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Search Inside Yourself – A Book Review

Like so many of our clients, I have struggled with meditation practices. It can be challenging to learn how to get our minds to quiet down and simply not think, and when we don’t immediately find success, we label our attempts as “failures.” This cycle of disappointment can often prevent us from wanting to try again.

In the book “Search Inside Yourself,” author Chade-Meng Tan demystifies meditation in a way that only a brilliant engineer who worked for Google could. He brings the essence and principles of meditation and mindfulness to the layperson in an applicable and effective way, while sprinkling humor throughout via cartoons that relate to his meaningful passages.

Meng’s early attempts at creating content for mindfulness at Google were met with some confusion and resistance – until he tied it to Emotional Intelligence (EI) and team performance. Then it started to make sense and resonate with his company. “Search Inside Yourself” is both rich in content and fun and easy to read. There’s a great deal of material and value in this book, so let’s dig into the key points:

*We create problems when we are driven by emotions. If we can become skillful with knowing and managing our emotions, we can move toward choosing our actions and behaviors for ourselves and with others.

*We need to develop an objective view of ourselves in order to adequately develop self awareness. The objective view is described as a “third person perspective”; we are not getting affected by the emotion, but simply seeing it clearly and objectively.

*The secret is to create situations in which your work is something you can do for fun, and something that serves a higher purpose that is meaningful to you. In that situation, you are doing your work for your own entertainment and purpose, and someone also pays you for it! This is a great example of purpose motivation being more powerful than financial motivation. The book suggests that other incentives, such as financial or status, can be not only ineffective but counterproductive for cognitive or creative work.

*Mindfulness and attention to breathing are common methods attributed to meditation practices, and Meng is solidly in that camp. He goes further to suggest that each time your attention wanders away from your breath and you bring the attention back, it is like flexing your muscles – your “muscle of attention” grows stronger.

*Mindful conversation involves listening, looping (actively demonstrating that you have heard what the other person is communicating) and what Meng calls “dipping” ( being aware of and knowing how you are feeling about what you are hearing).

*Journaling is a practice of self-discovery by writing to yourself. Areas that are less clear to you can come into awareness through journaling. Simply having a place to “park” some emotions and ideas is another use of journaling.

Meng takes the effects of meditation into practical applications that can serve our teams and leadership efforts at work, home and in our communities. For example, he discusses the best way to handle triggers:

  • Attention deployment – calm the mind, observe the body, count to 10, deep breaths and think of something else.
  • Reframing or reinterpreting the meaning of the situation – create and/or be aware of connections to your own past, see others’ perspectives, see the positive alternative, apply kindness and compassion.
  • Acceptance of and a willingness to experience emotion – try meshing humor with curiosity.

He also suggests that when praising people, it is more effective to do so in a way that encourages a growth mindset as compared to labeling the person as “smart” or “good.” An example of this would be when a leader is praising a team or employee and s/he appreciates their process and work, as compared to labeling them as a good employee or a team that “gets stuff done.”

Conclusion:

The research supporting Meng’s work suggests that mindfulness reduces stress, increases EI, and improves clarity and impact of communication, all resulting in improved individual and team performance.

“Search Inside Yourself” also shares Meng’s assessment of what distinguishes successful people: their attitude toward failure and how they explain their own failures to themselves. People who are optimistic react to setbacks from a presumption of personal power, and see learning opportunities where others may see failure.

Throughout his book, Meng suggests that the most effective people, teams and leaders share the Emotional Intelligence competencies of empathy and compassion, and further, that mindfulness through meditation can increase the capacity for those – and all other – EI competencies.

A few practical recommendations for any leader:

  • Commit to two minutes of mindful meditation or breathing exercise right after lunch break.
  • Practice 3rd person perspective.
  • Practice reframing or reinterpretation of a situation to suspend judgment.

How will you begin, improve or sustain your meditation practices to bring a higher impact and performance to your teams and organization?

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