I’ve published a new guest post at The Change Blog, “Mindfully Moving Beyond Multitasking,” which is all about how mindfulness practices can help us stay focused on a single task at work, even when we’re confronted by boredom, frustration and other kinds of discomfort — rather than jumping around from task to task in order to “take the edge off.”
I hope you enjoy it!
I can’t believe it was nearly a year ago that, on this very blog, we had our fascinating discussion about the productivity challenges readers are facing, and how mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga can help us move through those challenges. It was an inspiring chat for me, and I’ve re-read it many times.
Last time I re-read the post, it proved to be more than just a source of nostalgia — it gave me the idea to put out an audio program dealing with the questions people asked in the comments, and in the many other settings where I’ve spoken to people about Inner Productivity.
I now have voluminous notes about what I’m going to say in the program, and I’ve started recording it. Before I release it, I want to check in with you to make sure I’m not leaving out any concerns you may be dealing with in your working life, whether it comes to focusing, staying motivated, letting go of anxiety, actually enjoying what you do, or something else. Simple as that.
So, I want to throw the floor open to you. Maybe “throwing the floor” isn’t the most coherent figure of speech, but you get the point. I want to know what you’d like to hear me address in the program, and if you let me know I’ll do my best to cover it.
To get the creative juices flowing, here’s a list of some common issues people raised in our earlier conversation:
Self-Starting: “I’m working from home, and it’s hard to stay on task when no one’s keeping tabs on me.”
Overwhelm: “I feel overwhelmed when I see a lot of items on my to-do list.”
Perfectionism: “I struggle with a sense that I’ve got to do everything perfectly, or not do it at all.”
Inadequacy: “I have trouble starting the project I want to do, because I worry that it’s not going to be good enough.”
Image Consciousness: “I’m having difficulty doing the work I want to do, because I get too concerned about what others will think of it.”
“I haven’t done enough”: “I keep getting to the end of the day, and feeling like I didn’t accomplish enough.”
Resentment: “I get bogged down in resentment, because it seems like people are asking so much from me in my work.”
Distraction: “My mind keeps jumping around to all kinds of different ideas when I’m trying to focus on something.”
How about you? What issues would you like to hear about in the program?
You may recall I wrote a while back about my recurring “critic fantasy,” which involved a man getting up while I was giving a talk, and yelling that my book had nothing to offer.
Well, last week, a man actually did approach me after a speaking engagement and tell me my work had nothing to offer! Oops — perhaps I attracted this situation by “putting it out to the universe” on my blog! (More on the law of attraction in a moment.)
I didn’t find myself freaked out by the odd synchronicity, although I did feel a mild irritation at being misunderstood. This was because the man’s rant didn’t seem to deal with what I actually said, but instead with his preconceived notions of what people who talk about “spiritual” stuff say.
Roughly, his complaints went like “all this stuff about ‘making yourself happy’ and ‘creating a Rolls-Royce by thinking about it’ and so on is garbage.” However, I didn’t talk about either of those. First of all, I only teach about manifesting Lamborghinis — if you want a Rolls, you need a different guru.
No “Magical Manifesting Mastery” Here
Just kidding — I don’t talk about “manifesting” anything. In fact, I later realized I was, in a (limited) way, thankful to the man for helping me clarify what my work is really about. The work I do is about relating to the thoughts and sensations that are already there in our experience, not attracting or creating something to take their place.
One of my biggest inspirations in following this path has been the work of psychotherapist Robert Augustus Masters. Some might say this inspiration borders on obsession — I even flew from California to Boulder, CO to take Robert’s workshop. Robert, if you’re reading this, don’t worry — I don’t have your home address.
But here I am joking around, when I’m actually here to review Robert’s latest book, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters (not an affiliate link).
What Is Spiritual Bypassing?
Spiritual bypassing, to Masters, means “the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.” Basically, when we learn that getting the “right” job, relationship, car, or something else isn’t going to heal our pain, we turn to spiritual practices, hoping they’ll quell our “bad feelings” at last.
Often, unfortunately, we don’t find the relief we’re looking for. For example, some people (as I used to do) think meditation is supposed to involve feeling peaceful and perhaps even blissful.
But if they get deeply into it, they discover that it isn’t like that at all — in fact, when we switch off all the noise we’re usually surrounded by, and sit quietly, the pain we’ve been shutting out often comes through loud and clear. And that’s when we start griping that meditation “doesn’t work.”
On the other hand, some of us do find tranquility in meditation and similar practices, but then we start using those practices to shut out emotions and sensations we don’t want to be with – as Masters puts it, to “find a safety from the more brutal dimensions of life that we crave.” If we feel angry, for instance, and we see anger as a “negative emotion” we “shouldn’t be having,” perhaps we’ll meditate to numb the feeling.
The trouble is that feeling angry can serve us at times in life. If we need to protect ourselves against an attacker, or say a firm “no” to someone who’s demanding a lot of our time and energy, anger can fuel us to take decisive, effective action. Thus, sedating our anger and other “bad feelings” with spirituality (or anything else) can be harmful.
What’s Spirituality Good For?
This isn’t to say that spiritual practice has no benefits. In fact, says Masters, spiritual practice can serve us by helping us get more comfortable and familiar with our pain, rather than running from it. “Contrary to what we tend to believe,” he writes, “the more intimate we are with our pain, the less we suffer.”
This kind of statement was hard for me to believe before I experienced the truth of it myself. Like many people, when I began meditating, I felt really bored, and when the boredom got intense enough I’d simply stop. Eventually, inspired by teachers like Robert, I focused my attention on the boredom and just allowed it to arise.
As I did this, the boredom became easier and easier to be with — and, as I often describe, this had practical benefits in my life, such as helping me focus on a project I was doing for a long period of time even if I felt bored.
And on that note, look at the word count! Looks like I’d best put the rest of my review of this important book into a second post. Stay tuned!
Do you ever notice yourself doing “spiritual bypassing”? What feelings do you use spiritual practice to get away from?
I’ve been doing a lot of speaking recently to groups of job-seeking professionals (one reason I’ve been MIA on the internet for two weeks), and predictably I tend to get questions about dealing with job interview anxiety.
But if I get the chance to explore the issue more deeply with people, I often find that they’re not really interested in reducing their anxiety. Instead, they want to convince the interviewer they aren’t anxious.
I usually discover this when someone asks a question about interview anxiety, and I respond with some ideas from meditation and yoga, like bringing your attention into the body, noticing where you’re restricting your breathing, and so on. They then give me a puzzled look, and say “but don’t you have any practical advice?”
When I ask what they mean by practical advice, they’ll reply “you know, things like how I should spin bad stuff on my resume, how long I should spend answering a question,” and so on. In other words, what they really want to know is how to look like a confident, competent person. Their own feelings aren’t important — only the interviewer’s view of them matters.
Image Obsession Creates Anxiety
I think this attitude is in keeping with the conventional wisdom in our culture. For any situation in life involving “selling yourself” — marketing, interviewing for jobs, dating, or something else — most advice out there is about “making” people have the “right” thoughts and feelings about you.
The trouble is, in my experience, this attitude is actually a big source of anxiety. The more deeply we’re concerned about our image, the more scary and exhausting relating with people becomes.
For example, suppose you went into a job interview having memorized ten questions you’re “supposed” to ask, five “confident body language” tips, seven “interview mistakes” to avoid, and so on. Wouldn’t trying to remember and follow all these rules create stress for you?
But that’s not all — suppose you also went into the interview believing that “how I feel doesn’t matter — only this interviewer’s feelings about me are important.” In other words, your sense of self-worth is riding on the interviewer’s opinion of you. Don’t you think that might cause some freak-out as well?
What Do You Want?
So, if memorizing a lot of interviewing tips and obsessing over your image isn’t the key to overcoming interview anxiety, what is? I think all the techniques I usually talk about regarding breathing, focusing your attention, and so on are wonderful, but here’s an even more basic starting point: try focusing on what you feel and want.
That is, instead of going into the interview worrying about what the interviewer will think, see if you can get curious about questions like: is this job in keeping with my career goals? Does this seem like the kind of working environment I’d enjoy? What would I need to know to feel comfortable taking this job?
If you’re in the job market, one thing I think you’ll immediately notice about this attitude is that it actually allows you to have an informative, and even enjoyable, dialogue with the interviewer. Focusing on what you want out of the job helps you to ask questions you’re actually curious about, rather than parroting canned questions from some interviewing book that don’t really matter to you.
Although I’ve been talking about job interviewing, I think the attitude I’ve discussed is useful for any “selling yourself” situation. I’ve found that focusing on our own wants and feelings, rather than getting caught up in strategies for manipulating others’ experience, can help make these situations easier to endure, and maybe even fun.
I’ve just published a guest post at The Change Blog called “Letting Go Of Your Ego At Work,” which addresses the puzzling question: why is it that, when we’re doing something that’s deeply important to us, we actually tend to procrastinate the most?
I hope you enjoy it and that you had a great weekend.
Just wanted to keep you all updated on the state of play here at Edgar HQ and on Edgar Force One — I can’t say which one I’m at right now for national security reasons:
New Bay Area Meetup
I’ve started a Meetup group in San Jose, California, which I’m using to offer free evening events on finding focus, motivation and peace in your work. I’m excited about the next meeting, which will be on Monday, June 28, because yoga teacher Rosy Moon, who co-leads my full-day intensive workshop, will be joining me.
We’ll be talking about how yoga can help us accept and even embrace the tension, frustration, fatigue and so on we feel in our work — and, of course, doing some yoga with participants. We’ll also demonstrate how the deep inner work we do in our workshop can help people let go of the blocks that have them avoid truly giving their gifts to the world.
If you’re in the Bay Area, I encourage you to drop by — you’ll definitely learn a lot and have fun!
Inner Productivity Intensive
I think I’m still digesting how powerful an experience the last Inner Productivity Intensive was. My friends are like “okay, time to finish processing and feel happy about it already!” :) Not only did Rosy and I have a blast, but we got some incredible feedback — here’s a sample:
“I wanted to let you both know how much I enjoyed the workshop. It was a great experience – I learned a lot and actually enjoyed most of it! It may be the best single day workshop I have attended in my professional career.”
- Aidan C., San Francisco, California
“The Inner Productivity Intensive Workshop was amazing, maybe even transformational. I’ll use some of the practical techniques I learned pretty much every day for the rest of my life. At the same time, I also gained deeper insights into myself and my relationships that were incredibly valuable.”
- B.P., San Francisco, California
Almost as soon as the last participant left, Rosy and I were talking about scheduling another one. If I procrastinated about putting it together, that would make me a big hypocrite, and I didn’t want that. So, I wasted no time in setting up the next workshop for August 15, 2010.
If you’re ready to get conscious, and let go, of patterns of thinking and behavior holding you back from giving your deepest gifts to the world, this is the workshop for you. You can find out more about it and register here.
Some Great Recent Interviews
I had the privilege of appearing on two wonderful radio shows recently — both hosts had read and deeply appreciated the book, which led to discussions that were educational and fun. I’ll post the links to them below.
* Welcome Changes Radio with Velma Gallant, June 2010
* Good Vibrations Radio with Solarzar and Kyralani, May 2010
I hope I get the chance to meet more of you in person, and I’m looking forward to more opportunities to help the world make working enjoyable and meaningful.
“I teach people how to use mindfulness practices, like meditation and yoga, to focus while they work. I help them bring these practices into their in-the-moment experience of working — to go beyond just using them on the yoga mat or the meditation cushion.”
This is a correct description of what I do. Unfortunately, it also tends to make people’s eyes roll and/or glaze over.
I know this all too well, because I delivered this “elevator pitch” many times. What’s more, for many months, I kept describing what I do in this way, even though I knew it was boring and confusing people.
Why did I keep saying this to people, despite its obvious soporific effect? The answer is that lots of resistance came up inside when I thought about changing it. Because I found the resistance uncomfortable, I left my pitch unchanged so I wouldn’t have to feel it.
Welcoming My Resistance
I finally started getting traction around this issue when I decided to re-read my book and take my own medicine. Rather than fleeing from the resistance, I chose to sit with it. I got intimately familiar with its contours — where I felt it in my body, whether it manifested as a tingling, pulsing, tension, or something else, and so on.
As I’ve experienced so many times, putting my full attention on the tightness in my body actually dissolved it. My solar plexus, where the most tension was, relaxed, and I sighed with relief. And, as usual, with that relaxation came helpful insight. What I saw was that I was clinging to this dull description of my services because, in my mind, it made me sound intelligent and unique.
After all, even if people didn’t buy my book or take my workshop, at least they wouldn’t see me as just another rah-rah jump-up-and-down-to-”Simply-The-Best” motivational speaker. At least they’d know I don’t spout self-help cliches like “take action! Think happy thoughts! Like attracts like!” You see, I use sophisticated words like “mindfulness,” and that makes me different!
In other words, I recognized through self-exploration that I was afraid of looking average — and, most importantly, that I was allowing that fear to control my business decisions. I was letting concerns about my image get in the way of actually delivering value to people.
Allowing My Averageness
Getting conscious of this fear also helped to liberate me from it. After all, I realized, what’s really going to happen if someone sees me as average? Will I disintegrate or spontaneously combust or something? Probably not.
What’s more, I recognized that, no matter what I accomplish, there are many ways in which I’m forever doomed to be average. Studies have shown, for example, that I share approximately 99.999999% of my DNA not only with you, Dear Readers, but also with orangutans and mandrills. Why go to such lengths to conceal my built-in averageness?
Armed with this new awareness, I came up with a much more clear and concise summary of what I do. It goes a little something like this:
“I help people get focused and motivated at work.”
I’ve noticed that this produces a lot less nodding off, and a lot more purchasing of my stuff, among potential customers.
What about you, Dear Reader? How are you letting image-consciousness get in the way of giving your gifts to the world?
In the last post in this series (over at Urban Monk), I talked about some yoga asanas, or poses, that can help us restore our focus and motivation as we work — without even getting up from our desks. In this article, I’ll speak more generally about how yoga helps us develop what I call Awareness and Allowing — two capacities that are key to giving us the efficiency and enjoyment we want in what we do.
1. Awareness. Almost immediately, when I started doing yoga, I became much more attuned to the sensations coming up in my body. I noticed all this tension, tingling, heat and so on that I hadn’t been conscious of before.
Another thing I began to notice was that certain sensations would come up right before I’d find myself procrastinating or putting off a project. I’d start getting this antsy, jittery feeling in my arms and legs, as if there were some danger I needed to run from, and then I’d find myself checking e-mail or pursuing some other distraction.
I eventually realized that I was putting off my work because I didn’t want to experience those antsy feelings. Because I found those sensations disturbing and uncomfortable, I’d fallen into the habit of checking e-mail, surfing the Web or doing something else to distract myself from them.
Understanding that those jittery feelings were what I was trying to escape helped put my procrastination in perspective. If discomfort in my body was really all I was running from, why was I running at all? Wasn’t moving forward in my projects more important to me than avoiding those sensations?
Of course, yoga isn’t the only way to develop Awareness — you don’t need to learn to contort your body into a pretzel shape to be aware of the sensations you’re feeling. :) A simpler approach, in my experience, is to pause whenever you find yourself about to put off a task, and just bring your awareness into your body and notice what’s coming up.
2. Allowing. If you’ve done yoga, I imagine you’ve had the experience of getting into a pose that involved a really deep stretch, and brought up intense sensations. Perhaps you stayed in the pose, despite its intensity. And when you did, you noticed the sensations becoming more comfortable and less threatening.
By Allowing, I mean just that — staying with an uncomfortable sensation that’s coming up, rather than resisting or fleeing from it. This attitude of Allowing, I think, isn’t just for the time we spend on the yoga mat or the meditation cushion — it’s also very helpful in our working lives.
Suppose, for example, you’re working on a project and you start getting bored. Most of us would react to that boredom by doing something to “take the edge off” — maybe playing a few hands of Solitaire on the computer, messing around on social media, and so on.
What if, instead, we chose to stay with that feeling — breathe, relax our bodies, and just allow the sensations to wash over us? What if we decided, instead of pushing our boredom away, to get intimate and familiar with it?
The biggest benefit of learning to Allow the discomfort that comes up as we work is that it gives us control over our own schedules. Most of us are like Pavlov’s Dogs, automatically turning away from our work whenever unpleasantness arises. Developing the ability to drop our resistance to that unpleasantness, and keep moving forward, helps put us in charge of what and how much we get done.
I just published a new guest post at The Change Blog called “Procrastination and the Art of Allowing.”
Normally, when uncomfortable thoughts and sensations come up as we’re working, we tend to run away from them by playing FreeCell or chasing some other distraction — and, voila, we have procrastination. But when we simply relax our bodies, continue breathing, and let those sensations pass away on their own, we start developing the ability to choose to move forward in our work instead.
For those who haven’t read Inner Productivity, or my “Transcending Procrastination” special report (which you can download by signing up at the upper right hand corner of this page), this will serve as a helpful introduction to my work. I hope you enjoy it!
If you spent a moment without thinking, would you cease to exist?
As I mentioned earlier, when I give talks about using mindfulness practices to focus on your work, at least one person usually tells me they “can’t meditate” because they can’t seem to force their mind to quiet.
But often, if I get the chance to dig deeper into what’s going on for that person, what I discover is that they don’t really want their mind to be silent. They’re afraid that, if they stopped thinking for a moment, they wouldn’t be able to start again. And if that happened, they’d become stupid or comatose, or perhaps even disappear.
Their solution, then, is to keep up a constant stream of thought. One problem with this approach is that the clutter in their mind creates distraction — particularly when they’re trying to do a task at work. Also, as I’ll bet you know from experience, much of the thinking we do is repetitive and unpleasant.
Relaxed Body, Relaxed Mind
Many people think emptying the mind takes hard work, which is why I get questions about how to “force my mind to empty.” But over time, what I’ve discovered in meditation is that it’s more a matter of, if you will, taking a break. In fact, thinking is what takes work — mental blankness simply happens when we relax.
To experience what I’m talking about, next time your mind feels cluttered, take a moment and notice whether some part of your body is tight. For example, one thing I usually observe when my mind is teeming with thoughts is that my jaw is tense. When you notice where you’re holding onto tension, see if you can relax that area.
What I’ve noticed in myself, and in others I’ve worked with, is that relaxing those tight muscles actually helps relax the mind. It’s as if we need to tense up to produce a constant stream of thought, and letting go of that tension helps us drop the compulsive thinking.
I think this is one reason why yoga, bodywork, and other methods that help loosen up those tight spots can bring such peace. When constricted places in the body open up, it’s as if the mental storm abates and the sun peeks through the clouds. I had a striking experience like this last weekend (in a workshop by Robert Masters, whom I highly recommend), when tight spots I wasn’t even aware of in my jaw and throat unraveled, and my mind became blissfully clear.
Thinking Versus Insight
But if we let our minds empty, how do we come up with the ideas we need to do our projects? This is where, for me, the difference between thinking and insight comes into play.
Thinking, as I said, seems to require effort to produce. Insight, on the other hand, seems to arise without effort — in those moments where “inspiration strikes” without warning.
My sense is that, when our minds are clear, there’s more space for insight to enter. But when they’re clogged with ceaseless thinking, there’s no room for inspiration. It’s no surprise to me, then, that my most powerful ideas have spontaneously come up during meditation.
I think this is one meaning of the story you may know about the professor who visited a Zen monk. The monk served the professor tea, but he kept pouring even after the cup was overflowing.
“You are like this cup,” said the monk. “I cannot show you Zen until you are empty.”