continuous attention.
The more you’re able to bring back a wandering mind, the stronger your mind gets. It’s like a muscle. The more you work it out, the stronger it becomes.
If fact, Meng goes on to talk about the similarities between exercise and meditation, helping the reader understand that one important similarity between exercise and meditation is that, in both cases, growth comes from overcoming resistance.
A second similarity between the two is they can both significantly change the quality of your life.
So where do you start?
You start with intention. Just like exercise, mediation starts by creating an intention – a reason for wanting to be more mindful.
Each time that you create an intention, what you’re doing is forming or reinforcing a mental habit. Over time, that habit will eventually guide your behavior.
Mindfulness and the Role of Leadership
"You can influence people most effectively when you help people achieve what they want in a way that also helps you and simultaneously serves greater good."
It’s been found that there is only one factor that significantly differentiates the top managers from the bottom ones: high scores on affection.
Being liked may be the most effective way to get things done in the long term.
It seems like common sense, but with everything else being equal, people will work harder and more effectively for you if they like you. And we like people in direct proportion to how they make us feel.
The book explores some of the emotional skills that will help us to be liked and also successful at what we do:
1. Leading with Compassion
Compassion is a state of extreme happiness. And the happiest state, according to research on the brain, can only be achieved with compassion. It’s not enough to meditate by yourself every morning, you need to practice mindfulness and compassion in real life with real people.
Meng makes a solid case that compassionate leadership is the most effective kind of leadership. It’s about having a sense of concern for the suffering of others and wanting that suffering to be relieved.
Specifically, there are three components:
- A cognitive component: “I understand you”
- An affective component: “I feel for you”
- A motivational component: “I want to help you”
To become a highly effective leader, you need to go through an important transformation. You need to move from “I” to “We”.
The practice of compassion is about going from self to others.
2. Training compassion by Multiplying Goodness
We can train compassion in a way similar to how we train productivity or time management skills: by creating mental habits.
The approach is the same: The more you think about something, the stronger the neural pathways in our brain become and the easier it is to have that thought.
3. The Ability to Have Difficult Conversations
Based on work done on this topic, Meng shares that there are 5 steps to conducting difficult conversations:
- Prepare by walking through the “three conversations”
- Decide whether to raise the issue
- Start from the objective “third story”
- Explore their story and yours
- Problem solve
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to have a challenging conversation, try shifting into a mode that supports learning and problem solving.
"The biggest problem with email is that the emotional context is often miscommunicated, sometimes with disastrous results."
Modern communication, in so many ways, has improved our lives and the way we work with each other. But, like many things, too much of a good thing can soon become bad. More and more we’re coming up against challenges and difficult situations caused by an overuse of email. But can we really truly get back to face-to-face communication the way it was?
When it comes to relying on email communication, Meng puts it well when he says, “The good news is that we can, and the bad news is that we do.”
The biggest problem that we face with email is that the emotional context is often miscommunicated, sometimes having the opposite impact that we were intending it to have. By using email as our primary form of communication, we don’t give our brains the data about others’ feelings. As a result, we start to make things up. We get offended or frightened by emails that lack tone, emotion and sometimes context. We often write emails with a clear intent but end up having a negative impact.
Why do we do this? Meng tells us it’s because email seldom contains sufficient information for the brain to recognize the emotional context of the sender. As a result, the brain creates the information it’s missing, often with a negative bias. Our brains don’t know the difference between what’s real and what we think is real. If we believe the email to be aggressive or demeaning, it quickly becomes so.
This understanding is key to effective email communication.
Just by being aware of this, we can be more effective in our email communication.
When engaging in mindful emailing, it’s important to think about two things:
- That there is a human being on the other end; a human being just like you.
- That people who receive emails unconsciously make up missing information about the emotional context of the person sending, so we take care and caution before responding.
Search Inside Yourself takes the practice of mindfulness and helps to bring it into the mainstream. Filled with easy to do (and easy to teach) practices for the concepts mentioned in the book, you’ll love the connection that mindfulness has to our daily lives.