The Secret Spirituality of Leaders

At the top of the tallest sky scrapper in the city, we were sitting in a cozy executive lounge. I was meeting with the CEO of a major national bank, a chance encounter where I was not his employee nor interviewing him for anything. I was not there to sell him anything either.

The conversation we had there was a conversation I saw repeated over and over again. Whether it be in homes of successful entrepreneurs or in late night conversations with powerful government officials in Switzerland. 

I was trying to grasp and understand what made them unique. Often coming from nothing, these incredible men and women have started large organizations: startups and corporate behemoths. They carry considerable influence and power. I have always been curious to know how do they handle life, the tough decisions they face daily.

Leading anyone, let alone yourself can be exhausting. Startup founders, entrepreneurs, and real change-makers face a lonely journey to the top. We see short-sighted thinking, we see mental breakdowns. We see politics and drama play out. 

But in many cases, we also see resilience. We see incredible strength of character. We see growth and progress, and real empathy to do the right thing, even in the face of ridicule. We see values and principles.

In speaking to me candidly about their ups and downs, they have confessed one thing that we barely ever talk about in any of the thousands of articles that are being churned out daily about success, productivity, entrepreneurship, pop-psychology.

It is this: Faith in a Higher Power is the ultimate source of strength.

They have all admitted to prayer as a source of strength as well. One CEO of a major global fashion brand said: “Everyday, I pray to God to give me the strength to do this work. Because I alone am not capable of doing this myself.”

This person is worth $200+ million dollar.

I’ve seen this played out so often. And yet, most success literature doesn’t talk about this at all.

It almost seems that we are hiding from this truth in trying to be secular. Mindfulness and meditation are safe placeholders for spirituality, but they are incomplete. They are aids in deepening your faith, but not an end in themselves.

The true lessons of spirituality are not tied to one particular religion either, they are universal. And these lessons can help us be better leaders. Either for our teams and organizations, or in our private lives as we lead our families and our lives.

That’s what this publication is about.

It is about embracing faith. This is not about proselytizing. For true spiritual principles are timeless and not bound to any particular religion.

The only thing required is faith to move forward and deepen a relationship with your true self and a higher power.

Everything else follows from that.

Has Faith Played a Role In How You Lead?

If so, share your thoughts below on how exactly faith and spirituality helps you lead yourself and others better.

How to Create Clarity in Any Situation

Cutting through the clutter of indecision is the most energizing feeling you can create for yourself everyday. I want to show you how to create this clarity on demand.

If you’re leading the rudder of your life, or if you’re leading other people , feeling clear about what you’re doing and what you’re being is the most important work you can do. It is the juice that powers all decisions you make.

Here’s the thing: it’s hard to do this. There are more options on what to do then ever before. There are competing priorities. There’s a new bestseller book telling you to zag when you want to zig. And then that new podcast you heard last night is telling you something else entirely.

Our minds our completely overrun with thoughts. Our hearts are being trampled by a million feelings, priorities, guilt, and panic. No wonder it is hard to know what to do. Especially if you’re a leader.

In my work, I have to consistently create clarity both for myself and my clients. I am often placed in unknown situations where I have little knowledge about the organization, the different leaders within it, and various moving pieces within it. Not to mention limited industry knowledge.

Just this morning, I struggled through an important life decision. I had an answer at the end of 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, we often push away these decisions that have been keeping us stuck. And then, in a moment of panic, we decide haphazardly.

Other times, we are extremely intellectual and reasoned. Sometimes, the decisions we make in this state don’t always stick with us in the long run. It is hard to sustain such a state when we take action on this decision.

So what’s the alternative? Let’s first try to understand what creating clarity should NOT sound like.

3 Misconceptions About Creating Clarity

  1. I just need to think more clearly”

    Clarity is a whole-body shift in your state. This means any exercise or activity that gives you clarity should involve your whole self. It shouldn’t be just an intellectual exercise. This means you must engage not just your mind and thoughts, but also your feelings, and your gut.
  2. “I just need to get smarter.”

    There is a large group of people now getting better at critical thinking, understanding logical fallacies, and absorbing mental models. I believe these are all enormously useful tools.

    But as a leader, your work touches people–other human beings. This means involving your gut is equally important. You cannot blame people for the situation you are trying to find clarity for (in accordance with Principle #2 in my guide The Principles of Organizational Breakthroughs: A Practical Guide for Leaders).
  3. “It has to feel easy.”

    Clarity does not mean easy. The situation can still be complex and difficult, but you should feel like a big blockage of energy has just been unblocked.

What Clarity Feels Like

Having clarity should feel like a major anchor being cut out. Your boat should have more buoyancy. Of course if the waters you are navigating in your life are turbulent, clarity can be terrifying when you are confronted with what you have to deal with.

But that level of clarity is also calming when all your analysis-paralysis dies away. Now you are free to act.

Aside: I work with organizations to do this in a structured and systematic way about larger problems. See here on how I can help your organization.

How to Create Clarity

I find that creating clarity really is a function of introspection. Introspection can be a hard topic to fathom because people think it’s about meditation (which is enormously helpful of course).

You cannot introspect if your internal state is agitated either. You cannot think clearly if your emotions are all over the place. This is when we make terrible decisions.

Instead, we can try to run both tracks in parallel and see what clarity emerges from it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Take a sheet of paper. Yes, paper and pen please (or pencil). Not a computer.
  2. Start writing. Anything and everything that comes into your mind. Even the side priorities (especially the side priorities). Write down the dialogue that is happening when your mind is saying one thing and then another and then something contrary yet again. Just free-write without any censorship.
  3. Keep writing. Do it until you “get it.” On average, it took me writing 2-3 pages before I could process the decision in front of me. Now it takes me on average 1 page.

This applies to writers as well as non-writers. Writing is a way to process your feelings, emotions, as well as your thoughts.

The clarity you get from this exercise will stick with you and allow you to decide and follow through with confidence.

Why it Works

Your internal chaos soup needs acknowledgement. Letting the soup bubble inside of you is counter-productive. It tends to overflow and cause a mess.

When you write without censoring yourself, even little single thought, feeling, and expression that comes into your mind about something, you will find that a lot of the tension going out of you.

It will also force a lot of thoughts that are buried deeper, which often already contain the insight you are looking for to emerge.

This is also the primary tool that thousands of artists use to get creative on demand. What is being creative if not creating clarity or insight on demand about a situation (whether it be a canvas, a blank sheet, or a stage)? It is based on Julia Cameron’s excellent book The Artist’s Way.

Don’t take me for my word. Try it.

How do you create Clarity?

What are your most important habits, rituals, or tools to help you get clarity about your priorities? About cutting through the stuck feeling in making decisions? Have you tried the free-writing exercise above? How did it go?

Let me know what you think below.

Don’t fight the beast

When doing work that matters, in risking something of yourself, a voice stirs inside of you. Some call it the Lizard Brain, some call it the resistance, and there are many other things you can call it.

You can call it the enemy. It comes at you with teeth flashing, ready to attack you. What do you at times like that? You feel that you must resist it. You feel like you must fight it in order to address it, in order to make it go away.

But this is its plan all along.

Start a venture, the beast comes to attack you. “This cannot be done. You will fail and lose everything.”

Express your interest in someone you like. “This person will reject you. You will never get her/him/the role you want.” Also the beast.

Publish something, create something, and put it out there. “No one will want this. You’re wasting your time. Stop dreaming.”

The beast will come and attack you, and want to fight you. It will make you believe that the only way to counter its voice, is to fight it.

Not so. Fighting it is what it wants. When you even touch this beast, its teeth bite into you and makes you rabid. You believe you’re fighting this beast, but actually you’re letting it control you.

Instead, stop fighting the beast. You will at first believe that if you stop fighting it, it will win. It will own you. But that is already happening right now.

Stop fighting it. You will notice that it will have nothing to attack then. It will pass right through you. You will see that you are much bigger than it. You will see that the beast was toothless all along. You will then be able to move on.

A Resolution in Thinking

Instead of making a career, health, or any other external resolution in 2019, consider making a resolution in changing how you think.

Over the last few months, I’ve taken on more projects, work, and just stuff to do. On top of that there’s taking time for relationships, and staying healthy (both mentally and physically). I’ve searched for ways to organize my life my effectively.

Enter The Bullet Journal.

This is an paper based way of organizing my life that has made a huge difference in just how much more effective I am. It’s also made me a lot more deliberate in spending time on things that matter.

Check it out for yourself:

On top of this, I’ve been deeply affected by the work of Brian Tracy, who recommends writing out your big goals every day. For weeks, I’ve been repeatedly writing out the same goals. This too has had a big difference in the kind of progress I’ve made in my life.

While this external growth has been great, there’s still a gnawing at the back of my mind and gut about what to do for 2019. There’s still a feel of inadequacy, a feeling of incompleteness, incompetence, unworthiness.

I’d been searching for ways to tackle this. And after much reading, I wanted to share a powerful Resolution of Thinking I’ve taken on.

This is not about “positive thinking” which is just putting layers of fakehood on our real vulnerabilities.

Instead, this is about entering your mind and visualizing yourself as someone who competently and confidently lives the way your best self would. This is mental rehearsal of being the kind of person you want to be.

This is not necessarily about external goals. It is deliberately internal.

How would your best self wake up? How would they be in social situations? How would they work? How would they handle a crisis? How would they work? How would they eat? Move? What kinds of habits would they have?

There is a lot of research that shows that this kind of mental practice does amazing things in increasing our self-esteem, self-efficacy. It changes our self-image for the better so we feel worthy and capable of handling the big audacious goals we have (or even the simpler things). This is based on the work by Dr. Maxwell Maltz who wrote the book on how to change your self-image. See more here.

Our mind is not able to tell the difference between what’s happening in reality and what we picture in our minds. That is why this is the kind of progressive exercise that can help us change ourselves from the inside out.

Change your thinking, change your life. In this new year, resolve to change how you think about yourself. Visualize your ideal self in detail daily. See yourself slowly becoming this person.

Why a tribe is the solution to so many of our problems today

Tribe was on my to-read list for a while, and it only took me 2 days to finish it. It’s a very short, sparse 130 pages. Here are some of the most interesting quotes from the book with a few thoughts near the end.

“I know what coming back to America from a war zone is like because I’ve done it so many times. First, there’s a kind of shock at the comfort and affluence that we enjoy, but that is followed by the dismal realization that we live in a society that is basically at war with itself. People speak with incredible contempt about, depending on their views: the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign born, the President, or the entire US government. It is a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime except that now it is applied to our fellow citizens. Unlike criticism, contempt is particularly toxic because it assumes a moral superiority in the speaker. Contempt is often directed at people who have been excluded from a group or declared unworthy its benefits. Contempt is often used by governments to provide rhetorical cover for torture or abuse. Contempt is one of four behaviors that, statistically, can predict divorce in married couples. People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long.”

“If you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different—you underscore your shared humanity,”

“As affluence and urbanization rise in a society, rates of depression and suicide tend to go up rather than down.”

“It may be worth considering whether middle-class American life—for all its material good fortune—has lost some essential sense of unity that might otherwise discourage alienated men from turning apocalyptically violent.”

“What would you risk dying for—and for whom—is perhaps the most profound question a person can ask themselves. The vast majority of people in modern society are able to pass their whole lives without ever having to answer that question, which is both an enormous blessing and a significant loss.”

“How do you become an adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage?”

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”

“Human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered “intrinsic” to human happiness and far outweigh “extrinsic” values such as beauty, money and status.”

This book with full of insights on why we have evolved to essentially to live in tribes, and what we’ve lost from abandoning that model. Contempt and superiority of one side compared to another has really overtaken any sense of coming together. Parents will find it interesting to learn we isolate our babies right from the first few months of birth, which is so contrary to our design. Whereas in tribal societies, we were held 90%> of the time, in today’s age of separate rooms and trying to imbue a false sense of independence (instead of interdependence) in babies, no wonder we are creating a generation of anxious, stressed out, depressed young people.

What we need today is a greater sense of unity and tribal community (Ubuntu) than ever before. Not only does it restore us to our more natural evolutionary past, but also restores happiness and security into our lives. This is not about a false sense of tribe that social media provides us,

The world needs it in large doses. The book also does a great job exploring why so many of us feel so distant with our neighbours, our friends, and ourselves.

Media Fast – 30 Days of Distraction Free Living

It’s high time we all consider a media fast. Mental illness is at an all time high (although one can argue it is just reported for the first time). So is a feeling of helplessness and lack of control over one’s life.

Perhaps you end your day having spent hours surfing reddit, random blogs, social media, or news websites, and you wonder what you even got done that day. Maybe you feel very pessimistic about life given current events. These moments train our mind that we are pretty much helpless in controlling the destiny of our lives.

I’ve already written a lot about quitting social media here. The purpose of this series is to go one step further. I am going to write about my experience quitting ALL media for the next 30 days. This includes TV shows, movies and documentaries, YouTube series, magazines, newspapers, and blogs.

Just to be clear, this does not mean I will stop watching videos or reading information on the Internet or in print. Rather, I mean to consume information consciously: I must have a purpose before I open another tab, and start watching that video, reading that post, or listening to that podcast.

This is in contrast to the mindless nature of browsing the net to keep myself occupied, distracted, entertained, or informed. My method will be to consume media that serves my goals. That’s it.

10 Reasons We Need A Media Fast

  1. Reclaim your mental sanity.
    We spend so much time prescribing therapy and drugs to people with mental health issues: be it depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and a whole lot more, but don’t bother to focus on a major contributing factor for all this: the media. TV shows, movies, internet articles about tech billionaires, and the constant barrage of click-bait celebrity gossip does tremendous harm. It creates the expectations reinforced daily of our inadequacies, our failures for not being fit/healthy/sexy/rich/successful/young enough.
  2. Have more time.
    If you feel constantly stressed, overworked, and wonder at how achievers get stuff done, this is how! Quit all this mindless consumption and get on a media fast and you will discover a tremendous amount of time you didn’t even know you had. Your mind will fight to binge on this kind of stuff again. Resist it. Breath. Meditate. It will go away. After the first few days, you will discover time that you did not know you had.
  3. Feel more in control.
    A lot of us feel out of control in our lives. I credit much of this to the constant attack of negativity from the news and social media. I am not claiming that  ignorance or sticking your head in the sand is a good strategy to live life. Rather, it’s the idea about getting very selective about what we consume.
    In The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli, the author asks, “Out of the ­10,000 news stories you may have read in the last 12 months, did even one allow you to make a better decision about a serious matter in your life?” You can find a quick summary of the affect of news and our out-of-control feelings from this article: News is bad for you–and giving up reading it will make you happier.
  4. Live Purposefully.
    When the mind clears up from all the noise, noise, noise of TV shows, Internet, magazines, etc, you will get space to create life a lot more purposefully. Our consumption of media becomes directed in the service of the life we want, not away from the life we’re living (and we’re not happy with). When we subtract out the unnecessary, what’s life is the necessary that makes a big difference.
  5. Feel freedom.
    Additionally, we actually feel the freedom that comes from having a lot more time. We feel the freedom to live purposefully. This is a crucial distinction from points 2 & 4. While we may physically have more time to live a better life, this reality is useless unless we actually believe that is the case. The barrage of what we consume is so endless that we feel the opposite: that there isn’t enough time and space for our lives. Ironically, this is just not true.

    When we drink water from a fire hose, no wonder we feel overwhelmed.

    When we do a media fast, we actually end up feeling that we do. This new belief will be one of the key factors is helping us take control and live purposefully.

  6. Build discipline.
    It feels wonderful to set goals and accomplish them! And this goal is tremendously powerful because it is an internal goal: something where we fight our minds and work to overcome our own mental scripts. I wrote about the potent power of such goals in my previous post about goal setting. If you’re struggling to figure out what sort of goal to set that will challenge your mind, this 30 day media fast is a great one to get started. It will build discipline that will permeate into all other parts of your life.
  7. Mindful growth.
    Our growth is often driven by necessity. We don’t have money in the bank, so we work on getting a job and earning a buck. But when we get rid of distractions, we are free to pursue goals that matter deeply to us. Additionally, when we choose to consume media mindfully, we have to force ourselves to pick the things that we want to be informed about/consume. This type of mindful growth will be a lot more powerful.
  8. Be happier.
    Next, we become a whole lot happier when we don’t surround ourselves with negativity. For example, you might think watching How I Met Your Mother or the latest Superhero movie doesn’t affect you in any way. Now this is just not true! Product placements remind us that we can be a lot more sexier/stronger/heroic if we owned the same products. The body shapes we see give us an immense sense of dissatisfaction with our own bodies. I’ve talked about this in the past that this won’t help us get into exercising, so this negativity isn’t helpful. And finally, the dramatic story lines and character lives just do not exist in real life.
    We are deeply dissatisfied with our lives because we think life is supposed to be like these fictional stories. We may not know it, but it is affecting us in a very deep and primal way. But what makes a good story doesn’t make a good model for our life. For more, read this.
  9. Make a positive difference in the world.
    Ironically, when we give up reading the news and feeling helpless, we actually have the freedom to actually go out in the world and make a difference. Volunteer, help someone in the community, get informed about the few things you care deeply about, and take action! You will feel powerful and in control of your life and the lives of others. This happens when you don’t let the 24/7 media channel run your mind 24/7.
  10. Just to see if you can!
    Last, just do this to see if you can! Make it into a fun challenge with your mind. Explore this theme and see what difference it can make. Treat is as a 30 day experiment.

So that’s it for this post! I would be curious to hear about your experiences with the negativity of the media. Please also let me know if you’d like to join me in taking on a media fast together!

Leave a comment below or message me privately to let me know!

Be A Guest In Your Own Home: Letting Go of Attachment

There’s a beauty in being a guest at a friend’s home. We feel comfortable and we love the company. There is no attachment to their home. There’s also an unspoken expectation at the end of the trip:

When it comes time to leave, we can drop our attachment to that place and move on. We are happy when we are there, but it doesn’t cause us suffering when we have to go.

It’s even easy to get into action with chores. How much easier it is to do the dishes, or tidy up the place when we’re a guest at someone else’s home!

Yet, when it comes to our own home, we feel very differently. In our own homes, we are often miserable sitting alone. We work endlessly to change things up. Dishes remain undone in the kitchen sink. Our attachment to our home causes suffering, and it also serves as a shell to retreat from the challenges of life.

The whole place can become a sty and we put up with it, unless of course we’re having guests over as well! Then we tidy the place up.

But what would happen if we could be a guest in our own home?

And what if we could be a guest in our own lives?

A Guest In Our Body

Western thought puts emphasis on my house, my job, my body, my looks, my my my. Eat, breathe, and sleep with your goals. Burn yourself up to make sure you get there!

But what if we saw ourselves as guests in this body visiting only for 70–80 years?

We would live our lives with a lot more grace, a lot more compassion, and indeed, it would be easier to get into action without the pain and suffering. The drama of our lives would be enjoyable, without the misery.

This is one of the deepest teachings of yoga. In my lifetime of studying yoga, this was one of the first lessons I learned at the age of 5.

We mistakenly think yoga is all about twisting ourselves into crazy shapes. But the main texts on the subject have almost no mention of these poses, or asanas.

Instead, it teaches us the secret to living. It teaches us to cultivate non-attachment to the temporary. It teaches us ways to engage with the world more fully without the pain of “I” and “mine.” It teaches us, in short, to be a guest in our own homes. In our own lives.

Today, when you get back to “your” home, just for one night, see yourself as a guest. See what happens and leave a comment below.