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Gopi Kallayil on The Internet to the Inner-Net

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Gopi Kallayil is a Wharton alum and Chief Evangelist, Brand Marketing at Google.  Before joining Google, Gopi was on the management team of two Silicon Valley venture funded startups and a consultant with McKinsey.  Gopi earned his Bachelors degree in electronics engineering from the National Institute of Technology in India and his Masters in Business Administration degrees from the Indian Institute of Management and from Wharton. He spoke with Stew about his new book, The Internet to the Inner-Net: Five Ways to Reset Your Connection and Live a Conscious Life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Full podcast.


Stewart Friedman: How did you get here – to be at Google – the nexus of technology – also connected to eastern thought and practice?

Gopi Kallayil: Gopi KallayilIt is a long story, but the short version is just the hunger and thirst to see much of the world and experience the fullest of life on the planet.  One of the paths that many people choose, especially from that part of the world [India], is through education and professional life.  Starting from a modest family background, the search for education, business school, engineering school, and then professional expansion of career, eventually directing my sights at coming to the U.S. and to graduate school here and working in Silicon Valley, is what led to that journey and why I had Hong Kong as an in-between stop. I would say that was really the end goal in picking what I thought would be a great life experience both in terms of educational and professional growth and eventually working in the Silicon Valley ecosystem. I knew early on that the field of technology was where I wanted to pursue my career.

SF: I’d love to hear a bit more about how you knew that, but first let me ask what was it that you learned from your early family life? It’s something that’s important to us all but you write so clearly about that. What was it that your parents and your grandparents instilled in you that gave you this sense of being on a quest for useful knowledge that took you to far-off places? How did they teach you that?

GP: I don’t think they specifically taught me a technique, but I do know that they came from a set of limited opportunities and they had to step outside of that and be adventurous. In a classic tale that is retold in many families, my dad leaves his family lived in a rice-farming community and with no formal education, no qualifications, no real skillset, he goes on and builds his career in small towns and other places around India. Eventually, and this proves his street-smarts, he went on to speak nine languages, which he knew would connect him to people. I would say a skill I learned from him was how to connect to people.  That emotional intelligence or social intelligence is a huge driver of success. He took himself out of his comfort zone and to new environments.  You can learn and teach yourself skills and there is a large body of human knowledge out there that you can tap into and the more you learn and apply it, the more you thrive in whatever you choose to do. But along the way, I think one key piece of wisdom that I picked up was that so much of our life is based on interdependencies with other people and therefore the network of relationships you build is so crucial in how you do in whatever you choose to do professionally.

SF: He taught you a lot through his own example about how to learn and continue to grow your own capacity through meaningful connections to people who are different than you.

GP: Absolutely, and that’s why as much as the internet is a great technology to connect with information and objects and people, there is this whole network of relationships you have to establish with other people at a very human level. That was one of my biggest takeaways, that in the midst of all the technology, our social connections with other people are fundamental and that is never going to change.

SF: So you had an early grasp of the importance of technology, and you gravitated to that field. How did you know that was something that was going to be important for you and for the whole world in terms of the emergent digital age?

GP: I wish I could say that I had a very clear idea of how the world would look, but I can safely say that even five years ago, I didn’t have an idea of how things would evolve. When I was at Wharton, the internet was just beginning to get popular.

SF: You were Class of 1998, let me just clarify that.

GP: Last January, for example, we hit an inflection point where the number of mobile devices in the planet is estimated to have exceeded the number of human beings, 7.2 billion estimated mobile devices. The fact that we would now carry in our pockets a handheld technology the size of playing cards that allows you to listen to music, order milk, check in for your flights, and take photographs…I would never have predicted that. [phone connection to Gopi got cut off]

SF: How ironic, that we were talking about basic human connection and the unfathomable power of this technology, and then we lose that connection. It’s great to have you back.

GP: It’s a humbling reminder that anything can get disrupted. Part of what these practices teach you to do is to be unflappable through the course of it all and bounce right back.

SF: That’s what we’re trying to do right now. You were talking about how much has changed over the last five years and that the transformation of our lives in this digital age that is so rapidly advancing is something you couldn’t have predicted. How can that be, that even over such a short period of time things could change so far, so fast?

GP: It is remarkable, and I think it’s a culmination of several factors. The first and foremost is there is this amazing energy that is manifest among human beings in terms of being innovative and creative and looking at different problems and situations and how human beings work and play, and trying to come up with very, very creative solutions. One example of that is Uber, as the story goes, one was frustrated he couldn’t hail a cab in the rain and saw a lot of cars going by in the same direction and imagined what if I could somehow communicate with that person and say give me a ride, since you’re going in that direction, and I’ll make a small donation. Out of that, just trying to solve that simple problem of occupying an empty seat in a car going in your direction is what led to this amazing service called Uber that more and more people are using and you can see popping up in more cities. That’s what I mean by there is this tremendous energy of human beings looking at these kinds of things and saying let me come up with a creative way to solve the problem. But supporting all of that, there is this powerful, underlying platform, a collection of technologies, we broadly call it the internet, backed with many other pieces from giant databases of information that is available, open sharing of standards and information, many things I can point to, that was simply not available to us three, four years ago. I think we’re just taking advantage of all of those pieces and there is this creative outpouring of fantastic solutions to various problems that human beings are having.

SF: It’s such an exciting time, and yet, it’s for many people a frightening time. Your wonderful book The Internet to the Inner-Net helps to remind us and really provides some guidance about how to continue to stay human in the context of the digital revolution. What do you mean by the inner-net?

GP: It is a play on the word, one of the most iconic words of our times, the internet, which most people understand. It is this collection of technologies that connects us to all of the world’s information, other people, other objects. In the midst of all this, I wanted to send a message that the most important connection that all of us have is the one with ourselves. As much as we get enamored with these amazing technologies, there is one technology that you and I and all of our listeners get to use every single day. I playfully refer to it as a technology, but in some ways I think of it as the most sophisticated, most complex technology that is known to human kind, and that is right there inside of our body. It is an important technology, if you’ll allow me to call it so. I see this highly complicated, highly sophisticated brain.  We’ve barely even began to understand it yet all we have to do is watch a three- or four-year-old learn language and learn rules of grammar before being taught formal grammatical constricts. We just watch a toddler pick up language and that’s fascinating. How does the brain work?  You realize that you are dealing with sophisticated computers and neural networks that you can’t imagine. All of our life experience is filtered through this particular technology, the inner-net, to use that word. If it’s a piece of food you eat, or if you’re trying to process this conversation you and I are having, or listening to a piece of music and that is making an imprint on your mind and your emotions, all of that is filtered by this inner technology called the inner-net. Therefore, understanding it, nurturing it, having a relationship with it, knowing how to fully use it is an important predicate on the quality of our life.

SF: Absolutely, and of course that is the question for all of us.  We all need to have as deep and rich an understanding of who we are and our connections to the rest of the world. Tell us a little more about these five ways that you write about in The Internet to the Inner-Net that help people develop that kind of consciousness and capability in today’s digital environment. And by the way, I think the analogy that you use is a lovely one and helps to bring it home. The five ways, briefly, what are they?

GP: I thought of how do you incorporate these practices, because the way to find that moment to connect with these inner technologies is known to humankind and there have been elaborate practices and wisdom traditions that have been developed — meditation and various other practices.  But I kept asking myself how can I make it all work for me in a way that I will actually stay consistent with, and I came up with these five rituals that I practice on a regular basis.

The first one, I call it focus on the essential, meaning know clearly what is most important to you. If you know clearly what is important to you, you know what to say yes to and what to say no to. In living the kind of frenzied life that we live now with technology surrounding us, you’re constantly being pulled in different directions. If you know what is essential, you know how to say yes to a few things and say no to most other things. That’s one of the five rituals I tell people to be clear about it. In my own case, there are five essentials that I have come up with, and without getting into the details, I know what my top priorities are and I focus on them. I focus most of my energy and time on those.

The second ritual is as simple as do one thing at a time. It is incredible, the extent to which we go on in modern life thinking we’ll be the first generation in history to be able to do five things at the same time and be able to successfully execute. The thing with our brain is it’s extremely good when it’s focused on one task and if you ask it to do five things, it falls apart. Even with all of these people who have these debates about multitasking, and I ask this simple question: If you had to go for open-heart surgery, how would you feel if your surgeon said ‘hey, I’m also interested in baseball and the stock market, so in the operating room I’m going to have the TV turned on to two channels and simultaneously keep my eye on the game and the stock market.’ Would it make you uncomfortable? Where you see examples of peak performance, you don’t have multitasking. If you look at a musician, they never sit there rehearsing a piece while still watching something on TV. One thing at a time, simple idea, but it seems to help you get more things done.

The third thing I talk about is pick whatever it is that allows you connect to the inner-net, however broadly it is you may define it for yourself. It may be going out for a walk in the park or playing with your baby or reading poetry.  For me it’s yoga and meditation. I say commit to just one minute every single day, the idea being bring it out the lowest threshold you can’t say no to. Most people understand the wisdom behind it, but they’ll tell you they don’t have the time, they’re too busy or traveling. I stumbled across this idea of committing to just one minute a day when I told a good friend of mine at Google of my own struggle of finding a daily practice around yoga and meditation and he looked at me and said: “Gopi, why don’t you start with one breath?” Even if you’re trying to meditate for one full hour, it’s really 600 breaths strung together, it’s just one breath to get to the second and third. Since I’m a compulsive, neurotic overachiever, I said, “I can do better than that. I am going to go a whole minute!” That was the genesis of that.

SF: One minute a day to connect with what is inside of you.

GP: At least. I’m not saying stop at one minute, but at least one minute. The idea is there are 1,440 minute in a day, pick one to at least nurture some connection with your inner-net. What happens, at least in my case, now a week went by, two weeks went by, and for the first time in my life I could look back and say I did my practice every single day, even if it was for just a minute. But at least you feel you have integrity towards it. What came next was the delightful surprise, too, and that was on most days I would sit for a minute on the cushion meditating or commit myself to one minute of my yoga practice, coupled with some salutations, and the minute it’d go by, the next thing I knew my mind would be saying this is so wonderful, why rush to go do something else? What else can be more important? One minute can easily grow into five minutes and 10 minutes, so that was a way I could work over the hurdle.

The fourth ritual I talk about is among the 168 hours in your calendar, which we all feel gets hijacked by somebody else’s schedule, at least pick one non-negotiable slot every single week, once a week at the same time when you will commit to something that nurtures your inner-net. In my case, Monday at 5:30, I teach the Yoglers [yogis at Google]class and for nine years, if I am in Mountain View, I never missed a class.

SF: What is the last practice, just in brief?

The fifth one is even as I use social media to connect with thousands of other people, make sure you take time to friend yourself. Listen to the tweet from the heartbeat, listen to the chat request from your brain, and the status update from your body.

SF: How do you do that?

GP: By taking that one minute, at least to begin with, and finding whatever it is, that practice for inner-connection. For me, it is that time at the yoga mat or meditation or journaling or doing a gratitude practice, that allows me to step away from the noise and frenzy and the technology around me and refocus on what’s going on in my mind and my body and connect with my inner-net.

SF: It seems so simple, doesn’t it? And yet that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?

GP: It is very simple, but it is very hard to practice. That’s why you call it a practice, it takes an entire lifetime and a lot of work and mastery, but enjoy the journey of the discovery. You’ll fall off the wagon and fail, I fail every day, but just getting back and trying again and just making one tiny step forward is itself part of the process, part of the joy of establishing that connection.

For more information about Gopi Kallayil and his new book, visit his web site Kallayil.com

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.


Positive Psychology and Creativity — Scott Barry Kaufman

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of the Science of Imagination Project at the Positive Psychology Center at The University of Pennsylvania. The research is supported by a research grant from the Imagination Institute. He conducts research on the measurement and development of imagination, creativity, and play, and teaches the popular undergraduate course Introduction to Positive Psychology. Kaufman is author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined and co-author of the upcoming book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (with Carolyn Gregoire). He is also host of The Psychology Podcast, co-founder of The Creativity Post, and he writes the blog Beautiful Minds for Scientific American. Kaufman completed his doctorate in cognitive psychology from Yale University in 2009 and received his master’s degree in experimental psychology from Cambridge University in 2005, where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: What led you here?

Scott Barry Kaufman: scott barry kaufman I think my whole life, especially as young as I can remember, I was really interested in human possibility and what people are capable of achieving in life. I felt personally like I was being held back. The first three years of my life I suffered from something called Central Auditory Processing Disorder, it’s a learning disability that made it very hard for me to process things in real time. I was placed in special education as a result, and I remember sitting there in special ed and I have memories as-young-as-can-be just sitting there and daydreaming, looking out the window, just thinking is there more that I’m capable of doing. Talking to my friends in special ed, all of us wondered if we could bypass these expectations or if we were prisoners of these expectations.

SF: So this was in elementary school you were having conversations like that?

SBK: Absolutely, I had this fascination. I think it was in large part the circumstances, where I was placed. Maybe I am who I am today because I was in special education.  I just felt there were a lot of greater possibilities. And this was before the field of positive psychology was even founded, so it resonates so much with me. I started to get into the science, trying to understand the standard metrics of intelligence. I wanted to learn everything I could about IQ testing and working memory, things like that. I felt like I reached a point where I got it, and I was like oh yeah, I get it.

SF: Was that because you were wondering about your own intelligence or what it meant to be open to possibility and exploring the world?

SBK: I think I just wanted to know what intelligence meant, what was it.  And I thought that my mission in life was to redefine intelligence. I thought, as a junior in high school, I had this moment. I applied to the Carnegie Mellon University and I wrote a long, personal essay about how I want to redefine intelligence and they rejected me because my SAT scores weren’t high enough to redefine intelligence and I said that’s ironic. But I was determined. And I auditioned for Carnegie Mellon’s opera program, and I got a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon for opera. The departments don’t talk to each other, apparently, because they just rejected me in the Cognitive Science program. I still went to Carnegie Mellon for an opera scholarship and then transferred to psychology, almost immediately.

SF: So you got to Carnegie Mellon, and what blossomed there?

SBK: When I got there, I took a course in cognitive psychology, and we were using Robert Sternberg’s textbook about cognitive psychology.  I remember we got to this chapter, I remember it so vividly. A lot of people I think, when they get their purpose in life, they can usually point to a moment.   Maybe these are just the narratives we make in our life looking back, but it’s a very vivid moment where you fell “this is it.” I remember sitting there on the sofa sophomore year of college, we were reading the chapter on intelligence in Robert Sternberg’s cognitive psychology textbook, one of the older editions, and I just sat there and said,  “holy cow, there’s a whole scientific field.” I thought in my head I was going to start this field; I didn’t know what existed. Sternberg and Gardner were the two biggies, and they became my idols instantly.

SF: How did they shape your experience both at school and beyond, and how did that get you to the particular realm of creativity?

SBK: I reached out to Sternberg.  I came up with this plan that I was going to redefine intelligence and I was going to study with Sternberg and came up with this plan to get into Yale for PhD. My cognitive psychology teacher, I told her this is what I want to do, and out of the goodness of her heart, and also I think she saw something in me, she took me under her wing and we came up with a concrete plan to get me into Yale to study with Robert Sternberg for a PhD. We talk about goal-setting a lot in our field, and I goal-set it up the wazoo. I set the goal of being admitted to the PhD program at Yale, and I ended up having an embarrassment of riches where I followed the plan so slavishly that I got into Harvard to work with Howard Gardner as well and I also got into University of Cambridge on the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. I had to actually make a decision between Harvard, Yale, and Cambridge. By the way, I say that and I sound so pretentious, but coming from the place that I was coming from and how much I wanted it, I remember when I got the news, Sternberg sent me this email and he said,  “you got in and I screamed in the hallway.

SF: That euphoria is, I’m sure, something that you’ll probably never forget. You probably had to overcome a lot of obstacles, starting as a special ed student to find out that you really were awake, alive, and obviously, very talented.

SBK: There were a lot of obstacles. Of course, not getting into Carnegie Mellon, but also in ninth grade –– I was kept in special education until ninth grade –– a special ed teacher took me aside and said, “I see your frustration. Why are you still here? Have you thought about trying something else?” I realized that nobody had asked me that question before.

SF: Your parents hadn’t?

SBK: No. By the way, this shows the importance of asking good questions. That one question changed the course of my whole life.

SF: The question that a ninth grade teacher asked you?

SBK: “What are you doing here?” She also said, “I see you and that was the first time I had ever felt seen in my whole life as well.  I became inspired to take myself out of special ed and see what I was capable of. I signed up for every class imaginable and I wasn’t necessarily good at everything, but I learned in everything and it was so exciting to be able to have the freedom to explore my identity. I think all I wanted was that freedom. I think we need to give people the autonomy to explore their identity.

SF: That’s exactly what we’re trying to do on this show and what I try to do with my work, too. It’s truly inspiring to hear how you did that for yourself, but with the help of people asking you questions that helped to liberate you, to free you to pursue the person you were to become. We can’t do this alone, can we?

SBK: You really can’t, and I think we also underestimate the extent to which one supportive word can change someone’s life, or even just looking at them and not through them.

SF: What was the deficit, and how did it keep you in special education through ninth grade? That’s pretty far along the track that it took that long for you to be unchained.

SBK: I should say my parents, I love them, they’re great, but my mom is a very overprotective Jewish mother and she just wanted to make sure nothing happened. I think she, like a lot of well-meaning parents, will overprotect in order to not see their child suffer at all. But by doing that, it really held me back.

SF: The overprotection became the prison in itself. Let’s get into what you write about and what you teach about. Your course is wildly popular around campus and I’d love to hear your brief synopsis of what it is you do, what is the purpose of this course that you teach in positive psychology, and why do you think students resonate so deeply with it?

SBK: I want to say that teaching the course has been one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done in my life. Today was our last day; we had the final, and students lined up to hug me after class and to tell me their whole life has changed. I’ve been trying to think about what it is about the material that’s so transformative, because there’s a large percentage of variance that explains it’s not just my teaching style. There’s something about the material as well. I think that a lot of these students come into the class not realizing that having meaning in life matters. They go through the script that they’ve gone through, and it halts them for the first time in their life, and it makes them think, gets them off the train for a second, this nonstop train of standardized testing. It really gets them thinking about what really matters in life. This course is really about what matters the most in life and what does it mean to live a good life, what does it mean to live a happy life, and the science of all that.

SF: The science and the philosophy?

SBK:  We cover a lot of philosophy in the course and I’m very much influenced by the existential philosophers as well as the existential psychologists. Carl Jung was one of the first positive psychologists. Carl Rogers also was a major influence on me and Erich Fromm and humanistic psychologists like Viktor Frankl, paved the way for positive psychology to come into being.

SF: The whole humanist movement that came into real flourishing in the 60’s is the core foundation of this field.

SBK: Let me ask you a question. You said, “What do you think about Freud?” Do you think he was not?

SF: I think his goal, too, was human liberation. As I understand, the thrust of his work was to find a way for the innermost passions and drives that motivate us, to bring those into conscious awareness and to be able to channel that energy in a way that is constructive and towards a sense of harmony and meaning in one’s life and among the different parts of one’s life. He was helping, through the method that he discovered, the talking cure, to help people discover who they really were, and to find a way for that to be expressed and to give credence to whatever it is inside of you, to affirm that it is real and is to be embraced and understood and to be examined. Yes, I know there are differences between Jung and Freud, very important ones that we’re not going to be able to explore fully here, but I think they were both after more or less the same thing.

SBK: I think the big insight, the latest research that I pursued in my dissertation is the adaptive unconscious, how unconscious processing, or, what I studied in my dissertation was implicit learning, can be extremely valuable for creativity and self-fulfillment. I think Freud emphasized, I agree with everything you said about Freud, I think his blind spot was the unconscious. I don’t think he saw the full possibility of the unconscious.

SF: We could talk about Freud and Jung all evening, let’s get to your new book, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind.

SBK: A lot of people we profile in this book, they’re not household names. There’s this one rapper named Baba Brinkman, a white rapper who raps about science. You should listen to his stuff; it’s pretty cool. He raps about evolution.  I was interviewing a bunch of people a couple years ago, running personality tests because I was curious what people are like. And I was looking at his profile and he was contradicting himself in every way. On one hand, his average narcissism score wasn’t high, which was interesting to have a rapper with average narcissism, they’re usually high. When you look at the actual facets, he scored high in some things that were actually adaptive for rapping, but lower on things like entitlement, which wouldn’t be adaptive.

SF: Adaptive for that role?

SBK: Exactly. He was all over the place. Once you start looking at the literature, you’ll find this is a very common pattern across most of the greatest creative geniuses of all time. They contradict themselves constantly and then it occurred to me, maybe it’s those contradictions which give birth to creativity. The tension, the inability to resolve these tensions, is a lot of what drives the creative person, and it also is what gives birth to creativity. We talk about Picasso. You look at Picasso’s creative process, especially his painting of Guernica, you see that he doesn’t look like he’s going through a linear trajectory when he’s painting these things. It looks like some drafts, he’s taken five steps back. If you just isolate one, it’s like he’s doing this blind, he’s doing random trial-and-error. That’s what it looks like from that perspective. You realize that that was actually essential for his career process, this nonlinear trajectory, so when I was interviewed by Carolyn Gregoire for a Huffington Post article that she did really well called 18 Things Creative People Do Differently, she asked me,  “What would you say is the one thing that in your research, describes creative people? and what came to mind was that they had really messy minds. That one quote just went viral, and I was thinking maybe people resonated with that.

SF: Messy minds – can you say more about that?

SBK: We focus so much in our society on efficiency. In elementary school, in high school, everything you’re doing, taking that one test, getting the ‘A’, making sure that on the SAT’s to get that one shot where you do perfectly. We have all of these societal pressures to be efficient. Creativity is not characterized by efficiency. Creativity is characterized by variability, and if we want to structure a society that is really conducive to creativity, we need to take that fact into account and we need to allow people that opportunity for trail and error and to get messy, but we have not set up structures like that at all, including business structures. I love the business world, and it’s important to take into account the messiness aspect for managers, for instance.

SF: Well, there’s a lot of work in innovation and creativity in the business world, that, of course, glorifies chaos and understands this concept of the need for messy thinking.

SBK: Well, there’s messy personality and there’s messy creative process. Creative people can harness deep daydreaming, they can harness mindfulness, their sensitivity, their resiliency. There’s constant contradiction. They have a very well-developed openness to experience, a well-developed intuition, a highly-developed rationality. That’s what I mean by creative personality. But when you look at creative trajectory, and there’s been some great analyses of art and literature, they found it conforms to the equal odds rule. The equal odds rule states that your chance of producing a masterpiece increases the more you produce something, regardless of the quality of what you’re producing. It turns out that the greatest people in these generations, those that make the history books, have a product or two that goes down in the history books, they also have a lot of things that go down as one of the worst things of their generation. They just have the most things that they produce.

SF: So producing a lot that’s going to be junk, and in the pile of junk there’s going to be something, that’s the pattern.

SBK: The constant pattern, almost a rule.

SF: Perhaps you could tell us a bit about how some of these activities help people to tap into the contradictions within in order to release their creativity.

SBK: I think creativity is the ultimate personal freedom. To me, creative expression is so intimately intertwined with self-expression. Creativity is not something that we teach in a course, where we say, “Today class, we’re going to force you to be creative. We’re going to give you a set of rules.” What we can do is we can help people find an identity that really suits them, that is harmoniously passionate. I think this is something that is very much in line with something that you do on your show. The field of positive psychology distinguishes between a form of passion called harmonious passion and a form of passion called obsessive passion. Harmonious passion, this is Robert Vallerand who’s done this terrific research, is when the activity that you’re involved in, you feel that it’s really well-integrated into the rest of your self. There’s no conflict there between work or other areas of your life that give you meaning. You’re engaged in an activity that makes you feel good about yourself, that is in line with your set of values. When we think about the self, a good way of thinking about the self is the self is an entire set of values that are important to you, that’s essentially what your self is. Because the self is constructed, with creativity, what you find is really creative people have a heightened sense of awareness, the self-awareness as well as awareness of the world. That’s where openness to experience comes in. That’s where mindfulness comes in. You’re a very keen observer of human nature, but you’re also an observer of your own inner-world.

SF: Draw the distinction between harmonious and obsessive passion.

SBK: Harmonious passion is an accord between your self and whatever you engage in. You feel good about your self, and you feel an inner drive to engage. You feel you’re in the flow of experience, which is a really important experience. The more you’re completely absorbed in your activity, and you also feel like you can disengage whenever you want. You’re engaged, but your life calls, and something else in your life that’s meaningful to you and you can put this work aside now. I can engage in this part of my life and gain this meaning. Obsessively passionate people, or obsessive passion, seems to be related to much greater levels of burnout, stress, injury. They’ve done studies on dancers who are obsessively passionate; they’re much more prone to physical injury. People who are obsessively passionate engage in their activity out of contingencies like self-esteem.

SF: If I get the prima ballerina status, I will be loved by all.

SBK:  Yes. That’s the difference between engaging in what you do in life because it makes you feel good about your self, your value system, what you want to contribute to this world versus you’ve engaged in an activity because it bolsters your self-esteem, your ego. Scientists have shown that they do have implications for well-being, for a sense of vitality.  Harmonious passion is correlated with a greater sense of your life, and ultimate performance. They’ve looked at actual performance in music and sports, among psychology undergrads for instance, and it matters.

SF: So this is something that I know a lot of people are searching for, want more of in their lives. What kinds of things do you teach about or write about that help people develop further a greater experience of harmonious passion in their own lives?

SBK: I wish everyone could take a course in positive psychology or maybe there are some books with exercises because a lot of these exercises are designed to help you ground yourself and what matters to you and what matters the most in life. Gratitude is a really important thing. There’s an activity we do in class where you write down three things that you’re most grateful for at the end of your day, and it’s good to do that before you go to bed and sleep on it. You’ll wake up in a much more positive mood.
SF: Seriously?

SBK: Yeah, there’s research on this.

SF: Before you close your eyes and take those last few deep breathes and lose consciousness, think about a couple things that you’re grateful for. What about if people say, “I can’t think of anything, Scott. There’s nothing.  Everything’s terrible.” What happens then, if you’re in that mindset?

SBK: Keep a journal and I imagine you can at least think of one good thing. No matter what the life is, you need to reframe what is a good thing. Seeing a beautiful flower can be a good thing.

SF: So it might be something really small.

SBK: The thing about gratitude as well as keeping a journal about the stuff is you want to look for patterns of why you are alive. Life is so short. What are you doing this for? You realize, you start to see the larger patterns and you see things that really do give you a lot of meaning and gratitude in life. I’m so appreciative for this and that helps to actually hone your sense of self. Mindfulness is another thing. I start off a lot of my classes with a mindfulness meditation.

SF: I know; my daughter, a Penn undergrad, was telling me. She is huge fan of Scott Kaufman and when I asked how the class was going she said,  “We start by meditating at the beginning of each class.” How do you do that, Scott?

SBK: Don’t tell the students but there’s a part of it that’s also for me, because I want to get into a really relaxed, calm state in order to teach. I don’t think I’ve told them that. I want to make sure that I’m really there and present with them as well for that hour and 20 minutes. We start with mindfulness, allowing all sorts of thoughts and daydreams to enter consciousness and you don’t try to suppress it. You don’t try to return to the breath.

SF: Most meditation is all about breath. Remember your breathing and that’s the thing that matters now, and you’re present because you’re breathing and you’re alive because you’re breathing.

SBK: But the thing is that recent research suggests the return to the breath meditation is negatively correlated with creativity. There are different kinds of mindfulness. There are different stages of the creative process, different ways of thinking are going to be important. If you’re in that stage of the creative process where you want to generate lots and lots of ideas and you don’t want to narrow it down just yet, you want to brainstorm, this open monitoring mode of meditation is going to be very valuable.

SF: Can you please explain what that is again? Open monitoring, your mind wanders and…

SBK: You allow that to happen and you’re okay with that. First, you start off with being very comfortable and getting in touch with closing your eyes, getting in touch with your emotions, how you’re feeling, what does my heart feel. But then you really want to get to this level of consciousness where you are intensely focused on your daydreams. I call it mindful daydreaming. It’s very important for getting in touch with your deepest self and understanding the patterns of unresolved issues in your life and there’s continuity between our nighttime dreams and our daydreams in that sense where we constantly have these constant themes. We have a very open-minded thought process. A lot of creative ideas don’t come through conscious deliberation of trying to solve it; they usually come in altered states of consciousness.

SF: Like the shower?

SBK: Yeah, and I’ve done the research with showers, where we found that people get more creative inspiration in their shower than they do at work. We found that worldwide, and it’s because relaxing lets us be mindful to our daydreams. It allows our mind to wander, but we’re also in this relaxed state where if some sort of great connection does arise, it will reach that threshold of consciousness.

SF: So you have to be relaxed and open and non-monitoring to allow the creative impulse to come to the surface of consciousness. Eileen is calling from Orlando. Eileen, welcome to Work and Life. How can we help you?

SBK: When I was younger, I was very creative. I’m wondering if creativity is like a muscle, where if you don’t use it, you lose it, because I really do feel that over the years I’ve lost my creativity and I’m wondering can I get it back?

SBK: It is like a muscle. We’re seeing this at the neurological level. We see some neuroscience studies where you’re really not building those levels of imagination and creativity if you’re not exercising the thought process. I think a good way for you to get it back, and by the way hope is not lost for you, you can definitely get it back, a lot of it is committing yourself to a creative lifestyle. I really do see creativity as a way of being in the world, a way of relating to the world. Every time you are questioning the assumptions of something and saying every time you do something in your life that scares you, every time you brainstorm multiple possibilities that could explain something you’re seeing, any one of these things is a way of being. That’s getting you back to exercising those muscles so you can make that decision in a second to start doing all of these things.

SF: It’s pretty easy to continue to develop that muscle, as Eileen called it.

SBK: It is, and we talk about these ten habits that creative people do differently. I think these things are accessible to everyone and some of it is maybe going to get people out of their comfort zone, especially if they haven’t done it in a while. Another one is we talk about post-traumatic growth.  People aren’t aware of this emerging field in positive psychology called post-traumatic growth where we can really take our trauma, we’ve all had trauma to some level, recognizing that we’re all suffering as well as having joyous moments, we can reframe our experience as potential opportunities or tools for creative growth, and channeling that into great works of art, great works of literature, starting a new business. A lot of people have had great business ideas based on a great need they saw based on their suffering.

SF: Creativity is often rooted in suffering?

SBK: I think so. When I said earlier creativity, creative expression is very intimately tied with self-expression, our self is a very vulnerable thing. We shouldn’t hide that. One of the findings in the book is that Frank Barron, when he studied all of these really creative people, he found something that stood out; they were very comfortable with becoming intimate with themselves and their whole selves, including their dark side, their negative emotions, and they integrated it. We’re going back again to this integration thing, but that’s such a common theme among creative people.

SF: That really is the point of what this show is about, to help people integrate the different parts of their lives, including the dark side. This gets us back to Freud, but I don’t want to go there in too much depth because we don’t have the time to do that, but the exploration of the full range of who you are and bringing that into your everyday life, that is something that is frightening, to accept those aspects of your self that are dark and to allow that to be accepted as a part of your self. You talked about very creative people, and that’s what we’ve been talking about, but doesn’t that contradict what you’re asserting about all of us being creative and that creativity is the ultimate form of self-expression?

SBK: Let me clear up something; I don’t think everybody’s creative. I think everybody has the possibility of being creative. There’s a difference there. I don’t think, at this exact moment, everyone has the same level of creativity.

SF: But we all have the potential for it?

SBK: Yes, we all have the potential of living creatively as a way of being. There are people that are fundamentally transforming their field on a larger scale. Mark Zuckerberg: it would be a lie to say everyone is at Mark Zuckerberg’s level because that’s obviously not true. What I argue is the thought processes he applies are things that you see at every level of creativity.

SF: Chris, calling from Michigan, how can we help you?

Chris: How does my son get his creativity back? He’s 27, he used to be very brilliant, very creative, and he found out he had Asperger syndrome and other issues, and he lost his self-esteem.

SBK: I can really resonate with that from a personal perspective. It’s very easy to lose your sense of identity, especially when people’s expectations of you are a certain way. I think something that’s really important for him to recognize and for society to recognize as well is a lot of these learning disabilities have an upside to them, and we can get lost too quickly as society condemning it or viewing it, because it’s different, as somehow less than, when the reality is not less than, it’s just different. There is a bunch of research coming out showing that people with Asperger’s have a lot of these hidden strengths, really good at pattern detection, really good at detail-oriented thinking, good at visual/spatial reasoning, lots of things. I would recommend he and the listeners go to take the VIA Test, the character strengths survey. It’s a free, online test that anyone can take and I would recommend that your son take it and identify his top three character strengths. The great thing about this test is that everyone has strengths. I spent many years before anyone really showed any positive aspects of who I was.   Ruminating on the negative aspects, of course, that’s detrimental to the self-esteem. But it’s really amazing how resilient the self-esteem is and how you can shift things around once you shift the focus of attention. I would really have him identify those character strengths and see what his kind of mind might be best suited for in applying those character strengths.

SF: You can find it at VIACharacter.org. Scott, if there is one thought you wanted to leave our listeners with about how to mine the creativity within and cultivate it in their lives, what’s the big idea that you’d like people to keep in mind and to explore further?

SBK: I think that the number one personality predictor that I’ve found in my research over and over again that predicts a personally-fulfilling creativity as well as lifelong creativity is openness to experience. That means being open to being vulnerable, being open to potential suffering, being open to taking risks, taking chances, to being intellectually curious, and being open to beauty. All of these things have been found to correlate and to form this idea of openness to experience in relation to creativity.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.




Contemplation and Capitalism — David Gelles

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

David Gelles is staff writer for the New York Times and its business blog, DealBook, and was previously a correspondent for the Financial Times. He has practiced meditation regularly for more than a decade since he studied the technique while living in India. He’s written a book titled Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out.   Gelles spoke with Stew Friedman about how caring for one’s mind and spirit through mindful meditation is changing the business world — for the better.

Here are excerpts from their conversation:

Stew Friedman: David, you’ve been a well-known business reporter, how did you first come to mindfulness?

David Gelles: David GellesWell it was actually as simple as picking a book off a book shelf. I was in college at the time, I knew I was going to be studying Eastern religion and the current semester I was home on vacation and there was a book about Buddhism. I picked it up I started reading and for the first time something started to make sense.

SF: Let me just jump I here for a second David; what book was it?

DG:I don’t remember; I wish I did. It was like an introduction to Buddhism.  There’s nothing specific about meditation in Buddhism but this was my first introduction to meditation. I went home and I started meditating the very next day.  A year later I moved to India and spent a better part of my junior year in college there. So that was my introduction.  But that was 15 years ago and a lot has happened since then.

SF: A lot has happened to you for sure but also to our world. So you were referring to what happened to you or to the world or both?

DG: I was referring to both and to mindfulness.  It has emerged as a truly secular practice something that is very different from the things that I studied in India.  And personally I have been on my own career journey and my own personal journey and I have discovered that mindfulness, not necessarily Buddhism, but mindfulness is a powerful technique that I can use that helps me maintain wellness in a job that is, at times, as you say,  high stress.

SF: Let’s start at the beginning of this conversation by defining what you mean by mindfulness because that is a term that has become widespread in the business world today; what is your definition?

DG: Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, in a particular way, and non-judgmentally. It is being here, right now in the present moment. Not dwelling on the future, not getting lost in thoughts of the past.   It is just paying attention, in an accepting way, to whatever is happening right now.

SF: Be here now” is what Baba Ram Dass said 40 years ago when I was in college.

DG: It is still the same.

SF: So that is mindfulness; simply paying attention, without judgment, to what is happening in you and around you?

DG: Exactly; it is as simple as that and yet, of course, innate as that capacity is in all of us, it is not always easy to achieve. Our minds are conditioned to run a million miles an hour. It is easy to distract ourselves. So it is simple but not necessarily easy.

SF: So what is the greatest challenge to be able to truly attend to the moment? What have you discovered and what have you learned as you were bringing these ideas to a much broader public?

DG: The most basic challenge is our wandering mind and that is something we all contend with even as we are just trying to get our work done. How often have you been in a meeting and you think you are paying attention, you think you are participating in the meeting and the next thing you know you hear noise you have no idea what anyone is saying because you are thinking about work, or you are thinking about your child after work? The mind wanders and so mindfulness, as a practice, is something we need to cultivate through years of practice.

SF: What is that effort?

DG:  Mindfulness meditation is the practice of trying to cultivate that state of being and it always happens through meditation. So a simple way that we practice that is just by coming back to ourselves; picking a sensation, something like our breath, air passing in and out of our nostrils, our diaphragm rising and falling with each breath, and trying to focus on the physical sensations of it.   You just notice those sensations. When the mind wanders, as it inevitable will, just notice that the mind has wandered and then just simply bring your attention back to the breath. It is as simple as that.

SF: And how much time do you spend as a novitiate, someone just learning to practice this on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? How long does it take to get to a sense of it, if not mastery?

DG: I am still working on it myself. Mastery I can’t speak to, but as for impact, there are studies that show that as little as ten minutes of meditation a day can have an impact. Other studies show that more intensive periods of training, several hours per week over the course of several weeks can have a  long lasting impact even long after one has stopped meditation. For myself, my practice has varied widely. I have a 13 month old daughter and a pretty demanding day job so I would be lying to you to say that I sit on a cushion for an hour or even 30 minutes every single day at the exact same time. I feel fortunate that I have been practicing for 15 years now and try to incorporate the basic teachings from that practice into my daily life and also bring in the various little hacks that I have made that allow me to come back to the breath, come back to the present moment, in shorter periods many times during the day.  And that is actually pretty effective, too.

 SF: In your new book you are claiming that mindfulness is changing the business world; how is it changing?

DG:  In remarkable ways. Small businesses are reviewing their corporate hierarchy; they are making progressive choices about sustainability, about how they source products, about labor decisions, about how much they pay people. Bigger companies are doing the same thing but on a much greater scale. I wrote about Mark Bertolini, the CEO of the health Insurance company Aetna.  Inspired by his meditation practice he introduced mindfulness meditation yoga to thousands of his employees. And also inspired by his insight as a practitioner decided to raise the minimum wage for many of his employees; so that is a sense of the range of what happens when people start to meditate and bring it in to their business decisions —  things start to change.

SF: People start to act in ways that are more compassionate, as in the case of this CEO, is that what you are saying?

DG: Absolutely.  Yes, and how is it that focusing on our own breath can somehow make us more compassionate to other people?  We find that when we begin to practice, our own struggles, our own suffering is not so different. You start to realize, through meditation practice, it’s possible to let go of the struggles and the sufferings with all the people with whom we interact, with all the people that we employ. One of the insights that many meditation practitioners have is that we have the opportunity, and maybe even the responsibility, to try to alleviate that suffering in other people.

SF: There’s a sense of a greater awareness of the interconnection among all things; a kind of spiritual awareness that comes from focusing on one’s breath and seeing it as a part of a larger universe of living things.

DG: That is exactly right and isn’t it extraordinary that something like a greater sense of the interconnectedness of humanity, and maybe even our planet and ourselves, is something that can come out of wellness practices that are being introduced at big fortune 100 companies around the country?

SF: So this gets why has mindfulness and meditation become such a popular activity in so many different parts of our business society?

DG: That is a more complicated question.  Businesses, as you well know, are quick to go on to the latest trends, the latest wellness trend that may appeal to their workforce.   And this notion of mindfulness, which is a commoditized version of mindfulness and meditation, is around for a reason. Some businesses are probably acting too quickly, they are acting without totally clear intentions.  And yet, I think a lot of businesses are doing it because they recognize that their employees are stressed and meditation can help reduce their stress levels and increase their health levels and that’s probably a good thing for the business and maybe even the bottom line.

SF: Can you give us a brief summary of what has been found in the research on the impact of mindfulness and productivity not to mention wellness and retention of people at work?

DG:  Study after study, and the research that has been done over the last few decades, is quite substantial, and growing every day, indicating that mindfulness meditation can monstrously reduce our stress levels and that is not just on a self-reported basis, that means that our cortisol levels are reduced, our heart rate invariably goes down. Meditation can improve our wellness, our health; our immune systems are functioning at a higher level, things like cirrhosis can be overcome and healed more swiftly when people are practicing mindfulness meditation.  Also, in some cases, mindfulness as you alluded to earlier actually makes people more compassionate and more empathetic. There’s a sociological experiment that shows that people who practice meditation and mindfulness are quicker to offer that chair to a person on crutches in the waiting room.

SF: So why aren’t more companies adopting mindfulness as part of their regular practice in employee development and training?

DG: It’s still early days.  My friend Dan Harris, an ABC anchor, who wrote 10% Happier, says meditation still has a PR problem, meditation still has this new age, peculiar scented hippy connotation.  And I frankly think that if there are people in the business who still have those perceptions then maybe it is not the right time for that business to try this. I am not here to suggest that every business needs to mandate meditation amongst employees.  I am simply suggesting that for those businesses who think it might be beneficial, businesses that think that there are opportunities for their workers to become less stressed and healthier, then this is one good alternative, one good option for those companies that want to introduce practices like this.

SF:  It doesn’t cost very much.  It makes so much sense for an insurance company like Aetna to be investing in something like this because it is entirely congruent with what they are trying to do with their primary business. So you can see that for an insurance company or healthcare company it would be so much easier because it is in accord with what they are trying to do. It might be a little tougher in other settings where the connection is not so obvious, right?

DG: That’s right. It still again early days when we are talking about what place does contemplation have in capitalism but I think we are all trying to figure it out.

SF: There are a number of people listening who I am sure are thinking, this sounds great, how can I get started, what can you tell them David?

DG: If you personally have an interest in starting a group, a lot of the big programs I profiled actually grew organically, bottom up, individuals getting together just practicing meditation.  All of a sudden there are dozens or hundreds of people participating and HR takes note and begins to support the project. For those people who might be managers or executives who have authority to introduce a big program, that is another way to do it.   Big companies like Google have gotten their own programs started that way. So there are a lot of different ways.  Also if it is not going to show up at work for you there are many opportunities in just about every city across the country to find introductions to mindfulness. Mindfulness brings stress reduction and it is the most popular and accessible introduction. I did a course which I wrote about it in the book and it is a wonderful way to get exposure to some of these practices.

There are apps like Headspace and eMindful making programs much more accessible within larger organizations. Some people say they like doing it this way because they don’t have to do it face to face with people. In a work environment it might be uncomfortable to own up to your colleagues that you are a meditator but these apps give you an opportunity to practice and develop this on your own.

SF: In the last minute here David, with your book Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business From the Inside Out what is your big idea; what impact are you trying to have with this volume?

DG: My hope is that, through the reporting and stories of other businesses in this book, people will see that mindfulness and meditation is an effective way to help reduce stress. It is not necessarily for everybody, but if individuals and organizations become a little bit stressed, a little bit healthier, a little bit compassionate, as you said, a little more empathetic towards one another, make better choices for themselves, for the environment, for their workers, then I think mindful work will hopefully have done its work to make this world a better place.

SF: Awesome, I strongly recommend it to our listeners.

To find out more about David Gelles  and Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out visit www.davidgelles.com and follow him on Twitter @DGelles.




Mindfulness Meditation and Banking — An Oxymoron?

Contributor: Shreya Zaveri

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life Stew Friedman spoke with Andrew Scheffer, Wharton MBA, and founder of Mindfulness Meditation Training. Andrew has worked at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and UBS and has extensive experience in private banking, financial services, and sales and combines his passion for meditation with his livelihood and all aspects of his life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: How did you first come to mindfulness?

Andrew Scheffer: andrew schefferThere was both a conscious and unconscious evolution. I went to college at Johns Hopkins, and it was very stressful. After my freshman year, I felt that some of the calm that I’d entered college with had dissipated. At the time, my brother lent me some books on meditation. When I tried to do it, I found it quite alarming! Because even in the quarter of a second that I was asked to focus on my breath, I recognized that my mind wandered. It was the same sense of alarm you’d get when riding a car with a driver who takes their eyes of the road to talk to you. If I couldn’t pay attention under perfect conditions, what would happen when I was under stress?

SF: Define mindfulness for us. Is it different from meditation?

AS: Meditation is a horrible English translation of an ancient Pali or Sanskrit word, bhavana, which means to develop or to bring about. Meditation is about cultivating space of mind. Mindfulness is bringing about quality of mind. Meditation is often defined as thinking or reflecting, which is very different from a skill where you’re cultivating a specific quality of mind. Mindfulness can also be described as bringing one’s attention face to face with the object being observed.

SF: Is mindfulness an effective way of managing stress or reducing strain?

AS: It’s remarkably transformative. The better parts of me have become more polished and more dominant, and the parts of me that cause me unhappiness don’t dominate me. I’m now able to recognize harmful tendencies. Meditation helps with seeing those parts and dealing with them. When we’re paying attention, we start with the breath, then thoughts, and feelings. As your attention focuses on those thoughts and feelings, they start to lose their hold over you.

SF: I hear a lot from people in banking, and other sectors, about feeling that they’re stretched too thin. What’s your diagnosis of the culture of modern finance, and how can mindfulness training enhance it?

AS: One of the most important qualities of the private banker or wealth manager is the ability to listen to clients and assess their needs appropriately, to attend well to what people are really saying to you. The average person listens for 47 seconds before eagerly formulating their response. We can help them to break that habit and really pay attention to what the client is really saying before letting their minds race to solutions.

If you look at net neutrality, certain investment banks wanted to gain a speed advantage to gather information worth millions of dollars. Meditation can give you that ability. Scientists used to believe that all humans perceive information at a set rate. Through studies, they discovered that meditators perceive sights and sounds faster than others.

Caller 1: I’m a law student with a deadline on Monday, and I’m trying to pull an all-nighter to make it. It’s very stressful. Is there anything besides meditation that you’d suggest to relieve stress? What are your surroundings like when you’re trying to get into a mindful state?

AS: There are many things you can do to get into a more mindful state. One is to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to performance at a lower IQ, or as if we’re inebriated. Other simple things like taking a moment to let go of tension, going for walks, making sure you’re hydrated are basic tools to deal with stress.

SF: What are some of the obstacles when trying to be mindful, and how can we overcome them?

AS: In the beginning people have a lot of preconceptions about what meditation should be and feel like.  And they get frustrated when they can’t achieve those goals immediately. Sleepiness is also a problem! If you sit down and close your eyes when you’re not well rested, you fall asleep as soon as you start to relax a little bit. It’s also just hard to make the time, especially when we don’t have the most supportive conditions in our lives yet, so it’s easier to choose a more familiar activity.

Caller 2: I use visualization a lot to achieve my goals. Is there a link between that and meditation?

AS: The world of meditation can be divided into two: tranquility and insight meditation. Tranquility meditation is a conceptual practice where you take time out for visualization and repetitive chants to calm your mind in a unique and special way. Insight meditation, or mindfulness meditation, is about a moment-to-moment awareness, in tune with your surroundings, and you can use it anywhere and anytime. Visualization falls under tranquility meditation, and it’s useful in its place. Insight meditation has a profound and more immediate impact.

SF: What advice do you have for someone who’s burned out at work?

AS: The first step is to take care of yourself and come back to a neutral place before you start trying mindfulness meditation. If you take the same burnt out and stressed approach to mindfulness, it won’t work. When you create the habit of mindfulness, you can apply it to basic activities in your day. I’ve trained extensively at meditation centers, but you can do it anywhere—sitting, walking, standing. It’s the same activity whether you’re sitting in a limo or a monastery. You can learn to be mindful, bring your attention back to your body, and reset your mind at your cubicle or walking down the hall to the coffee machine. To recover, you need to learn to reset your mind and be mindful.

For more information about Andrew’s work, visit www.andrewscheffer.com.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the author

Shreya Zaveri Shreya Zaveriis a junior in the Wharton School studying Management and Marketing and OPIM with an International Relations minor. She also serves as a vice president for the Work/Life Integration Project Student Advisory Board.

Taking a Breather — Scott Eblin

Contributor: Morgan Motzel

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Scott Eblin, an executive coach, speaker and author, who works with senior and rising leaders in some of the world’s best known and regarded organizations.  His most recent book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, offers a potential solution to the stress and strain that many experience in different parts of their lives.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Scott, how did you first come to understanding mindfulness as a way of managing stress and reducing strain?

Scott Eblin: scott eblinLike many people, my first real introduction to mindfulness was a book Jon by Kabat-Zinn called Wherever You Go, There You Are. It is comprised of little chapters and essays on mindfulness, and he has such a wonderful way of making it conversational and thought-provoking. In the nineties, that was my morning book. For a couple of years, I would read parts of it to start my day, and then I would contemplate what I read and usually journal a bit. That was the beginning for me.

It really accelerated for me in 2009 when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). I was an athlete and I ran all the time, so it was a real shock to develop that disease. It put me on my back, almost literally. I could barely walk around the block, and I was having trouble getting up the stairs to bed. After about a year and a half of that, my wife and I read that yoga can really help people with MS, and so I went to try the studio close to our house. I thought, “I don’t really think I should be here. I can barely stand up, let alone do tree pose or whatever.”  But the instructor said, “Listen, we have people like you in here a lot. If you can come here three days a week, it will change your body, and if you come here more than three days a week, it will change your life.” I chose the more-than-three-days-a-week option, and she was right; it changed my life. Initially, yoga was just a physical practice for me, but I found the deeper you go with something like that, the more it affects other aspects of your life too. It really taught me the importance of baby steps—little steps, bit by bit. I´ve seen that practicing the physical aspects of yoga, and then I started bringing that observation to my work as an executive coach and consultant after reading research on the impact that mindfulness meditation has on strengthening our genes’ ability to express themselves.

SF: When you first started out with yoga, what changes did you see when you started practicing? How much of your life was devoted to yoga at that time?

SE: I was going to three or four classes per week. I always say that the changes are incremental and then they´re sudden. For example, you´re trying to learn to do a yoga pose, like Upward Facing Bow.  For the first three months, I couldn’t even get my shoulders or head off the floor, and then one day, suddenly, I´m just like up in Upward Facing Bow with my head and shoulders off the ground.

SF: So you´re working at it, working at it, working at it—and then all of a sudden you can do it.

SE: Yes, bit by bit. Four years later, I do handstands and headstands regularly. I had never done one of either of those in my life before I started four years ago. I´m still the guy with MS, but yoga helps me manage the MS effectively. You have to manage your stress if you have MS, otherwise your body is going to let you know immediately. It´s been a learning-by-doing type of process. I began to see the impact of the yoga almost instantly.  I literally felt better at the end of the first week.

SF: That’s great that you feel the effects right away. Mindfulness is more than yoga though, right?

SE: Totally. The way I think about mindfulness is that it equals two things: awareness plus intention. Awareness includes what’s going on around me extrinsically, while at the same time I´m also aware of what’s going on intrinsically inside of me. These thoughts occur not just physically, although that’s very important, but also mentally and emotionally. First, what is my mental thought process right now? And, second, what is my emotional state a response to or reaction toward what’s going on around me? Once I´m aware, I can then choose to be intentional about what I´m going to do, or maybe more importantly, what I´m not going to do. In the face of the problem of being overworked and overwhelmed, not doing anything is maybe more important than doing something.

SF: You´re choosing what to exclude from your intention, and your subsequent action is just as, if not more, important than choosing what it is you will do. Why do you say that?

SE: First of all, research shows that multitasking is a myth. In my own research with our leadership—the executives and managers we work with in our programs—we´ve been running a 360 with them for years which tends to mirror the 72 different leadership behaviors outlined in my first book The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success. So many of those behaviors are things like ¨pacing myself by taking regular breaks from work,¨ ¨giving others my full presence and attention during meetings and conversations,¨ ¨regularly taking time to step back to define or redefine what needs to be done¨—all of these are behaviors that mindfulness can really address. People are generally very good at getting stuff done, but they´re not so good at stepping back and asking themselves what really needs to be done.

SF: Yes, and it´s a hard thing to begin to do, isn’t it? How do you get people started in taking a step back so they can become more conscious and deliberate about the choices they make, about the focus of their attention, and where they invest their energy? What´s the first step if somebody comes to you stressed out saying, “I need to be more mindful, help me Scott.”

SE: First of all, it´s good that you’re recognizing that you’re stressed out as opposed to continuing to put your foot on the gas pedal driving forward with your head down. It´s like Dear Abby used to say, ¨Recognition of the problem is 90% of the solution.¨ The next thing I want to do is to look for things to prioritize. If we think of an XY graph with the vertical axis representing ¨easy to do¨ and the horizontal axis being ¨likely to make a difference,¨ I would recommend people look for things that are in the upper right hand corner of that graph: things that are relatively easy to do and yet likely to make a difference.

SF: For people who are listening right now, in their cars or in their homes, tell them where somebody could really begin now.

SE: First, just breathe. Slow down your breathing. When I first started teaching about mindful leadership, I was going through yoga teacher training myself. I asked my 25-year-old yoga teacher trainer to think if he were to be conducting the same executive coach training program as I was, what he would focus on for the corporate people in this program. He answered, “I´d focus on their breathing—ambitious people don´t know how to breathe.” What does he mean by that? That they breathe from their chest, and it´s really shallow. Sometimes you even forget to breathe when you´re stressed, and you´ll hold your breath.

What I talk a lot about in my work now is that I think people are in a chronic state of fight-or-flight. It´s not the acute “oh my gosh, there´s a saber-toothed tiger around the corner, let me run” fight-or flee response. Rather, it´s all the input we’re trying to deal with all day long which puts us in a constant state of fight-or-flight. In the end, what I think the mindfulness stuff really does is activate our bodies´ opposite response, nicknamed the rest-and-digest, your body´s para-sympathetic nervous system. Think of fight-or-flight as the gas pedal, and rest-and-digest as the brakes; you need both. You would never drive a car and only use the gas—that’d be a recipe for disaster.

SF: So the way to consciously activate the rest-and-digest system, as we´ll call it, is to simply breathe?

SE: Yes, start with breathing deep breaths from your belly.

Navy SEALS are trained to breathe like that when they´re deployed. They have a little exercise called the ¨Four by Four by Four¨: four minutes of deep breathing with four counts on the inhale and four counts on the exhale. Repeat until your four-minute timer goes off. Clearly when SEALS are deployed, their fight-or-flight response is going off, but they also want to have rest-and-digest so they make really clear, sound decisions in critical life-threatening moments. Breathing this way helps them do that.

SF: When you stop to focus on your breathing, you become actively conscious of it.  How does actively thinking about your breathing change your mindset and your physical condition?

SE: It focuses your attention in the right places. Recently I came across a study on neuroimaging from USC which found that the average person has 70,000 thoughts a day. If you think about it, most of those thoughts are probably the same thoughts you had yesterday. There’s a word in the Sanskrit language (which dates back thousands of years ago in India) called pritti which means “mental chatter,” commonly known as the monkey mind. With all the distractions we face in our hyper-connected lives with smart phones and everything else we’re dealing with, it’s very easy to have chatter-filled lives. Focused breathing can help us clear that. I think it’s the easiest and most accessible thing you can do to be more focused and center yourself in the moment because you carry your breath around with you all the time.

SF: So you start with that, but the chatter and the tools competing for your attention pull you away from that state of awareness quite quickly, especially for people just starting out with mindfulness exercises. How can you build the capacity to sustain consciousness of your breathing and still be able to undertake all the things that need your attention?

SE: Breathing is just one way to become more aware and more intentional. I think movement is another good way. So many of us now sit at our desk in front of screens for hours on end. It’s not good for your thought process, your decision-making, or your productivity, and it’s definitely not good for your health and well-being. All of the studies now are saying that sitting is basically the new smoking—it´s the same impact on your life expectancy if you sit for 8 or 9 hours per day versus smoking a pack of cigarettes every day. You really want to get up and move 5 to 10 minutes every hour at least. It helps you mentally, and it also helps you physically. The research shows that a little bit of movement every hour helps you focus mentally when you come back.

SF: It would depend on what you do with your movement, right? Are there particular things that would be useful for the beginners out there—people who are just getting into the idea of finding a greater sense of calm and reducing strain in their lives? If you were to start getting up for five to ten minutes each hour, what should you do exactly?

SE:  Something as simple as a walk around the building. And leave your phone behind when you do. I know that’s radical, but it will be there when you get back, and even if you miss something, it’s only a ten-minute break. You can also get up from your desk and stretch. Raise your arms up toward the ceiling. Turn the palms of your hands like you’re stretching up toward the ceiling and bring them down and back up again three times.

Look for those little still points throughout the day. That’s a term I learned from David Kuntz—he’s got a number of great books, but the one that I really love is called Stopping: How to Be Still When You Have to Keep Going. David talks about different kinds of breaks, and the shortest of these he calls a “still point,” which is a little interlude or brief pause throughout the day. I don’t care how busy you are.  Even the most back-to-back calendared people have brief 5 to 10 minute interludes throughout their days if they pay attention to them and are looking for them. Then the question is, when you get that 5 or 10 minute break, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to try and answer ten more emails? Because you know that if you get 200 emails per day, responding to 10 more in that five-minute period is not going to help you that much. What is going to help you much more is to give your rest-and-digest response an opportunity to perform. You’re going to think more clearly when you get back to work, you’re going to feel better, and you’re going to be more fully present for the people you’re working with. There are lots of benefits to be had if you just take that free minute to move or to breathe.

SF: What’s the most important word of advice you could give about accessing greater mindfulness in ways that could help people, not just at work, but in all different parts of their lives?

SE: I would want people to think about three quick questions. First, how are you when you’re at your best, and what does it look like when you´re in zone, in the state of flow? Second, what routines are going to help you show up and be your best, physically, mentally, relationally, and spiritually? Third and finally, what outcomes are you hoping for from showing up at your best? These should be outcomes in three big areas of your life: your life at home, your life at work, and your life in your community. Stew, I know you talk about this in your work. If you can get those answers on one sheet of paper, then you’ve got a reference point. Don’t try to do ten things, but start with just one thing that’s going to make a difference for you now. Begin with baby steps because progress really does comes incrementally and then suddenly, like we discussed at the beginning of the hour. If you´re consistent with improving just 5% per week, then in one month you’re 20% more mindful.

To learn more about Scott´s work, check out his recent books Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative (October 2014) and The Next Level: What Insiders Know about Executive Success (October 2010) and follow him on Twitter @ScottEblin.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Morgan MotzelMorgan Motzel is an undergraduate senior in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at Penn focusing on Management and Latin America

Moxie Makes New Things Possible — John Baldoni

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with John Baldoni an executive coach and author of a number of books including his latest, Moxie: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: What is moxie?

John Baldoni: John Baldoni Guts, gumption, and determination to beat the odds.  Courage, standing up for what you believe in and your people. I always liked the word from movies of 30’s and 40’s: “That boxer, he’s got moxie.” It’s an inner resolve. When I watched the recent economic crisis and leader after leader didn’t know how to react, didn’t know how to deal with adversity, I began to think about this as a leadership challenge.

SF: How can you address the question of guts and resolve?  How can people develop this capacity?

JB:  People can tend to focus on the negative: “my project was turned down,” “I can’t connect with my team.”  I ask people to be mindful of themselves and to be situationally aware. MOXIE is an acronym.  The “M” is for mindfulness.  Explore what you want to achieve.  A leader can’t say it’s not my job, you have to take responsibility. The “O” is for opportunity. “X” is the X-factor – character compassion, creativity, what makes you, you.  “I” is for innovation and “E” is for engagement.

SF: If those you coach lack the resolve, what do you do to help them build and develop an inner resolve?

JB: Confidence is key.  Where does confidence come from?  From inside, yes, but also from what you’ve done. Sports or academic track record, your accomplishments, achievements.  We can dwell on our defeats vs. what we’ve done. To get resolve, focus on building confidence.

SF: So it’s reframing adversity and using what they have already accomplished.

JB: Part of the reframing is that you’re not alone. Warren Bennis said he never met a successful person who didn’t have a crucible.

SF: How can people develop moxie, self-confidence and persistence? How can it be cultivated?

JB: Some of us are more dispositionally inclined toward this, but can be nurtured, learned. You need to be tactical and practical. It’s not just believing in yourself, but then it’s what are you going to do about – school, professional development courses, job rotation…you need to prepare yourself.

SF: In our uncertain world with so much economic displacement and inequality where does one get the wherewithal or strength. How to get past that? There’s reviewing past accomplishments, but how else can we develop strength, internal resolve.

JB: Role models, teachers, parents, historical figures, people who inspire. How did they achieve? If we’re talking about the disadvantaged they often have street smarts, survival skills, moxie. And they can reach out to teacher coach, pastor.

SF: So, getting help from others, or learning from exemplars who’ve risen through crucibles is another strategy. How does moxie play out outside of work, in family, community, self?

JB: I If you have inner resolve, inner strength, you’re more centered, you know what you can and cannot do. Mindfulness, the “M” is critical but so is the “E” for engagement.  How do I relate to others? It’s not simply self-awareness. It’s also how am I being perceived?  I use our Total Leadership in nearly all my coaching over the past 5 years. Some leaders have stunning lack of self-awareness, they’re not aware of how they’re coming across to others.  Leadership is an active process, how to take time to take stock of themselves.

SF: It’s important to be mindful of how we come across at home as opposed to at work or with friends?  It’s important to understand how others perceive us.

JB: Yes, at work we might have false fronts, we might be fearful of losing our jobs, or we might not be in the right job.  I borrow from you, your time and attention chart. Where’s the time for yourself? How are you prioritizing? What can you do differently? Getting 360 degree feedback takes guts, takes moxie

SF: It takes courage to look inside, to find out who you really are and what you’re trying to do in this world. It’s hard work to convert what you have toward the goal of leading the life you want, a life defined by purpose and filled with meaning.

JB: MOXIE is a way of exploring purpose. You can’t foster innovation until you engage with others. Engage hearts and minds and get the commitment of others. You can only reach out and engage if you’re self-confident, purposeful, and know how you can I do it.

SF: What’s the key take-away?

JB: Guts and gumption.  Don’t let adversity be the end.  There’s no shame in being knocked down, it’s what you do with it.  You need to figure out how to get around barriers, make good things happen for yourself and others. Radiate it yourself and coach others around defeat.

John Baldoni is chair of the leadership development practice of N2growth, a global leadership consultancy, and author of Lead with PurposeLead Your Boss, and the new book, MOXIE:  The Secret To Bold And Gutsy Leadership.  For more, follow John on Twitter @JohnBaldoni.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

The Building Blocks of Productivity — David Allen

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

Work and Life is a two-hour radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with David Allen, the best-selling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life about the five steps in his method to maximize what you accomplish by being focused and present wherever you are, and the habit that can change the culture of productivity in an organization.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: You’ve developed and refined a method that helps people to be present in the moment. For the uninitiated, can you give us a brief synopsis of the essence of that method?

David Allen: david allenThe one sentence version is both very simple and practical and pretty sublime. It is: You need to pay appropriate attention to what has your attention; otherwise, it will take more of your attention than it deserves. What has your attention? How many things are on your mind? “I need to get cat food.” “I need to find God.” “I need a career.” “I need to talk to my aunt.” “I need to answer those ten emails.” If you don’t handle those things appropriately, you are inappropriately engaged with your email, with your cat, when you are at work, or with your family. Here’s the big secret: getting things done is not about getting things done. It’s about being appropriately engaged with your life. I figured out the algorithm for being appropriately engaged. There are five steps. First, you have to capture the idea, identify what’s on your mind and record it; do something to get it out of your head. Second, decide what it means to you and what you’re going to do about it. Third, park the results of that decision somewhere you’ll see them at the right time. Fourth, look at the results of those decisions – the things you need to get done – when you need to get them done. And fifth, engage appropriately with doing those things. It isn’t rocket science, but it is something most people haven’t yet truly implemented.

SF: What do most people struggle with, in your experience?

DA: They try to keep everything in their head. If you’re going to try to go somewhere, you need a map – an orientation tool – and a place to store it. Most people are trying to use their psyche, inside their head as an orientation system, and it’s not designed for that. Your psyche is a terrible map, and a terrible office. Since my first book was published, in the last decade, a lot of neuro- and social scientists have validated a lot of the underlying principles I’ve talked about, including that your head is for having ideas, not for holding them. Evolutionarily, your brain was not designed to remember anything. It was designed to recognize patterns, but not to recall them. Once people get stuff out of their head, they have a much better sense of control and focus about what to do next. Everyone has at some point felt overwhelmed or confused, sat down and made a list, and felt better. Once you reverse engineer that and ask why you felt better without anything actually changing, you’ll never keep anything in your head for the rest of your life.

SF: And it doesn’t matter where you gather the ideas you’ve captured – you’re impartial to the tool as long as there is one.

DA: You can’t beat a pen and paper – that’s my basic collection tool. I carry a notepad in my wallet and tear sheets off for my in-basket, which I can then empty out. I think digital is dangerous for that reason – out of sight, out of mind. The problem with the digital world is that it gives you so many opportunities to put anything anywhere – in files and folders all over the place. You have to keep the collection buckets as simple as possible and empty them as often as possible. Once you’ve gathered the ideas, the next step is to clarify what they mean. Is this something to act on? If it is, what is the action? What outcome are you committed to?

SF: If you have 85 things in your collection place, how do you start?

DA: Pick up one at a time. You can’t prioritize until you’ve been through the whole list – number 84 could be more important than number two, and if you only have ten minutes, your highest priority is to accomplish something that will only take ten minutes. Until you know what all of those 85 things are, you can’t make that judgment. You need your whole inventory.

You have to work at the habit of doing this. For some reason, we don’t seem to be born with these behaviors that seem obvious. People fall off because they have a habit of keeping things in their heads. People also avoid making decisions – someone may write “Buy Mom’s birthday present” and put it in their in-basket, but then pick it up and put it back down over and over saying, “I don’t know what to get her.” You have to decide the next action and make a commitment to what you’ll do. That’s how you get things done, but those questions are not obvious – your brain doesn’t automatically think in terms of outcome and action. “What am I trying to accomplish?” and “How do I move toward that?” are the zeroes and ones of productivity. For companies, for teams, for families, beginning the conversation with “What are we trying to accomplish?” and ending with “What did we decide, what are the next steps, and who’s responsible?” can change a culture.

David Allen has been recognized by Forbes, Fast Company, and Time, and has delivered a TEDx Talk on his method. Hear more from him on Twitter @gtdguy.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Liz Stiverson Liz Stiversonreceived her MBA from The Wharton School in 2014

Create More Space For You — Erin Owen on Work and Life

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

Work and Life is a two-hour radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday from 7 pm to 9 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On January 14, the first episode of Work and Life on Sirius XM’sErin Owen Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Stew Friedman continued the discussion he began with Brett Hurt, on the seemingly-paradoxical benefits of slowing down at work in order to get more done, in a conversation with Erin Owen. Erin Owen is a performance breakthrough coach, which she describes as “a combination of an Eastern guru, a business coach, a life coach, a health coach, and a time management master.” She helps professionals and entrepreneurs apply the wisdom of ancient Eastern philosophical and energetic practices to modern, Western ideas of performance.

Following are edited excerpts of Owen’s conversation with Friedman.

Stew Friedman: How did you get into this? How did you discover the wisdom of the East?

Erin Owen: I was working for a large consulting firm, on a lot of complex international projects, on a crazy schedule, with 60+-hour weeks. It was high-intensity stress, but very intellectually stimulating, which is what drove my ego to keep working harder to get better results. But that reality drove my health into the ground at a very young age, in my late twenties. Even after working with specialists and taking medication, I started to have problems with my short-term memory. That was a really scary point, at which I said the way I’m living is not working – something has got to change.

I started a series of experiments and alternative practices, part of them from an Eastern point of view. At a very young age I was drawn to things Chinese; when we studied world history in high school, I thought, “Wow, these people really have something figured out – they’ve been inventing things for thousands of years, and it’s so much different than the European perspective.” So when it came time to choose a college I wanted to make sure I had an opportunity to study the Chinese language and really dig into the culture.

There are so many dimensions to Chinese philosophy. Yin and yang is the idea that there is and can be balance in the world. Contraction and expansion is a yin and yang comparison. Contractions, things that are very dense and hard, are yang. Things that are the opposite – expansion, open, flowing – are yin. I find that one of the qualities missing most in people who are out of balance is yin. If you can find a way to bring more openness, more flow, more subtlety, and more quiet into your life, you get a lot more out of it. Working harder is not the answer. By creating more time and space in my life, allowing myself to relax, to nourish my body, mind and spirit, I can show up more focused mentally, be more present and engaged in conversations, be more creative in my work and get better results.  That’s counter to the culture we’re living in.

SF: Can you give an example?

EO: An obvious example from yin is water. Things that are water flow, they move in a downward direction. When you are reflecting, going inward, there’s a movement away from the mind at the brain level, toward the heart, or maybe even the gut and your intuition. That’s a yin movement. When you look at your average person’s calendar, how many appointments do you have scheduled back to back, no space in between? You don’t have time to pause, to reflect on what you took away from a meeting. There’s no time to think, or get creative about problem solving with your customers and clients. You don’t have time to even take a bathroom break, or eat, or breathe, and what happens is there’s a lot of contraction – yang. You’ve got enough intensity and a kind of suffering in your life with a packed, busy schedule. How can you bring a little space into that? Even by taking deep breaths. Take a nice, deep, full breath, and notice how your shoulders lower, your muscles relax, you might even feel a little more space across your brow. When you come back to work with that more relaxed perspective, you’re able to see things more clearly, have more mental focus, and get those creative juices flowing so you start to see some better results.

SF: Why don’t more people think and live this way? What makes it difficult?

EO: It gets back to fear, to worrying that if you’re not there every single minute you’re going to miss something. But I’ll give you an example of a client I worked with eight years ago. She had gotten to a point in her life where she’d been following the path of “should”. She went to the right school, she got the right sequence of jobs, and she woke up to find herself in her late thirties not having lived her personal dream, which was to get married and have a family. So we started to find room for her in her calendar. That’s one of the foundational principles I give my clients – put you in your calendar first.

SF: To play devil’s advocate, let me ask, Isn’t that selfish? Aren’t we here to serve other people?

EO: Is it selfish to put your oxygen mask on in the airplane before you help others? It’s smart, so you’re actually present and there and capable of helping. For [this client’s] calendar, we blocked time each morning when she would have the morning to not have meetings and do what she wanted. Maybe she would get a massage. Maybe she would meet with a friend for tea. But she communicated it in the spirit of an experiment. She told her secretary, her teammates, even a couple of her clients who were friends that she was going to try it out for a while. She discovered that, first of all, everyone was excited for her and wanted to the same thing, so she immediately had support. And second, when she did go get a massage once every couple weeks, get to the gym a couple times a week and be able to connect with a friend, she showed up to work happier, she was more focused and present, and there was a more creative and fun spirit to her contributions because she was feeling that energy in her life. She was able to get more done in less time.

SF: How is my boss going to notice that [putting me in my calendar first] makes me a more productive employee?

EO: When, with the consistent practice of slowing down and giving yourself some space, you are showing up more focused and more creative, they’re going to notice. If you want, be more explicit in telling your boss or your colleagues, “Hey, I’m trying this out, give me some feedback – do you notice any change in the contributions I am making at the meeting? In the way I’m writing my memos?” Whatever that activity might be – so they can concretely measure the impact of you getting a little bit more yin in your very extreme yang lifestyle.

SF: What advice do you have for people who don’t have the resources to take time out or get professional coachng as your clients can?

EO: You need to create some space, and it just takes five minutes a day. If you’re someone who is working two jobs, who doesn’t have a lot of flexibility or resources, you can look at the way you commute to work and figure out how you can make it a more Zen experience, more simple and easy. For example, if you’re riding the subway or the bus, could you get off one stop early and walk, and just breathe? Don’t check your phone, don’t try to get anything done in that time, just look around you and notice what’s happening.

Erin has published two books, which expand on her ideas and advice about Eastern philosophy and modern work/life integration and apply them to a variety of settings:

Refuel, Recharge, and Re-energize: The Conscious Entrepreneur’s Guide to Taking Back Control of Your Time and Energy (Erin Owen, Vervante)Refuel, Recharge, Re-enegize

Boost Your Performance In and Out of the Office with Eastern-Inspired Clutter-Clearing Secrets Workbook (Erin Owen, Vervante)

You can also hear more from Erin on Twitter, and find more of her insights and suggestions on the Your Performance Breakthrough website (where the first chapter of Refuel, Recharge, and Re-energize is available for free).

Join Stew next week (Tuesday January 28) at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Ellen Ernst Kossek and Brad Harrington on work/life interventions in organizations that improve both lives and the bottom line, and how Millennial Dads can lean in at home and win at work. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Liz StiversonLiz Stiverson is a 2014 MBA candidate at The Wharton School.