Mindfulness in simple terms

After years of studying experts and practicing mindfulness meditation, I’ve synthesized some of the wisdom into a few sentences that make it simpler, more understandable, and (I hope) more approachable to those who may be interested but still confused.

  • Mindfulness is simply observing “what it’s like to be you” in this moment.
  • The “you” that is observing thoughts arise is not enhanced by positive thoughts or diminished by negative ones.
  • The true goal is to allow all conscious experiences (in the form of thoughts) to arise without being reactive or judgmental, which builds the muscle allowing us to treat all life events in a non-reactive way.
  • One way to view thoughts is like the weather. We like to think we are the proximate cause of our thoughts, but we’re not. Like the weather, we don’t have much control over them. But we can choose to react, judge, or simply observe what “is.”

A question that gets us through…

Reflecting on important questions is one of the most powerful things we can do to get us through difficult emotional times. The reactive part of us makes us feel like we’ve been the victim of some wrongdoing (and perhaps we have). One great question that forces us to focus on our own accountability is this:

How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want? (quote by Jerry Colona)

A new perspective on social anxiety

“It’s not people’s job to show you what’s interesting or great about themselves. It’s your job to find it. This is life, not a sales convention.” – Mark Manson

Mark makes the point that curiosity is one antidote to social anxiety. It’s almost impossible to seek to discover who others are while simultaneously worrying about what they think of us.

My very smart friend Stu tells his children rather than trying to be interesting, be INTERESTED in others. This fosters great relationships. They’ll inevitably find out how interesting and impressive you are.

On communicating better

Unless it’s a revelation for you that “communication is the key” to relationships of any kind, it’s not useful without context on how to communicate in a healthy way.

Here are details on just a few things I’ve learned from my personal communication failures:

  • Fear of consequences or aversion to uncomfortable conversations has led to worse consequences than the discomfort I thought I was protecting (one of my most glaring deficiencies).
  • Body language, tone, and attitude (HOW you say what you say) are as important as the message itself (WHAT you say).
  • A conversation at a time when one or both parties are not the best versions of themselves could be the difference between understanding/growth and a relationship-damaging outcome
  • l must be able to articulate your argument or feelings in a way that makes you feel heard. If I don’t,  you’re not ready to hear what I have to say.  The reverse is also true.

Safe vs. happy

We are wired for safety, not success or happiness. Our lizard brains know that we must protect our “selves” (bodies) from harm. Our loved ones may, with the best of intentions, persuade us to stick with safe paths in order to stick with what seems to be tested and safe.

Fortunately, we’ve evolved enough to be conscious of how we optimize our lives. We can choose to optimize to get the most from every investment, the most important of which are time and attention.

It’s a nebulous word, so it’s harder than it seems to truly know what would make you “happy.” One hack to help you determine this is to explore the percentage of your time you spend doing things out of obligation rather than desire or excitement. Desire and excitement are more useful proxies for “happy.”

80/20 principle and learning

Most English speakers use roughly 1,000 of the 250,000 English words in the dictionary.  Knowing that a tiny fraction of words will immediately allow you to have functional fluency makes learning English less daunting.

Here are a couple of other examples:

Learning to play just four chords on the guitar or piano will allow you to play hundreds of songs

Of the thousands of exercises and fitness routines, pushing, pulling, and squatting your body weight a few days per week will allow you to strengthen your body and gain muscle/lose fat faster.

What are the few most critical things you can learn/develop to leverage 80% of the results you seek? 

Respecting introverts

In her moving Ted Talk, Susan Cain outlines how social interactions by default tend to be structured by and for extroverts and why it’s important to respect and value the many introverts.

A humble brag about my sister, who initiated new “normal” activities for elementary school children who felt left out at recess for not embracing sports as their mode of play. Now, groups of people can work on art, read, or do other activities of their choice, either in relative isolation or quietly within a group.

We should know by now that leveraging people’s natural strengths and preferences produces more creativity, motivation, and, best of all, more fulfilled humans.

What are you vacationing from

Sometimes needing a vacation means freedom from our daily habits and responsibilities. This happens more reliably when we change our location and environment. It’s also possible to recharge by taking short daily breaks to connect with friends, watch comedy, or dedicate “me time.” Essentially, do some things that are want-to’s and not have-to’s.

I love to travel and will always want to do that. But my ultimate goal is to architect a life from which I don’t feel a need to escape or go on vacation.

FOMO and human connection

There is a strong correlation between heavy social media use and loneliness. FOMO (fear of missing out) is real.  Overusing social media leads to sacrificing genuine human connection, an essential ingredient for a gratifying life.

Technology is helpful, miraculous even, in connecting us to those we may never otherwise connect.  But let’s make sure we use it responsibly, as a tool, rather than a replacement for human connection.