Discussion on Mindful Control

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b’Topic: Lesson 5 — Mindful Control’
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Name of the book is search inside yourself

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Chapter Five: Riding Your Emotions Like a Horse—Developing Self-Mastery


One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.
—Leonardo da Vinci

The theme of this chapter can be summarized in these four words:

From Compulsion to Choice

Once upon a time in ancient China, a man on a horse rode past a man standing on the side of the road. The standing man asked, “Rider, where are you going?” The man on the horse answered, “I don’t know. Ask the horse.”

This story provides a metaphor for our emotional lives. The horse represents our emotions. We usually feel compelled by our emotions. We feel we have no control over the horse, and we let it take us wherever it wants to. Fortunately, it turns out that we can tame and guide the horse. It begins with understanding the horse and observing its preferences, tendencies, and behaviors. Once we understand the horse, we learn to communicate and work with it skillfully. Eventually, it takes us wherever we want to go. Hence we create choice for ourselves. We can then choose to ride into the sunset and look cool like John Wayne.

The last chapter, when we explored self-awareness, is about understanding the horse. In this chapter, we will make use of self-awareness to gain mastery over our emotions. In other words, we will learn to ride the horse.

About Self-Regulation

When we think of self-regulation, we usually think only of self-control, like the not-screaming-at-the-CEO type of self-control. If that is all you are thinking, my friends, you are missing all the good, yummy stuff. Self-regulation goes far beyond self-control. Daniel Goleman identifies five emotional competencies under the domain of self-regulation:

  1. Self-control: Keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check
  2. Trustworthiness: Maintaining standards of honesty and integrity
  3. Conscientiousness: Taking responsibility for personal performance
  4. Adaptability: Flexibility in handling change
  5. Innovation: Being comfortable with novel ideas, approaches, and information

There is one commonality that underlies all these competences: choice. Everybody wants to have all these qualities. We all like to be adaptable and innovative, for example. Who among us does not want to maintain our standards of honesty and integrity? Yet, a lot of us do not succeed at upholding these qualities all the time. Why? Because we often feel compelled by our emotions to move in a different direction. If, however, we have the ability to turn compulsion into choice, then all these qualities may become enabled for us, and we may choose to exercise them if we wish.

The ability to move from compulsion to choice is the common enabler for all these competencies.

Self-Regulation Is Not Avoiding or Suppressing Emotions

After teaching Search Inside Yourself for a while, we realized that while it is important to explain what self-regulation is, it is equally important to explain what self-regulation is not. The simple reason is many people think self-regulation is simply about suppressing distressing emotions. Happily, that is not the case.

Self-regulation is not about avoiding emotions. There are situations in which feeling painful emotions is appropriate. For example, when your best friend shares sad news with you, it is probably best if you also share some of her sadness. Also, if you are a doctor giving very bad news to a patient, you probably don’t want to avoid feeling bad. You definitely do not want a big grin on your face when you tell your patient he only has one month to live—that would be awkward.

Self-regulation is also not about denying or repressing true feelings. Feelings carry valuable information, so if you deny or repress them, you lose that information. One Search Inside Yourself participant at Google, for example, learned to listen closely to his feelings and began to grasp the full extent of his dissatisfaction in his current role. In response, he moved into another role at Google shortly after the course and became much happier and more effective at his work.

Self-regulation is not about never having certain emotions. It is about becoming very skillful with them. For example, I was told that in Buddhist psychology, there is an important difference between anger and indignation: anger arises out of powerlessness, while indignation arises out of power. Because of that difference, when you feel angry, you feel out of control, but when you feel indignant, you can retain full control of your mind and emotion. Hence, you can be emotional and fighting for change without ever losing your cool. Indignation is, therefore, a skillful state and a good example of self-regulation at its best. I think the person who best personified this was Gandhi. Gandhi was not an angry man, but that did not stop him from fighting injustice or leading massive marches. All that time he was fighting, he never lost his calmness or compassion. That’s how I want to be when I grow up.

Like Writing on Water

Still, when there are situations in life where you really need to dampen unwholesome thoughts or emotions, what do you do?

I think the first question to ask is whether it is possible to stop an unwholesome thought or emotion from arising in the first place. Based on my own experience, I think it is impossible. In fact, Paul Ekman, one of the most preeminent psychologists in the world, told me he discussed precisely this topic with the Dalai Lama. They both agree that it is impossible to stop a thought or emotion from arising. That must be the correct answer then, since Paul, the Dalai Lama, and I cannot all be wrong at the same time, right?

However, the Dalai Lama added an important point: while we cannot stop an unwholesome thought or emotion from arising, we have the power to let it go, and the highly trained mind can let it go the moment it arises.

The Buddha has a very beautiful metaphor for this state of mind. He calls it “like writing on water.”[1] Whenever an unwholesome thought or emotion arises in an enlightened mind, it is like writing on water; the moment it is written, it disappears.


“My client would like the agreement to be written on water.”

[1]“Lekha Sutta,” the Discourse on Inscriptions, Anguttara Nikaya.

Practice of Letting Go

One of the most important life-changing insights gained in meditation is that pain and suffering are qualitatively distinct, and one does not necessarily follow the other. The origin of this insight is the practice of letting go.

Letting go is an extremely important skill. It is one of the essential foundations of meditation practice. As usual, the Zen tradition has the funniest way of articulating this key insight. In the words of Sengcan, the Third Patriarch of Zen, “The Great Way is without difficulty, just cease having preferences.”[2] When the mind becomes so free that it is capable of letting go even of preferences, the Great Way is no longer difficult.

The central importance of letting go leads to a very important question: is it possible to let go and still appreciate and fully experience the ups and downs of life? The way I like to ask the question is: can you have your karma and eat cake too?

I think it is possible. The key is to let go of two things: grasping and aversion. Grasping is when the mind desperately holds on to something and refuses to let it go. Aversion is when the mind desperately keeps something away and refuses to let it come. These two qualities are flip sides of each other. Grasping and aversion together account for a huge percentage of the suffering we experience, perhaps 90 percent, maybe even 100 percent.

When we experience any phenomenon, we begin with contact between sense organ and object, then sensation and perception arise, and immediately after, grasping or aversion arises (some meditative traditions classify the mind itself as a sense, thus elegantly extending this model of experience to mental phenomenon as well as physical phenomenon). The key insight here is that grasping and aversion are separate from sensation and perception. They arise so closely together that we do not normally notice the difference.

However, as your mindfulness practice becomes stronger, you may notice the distinction and maybe even the tiny gap between them. For example, after sitting for a long time, you may feel pain in your back, and almost immediately after that, you may feel aversion. You tell yourself, “I hate this pain. I do not want this sensation. Go away!” With enough mindfulness practice, you may notice that both experiences are distinct. There is the experience of physical pain, and there is the separate experience of aversion. The untrained mind lumps them into one indivisible experience, but the trained mind sees two distinct experiences, one leading to the arising of the other.

Once your mind reaches that level of perceptive resolution, two very important opportunities become available to you.

The first important opportunity is the possibility of experiencing pain without suffering. The theory is that aversion, not the pain itself, is the actual cause of suffering; the pain is just a sensation that creates that aversion. Hence, if the mind recognizes this and then becomes able to let go of aversion, then the experience of pain may lead to greatly reduced suffering—perhaps no suffering at all. Jon Kabat-Zinn has a great example of how this theory works in practice. Here, he tells the story of a man in his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) clinic:

Another man, in his early seventies, came to the clinic with severe pain in his feet. He came to the first class in a wheelchair.  That first day he told the class that the pain was so bad he just wanted to cut off his feet. He didn’t see what meditating could possibly do for him, but things were so bad that he was willing to give anything a try. Everybody felt incredibly sorry for him. He came to the second class on crutches rather than in the wheelchair. After that he used only a cane. The transition from wheelchair to crutches to cane spoke volumes to us all as we watched him from week to week. He said at the end that the pain hadn’t changed much but that his attitude toward his pain had changed a lot.[3]

One of the most interesting historical figures to have acquired this insight was Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the last of the Five Good Emperors. He wrote:

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

Funny enough (in our context), this quote originates from the collection of his writings entitled Meditations.

The second important opportunity is the possibility of experiencing pleasure without the aftertaste of unsatisfactoriness. The biggest problem with pleasant experiences is that they all eventually cease. The experience itself causes no suffering, but our clinging on to them and our desperate hoping that they do not go away cause suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh has a very nice way of putting it: wilting flowers do not cause suffering; it is the unrealistic desire that flowers not wilt that causes suffering. Hence, if the mind recognizes this and then becomes able to let go of grasping, the pleasant experiences lead to little or no suffering. We can fully enjoy flowers even though they eventually wilt.

By letting go of grasping and aversion, we can fully adopt the letting-go mind and also fully experience life in its glorious Technicolor detail. In fact, we may be able to experience life more vividly with the letting-go mind because it frees us from the noisy interferences of grasping, aversion, and suffering.

Good karma. Good cake. Yum.


“Okay, you don’t have to let everything go.”

[2]Xinxin Ming, Inscriptions on Trust in Mind. Also known as the Shinjinmei in Japanese.

[3]Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (New York: Delacorte Press, 1990).

General Principles for Dealing with Distress

Four very helpful general principles for dealing with any distressing emotions are:

  1. Know when you are not in pain.
  2. Do not feel bad about feeling bad.
  3. Do not feed the monsters.
  4. Start every thought with kindness and humor.

Know When You Are Not in Pain

When you are not in pain, be aware that you are not in pain. This is a very powerful practice on multiple levels. On one level, it increases happiness. When we are suffering from pain, we always tell ourselves, “I’ll be so happy if I am free from this pain,” but when we are free from that pain, we forget to enjoy freedom from pain. This practice of constantly noticing the lack of distress encourages us to enjoy the sweetness of that freedom, thereby helping us to be happier.

On another level, I find that even when we are experiencing pain, the pain is not constant, especially emotional pain. The pain waxes and wanes, and there are times (perhaps short intervals of minutes or seconds) when a space opens up and we are free from pain. The practice of noticing the lack of distress helps us abide in that small space when it opens up. This space gives us temporary relief and is the basis from which we launch our recovery and find the strength to face our problems.

Do Not Feel Bad about Feeling Bad

We have the tendency to feel bad about feeling bad. I call it “meta-distress,” distress about experiencing distress. This is especially true for sensitive and good-hearted people. We berate ourselves by saying things like, “Hey, if I am such a good person, why am I feeling this much envy?” This is even truer for good people with contemplative practices like meditation. We scold ourselves by saying, “Maybe if I was actually a good meditator, I wouldn’t feel this way. Therefore, I must be a hypocrite and a useless piece of [insert context-appropriate noun].”

It is important to recognize that distress is a naturally arising phenomenon—we all experience it from time to time. Even Thich Nhat Hanh, the very symbol of enlightened peace in the world, once got so angry at someone he almost wanted to stand up and slug him.

Also recognize that feeling bad about feeling bad is an act of ego. It’s a reflection of our ego’s image about itself, and the net result is the creation of new distress for no good reason at all. The antidote is to let the ego go, with good humor whenever possible.

And remember, meta-distress is really bad economics.

Do Not Feed the Monsters

Let’s pretend that monsters cause our distress, occupying the mind and wreaking havoc on our emotions. What can we do to stop them? They seem so overwhelmingly powerful, we cannot stop them from arising in the mind, and we seem powerless to make them leave.

Happily, it turns out that our monsters need us to feed them in order to survive. If we do not feed them, they will get hungry, and maybe they will go away. Therein lies the source of our power—we cannot stop monsters from arising or force them to leave, but we have the power to stop feeding them.

Take anger, for example. If you are really angry at somebody and then examine that anger with mindfulness, you may find that the anger is not constant from moment to moment; it is constantly waxing or waning subtly. You may also find your mind constantly feeding the anger by retelling one or more stories to yourself over and over. If you then stop telling the stories, you may find the anger dissipating for the lack of fuel. Anger Monster needs to feed on your angry stories. With no stories to eat, Anger Monster gets hungry and sometimes goes away. By not feeding Anger Monster, you save mental energy and Anger Monster may leave you alone to play elsewhere. Anger Monster knows people are giving away plenty of anger food elsewhere.

Not feeding monsters is very good economics.

“Okay, how about for starters, I just stop feeding you carbs?”

Start Every Thought with Kindness and Humor

In every situation, distressing or otherwise, it is useful to begin each thought with kindness and compassion for oneself and others.

In my experience, the most important quality of kindness is its healing effect. Imagine taking a rough, spiky brush and repeatedly brushing it hard and fast on an area of your skin. Eventually, your skin will become inflamed and painful to the touch. Kindness is the quality of gently ceasing that harmful brushing action. If you do that, eventually, the skin will heal.

I also find it very useful to see the humor in my own failings. Every time I lose my temper or have a greedy or spiteful thought that does not go away for a while, it is like I have fallen off the wagon again. Of course, I can interpret falling off the wagon as a humiliating and embarrassing experience. However, it is much more fun to think of the experience as a scene in an old black-and-white comedy. Guy falls off wagon in the context of fast, playful music, makes a funny face, dusts himself off, and then climbs back up on the wagon in a quick, awkward, and jerky motion. It is all very funny. So every time I fail, it is a comedy.

And since I fail so often, my life is a great comedy.

Neural Model of Emotion Regulation

In the brain, emotional reactivity and regulation look a lot like this:

(courtesy of Philippe Goldin)

Stanford research scientist Philippe Goldin explains this process well:

In the context of a threat, real or imagined, our emotional state can rapidly shift into fear or anxiety. This shift in emotional reactivity occurs in emotional related brain regions in the limbic system (or the “emotional brain,” represented by the “emotion” bubble). A bottom-up signal is sent to other brain regions to recruit from other brain systems to help regulate (the “regulation” bubble) via top-down signals specific aspects of emotional reactivity. When this system is working, the regulatory systems initiate changes in attention, thinking, and behavior. Using cognitive perspective taking, we can examine what is the source of the threat and determine what strategies will be most effective in modulating the intensity, duration and interpretation of that ongoing emotion experience. I would also add that especially in human beings, this is likely mediated through our view of self, be it positive or negative or otherwise, and our ability to use language and thinking to modulate and understand our experiences.[4]

This model suggests one way we can think of mindfulness and other practices in this book. Mindfulness helps our thinking brain and our emotional brain communicate more clearly to each other, so they work better together. The engineering types among us can think of mindfulness as increasing the bandwidth of the arrows between the emotion and regulation bubbles so that we get better information flow between them. Mindfulness also gives more power to the thinking brain whenever you need it. You can think of mindfulness as increasing the power output of the regulation systems in the brain so it works even better. In fact, studies suggest it actually does so literally by increasing the neural activity of the executive center of the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex. Finally, mindfulness, in conjunction with other practices and insights in this book, helps us make more skillful use of the self and language bubbles.

[4]Philippe Goldin, “The Neuroscience of Emotions” (lecture, Google Tech Talks, Mountain View, CA, September 16, 2008), http://siybook.com/v/gtalk_pgoldin.

Dealing with Triggers

One common situation in which self-regulation skills really come in handy is when we get triggered. That is when a seemingly small situation causes a disproportionally large emotional response in us, such as when our spouse makes an almost innocuous comment about something we do and we just blow up. From an objective, third-party perspective, such an event often seems like making a mountain out of a molehill. For example, all Cindy did was playfully twirl the hair of her husband, John, commenting, “You’re getting a little thin up there.” John’s face immediately became red with anger, and he insulted her with an expletive, right in front of his campaign staff.

The first step in learning to deal with triggers is identifying when you have been triggered. Executive coach Marc Lesser provided these helpful suggestions on things to look out for:

  • Body: Shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat, and sick to the stomach
  • Emotions: Experiencing a flight-or-flight response, either feeling like a “deer in headlights” or having an emotional outburst (what Goleman famously calls an “amygdala hijack”)
  • Thoughts: Feeling like a victim, thoughts of blame and judgment, difficulty paying attention

Triggers almost always have long histories behind them. When we get triggered, it is very often because it brings back something from the past, that she’s-doing-that-again feeling. Triggers are also very often connected to a perceived inadequacy about ourselves that is a source of pain to us, sort of like a raw nerve. For example, if I am feeling very insecure about my performance at work, a mere suggestion from my boss that she is slightly concerned about my project’s progress may cause a trigger reaction in me. In contrast, if I am fully confident about my work, my reaction to my boss will be entirely different.

Siberian North Railroad

Here is a practice called the Siberian North Railroad for dealing with triggers. This is a useful practice not only for triggers but also for other situations in which we need to deal with negative or distressing emotions.

The practice has five steps:

  1. Stop
  2. Breathe
  3. Notice
  4. Reflect
  5. Respond

Jennifer Bevan, one of our class participants, came up with the mnemonic that became the name of the practice. She took the first letter of each step, SBNRR, and created the phrase SiBerianNorthRailRoad. I like the mental imagery behind the mnemonic. It’s like you need to cool down from all that heat of an emotional trigger, and where better to cool down than one of the coldest and most remote places in the world?

The first and most important step is to stop. Whenever you feel triggered, just stop. Pausing at the onset of a trigger is a very powerful and important skill. Do not react for just one moment. This moment is known as the sacred pause. It enables all the other steps. If you only remember one step in this practice, remember this one. In almost every instance, this one step is enough to make a big difference.

The next step is to breathe. By focusing the mind on the breath, we reinforce the sacred pause. In addition, taking conscious breaths, especially deep ones, calms the body and mind.

After breathing, notice. Experience your emotion by bringing attention to your body. What does this feel like in the body? In the face, neck, shoulder, chest, back? Notice changes in tension and temperature. Apply mindfulness by experiencing it moment-to-moment without judging. What is most important at this point is to try to experience emotional difficulty simply as a physiological phenomenon, not an existential phenomenon. If it is anger you are experiencing, for example, your observation is not “I am angry”; it is “I experience anger in my body.”

Now we reflect. Where is the emotion coming from? Is there a history behind it? Is there a self-perceived inadequacy involved? Without judging it to be right or wrong, let’s just bring this perspective into the situation. If this experience involves another person, put yourself inside the other person looking out at you. Think about these statements:

  • Everybody wants to be happy.
  • This person thinks acting this way will make him happy, in some way.

Again, bring perspective without judging it to be right or wrong.

Finally, we respond. Bring to mind ways in which you might respond to this situation that would have a positive outcome. You do not actually have to do it—just imagine the kindest, most positive response. What would that look like?

In our Search Inside Yourself class, before doing the Siberian North Railroad exercise, we invite participants to talk about a situation in which they were triggered. This readies them for the exercise. We usually have them sit in groups of three where each person gets to have a two-minute monologue. The topic of the monologue is:

Describe a situation when you were triggered:

  1. What was the event?
  2. What were the feelings that arose? What was the very first feeling—anger, retreat?
  3. Where in your body did you feel it / do you feel it now?

At home I recommend you think about the last time you were emotionally triggered and ask yourself the questions above. This will prepare you for the following meditation.


Siberian North Railroad

Settling Attention

Start with 3 deep breaths.

Bring gentle awareness to the breathing. Bring attention to the in and out breaths, and the spaces in between.

Negative Emotion

Let’s now shift gears into a negative emotion for 2 minutes.

Bring to mind a memory of an unhappy event, an experience of frustration, anger, or hurt, or an experience in which you were triggered.

See if you can relive the event and the associated emotions in your mind.

Managing Negative Emotion

Let us now mentally practice our response strategy for 7 minutes.

The first two steps are to stop and breathe. Stopping at the onset of a trigger is the sacred pause. Let us reinforce the pause by focusing the mind on the breath, and not reacting to the emotion. If you want, you may try taking slow, deep breaths. And let’s stay in this state of pause for another 30 seconds.

(30-second pause)

The next step is to notice. We notice by experiencing the emotion in the body. Bring your attention to your body. What does an affective emotion feel like in the body? In the face? Neck, shoulders, chest, back? Notice any difference in level of tension or temperature.

Experience it without judging. What is most important at this point is to try to experience emotional difficulty simply as a physiological phenomenon, not an existential phenomenon. For example, the experience is not “I am angry.” It is “I experience anger in my body.”

Let’s take a minute to experience the physiology of emotion in the body.

(60-second pause)

Now we reflect.

Where is the emotion coming from? Is there a history behind it? If this experience involves another person, put yourself inside the other person looking out at you. Think about this statement: “Everybody wants to be happy. This person thinks acting this way will make him happy, in some way.” Bring perspective without judging it to be right or wrong.

(30-second pause)

Now we respond.

Bring to mind ways in which you might respond to this situation that would have a positive outcome. You do not actually have to do it—just imagine the kindest, most positive response. What would that look like? Let’s spend the next minute or so creating that response.

(60-second pause)

Returning to Grounding

Let us now return to the present for 2 minutes. Bring awareness back to your breath.

(Short pause)

Make a tight fist with your hand, holding any of your residual emotion there. Slowly open your fingers and let go of that energy.

And bring your attention back, either to your body, or your breath, whichever your mind finds more stability in.

And just settle your mind there, for the remainder of 1 minute.

In class, right after the above exercise, we always do Mindful Conversation (see Chapter 3) in pairs to give everyone a chance to process the experience. Those who are comfortable doing so may tell their stories and share their experiences. Those who are not comfortable doing so may just talk about how it felt to go through the process itself.

In this artificial setting, the five-step process takes seven minutes. In real life, the whole process may be over in seconds, which may not give you a lot of time to do it right if you do not have sufficient practice. One way to practice this process is to do it retroactively. That means practicing the reflection and response steps after a triggering event is over. The first three steps (stop, breathe, notice) can be strengthened with sitting mindfulness practice. The last two steps (reflect and respond) are best strengthened with real-life cases. Given how quickly each episode moves, it’s hard to train in real time, but it’s just as effective to do it “off-line” retroactively. The more time you spend practicing the reflect-and-respond process offline, the better you will be able to do it in the real-life situation.

The next time you are triggered, remember to take the SBNRR.


“Good news, comrades! To help you deal with negative or distressing emotions, the Politburo has come up with a handy mnemonic …”

How to Not Strangle Your Mother-In-Law

Derek, one Search Inside Yourself participant who had no prior mindfulness training, told me this story:

My mother-in-law forgot to engage the brake on the stroller with my twenty-month-old daughter inside. The stroller went sailing across the driveway, smacking into one of our cars. Thanks to Search Inside Yourself, instead of coming unglued and saying something stupid, I took two deep breaths and simply refrained from comment. Better still, I did it almost without thinking about it, I just brought attention to my breath at my nostrils, and it just worked. I even recognized the racing in my heart and the sinking, gross feeling in my stomach. It was amazing.

If you ever need examples of people with crazy tempers (me), who usually engage mouth before brain, being able to successfully employ Search Inside Yourself training to not strangle their mothers-in-law, you may tell my story.

Derek did not just refrain from doing something stupid at the moment, but he was also able to later reflect on how sorry his mother-in-law must have felt, and he forgave her carelessness with a few kind words. Last I heard, they lived happily ever after. (Derek’s name has been changed to protect him from mothers-in-law.)

Other Ways to Handle Triggers

One way of looking at the Siberian North Railroad approach is as an emotional self-regulation strategy, starting with attentional control and resulting in cognitive change over time. If you understand it that way, it can become a general framework on which we can add other ways of handling triggers. This idea was suggested to me by Philippe Goldin who was, in turn, inspired by a review paper by Kevin Ochsner and James Gross.[5]

As you see below, the timeline begins with the triggering event and goes from left to right. We begin with attentional control but move increasingly toward cognitive change.

In attentional control, during the moments right after being triggered, we recommend to stop, breathe, and notice, which corresponds to calming the mind and observing the emotional experience in the body. In addition to those, there are other things you can try that may work better for you. One is the standard practice of counting to ten, which is a more deliberate way of invoking the sacred pause. This practice also has the benefit of giving your mind something else to do, thus temporarily distracting it from emotions until it is capable of handling the situation. Another practice is to take slow, deep breaths. Taking deep breaths induces a calming effect, possibly because it stimulates the vagus nerve, which is known to reduce heart rate and blood pressure (I imagine it must be the opposite of the Las Vegas nerve). Lastly, if it gets too overwhelming, you can temporarily distract yourself totally by focusing on something entirely unrelated to the trigger, such as staring at reading materials you have at hand, or perhaps excusing yourself from the room by taking a restroom break (“Break free, go pee”).

Attentional control is good and necessary, but often insufficient. Even if your mind is so highly trained that you can let go of the distress and return to calm very quickly, the issues behind the trigger will remain unresolved and you will still be similarly triggered in the future. Hence, cognitive work is also necessary. Cognitive work here means reframing and reinterpreting the meaning of the situation. It almost always involves seeing things more objectively and with more compassion toward self and others. The cognitive practices we recommend are to reflect and respond, which are reflecting on how this trigger connects with your own past and how it must seem from the other person’s point of view, and deciding what your optimal response would be if you had a choice.

In addition to these, if it works for you, you can also try seeing positives in this trigger. For example, you just blew up in front of your new boyfriend and are surprised at the level of emotion. This is a perfect time to let things calm down and create space so you can both talk about it, using the situation as an opportunity to help him know you more deeply as a person. Or perhaps this is an opportunity for self-discovery. For example, if you already have a mature meditation practice and something your boss says suddenly makes you feel very vulnerable (“like I’m five years old again”), you have just received valuable education on which aspects of your meditation practice you need to focus. Finally, a more advanced but highly effective practice is to apply kindness and compassion in the situation. This is something we will explore in Chapters 7 and 8.

The final piece of the framework is creating a willingness to experience and accept the emotions—in a way, opening up the heart and mind so they become big enough to effortlessly contain any emotion, like the sky effortlessly containing any cloud. We suggest two practices for this. The first is something Marc Lesser calls “meshing,” or visualizing yourself as porous as a mesh screen. As you encounter strong feelings welling up (for example, anger, resentment, fear), let these feelings pass through your body. You can observe these intense feelings moving through you, not sticking to you, and see that they are separate from you. The second, which is my own practice, is to pretend my life is a sitcom and appreciate the humor in every absurd situation. In my life, I have found myself in many unpleasant situations, and most of them can be scenes in a bad comedy, especially bad situations of my own making.


[5]Kevin Ochsner and James Gross, “The Cognitive Control of Emotion,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9, no. 5 (2005): 242–249.

From Self-Regulation to Self-Confidence

Whenever we experience unpleasant emotions, our first instinct is aversion. We do not want these unpleasant feelings; we want them to go away. As a result of this aversion, we shift our thoughts externally toward the other person or environment instead of toward ourselves. For example, when we feel hurt, our thoughts are dominated by how awful the other person is, all because we want to avoid experiencing unpleasant emotions. This process is usually unconscious to most of us.

If, however, through mindfulness and other practices, we bring conscious awareness to this process, then we can see that our externally directed negative thoughts arise mostly from our aversion. Given that insight, if we also develop the capacity to experience our own unpleasant feelings, we may tame aversion, which in turn may tame ruminations and obsessive thoughts. Once we create within ourselves the ability to tame such thoughts, we increase self-confidence.

Earlier in the self-awareness chapter, we talked about how self-confidence can arise from deep understanding of our failure mode and recovery mode. In my engineer’s mind, I think of skillfulness in self-regulation as an upgrade to my recovery mechanism. By knowing exactly how a system recovers after failure, I can be confident in it even when it fails because I know the conditions in which the system can come back quickly enough that failure is inconsequential. If, in addition to that, I can upgrade the recovery mechanisms such that it can recover much faster and more cleanly (that is, causing fewer problems), then I can have even more confidence in it and can subject it to even more interesting and challenging environments. We can think of the practices in this chapter as upgrading our recovery mode.

That is how the practices in this chapter can increase our self-confidence.

Jason, a Search Inside Yourself participant, learned to use the insights of self-regulation to improve his own self-confidence. He considered himself a person who gets triggered extremely easily and, consequently, often found himself in socially difficult situations. During Search Inside Yourself, he learned that being triggered can be a “time-limited” experience once he learned to bring attention to his breathing and to stop feeding his monsters. He discovered that all he had to do was calmly experience the unpleasantness by “riding things out” and “letting my body reset” for fifteen to thirty minutes, and then his “view would open up again” and his mind would be clear enough to think properly once more. He also discovered he could gradually shrink the time it takes to “reset” with mindfulness training. Consequently, he gained confidence in himself.

One unintended happy consequence of this was, in his own words, “If I didn’t learn all this, I would have quit my job and regretted it.” Jason was a skillful engineer, so he was not the only beneficiary of that decision; Google also benefitted by getting to keep him.

Making Friends with Emotions

Ultimately, self-regulation is about making friends with our emotions. All the practices and techniques mentioned in this chapter—the Siberian North Railroad, not feeding monsters, seeing positives in triggers, and so on—point toward befriending our emotions.

Mingyur Rinpoche provides a powerful personal example of befriending emotions. He suffered from full-blown panic disorder until the age of thirteen. When he was thirteen and in the middle of a meditation retreat, Mingyur decided to look deep into his panic. He realized there are two ways to make his panic bigger and stronger: treating it like a boss and obeying its every order, or treating it like an enemy and wishing it to go away. Mingyur decided he would, instead, learn to make friends with panic, neither taking orders from it nor wishing it to go away, but just allowing it to come and go at will and treating it with kindness. In just three days, his panic went away, permanently. “Panic became my best friend, but it was gone in three days, so now I miss my friend,” he half-joked to me. Here he describes the insight he gained from this exercise:

For three days I stayed in my room meditating. Gradually I began to recognize how feeble and transitory the thoughts and emotions that had troubled me for years actually were, and how fixating on small problems had turned them into big ones. Just by sitting quietly and observing how rapidly, and in many ways illogically, my thoughts and emotions came and went, I began to recognize in a direct way that they weren’t nearly as solid or real as they appeared to be. And once I began to let go of my belief in the story they seemed to tell, I began to see the “author” beyond them—the infinitely vast, infinitely open awareness that is the nature of mind itself.[6]

The great Persian Sufi poet Rumi beautifully describes the mind of befriending emotions in his famous poem, “Guest House”:

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond

Inspired by Rumi and Mingyur, and also because I am an engineer pretending to be a poet, I would like to end this chapter with a poem I wrote titled “My Monsters”:

My monsters come in different shapes and sizes.
Over the years, I have learned to deal with them.
I do that by letting go.

First, I let go of my wish to suppress them.
When they arrive, I acknowledge them.
I let them be.

Next, I let go of my instinct to vilify them.
I seek to understand them.

I see them for who they are.
They are merely creations of my body and mind.
I humor them a little.
I joke with them.
I joke about them.
I let them play.

Then, I let go of my desire to feed them.
They may play here all they want.
But they get no food from me.
They are free to stay here hungry, if they want.
I continue to let them be.
Then they get really hungry.
And sometimes they leave.

Finally, I let go of my desire to hold on to them.
They are free to leave as they wish.
I let them go.
I am free.
For now.

I do not overcome them.
They do not overcome me.
And we live together.
In harmony


“I know they’re now good friends with you and all, but must they hang out here so often?”

[6]Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness (New York: Harmony, 2007).


Chapter Three: Mindfulness Without Butt on Cushion—Extending the Benefits of Mindfulness beyond Sitting


Mindfulness, I declare, is useful everywhere.

Mindfulness may be one of the most important things you can ever learn in your life. But don’t take it from me. Here’s what William James, the father of modern psychology, had to say:

And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.[1] (emphasis by original author)

There you have it. Mindfulness is the skill that gives you the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again, and as William James said, it is “the education par excellence,” the best thing you can learn. I hope that makes you feel better about spending money on this book.

In the previous chapter, we learned that mindfulness meditation is a key tool in developing emotional intelligence. In this chapter we will learn ways to extend mindfulness into every aspect of our daily lives. The mind of calmness and clarity you experience while sitting in mindfulness meditation is very nice, but it only becomes life changing when you can bring up that mind on demand, in day-to-day life. This chapter shows you how. I hope that makes you feel really good about spending money on this book.


“May I be excused from class? I’ve lost my mind.”

[1]James, The Principles of Psychology.

In General, Generalize Mindfulness

One of the most important things a mindfulness meditator needs to do is extend the benefits of mindfulness beyond sitting into every part of life. During sitting meditation, you may experience some degree of calmness, clarity, and happiness, and the challenge is to generalize that mind into life situations outside formal sitting meditation.

The good news is the benefits of mindfulness training are already naturally generalizable or, put another way, easily incorporated into all areas of our lives. For example, your attention naturally gravitates toward things that are either very pleasant or very unpleasant, so if you can train yourself to keep your attention on something as neutral as your breath, then you can keep your attention on anything else. Your breath is like New York City for your attention—if your attention can make it here, it can make it anywhere. Hence, if you become very good at settling attention on breathing, you may find yourself able to pay much better attention in class or at meetings. Renowned meditation teacher Shaila Catherine told me that after she learned to meditate intensely during college, she never received any grade below an A.

That is the good news. The better news is there are things you can do to make your mindfulness training even more applicable to other areas of life.

There are two areas in which you can naturally and immediately start to integrate mindfulness. The first is to extend from mindfulness at rest to mindfulness during activity. The second is to extend from self-directed mindfulness to other-directed mindfulness. If you like, you can think of it as extending, or generalizing, mindfulness along two dimensions: one from rest to activity and the other from self to others. In the following few sections, I will suggest exercises for each.

Mindfulness in Activity

The best place to practice mindfulness is in daily life. Once you are able to bring mindfulness into every moment of daily life, your quality of life may change dramatically. Thich Nhat Hanh illustrates this beautifully with his description of the simple experience of walking:

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.[2]

When in mindfulness, even the simple experience of walking on earth can be a beautiful miracle.

In my own experience, mindfulness can increase my happiness without changing anything else. We take for granted many of the neutral things in life, such as not being in pain, having three meals a day, and being able to walk from point A to point B. In mindfulness, these become causes of joy because we no longer take them for granted. In addition, pleasant experiences become even more pleasant because our attention is there to fully experience them. For example, a delicious meal when consumed in mindfulness becomes more enjoyable simply because you put your full attention into enjoying the meal. When living in mindfulness, neutral experiences tend to become pleasant, and pleasant experiences become more pleasant. There is no cost or downside (nor down payment). What a great deal.

Once, when I was quite young, my father took the family to an expensive Chinese restaurant and ordered some of the signature dishes. During the meal, I caught myself giving the experience my full attention, partly because the meal was indeed very tasty, partly because it was so expensive, and partly because I considered it a fairly rare experience. It wasn’t every day that we splurged on food. Because of all that, I found myself deep in mindfulness during the meal. And then it occurred to me, why did I have to be this mindful only during expensive meals? What if I pretended that every meal was rare and expensive, and gave it as much attention as I could? I call it the Expensive Food Meditation. I have been practicing it at most meals ever since, which is kind of ironic since I eat most of my meals at Google and food at Google is free.

If you have no other practice but sitting, the mindfulness will eventually grow into daily life and give you a no-cost, zero-down-payment happiness boost. However, you can accelerate this generalization process by purposefully bringing mindfulness to activity. The simplest way to do it is to bring full moment-to-moment attention to every task with a nonjudgmental mind, and every time attention wanders away, just gently bring it back. It is just like sitting meditation, except the object of meditation is the task at hand rather than the breath. That is all.

For those who prefer a more formal practice, the best such practice I know of is walking meditation. The nice thing about formal walking meditation is that it has the dignity, focus, and rigor of sitting meditation, but it is done in motion and necessarily with eyes opened (otherwise, it will become bumping-into-people-and-things meditation), so it is highly conducive to bringing the mental calmness of sitting meditation into activity. In fact, this is such a useful practice that in many formal meditation trainings, students are asked to alternate between sitting and walking meditation.

Walking meditation is really as simple as it sounds. When walking, bring full moment-to-moment attention to every movement and sensation in the body, and every time attention wanders away, just gently bring it back.


Walking Meditation

Start by standing still. Bring attention to this body. Become aware of the pressure on the feet as they touch the ground. Take a moment to experience this body standing on the ground.

Now, take a step forward. Lift one foot mindfully, move it forward mindfully, plant it down in front of you mindfully, and shift your weight to this foot mindfully. Take a short pause, and do it with the other foot.

If you like, when lifting your foot, you may repeat silently to yourself, “Lifting, lifting, lifting,” and when moving and planting your foot forward, you may repeat silently to yourself, “Moving, moving, moving.”

After taking a number of steps, you may wish to stop and turn around. When you decide to stop, just take a few seconds to become mindful of your body in a standing position. If you like, you may repeat silently to yourself, “Standing, standing, standing.” As you turn around, do it mindfully, and if you like, you may repeat silently to yourself, “Turning, turning, turning.”

If you wish, you may synchronize your movement with your breathing. When lifting your foot, breathe in, and when moving and planting your foot, breathe out. Doing this may help inject calmness into the experience.

You do not have to walk slowly when doing walking meditation; it can be done at any speed. This means you can do walking meditation every time you walk.

For myself, I do it every time I walk from my office to the restroom and back. I found mindful walking to be restful for the mind, and a relaxed mind is conducive to creative thinking. Hence, I find this very useful for my work, which often requires some creative problem solving, so every time I take a restroom break, my mind gets the opportunity to rest into a creative state. Problems often get solved in my mind during my restroom breaks. (Yes, I seem most productive during breaks, so maybe my employer should pay me to take breaks. Boss, I hope you are reading this.)

It is advantageous for us that pacing is accepted in our culture. It means you can do walking meditation any time of the day, and people will think you are just pacing. You do not even have to wait for restroom breaks to do walking meditation.


Dog-Walking Meditation

[2]Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness.

Other-Directed Mindfulness

A beautiful way to practice mindfulness, which is almost guaranteed to improve your social life, is to apply mindfulness toward others for the benefit of others. The idea is very simple—give your full moment-to-moment attention to another person with a nonjudgmental mind, and every time your attention wanders away, just gently bring it back. It is just like the meditation we have been practicing, except the object of meditation is the other person.

You can practice mindful listening either formally or informally. The formal practice involves creating an artificial environment for one person to speak while another listens mindfully. The informal practice is to listen mindfully to another person and generously give him or her the space to speak during any ordinary conversation.


Formal Practice of Mindful Listening

In this exercise, we will practice listening in a way that is different from how we usually listen.

We will do this in pairs, with a family member or a friend, each person taking turns to be the speaker and the listener.

Instructions for the speaker: This will be a monologue. You get to speak uninterrupted for 3 minutes. If you run out of things to say, that is fine; you can just sit in silence and whenever you have something to say, you may continue speaking again. The entire 3 minutes belong to you, you can use the time in whatever ways you want, and know that whenever you are ready to speak, there is a person ready to listen to you.

Instructions for the listener: Your job is to listen. When you listen, give your full attention to the speaker. You may not ask questions during these 3 minutes. You may acknowledge with facial expressions, by nodding your head, or by saying, “I see,” or “I understand.” You may not speak except to acknowledge. Try not to over-acknowledge, or you might end up leading the speaker. And if the speaker runs out of things to say, give her the space for silence, and then be available to listen when she speaks again.

Let us have one person speak and one listen for 3 minutes and then switch over for another 3 minutes. After that, have a 3-minute meta-conversation, in which both of you talk about what this experience was like for you.

Suggested topics for the monologue:

  • What are you feeling right now?
  • What is something that happened today that you want to talk about?
  • Anything else you want to talk about.


Informal Practice of Mindful Listening

When a friend or loved one is speaking to you, adopt a generous attitude by giving this person the gift of your full attention and the gift of airtime. Remind yourself that because this person is so valuable to you, he or she is entitled to all your attention and all the space and time needed to express himself or herself.

As you listen, give your full attention to the speaker. If you find your attention wandering away, just very gently bring it back to the speaker, as if he or she is a sacred object of meditation. As much as possible, try to refrain from speaking, asking questions, or leading the speaker. Remember, you are giving him or her the valuable gift of airtime. You may acknowledge with facial expressions, or by nodding your head, or by saying, “I see,” or “I understand,” but try not to over-acknowledge so as to not lead the speaker. If the speaker runs out of things to say, give him or her space for silence, and then be available to listen when he or she speaks again.

When we do formal practice in class, the most common feedback is people really appreciate being listened to. We often do the formal exercise at the beginning of our seven-week Search Inside Yourself course, in which most participants start out not knowing each other. We frequently hear people telling us right after this exercise, “I got to know this person for six minutes, and we are already friends. Yet there are people who have been sitting in the next cubicle for months, and I don’t even know them.” This is the power of attention. Just giving each other the gift of total attention for six minutes is enough to create a friendship. My friend and fellow Search Inside Yourself teacher, the Zen master Norman Fischer said, “Listening is magic: it turns a person from an object outside, opaque or dimly threatening, into an intimate experience, and therefore into a friend. In this way, listening softens and transforms the listener.”[3]

Our attention is the most valuable gift we can give to others. When we give our full attention to somebody, for that moment, the only thing in the world that we care about is that person, nothing else matters because nothing else is strong within our field of consciousness. What can possibly be a more valuable gift than that? As usual, Thich Nhat Hanh put it most poetically: “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”[4]

If there are people in your life you care about, be sure to give them a few minutes of your full attention every day. They will bloom like flowers.


“I’m getting his full attention all right, but I don’t think I’m blooming.”

[3]Norman Fischer, Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2004).

[4]Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (New York: Riverhead, 1997).



Mindful Conversation

We can extend mindful listening into the extremely useful practice of mindful conversation. This practice came to us from our friends in the legal community and is especially useful in mediation. Specifically, master mediator Gary Friedman taught it to Zen master Norman Fischer, who in turn taught it to us at Google.

There are three key components to mindful conversation. The first and most obvious one is mindful listening, which we have already practiced. The second is something Gary called “looping,” short for “closing the loop of communication.” Looping is simple. Let’s say there are two people involved in this conversation—Allen and Becky—and it is Allen’s turn to speak. Allen speaks for a while, and after he is done speaking, Becky (the listener) loops back by saying what she thought she heard Allen say. After that, Allen gives feedback on what he thought was missing or misrepresented in Becky’s characterization of his original monologue. And they go back and forth until Allen (the original speaker) feels satisfied that he is correctly understood by Becky (the original listener). Looping is a collaborative project in which both people work together to help Becky (the listener) fully understand Allen (the speaker).

The third key component to mindful conversation is something Gary called “dipping,” or checking in with ourselves. The main reason we do not listen to others is that we get distracted by our own feelings and internal chatter, often in reaction to what the other person said. The best way to respond to these internal distractions is to notice and acknowledge them. Know that they are there, try not to judge them, and let them go if they are willing to go. If feelings or other internal distracters decide to stay around, let them be and just be aware of how they may affect your listening. You can think of dipping as self-directed mindfulness during listening.

Dipping is also useful for the speaker. As the speaker speaks, it is useful for her to dip and see what feelings arise as she is speaking. If she likes, she may talk about them, or if she prefers, simply acknowledge them, try not to judge them, and let them go if they are willing to go.

Our class participants often ask how we can give our full attention to somebody speaking and dip at the same time. The analogy we give is peripheral vision. When we are looking at something, we have central vision and peripheral vision. We can see the chosen object clearly (with central vision), and at the same time, we have a visual sense of what is around it (using peripheral vision). Similarly, we can think of our attention as having a central component and a peripheral component, so we can give our central attention to the other person for listening and still maintain a peripheral attention to ourselves for dipping.

You can practice mindful conversation either formally or informally. The formal practice involves creating an artificial environment for each person to practice the three techniques of listening, looping, and dipping. The informal practice is simply to use those techniques in everyday conversation.


Formal Practice of Mindful Conversation

The three parts to this skill are listening, looping, and dipping. Listening means giving the gift of attention to the speaker. Looping means closing the loop of communication by demonstrating that you have really heard what the person is saying. Do not try to remember everything: if you really listen, you will hear. Dipping means checking in with yourself, knowing how you are feeling about what you are hearing. Part of the practice is becoming able to give full attention to the speaker, with full awareness of your own feelings.


Part I: Monologue

Person A speaks in monologue for 4 minutes. When you are speaking, maintain some mindfulness on your body (this is the dipping part). The entire 4 minutes belong to you, so if you run out of things to say, you can both sit in silence, and when you have something else to say later, you may just say it.

Person B listens. Your job is to give your full attention to the speaker as a gift, while at the same time maintaining some mindfulness on your body (this is again the dipping part). You are giving him the gift of your attention, without losing awareness of your body. You may acknowledge, but do not over-acknowledge. You may not speak except to acknowledge.

Part II: Resolution

After that, B repeats back to A what she thinks she heard. B may start by saying, “What I heard you say was …” Immediately after, A gives feedback by telling B what he feels B got right or wrong (for example, what she missed, what she misrepresented, etc). Go back and forth until A is satisfied that he is completely understood by B. Do this for as long as it takes, or until 6 minutes are up. (This is the looping part).

Then we switch places, so B gets to be the speaker and A the listener.

After the exercise, spend 4 minutes in meta-conversation discussing the experience.

Some suggested topics for conversation:

  • Your self-assessment. Your impressions of yourself, what you like, what you want to change, etc.
  • A difficult situation that happened recently or a long time ago that you want to talk about.
  • Any other topic that is meaningful to you.

You can think of the informal practice of mindful conversation as the stealthy version of the formal practice. You do not have to tell your friend, “Hey, I want to try out this practice I read from a really nice book, so I’m going to loop you and dip myself.” That may be awkward. Instead, you can just say, “What you say sounds important. To make sure I understand you correctly, I would like to repeat to you what I think I heard. Let me know if my understanding is correct. Is that okay for you?” Most likely, your friend will really appreciate that because you are taking the time and trouble to listen and to understand him or her correctly. In making this request, you are implicitly demonstrating that you value and respect your friend.

This is very beneficial for relationships.


Informal Practice of Mindful Conversation

You can practice mindful conversation during any conversation, but it is most useful when communication is at an impasse, for example, in a conflict situation.

The three parts to this skill are listening, looping, and dipping. Listening means giving the gift of attention to the speaker. Looping means closing the loop of communication by demonstrating that you have really heard what the person is saying. Dipping means checking in with yourself, knowing how you are feeling about what you are hearing.

Begin with mindful listening (see page 59). Give the speaker the gift of your attention without losing awareness of your body. If any strong emotion arises, acknowledge it and, if possible, let it go. After the speaker is done expressing her views, make sure you fully understood by asking for permission to repeat back what you heard. You may say something like, “What you say sounds important. To make sure I understand you correctly, I would like to repeat to you what I think I heard. Let me know if my understanding is correct. Is that okay for you?” If the speaker says yes, repeat back what you heard and then invite the speaker to let you know what you understood correctly or incorrectly. After the speaker offers her input, repeat her corrections in your own words to make sure you understood those correctly. Repeat this process until the speaker is fully satisfied that she is understood.

After demonstrating that you understood the speaker, it is your turn to speak. If you are comfortable doing so, you may explain the looping process and respectfully invite the other person to participate if she wants to. You may say something like, “I want to make sure I do not miscommunicate anything, so if it is okay with you, after I speak, I’d like to invite you to let me know what you heard. Shall we do that?” If the other person accepts the invitation, you may apply the looping process.

Sustaining Your Practice

We have discussed mindfulness practices for developing a quality of mind that is calm and clear at the same time, and practices for extending that mindfulness into everyday situations. The keyword is practice. Mindfulness is like exercise—it is not sufficient to just understand the topic; you can only benefit from it with practice.

As an instructor, I found it fairly easy to get people started on mindfulness practice. I usually just need to show them the brain science, explain the benefits, introduce a short two-minute sitting, and voilà, people get it. That is the good news.

The bad news is after the first few days, many people find it hard to sustain the practice. Many of us start the first few days with great enthusiasm, committing ourselves to ten or twenty minutes a day of this wonderful practice, but after that initial enthusiasm, it starts to feel like a chore. You sit there bored and restless, wondering why time goes by so slowly, and then after a while, you decide you have more important and/or interesting things to do, such as getting stuff done or watching cats flush toilets on YouTube. And before you know it, you have lost your daily practice. One person who has a funny way of describing this state is the Tibetan meditation master His Eminence the Very Venerable Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (but hey, call him Mingyur, he insists). Talking about himself as a very young beginner, he said, “Although I liked the idea of meditation, I didn’t like the practice of meditation.”

How can we sustain a mindfulness practice?

Happily, the difficulty of sustaining a mindfulness practice often lasts only a few months. It is like starting an exercise regime. The first few months are usually really hard—you probably have to discipline yourself into exercising regularly, but after a few months, you find your quality of life changing dramatically. You have more energy, you suffer fewer sick days, you can get more stuff done, and you look better in the mirror. You feel great about yourself. Once you reach that point, you just cannot not do it anymore. The upgrade in quality of life is just too compelling. From that point on, your exercise regime becomes self-sustaining. Yes, you probably still have to cajole yourself into the gym every now and then, but it becomes fairly easy.

It is the same with sustaining a mindfulness practice. You probably need some discipline in the beginning, but after a few months, you may notice dramatic changes in quality of life. You become happier, calmer, more emotionally resilient, more energetic, and people like you more because your positivity emanates onto them. You feel great about yourself. And again, once you reach that point, it is so compelling, you just cannot not practice anymore. Yes, even a seasoned meditator needs to cajole herself onto the cushion every now and then, but it becomes fairly easy and habitual.

So how do you sustain your practice up to the point it becomes so compelling that it is self-sustaining? We have three suggestions:

  1. Have a buddy: We learned this from Norman Fischer, whom we jokingly call the Zen abbot of Google. Once again, we use the gym analogy. Going to the gym alone is hard, but if you have a gym buddy with whom you commit to going, you are much more likely to go regularly. This is partly because you have company and partly because this arrangement helps you encourage each other and hold each other accountable (what I jokingly call mutual harassment).

We suggest finding a mindfulness buddy and committing to a fifteen-minute conversation every week, covering at least these two topics:

  • How am I doing with my commitment to my practice?
  • What has arisen in my life that relates to my practice?

We also suggest ending the conversation with the question, how did this conversation go? We instituted this in Search Inside Yourself and found it very effective.

  1. Do less than you can: This lesson came from Mingyur Rinpoche. The idea is to do less formal practice than you are capable of. For example, if you can sit in mindfulness for five minutes before it feels like a chore, then do not sit for fiveminutes—just do three or four minutes, perhaps a few times a day. The reason is to keep the practice from becoming a burden. If mindfulness practice feels like a chore, it’s not sustainable. Yvonne Ginsberg likes to say, “Meditation is an indulgence.” I think her insight beautifully captures the core of Mingyur’s idea.

Do not sit for so long that it becomes burdensome. Sit often, for short periods, and your mindfulness practice may soon feel like an indulgence.

  1. Take one breath a day: I may be the laziest mindfulness instructor in the world because I tell my students all they need to commit to is one mindful breath a day. Just one. Breathe in and breathe out mindfully, and your commitment for the day is fulfilled; everything else is a bonus.

There are two reasons why one breath is important. The first is momentum. If you commit to one breath a day, you can easily fulfill this commitment and can then preserve the momentum of your practice. Later, when you feel ready for more, you can pick it back up easily. The second reason is creating the intention to meditate is itself a meditation.

This practice encourages you to generate an intention to do something kind and beneficial to yourself daily, and over time, that self-directed kindness becomes a valuable mental habit. When self-directed kindness is strong, mindfulness becomes easier.

Remember, one breath a day for the rest of your life. That is all I ask.

Lightness and Joy in Meditation

When I was new to meditation, I struggled with the simplest and silliest of all problems: I could not breathe. I mean, I could take in air and all during the normal course of the day, but when I tried consciously bringing my attention to my breath, I could not breathe properly. I was trying too hard.

One day, I decided I was going to stop trying hard. I was just going to sit, smile, and take note of my body while I sat, that was all. After just a few minutes of doing that, I fell into the state where I became alert and relaxed at the same time. And then I caught myself breathing normally. That was the first time I was able to pay attention to my breath and breathe properly at the same time. Only by not trying did I finally succeed. If I were a TV character, I would have looked up at the sky at that moment and sarcastically said, “Very funny.”

In a humorous way, meditation is like trying to fall asleep. The more relaxed you are, the less you are fixated on the goal, the easier it becomes, and the better the outcome. The reason for this is that meditation and falling asleep have one important feature in common: they both rely on letting go.

The better you are at letting go, the better you are at both meditating and falling asleep. That is why many meditation teachers tell their students to have no expectations about their practice, because being fixated on outcomes interferes with the letting-go mind. I think this approach is correct, but it creates a vexing problem: if people have no expectation of benefits, why would they want to practice at all?

The best solution I know was suggested by Alan Wallace: “Have expectations before meditation, but have no expectation during meditation.”[5] Solved. Simple, elegant solutions like this one warm the hearts of little old engineers like me.

Having a relaxed mind is very useful in meditation. Relaxation is the foundation of deep concentration. When the mind is relaxed, it becomes more calm and stable. These qualities in turn strengthen relaxation, thus forming a virtuous cycle. Paradoxically, deep concentration is built upon relaxation.

A similar mechanism works in the practice of mindfulness. I found lightness to be highly conducive to mindfulness. Lightness gives rise to ease of mind. When the mind is at ease, it becomes more open, perceptive, and nonjudgmental. These qualities deepen mindfulness, which in turn strengthens lightness and ease, thus forming a virtuous cycle of deepening mindfulness.

This insight suggests that a really good way to practice mindfulness is using joy as an object of meditation, especially the type of joy with a gentle quality that doesn’t overwhelm the senses. For example, taking a nice walk, holding hands with a loved one, enjoying a good meal, carrying a sleeping baby, or sitting with your child while she is reading a good book are great opportunities to practice mindfulness by bringing full moment-to-moment attention to the joyful experience, to the mind, and to the body. I call it Joyful Mindfulness.

The first effect of bringing mindfulness to joyful experiences is they become even more enjoyable, simply because you are more present to enjoy them—extra enjoyment at no additional cost. More importantly, I found this mindfulness gain to be generalizable. That means if you practice and strengthen mindfulness during joyful experiences, that gain in mindfulness infuses other experiences as well, so you end up with stronger mindfulness in neutral and unpleasant experiences too. (Having fun as a meditation, what a great deal!)

Having said that, it is important to note that Joyful Mindfulness is best practiced as a complement to, not a replacement for, formal sitting practice. Formal practice requires you to bring mindfulness to neutral experiences like your breath, and because attention naturally gravitates away from neutral experiences, that mindfulness gain is a lot more generalizable. So comparing formal sitting to Joyful Mindfulness, you find that the former gives you better mindfulness gain, but unfortunately, requires discipline, and discipline is a scarce resource. In contrast, Joyful Mindfulness gives you less mindfulness gain but is far more sustainable. Plus, it is fun, and nobody can argue with fun—I know I can’t. Hence, you can think of Joyful Mindfulness as the first gear of a car: it can easily move the car, but if you only use the first gear, you cannot go fast. In contrast, think of formal sitting as the higher gears: it is harder to get a stationary car to move using those gears, but they are the ones that get you good speed and mileage.

These two practices turn out to complement each other very well. Doing both practices every day is like making use of the full set of gears in your car: you can start the car moving smoothly and get a good speed.

More importantly, after a while, your formal meditation may be infused with a powerful quality known in Sanskrit as sukha. The most common translations for sukha are “bliss,” “ease,” and “happiness.” In my opinion, the best translation of sukha is its most technical translation: “non-energetic joy.” Sukha is a quality of joy not requiring energy. It is almost like white noise in the background, something that is always there but seldom noticed. There are two important implications of sukha’s non-energetic quality. The first is that it is highly sustainable because it does not require exertion of energy. The second is that because it does not require energy, it is so subtle that it takes a very quiet mind to access, like a soft background hum that is audible only when nobody in the room is talking loudly. What that means is you need to learn to quiet your mind to access sukha, but once you become skillful at doing that, you have a highly sustainable source of happiness that does not require sensual input. Talk about life changing.

Almost all seasoned meditators I know arrive at sukha at some point in their meditative careers. However, my own experience suggests that Joyful Mindfulness accelerates sukha in formal sitting. I theorize that practicing Joyful Mindfulness got my mind accustomed to ease, humor, and lightness, thus allowing it to connect with sukha more readily during formal practice. That sukha then quietly infuses my daily life and makes daily experiences a bit more joyful, thereby increasing the frequency and intensity of joyful experiences that I can use for Joyful Mindfulness practice. And thus, another happy, virtuous cycle is formed. Joyful Mindfulness works great by itself, but it becomes very powerful in combination with formal mindfulness practice.

[5]Personal communication.

Mastering Both Focused and Open Attention

There are two complementary qualities of physical fitness: strength and stamina. To be a well-rounded athlete, it is good to have both. Similarly, there are two complementary qualities of attention: focused attention and open attention. To be an accomplished meditator, it is good to be strong in both.

Focused attention is an intense focus on a chosen object. It is stable, strong, and unwavering. It is like sunlight focused with a lens shining intensely on a single point. It is like a solid piece of rock, majestically unmoved by the distraction of the wind. It is a mind like a closely guarded royal palace where only the most honored guests are allowed to enter and all others are courteously but firmly turned away.

Open attention is a quality of attention willing to meet any object that arrives at the mind or the senses. It is open, flexible, and inviting. It is like ambient sunlight, lending itself to anything and everything. It is like grass, always swaying gently in the wind. It is like water, willing to take on any shape at any time. It is a mind like an open house with a friendly host, where anybody who walks in is welcomed as an honored guest.

The good news is when you are doing mindfulness meditation, you are training both focused attention and open attention at the same time. (Two for the price of one!) That is because mindfulness meditation includes both components. There is the element of moment-to-moment attention that you keep bringing back, which trains focused attention. There is also the element of non-judging and letting go, which trains open attention. Hence, if you only do mindfulness meditation, you will be just fine.

Having said that, however, we found it very useful for our participants to experience the difference between them and to acquire the tools to emphasize training of one or the other if they so choose. The exercise we created is similar to circuit training that some athletes use. Circuit training is a combination of high-intensity cardio and resistance training in the same session. One common way to do it is for trainees to run around a track (cardio) and then stop to do push-ups (resistance), and then run around the track again, and then stop to do sit-ups (resistance), and so on. Trainees alternate between cardio and resistance training, hence developing both strength and stamina at the same time.

In the same way, our circuit training starts with a focused attention exercise for three minutes, and then we go to an open attention exercise for three minutes, and so on. We usually do this for twelve minutes, plus two minutes each of resting the mind on the breath at the beginning and at the end. Here are the instructions we use.


Meditation Circuit Training

Let us begin by sitting comfortably in a position that enables you to be both relaxed and alert at the same time, whatever that means to you.

Let us rest the mind. If you like, you can visualize the breath to be a resting place, or a cushion, or a mattress, and let the mind rest on it.

(Short pause)

Let us shift into focused attention. Bring your attention to your breath, or any other object of meditation you choose. Let this attention be stable like a rock, undisturbed by any distraction. If the mind is distracted, gently but firmly bring the mind back. Let’s continue this exercise for the remainder of 3 minutes.

(Long pause)

Now we shift into open attention. Bring your attention to whatever you experience and whatever comes to mind. Let this attention be flexible like grass moving in the wind. In this mind, there is no such thing as a distraction. Every object you experience is an object of meditation. Everything is fair game. Let us continue this exercise for the remainder of 3 minutes.

(Long pause)

(Shift to focused attention for 3 minutes. Then shift to open attention for 3 minutes.)

Let us end this sitting by resting the mind. If you like, you can again visualize the breath to be a resting place, or a cushion, or a mattress, and let the mind rest on it.

(Long pause)

Thank you for your attention.

There are a few important features common to both focused and open attention. These features are also common with the original mindfulness meditation we practiced earlier.

The first feature is strong meta-attention (attention of attention). This is because in either meditation, you maintain clear awareness of the movement (or non-movement) of your attention. Hence with enough practice, meta-attention can be strong whether in moving mind (open attention) or still mind (focused attention). The second feature, closely related to the first one, is clarity and vividness of attention. In either meditation, attention can be maintained at high clarity. The analogy is a good torchlight, which can be equally bright whether you shine it at one spot or move it around the room.

The third feature is both meditations require a balance of effort and relaxation. In either case, too much effort makes it tiring and unsustainable, while too little effort causes you to lose your grip on your attention. The classical analogy for this balance is having just the right tension on the strings of a sitar. If the strings are too tight, they break easily, but if they are too loose, they cannot produce beautiful notes. So the strings need to be in the “Goldilocks zone” of being not too tight and not too loose.

I suggest one fun way of maintaining this balance is to play it like a video game. When playing a game on the Xbox, it is most fun when the difficulty setting makes the game just difficult enough to be challenging but not so difficult that you will lose every time. So I like to start a game at a beginner setting and increase the difficulty as I get better at it. We can play the same way in meditation, especially because we get to control the difficulty setting. Initially, we can make the game easy. For example, we can tell ourselves, “If I can sit for just five minutes, and I can maintain a solid attention on my breath for ten continuous breaths anytime during these five minutes, I win!” If you can beat the game at this difficulty setting, say, 90 percent of the time, you can increase the difficulty setting for more fun. Once again, the key is to create just enough difficulty to be challenging, but not enough to discourage you. One funny thing I discovered about playing this game is after I became quite good at it, the lowest difficulty setting became really fun. That setting for me is, “Just rest my mind for ten minutes, in an alert sort of way.” That’s it, just rest. I like it so much that I still play at this setting a lot in between days when I play the more challenging games. It is a game in which the easiest setting never gets boring.

“I got you this book on mindfulness meditation instead of an Xbox. It’s just as fun!”

The final feature, closely related to the third feature, is that in either meditation it is possible to get into a very good state of ease and flow. When you are engaged in an activity you are very good at, such as skiing, dancing, or writing code, and if you are in a state where your full attention is on the activity and it is fun, easy, and sufficiently challenging at the same time, then you may get into a state of flow in which you are performing at your best yet your mind is at ease. Similarly, with enough practice, it is possible to become skillful at playing with attention and getting into a state of flow when it feels fun and easy at the same time, just by sitting. Very cool.

Zen and a Walking Baby

One of the best analogies I have ever come across for meditation practice is a baby learning to walk.

I remember my daughter taking her first step when she was about nine months old. One beautiful step. One step was all she could manage before she would fall, in the über-cute way that only babies can fall. (Everybody say, “Awwwww.”) Eventually, she graduated from one step to two steps. And then she plateaued for a while. For a couple of months, she could walk no more than one or two steps before she would fall. (Awwwww.) Then a few days after her first birthday, I noticed her walking four steps. That same day, she doubled that achievement and maxed out at eight steps. (Yes, I measured—I’m an engineer.) The next day, she seemed to plateau at eight steps, but in the late afternoon, she managed sixteen steps before she fell. In the evening, she exceeded thirty steps. Once she broke that barrier, she could walk. On that day, she mastered walking. (Awwwww.)

I found an important similarity between that experience and my own meditation practice. There seem to be two stages in one’s meditation progress. I call the two stages “initial access” and “consolidation.” The initial access stage is when you find yourself able to access a certain state of mind, but you cannot maintain that mind for very long. For example, you may serendipitously find yourself in a state of mind where you are very calm and alert, and feel a deep sense of joy permeating your mind, but after just a few minutes, you lose it. This stage is like a baby taking her very first step. The baby is finally able to access the experience of walking. She finally knows what it feels like, but it only lasts a single step, maybe two, and then it is over.

The consolidation stage is the long process of going from walking one step to being able to walk around the house. For a meditator, it is becoming able to bring up a state of mind on demand, at a desired intensity and duration. Progress in this stage seems to be an exponential function that looks like a hockey stick on a graph, which means that you go for a frustratingly long time seemingly without any meaningful progress, and then suddenly—boom—within a very short period, you make huge progress and arrive at full consolidation. It’s like my daughter plateauing at two steps for months and then suddenly, in the space of two days, becoming able to walk. To the casual observer, it may look like she learned to walk in just two days, but in reality, she did it over three months. It is her constant practice over three months that enabled the last two days of sudden progress and mastery.

I think the lesson to be learned is to avoid feeling discouraged when your meditation does not seem to be progressing. If you understand the process, you may understand that when change does come, it will come suddenly, and every moment of effort brings you a little closer to that point. The classical analogy is ice breaking up on a frozen lake. To a casual observer, the breakup seems like a sudden phenomenon, but it is actually due to a long period of gradual melting of the underlying ice structure. In Zen, we call it gradual effort and sudden enlightenment.

So the next time you see a baby learn to walk, pay some attention. That baby is really a Zen master teaching you a thing or two about progress in your meditation. (Everybody say, “Awwwww.”)


Chapter Four: All-Natural, Organic Self-Confidence—Self-Awareness That Leads to Self-Confidence


You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.
—Albert Einstein

Once upon a time in ancient India, a thief running away from guards noticed a beggar sleeping in a dark alley. He secretly put the small but priceless piece of jewelry he had just stolen into the pocket of the beggar. He then ran away, intending to come back and steal from the beggar after he outran the guards. Overnight, the thief was accidentally killed during a struggle with the guards. The beggar was now a rich man. In his pocket, he had enough wealth to live comfortably for life, but he never once checked his own pocket, so he never knew. He lived the rest of his life as a beggar.

You never know what you will find when you look within—there may be hidden treasures.

hapter Four – All-Natural, Organic Self-Confidence—Self-Awareness That Leads to Self-Confidence

Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)

by  Chade-Meng Tan

HarperCollins © 2012 Citation




This chapter is about looking within ourselves. If the whole chapter can be encapsulated in a single word, that word is clarity. Deepening self-awareness is about developing clarity within oneself. There are two specific qualities we like to develop—resolution and vividness—as illustrated by the pictures above.

The picture on the right is different from the picture on the left in two ways. First, the resolution is higher, so we can see a lot more details. Second, there is more brightness and contrast, so we can see the image more vividly. The combination of resolution and vividness makes the image more useful to us. In the same way, the practices in this chapter will help us perceive our emotions more clearly in two ways. Firstly, we can increase the resolution (or precision) at which we perceive our emotions, so we can see emotions the moments they arise and cease, and subtle changes in between. Secondly, we increase their brightness and contrast so we can see them more vividly than before. This combination will give us very useful high-fidelity information about our emotional life.

About Self-Awareness

Daniel Goleman defines self-awareness as “knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions.”[1] I like this description because it suggests that self-awareness goes beyond insight into one’s moment-to-moment emotional experience; it expands into a broader domain of “self,” such as understanding our own strengths and weaknesses and being able to access our own inner wisdom.

Self-awareness is the key domain of emotional intelligence that enables all the others. This is because self-awareness engages the neocortex (the thinking brain) in the process of emotion. Self-awareness maps onto areas of the thinking brain that have to do with self-focused attention and language, so when we are engaged in strong self-awareness, those areas of the brain light up, and that can mean the difference between screaming at some guy or being able to stop and tell yourself, “I cannot scream at that guy; he is the CEO!” Our engagement of the neocortex in every experience of emotion is a necessary step in gaining control over our emotional lives. Mingyur Rinpoche has a poetic metaphor for describing it, he says the moment you can see a raging river, it means you are already rising above it. Similarly, the moment you can see an emotion, you are no longer fully engulfed in it.

[1]Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence.

Chapter Four – All-Natural, Organic Self-Confidence—Self-Awareness That Leads to Self-Confidence

Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)

by  Chade-Meng Tan

HarperCollins © 2012 Citation



Self-Awareness Competencies

Daniel Goleman defines the concept of emotional competence as “a learned capability based on emotional intelligence that results in outstanding performance at work.”[2] He suggests that there are three emotional competencies under the domain of self-awareness:

  1. Emotional awareness: Recognizing one’s emotions and their effects
  2. Accurate self-assessment: Knowing one’s strengths and limits
  3. Self-confidence: A strong sense of one’s self-worth and capabilities

The key difference between emotional awareness and accurate self-assessment is that the former operates mostly at the level of physiology and the latter operates mostly at the level of meaning. Emotional awareness is my accurately perceiving emotions in my body, knowing where they come from, and understanding how they affect my behavior. Accurate self-assessment, in contrast, goes beyond the emotions I feel and includes knowledge into myself as a human being. It asks questions like: What are my strengths and weaknesses? What are my resources and limitations? What matters to me? Accurate self-assessment builds on emotional awareness.

Each of these three competencies is very useful at work and in life. We discussed in Chapter 1 how a strong emotional awareness, particularly in the body, enhances our access to our intuition. Emotional awareness also has direct implications on our self-motivation. We can best motivate ourselves by aligning what we do with our innermost values, and strong emotional awareness gives us conscious access to those values. We will explore this in more detail in Chapter 6 when we look into motivation.

Emotional awareness may even have a direct impact on the bottom line. For example, organizational psychologists Cary Cherniss and Robert Caplan reported that teaching emotional awareness skills to financial advisors at American Express Financial Advisors resulted in more revenue per advisor.[3] Those financial advisors learned to identify their own emotional reactions in challenging situations and became more aware of unproductive self-talk that led to self-doubt and shame. Having that emotional awareness enabled them to employ coping strategies that eventually resulted in them becoming more effective at their work, earning more money for themselves, and presumably giving clients better financial advice. (Related: I taught my own financial advisor mindfulness meditation, and he thought I was just being nice.)

Accurate self-assessment is also referred to as “self-objectivity.” It is useful for everyone, but especially useful for managers. Quoting Daniel Goleman:

Among several hundred managers from twelve different organizations, Accurate Self-Assessment was the hallmark of superior performance. Individuals with the Accurate Self-Assessment competence are aware of their abilities and limitations, seek out feedback and learn from their mistakes, and know where they need to improve and when to work with others who have complementary strengths. Accurate Self-Assessment was the competence found in virtually every “star performer” in a study of several hundred knowledge workers—computer scientists, auditors and the like—at companies such as AT&T and 3M. On 360-degree competence assessments, average performers typically overestimate their strengths, whereas star performers rarely do; if anything, the stars tended to underestimate their abilities, an indicator of high internal standards.[4]

Essentially, none of us is perfect, and accurate self-assessment helps us become successful despite our limitations.

Self-confidence is a powerful competency. Norman Fischer has a lovely description of true self-confidence:

Self-confidence isn’t egotism.  When you are truly self-confident, you are flexible with regard to ego: you can pick up ego when necessary, but you can also put it down when necessary in order to learn something completely new through listening. And if you find that you can’t put ego down, at least you know that this is so. You can admit it to yourself. It takes profound self-confidence to be humble enough to recognize your own limitations without self-blame.[5]

Now that we have walked through a couple of chapters together, we have become almost like old friends, so it is time I share a dirty little secret with you: I am actually a very shy person. In fact, when I was growing up, I was shy and socially awkward, befitting the stereotype of the geeky kid who everybody predicted would grow up to be a successful engineer. Today, as an adult, even though I am still very shy, I find myself able to project a quiet but unmistakable self-confidence, whether I am meeting world leaders like Barack Obama, speaking to a large audience, or dealing with a traffic police officer. I watched the video of myself speaking at the United Nations, and I was amazed how confident I appeared. Heck, if I didn’t already know the guy on that video, I would have thought him to be very cool.

I am able to project that confidence not because I make the effort to look confident, but because I have a sense of humor about my ego, or my own sense of self-importance. In most situations, when interacting with people, I let my ego become small, humble, and mostly irrelevant, while focusing on bringing kindness and benefit to whomever I am interacting with. At the same time, I let my ego grow to whatever size that allows me to be unintimidated by whomever I am interacting with, whether it is Bill Clinton, Natalie Portman, a traffic cop, or a large audience watching me on YouTube. In that sense, I think of self-confidence as the ability to be as big as Mount Fuji and as small as an insignificant grain of sand at the same time. I let my ego be simultaneously big and small, and I quietly laugh at its absurdity. That is a shy engineer’s secret to self-confidence.


Unsurprisingly, self-confidence also turns out to be very useful for work. There are many studies showing the importance of self-confidence in outstanding work performance. For example, one study by a well-known expert in emotional intelligence, Richard Boyatzis, shows self-conidence to be a distinguishing factor separating the best managers from the merely average ones.[6] In fact, a large meta-analysis of 114 studies shows self-efficacy (a form of self-confidence) to correlate positively with work performance and suggests it may be even more effective than strategies like goal setting, which are widely known to improve work performance.[7]

From Emotional Awareness to Self-Confidence

An easy way to get an injection of self-confidence is to attend a motivational speech where some guy speaking perfect English without my funny accent shouts at you and tells you how great you are, “You can succeed! You are great! You can do it!” And everybody claps. And we all go home feeling great about ourselves, for three days, maybe. In my experience, however, the only highly sustainable source of self-confidence comes from deep self-knowledge and blatant self-honesty.

In my engineer’s mind, I think of it as understanding two important modes I operate in: my failure mode and my recovery mode. If I can understand a system so thoroughly I know exactly how it fails, I will also know when it will not fail. I can then have strong confidence in the system, despite knowing it is not perfect, because I know what to adjust for in each situation.

In addition, if I also know exactly how the system recovers after failure, I can be confident even when it fails because I know the conditions in which the system can come back quickly enough that the failure becomes inconsequential. Similarly, by understanding those things about my mind, my emotions, and my capability, I can gain confidence in myself despite my numerous failings and despite looking like I do.

I had an opportunity to put this to the test when I recently spoke at the World Peace Festival in Berlin. I was especially nervous about being on a closing plenary panel because all the other participants were ten times cooler than I was. They were a Nobel peace laureate, a government minister, a renowned philanthropist, and my friend Deepak Chopra, while I was just some guy from Google. I felt like a kid sitting at the adults’ table. Worse, I usually had to spend a lot of time preparing for public speaking because it took me conscious mental processing to properly articulate English words. It was challenging for me to be speaking and thinking at the same time. On this occasion, I had no idea what the panel moderator would ask me until literally one minute before the event began, so I could not adequately prepare.

Happily, my mindfulness training kicked in. First, I remembered to treat my ego with humor and let it be small enough that my “self” did not matter, but big enough that I felt perfectly comfortable speaking alongside a Nobel peace laureate at a peace conference as an equal. Then I remembered my strengths and limitations—for example, I knew I was an expert at wisdom practices in a corporate setting but knew nothing about creating national peace infrastructures, so I focused on adding value where I could contribute the most. I also reminded myself that my main strength was my ability to contribute to an atmosphere of peace and humor in a room, so I stayed in a meditative state of Joyful Mindfulness (see Chapter 3) as much as I could. Finally, I understood my most immediate failure mode, which was stumbling on English words while speaking, and my recovery mode strategy, which was to breathe deeply, smile, maintain mindfulness, and not let my occasional faltering bother me. Employing all these self-awareness–based strategies, I was able to maintain my confidence the entire time. I am glad I learned this stuff.

The type of deep self-knowledge and blatant self-honesty needed for sustainable self-confidence means having nothing to hide from oneself. It comes from accurate self-assessment. If we can assess ourselves accurately, we can clearly and objectively see our greatest strengths and our biggest weaknesses. We become honest to ourselves about our most sacred aspirations and darkest desires. We learn about our deepest priorities in life, what is important to us, and what is not important that we can let go. Eventually, we reach a point where we are comfortable in our own skins. There are no skeletons in our closets we do not already know about. There is nothing about ourselves we cannot deal with. This is the basis of self-confidence.

Accurate self-assessment, in turn, comes from strong emotional awareness. I think of it as receiving emotional data at a very high signal-to-noise ratio (that is, getting a clean signal). To strengthen our emotional awareness, we must carefully study our emotional experience. We are like a trainer studying a horse; the more we carefully observe the horse in different situations, the more we understand its tendencies and behaviors, and the more skillfully we can work with it. With that clarity, we create a space that allows us to view our own emotional lives as if seeing it as an objective third party. In other words, we gain objectivity, and we begin to perceive each emotional experience clearly and objectively as it is. This is the clean signal that creates the conditions for accurate self-assessment.

This suggests a simple linear relationship between the three emotional competencies of self-awareness—that strong emotional awareness leads to more accurate self-assessment, which in turn leads to higher self-confidence.

[2]Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence. See “Emotional Competence Framework” for the definition of self-awareness.

[3]Cary Cherniss and Daniel Goleman, The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace: How to Select for, Measure, and Improve Emotional Intelligence in Individuals, Groups, and Organizations (Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2001).

[4]Cherniss and Goleman, The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace.

[5]Fischer, Taking Our Places.

[6]Richard Boyatzis, The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance (New York: Wiley, 1982).

[7]Alexander Stajkovic and Fred Luthans, “Self-Efficacy and Work-Related Performance: A Meta-Analysis,” Psychological Bulletin 124, no. 2 (1998): 240–261.

Developing Self-Awareness

Some things in life are so glaringly obvious, they are hidden in plain sight. An example is the similarity between self-awareness and mindfulness. Compare, for example, the definitions of each by two giants in their respective fields:

Self-awareness  is a neutral mode that maintains self-reflectiveness even in the midst of turbulent emotions.
—Daniel Goleman[8]

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
—Jon Kabat-Zinn[9]

They are essentially talking about the same thing! Self-awareness (as defined by Dan) is mindfulness (as defined by Jon). This was actually the key insight that led me to develop Search Inside Yourself. Being a practitioner myself, I already knew that mindfulness is trainable, and if self-awareness is essentially mindfulness, then self-awareness must also be trainable in similar ways. Eureka! It was this insight and following that line of inquiry that led my team and me to develop an entire curriculum for emotional intelligence.

The traditional analogy of this mind is a fluttering flag on a flagpole. The flag represents the mind. In the presence of strong emotions, the mind may be turbulent like a flag fluttering violently in the wind. The flagpole represents mindfulness—it keeps the mind steady and grounded despite all that emotional movement. This stability is what allows us to view ourselves with third-person objectivity.


Talking about the flag and the mind reminds me of a Zen joke. A large group of people gathered to listen to a talk by a Zen teacher. One guy in the audience got distracted by a fluttering flag and said, “Flag is moving.” Another guy said, “No, wind is moving.” The third guy, the wisest person in the audience said, “No, my friends, mind is moving.” A fourth guy, getting really annoyed, said, “Mouths are moving.”

Generic, plain vanilla mindfulness meditation alone can help you develop self-awareness. We feel, however, that formal practices can work even better, so we introduced two formal practices in our class, both based on mindfulness. The first one, Body Scan, functions at the level of physiology and works best for developing emotional awareness. The second, Journaling, functions at the level of meaning and works best for developing accurate self-assessment.

These two practices, by facilitating self-knowledge and self-honesty, also create the conditions for self-confidence.

Body Scan

In Chapter 1, we mentioned that emotion is a physiological experience, therefore the best way to create a high-resolution awareness of emotion is by applying mindfulness to the body. The simplest way to do it is to bring mindfulness to your body all the time. Every time you bring mindful attention to your body, you create conditions for neurological changes that allow you to become even more perceptive of your body, and consequently, of the process of emotion.

For those of you who like to do things systemically, there is a formal practice called body scan. It is one of the core practices in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s highly successful Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. The practice itself is very simple: we just systematically bring moment-to-moment non-judging attention to different parts of our bodies, starting from the top of our head and moving down to the tips of our toes (or vice versa), noticing all sensation or lack of sensation. Remember that the important thing is attention, not sensation. Hence, it does not matter if you experience sensation or not, it only matters that you pay attention.

In MBSR, depending on the teacher, this practice can last for twenty to forty-five minutes. In Search Inside Yourself, the practice is shorter, concentrating only on parts of the body most involved in the experience of emotion. In addition, because Search Inside Yourself is primarily an emotional intelligence course, we also invite participants to experience their physiological correlates of emotion during the second half of the sitting.


Body Scan

Settling Attention

Let us begin by sitting comfortably for 2 minutes. Sit in a position that enables you to be both relaxed and alert at the same time, whatever that means to you.

Now, let us breathe naturally and bring very gentle attention to the breath. You can either bring attention to the nostrils, the abdomen, or the entire body of breath, whatever that means to you. Become aware of in breath, out breath, and space in between.

Scan Body


Now bring your attention to the top of your head, ears, and back of your head. Notice sensations, or lack of sensations, for 1 minute.


Now move your attention to your face. Your forehead, eyes, cheeks, nose, lips, mouth, and inside of your mouth (gums, tongue) for 1 minute.

Neck and Shoulders

Move your attention to your neck, the inside of your throat, and your shoulders for 1 minute.


Move your attention to your lower back, mid back, and upper back for 1 minute. The back carries a lot of our load and stores a lot of our tension. So let us give our backs the kind and loving attention they deserve.


Now move your attention to the chest and stomach for 1 minute. If it is possible for you, try to bring attention to your internal organs, whatever that means to you.

Entire Body at Once

And now, bring your attention to your entire body all at once for 1 minute.

Scan for Emotion

Did you find any emotion in your body? If there is any, just notice its presence in the body. If not, just notice the absence of emotions, and catch one if it arises in the next 2 minutes.

Positive Emotion

Let us now try to experience a positive emotion in the body.

Bring to mind a memory of a happy, joyous event or a time when you were optimal and productive or a time when you felt confident.

Experience the feeling of positive emotion. Now, bring your attention to your body. What does that positive emotion feel like in the body? In the face? Neck, chest, back? How are you breathing? Any difference in level of tension? Let us just experience it for 3 minutes.

Returning to Grounding

Let us now return to the present. If you find an emotionally charged thought, just let it go.

Bring your attention to either your body or your breath, whichever your mind finds more stability in. And let’s just settle the mind there for 2 minutes.

(Long pause)

Thank you for your attention.

Notice that we only invite you to bring up a positive emotion in this exercise, not a negative one. We wait until the next chapter to do an exercise involving negative emotions because that is when we introduce tools for dealing with them. In class, we also do not want to ask our participants to bring up negative emotions without first introducing tools to manage them because doing so would upset our lawyers, and we like our lawyers.

I want to encourage everyone to try out the formal body scanning practice because it has many important benefits. First, it works better than just merely bringing mindfulness to day-to-day activities. The main reason is focus. When you are doing normal activities, you can likely only dedicate a small percentage of your attention to your body, unless you have a highly trained mind, like Thich Nhat Hanh does, or your activity involves devoting full attention to your body, as in competitive dancing, or you are Thich Nhat Hanh engaged in competitive dancing. In contrast, if you are doing nothing else but formal body scanning, you can focus far more of your attention to your body, and attention is what drives neurological change.

One of the participants in our Search Inside Yourself class is a manager called Jim. After a few weeks of practicing body scan, he told me, “I realized that I suppressed emotions into my body. That made me experience physical disablement that would frequently cause me to miss work. This practice has helped me come to work more frequently.” Jim has nine direct reports, so his practice benefited at least ten people at work. (“Jim” is not his real name, but I assure you he has a real body.)

“Scan your own body!”

A second benefit of body scan is it helps you sleep. I know that because in MBSR, participants practice body scan lying down, and in every class, at least one person ends up snoring (with everyone else thinking, “Stop snoring. I’m trying to meditate, damn it!”). I am not entirely sure why body scan is so conducive to sleep, but from my own experience, I can think of a few reasons. By bringing attention to the body, we are helping it relax. Very often, bodily tension builds up because we are not paying attention to the body, so the mere presence of attention corrects that problem. Also, body scan and other gentle, mindfulness-based exercises bring the mind to rest. So body scan relaxes both the body and the mind, and if you do it lying down, it is easy to fall asleep. If you have problems sleeping, this might help you.

[8]Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (New York: Bantam, 1995).

[9]Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are.

Chapter Four – All-Natural, Organic Self-Confidence—Self-Awareness That Leads to Self-Confidence

Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)

by  Chade-Meng Tan

HarperCollins © 2012 Citation



My Emotions Are Not Me

As we deepen our self-awareness, we eventually arrive at a very important key insight: we are not our emotions.

We usually think of our emotions as being us. This is reflected in the language we use to describe them. For example, we say, “I am angry” or “I am happy” or “I am sad,” as if anger, happiness, or sadness are us, or become who we are. To the mind, our emotions become our very existence.

With enough mindfulness practice, you may eventually notice a subtle but important shift—you may begin to feel that emotions are simply what you feel, not who you are. Emotions go from being existential (“I am”) to experiential (“I feel”). With even more mindfulness practice, there may be another subtle but important shift—you may begin to see emotions simply as physiological phenomena. Emotions become what we experience in the body, so we go from “I am angry” to “I experience anger in my body.”

This subtle shift is extremely important because it suggests the possibility of mastery over our emotions. If my emotions are who I am, then there is very little I can do about it. However, if emotions are simply what I experience in my body, then feeling angry becomes a lot like feeling pain in my shoulders after an extreme workout; both are just physiological experiences over which I have influence. I can soothe them. I can ignore them and go get some ice cream, knowing I will feel better in a few hours. I can experience them mindfully. Fundamentally, I can act on them because they are not my core being.

In meditative traditions, we have a beautiful metaphor for this insight. Thoughts and emotions are like clouds—some beautiful, some dark—while our core being is like the sky. Clouds are not the sky; they are phenomena in the sky that come and go. Similarly, thoughts and emotions are not who we are; they are simply phenomena in mind and body that come and go.

Possessing this insight, one creates the possibility of change within oneself.


  1. My professor is very particular and wants every bullet point in the rubric answered. Please answer the questions systematically and in order in essay format.
  2. Please ensure to highlight the corresponding questions to ensure all questions has been answered
  3. Initial Posts: List the URL and submit a 300 word summation of your findings.
    Cite all source(s) used in the text as well as in a reference section using APA format.

4.If you are use extra sources. It’s should be credible and published within 5 years. Do not use a wiki, blog, or source that is not backed by a valid organization.


Lesson 5 — Mindful Control

Lesson 5 — Mindful Control

Read Chapter 5 of Search inside Yourself and provide a short summary of the key points. 



When complete, provide a short summary of what you learned.




College Essay Rubric


CATEGORY Exceeds Competency




Developing Competency


Not Competent

69 and below



The introduction is inviting. It grabs the reader’s attention and compels him/her to read further. Engaging lead/hook. The introduction clearly states the main topic and previews the structure of the paper, but is not particularly inviting to the reader. The introduction states the main topic, but does not adequately preview the structure of the paper nor is it particularly inviting to the reader. There is no clear introduction of the main topic or structure of the paper.
Content/Body Paragraphs/


There is one clear, well-focused conflict/problem to be resolved. Author uses dialogue, action, and description to show not tell the story. Main idea is clear but the supporting information is general. More detail needed to “show not tell” the story. Main idea is somewhat clear but there is a need for more supporting information. Author mostly tells the story instead of showing it. The main idea is not clear. There is a seemingly random collection of information.
Organization –

Logical /


Details are placed in a logical order and the way they are presented effectively keeps the interest of the reader. Details are placed in a logical order, but the way in which they are presented/introduced sometimes makes the writing less interesting. Some details are not in a logical or expected order, and this distracts the reader. Many details are not in a logical or expected order. There is little sense that the writing is organized.
Grammar/Punctuation /APA Style Writer makes no errors in grammar or punctuation, so the paper is exceptionally easy to read.  Follows APA style. Writer makes 1 or 2 errors in grammar or punctuation, but the paper is still easy to read. Missing one or two elements of APA style. Writer makes a few errors in grammar and/or punctuation that catch the reader’s attention and interrupt the flow.

Missing most APA formatting.

Writer makes several errors in grammar and/or punctuation that catch the reader’s attention and greatly interrupt the flow.  No APA style.
Vocabulary/Spelling Writer uses vivid words and phrases that linger or draw pictures in the reader’s mind, and the choice and placement of the words seems accurate, natural and not forced. Writer uses vivid words and phrases that linger or draw pictures in the reader’s mind, but occasionally the words are used inaccurately or seem overdone. Writer uses words that communicate clearly, but the writing lacks variety, punch or flair. Writer uses a limited vocabulary that does not communicate strongly or capture the reader’s interest. Jargon or clichés may be present and detract from the meaning.







The conclusion is strong and leaves the reader with a feeling that they understand what the writer is “getting at.”

Coherence supported by correct pronunciation, confident enunciation and articulation.  Pauses are purposeful and enhance fluency. No noticeable fillers.

The conclusion is recognizable and ties up almost all the loose ends. The “so what” a bit cliché.



Tone fits message, rate and volume are appropriate, pitch seems natural. Careful pronunciation supports coherence. Enunciation and articulation are mostly clear.  Minimal audience distractions.

The conclusion is recognizable, but does not tie up several loose ends.



Inconsistent use of voice to hold audience.  Rate may be too fast or slow, pitch to high or low.  Pronunciation mostly correct though enunciation and articulation are tentative. Speaker recovers from pauses

There is no clear conclusion, the paper just ends.





Fails to hold audience due to monotone and inappropriate rate and volume. Use of poor pronunciation, pauses, and fillers.




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