How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners
10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation
What is Meditation?
How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners
10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation
What is Meditation?
Benefits of Mindfulness: Mindful Living Can Change Your Life
Mindfulness 101: A Beginner's Guide
Dan discusses why focus is the key to excellence in any field and why we need to be aware of the effects of technology on our brains.
I'm your host Melli O'Brien and I'm so
delighted to be here right now with Dr.
Dan is an acclaimed psychologist who's
received two Pulitzer prize nominations
for his New York Times articles on
behavioral science and the brain.
He's also the author of several books,
including my, one of my favorite
books of all time, the bestselling
book, Emotional Intelligence.
And he's just released a new book,
which I believe is going to be
groundbreaking, called Focus,
The Hidden Driver of Excellence.
Dan, thank you so much for taking this
time out for the Mindfulness Summit.
I know you're busy traveling
around at the moment, so I really
appreciate you taking the time out.
I'm glad I could be part of it, Melli.
Dan, why did you feel that right now
it was, it was so important to explore
the topic of focus and to, you know,
share those findings with the world.
Well, I think that because of technology,
because we're all constantly interrupted
and distracted by our devices, by our
Facebook, by our emails, by our texts,
that attention is under siege in a way
it's never been before in human history.
And that we need to become more
mindful about what we're doing.
People turns out are just not paying
attention to what they're doing about half
the time, according to data from Harvard.
It's so important because attention,
mindfulness, being present with what's
going on is the fundamental ability that
lets us be with the people we love, being
with the people that we're working with,
be attentive to what it is we're doing.
And as our mind wanders, and we don't
notice it wanders, we get carried away
and, you know, at work, our performance
suffers our relationships suffer.
So I thought it was time that we look
at the capacity of attention itself.
Mindfulness of course, is a way to,
to train attention, to make it to
cultivate the ability to be more present.
And your book title that, that our focus
is the hidden driver of excellence, why
is focus the hidden driver of excellence?
No matter what you're doing, no matter
what the domain you know, performance is
chess, golf, relationships, management,
mothering, it doesn't matter if you're
not present, if you're not focused on
what you're doing, you'll do it poorly.
However, the more you can focus,
the more you can be completely
absorbed in what you're doing, the
better your performance will be.
And, and research, shows that in any
domain, those people who are the most
excellent, who are the top, you know,
of the game, are the most focused.
It's a state called flow.
It's a state that champions,
that people who are superb at what
they do, experience spontaneously.
And the key to that state is
completely concentration, complete
presence, complete mindfulness.
And is, is flow the same
thing as mindfulness, or
are they a little different?
They're a little different.
Mindfulness is the technique that
we can practice to strengthen
the muscle of attention.
And as we become more and more
present and focused and mindful,
the state of flow can emerge.
Flow is a particular brain state.
It's a state of maximum neural harmony.
It's a state of heightened
It's a state where
people are at their best.
However, mindfulness is not the same.
Mindfulness is a pathway to flow.
So the more you practice mindfulness,
the more likely it is that you
would spontaneously go into flow?
And is it, is mindfulness the
formal training of, of how you build
this capacity to be more focused?
Is it the only way, or are
there other ways to train focus?
Well, mindfulness is a
particular kind of meditation.
My first book was called The
Varieties of Meditative Experience.
I looked at the range of different
ways of training the mind.
And mindfulness, which comes
from the Vipassana tradition
in Theravada in countries is a
technique that is quite powerful.
It's not the only way.
There are visualizations.
There are meditations on mindfulness.
There are a wide range of ways
to bring the mind to focus
and bring it to presence.
Mindfulness, however, seems to be the
one that that's, that is in vogue today.
And I think that's fine.
And I think part of the reason for
that is probably because of this huge
body of research that's developed
around that practice of mindfulness
through the, through the MBSR program.
There's, there's quite a
good body of research there.
So I think, as you say, it's quite
in vogue because of that research.
Well, MBSR, mindfulness-based stress
reduction was started by an old
friend of mine, Jon Kabat-Zinn.
I've know him since
before he was doing MBSR.
And his orientation is actually,
it comes from Korean Zen, that
was his training and from yoga.
And he brought them together and
really came up with what I think is
an ingenious way of introducing it.
The most compelling research on MBSR
actually has to do with effects and
with his original application was,
which was in the medical arena.
He told people, he asked people that,
the medical school, where he was
introducing this, send me your patients
that you can't help anymore, he said.
People with chronic disabilities
and, you know, cardiovascular,
diabetes, name whatever it was.
And the idea was that mindfulness
based stress reduction would help
them live better with the disability.
It didn't cure the disease.
Then a group at Oxford with John
Teasdale said, well, if it works so
well with medical patients, and it does,
particularly with chronic pain, let's
try it with people who are depressed,
who medications won't help anymore.
And he integrated it
with cognitive therapy.
And found that a mindfulness-based
cognitive therapy for depression
reduced remissions, that is having
another episode of depression, by 50%.
And it was actually better
than medications can do.
It was quite stunning.
At the same time he was doing that,
actually my wife, Tara Bennett-Goleman,
who's a seasoned mindfulness meditator and
was studying cognitive therapy, integrated
it for kind of the more everyday range
of self-defeating emotional habits.
And she's found it's
a very powerful method.
She has, her book was called, Emotional
Alchemy, How the Mind Can Heal the Heart.
She and I still do workshops together
on that because it's, it's not just
people with chronic pain, it's not
just people with serious depression.
Every one of us has a range of habits
we've learned in our relationships, in
our work life, whatever it may be that
might be, in some sense, self-defeating
and mindfulness is a crucial step in
being able to change those habits.
Because habit itself is implemented
through an unconscious part of the brain.
So in order to change it at all, we
have to bring it into our awareness.
And that's the power of mindfulness, is
that first crucial step in bringing a
habit out of the unconscious into a space
in the mind where we can work with it.
And I think that's true across the
board, that mindfulness lets us be more
intentional about what we do, whatever
we're doing, because we realize when we're
not paying attention and when we are.
It reminds me of that old Viktor Frankl
quote, which is, you know, between,
I think you know it, between stimulus
and response, that's the space where
we have the power to choose something.
So I think that mindfulness kind of
opens up that, that space where we
can choose whether we want to play out
our old habitual response or we can
choose something, something different.
There's another way of putting the same
idea, which is that mature is widening
the gap between impulse and reaction.
And mindfulness, if you put mindfulness
in between the impulse and the action,
you're going to make a better response.
I think one of the things that I
hear most, some of the, some of the
questions that I hear most often, I'd
love to kind of put to you, one of
the things I get asked a lot is, is
there a best way to, to train focus?
Is there, you know, do is, do
you feel that there's a best way?
What's your, what's your take on that?
Or is that different for different people?
There, it may be different
for different people.
If mindfulness doesn't suit you, you
might find walking with mindfulness.
Some, you know, some people
can't sit still that easily.
They get bored or fall asleep.
I used to fall asleep
when I started meditating.
I was student at the time,
I was sleep deprived.
And probably needed the rest.
Now yoga, mindful yoga is helpful.
It's good to find something that you
experience is beneficial and enjoy doing.
And mindfulness, I think is that.
Now in the book, Focus, I talk
about two levels of mindfulness.
One is within our own mind,
the other's interpersonal.
Empathy, being present to
the people that you're with.
And I think that that second
ability is cultivated through
I don't know if you've talked about
loving kindness, in this summit,
but it's extremely important.
In fact, the tradition from which
mindfulness was extracted, always combines
a setting, a session of mindfulness with
ending with the the wishing wellbeing
for yourself, for the people you love,
for the people you know, for people
you don't know, for people you have
difficulty with, for people in your
general area, for people everywhere.
And actually it trains the brain in a
different set of circuitry, which is very
important for empathy and relationship.
People who do that kind of loving
kindness practice systematically,
just as mindfulness makes you more
concentrated in the present, that turns
out to make you more present to other
people, more empathic, more attuned, more
likely to help them if they're in need.
And I feel the best way to train
the mind is to combine both.
Do you know that?
I would have to say, somebody asked me
the other day, do you see any themes
coming up, you know, as you're doing
all these interviews during the summit?
And I said, I think the big one is
compassion, combining self-compassion and
compassion for others with the practice.
There has really been so much of an
emphasis on how important that is.
And I I've just finished a book.
You have, you may not know about it.
It's called A Force for Good: The
Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World.
It just came out.
Now the Dalai Lama, of course, embodies
compassion, encourages mindfulness.
He says, the first step is getting your
destructive emotions under control.
This is a very good tool for that.
The second, he says, is a
dogma and ethic of compassion.
And then after that, you have
to act, he says, it's not enough
to keep your own house in order.
The world is in disorder
and we all can do something.
We all should act now.
And his version of compassion
is surprisingly muscular.
I was really amazed.
It's not just being nice to people.
One thing is he sees is compassionate,
is looking at public spirit,
corruption and collusion and bringing
transparency and accountability.
Oh, that's a, that's
almost a political act.
He says dirty business, dirty
politics, dirty religion, to be
precise, we have to clean it up.
He says our economy is extremely unsure.
The gap between rich and poor
has been growing for centuries.
And we have to have a more
Businesses should do good, not
just, well, not just make money.
He says we all can help the needy,
but you know, find ways to help
those in need also help themselves.
He says you know, the earth is
our house and our house is on fire.
The environmental crisis is
something where we all can bring
mindfulness to our daily habits,
to what we buy ,to what we do.
It's another arena for compassion,
understanding that we're all the same
human being beneath surface differences.
You know, the world is full
of conflict and intergroup
struggles and prejudice and bias.
Mindfulness is a powerful
tool for dealing with that.
And he's not saying we should all
do all of this, but each of us has
some sphere of action where we can
influence things for the better.
And he says, take your mindfulness
and compassion on the road.
It's not enough just to
get your own life together.
We all have a responsibility
for each other.
I'm very inspired by his message.
And I think, you know, as you're saying
that too, it occurs to me that you
know, what, what I've found through
cultivating compassion also is the
courage to see what's difficult to see.
Because it's very easy to
kind of be very overwhelmed.
We live in difficult times, Dan.
Like, you know, I really, I was
having a conversation with someone
recently and just saying, Hey, being,
being human and being on this planet
these days is not easy because it's
kind of overwhelming, you know.
They're saying, you know, that the
planet's in danger and all of this,
and we've got technology and it's
really overwhelming and it's, it's
tempting to, to just shut it out and
stay in your little world and put one
foot in front of the other every day.
But I feel like what compassion does is
gives me permission to feel what I feel
and, and to comfort and soothe myself as
I can knowledge the difficulties of life.
And that gives me the ability to
kind of take whatever action I can.
I feel that's how compassion kind
of works in my own life anyway.
I think that in, in a way it takes
courage to act with compassion.
But the other thing it says is,
don't take on the overwhelming
task, just take small steps.
If each of us, if 7 billion of
us take small steps together,
that's a very giant step.
So we can do it in our lives
with whatever leverage we have.
Even looking at the things we
buy and making better decisions.
You know, there's a wonderful website,
for example, called the skindeep.org,
which analyzes the ingredients in
personal care products, shampoo,
lip balm, whatever it may be.
My shampoo can have 50 chemical
ingredients I've never heard of.
It looks at each of those ingredients
in the medical databases and tells
you if they're related and how
they might be cancer causing, or
they might disturb the ecosystem.
And it rates the toxicity of brands so
all of a sudden we can be mindful of what
we buy and we can make choices, healthier
choices for us and for the planet.
Because what we, you know, shampoo
our hair with washes into the water
system and animals and organisms
are exposed to the same thing.
So compassionate for ourselves in
that concrete way, it turns out to
be compassion for the earth too.
So that's a very easy, small step any of
us could take toward a better environment.
And, you know, it escalates from there.
I love that.
It's, it's, it's I feel like there's
simple, practical things that, the little
things that we do every, every day,
as you say, the way we eat, the way we
consume, the way that we live our daily
lives, it's not only affecting us, but
everything is interconnected in that way.
If you just decide to buy only organic
foods when you can, or non-GMO,
you're in the earth actually, as
you're, you know, taking away the
economic power of those approaches.
You can't really, you can't really
help one without the other, can you?
When you help yourself, you, you
help the planet, when you help
the planet, you help yourself.
The other thing that I get asked a
lot in fact, I'd say it's one of the
most common kind of things that I
first hear people say when they're
on retreat or doing a course on, on
mindfulness is, you know, I can't do it.
I've just, my mind is
wandering all over the place.
I've got such a busy mind.
I, I just can't meditate.
What would you say to if somebody
made that comment to you?
I would say that's the
first sign of progress.
What that means is you've noticed
how active your mind actually is.
But when we're tuned out of the mind,
when we're mindless, that goes on
all the time, we just don't notice.
We're driven by it.
So the first thing that happens
in mindfulness is you notice how
chaotic and busy it is inside there.
So that's great.
Just keep going.
So you're succeeding.
You're not actually failing,
you're succeeding in that moment.
And then what do you think is, you
mentioned before that there were
some studies at Harvard about how
much we're actually lost on autopilot
as opposed to being in the moment.
And there was a talk, if that was
the same research that I'm aware
of with Matt, Matt Killingsworth.
He made a link between fulfillment
or happiness, whatever word you
want to use, and, and the ability
to be present in the moment.
So as you see it, what's the link
between focus and fulfillment?
It turns out that the research shows
when the mind wanders, it tends to
want worry, in preoccupation and things
that are bothering us and upsetting us.
So there's a correlation between how much
your mind wanders and how unhappy you are.
So you could see mindfulness as another
path to happiness because it minimizes
all of the internal angst that goes on.
And in that research, it seemed like
the actual act of being present in the
moment in itself was fulfilling in itself.
Would that be fair to say?
Mindfulness can be fulfilling in itself.
My feeling is that you're setting
yourself up for disappointment.
Right, if you have the expectation.
For the practice to feel a certain way.
It's like, you know, the
attention is a muscle of the mind.
And every time you notice that the
mind is wandering and bring it back,
you're strengthening that muscle.
It's like going to the gym, you know.
And if you workout with a set of weights,
you may be bored while you're doing that.
You may not enjoy it, but you're
still strengthening that muscle.
It works the same.
So it'd be more, in that context, it
would mean more like saying, if you are
mindful over time, you're more likely
to get mentally fit, which has a certain
feeling to it, I guess, over time which
would be similar to going to the gym over
and over again, then you're just fit all
the time with that kind of repetition.
You just have a certain
level of fitness there.
And the same with the mind and that
fitness itself becomes, it means that
you're more likely to have times of
feeling good or energized, of happiness,
but it's not going to happen instantly.
And it may not happen during
the session of mindfulness.
We keep going.
One of the things there's a lot
of buzz around at the moment, I
think is, is mindfulness in the
corporate world and, and, and really
integrating mindfulness into work life.
If you were in charge of a large
organization, say a multinational
organization, what kinds of policies
and procedures would you like to
put in place so that people could
focus more and have less distraction?
I think that there are couple of
things that managers can do to
facilitate mindfulness of work.
One is to encourage people
to practice mindfulness, to
strengthen the muscle of attention.
The second is to make them aware
that multitasking is a myth.
The mind doesn't multitask, that
when you switch from one thing to
another, you lose effectiveness
in the thing you switched from.
When you go back, you have to work,
work up to the point again where
you were before you dropped it.
And the third thing is to realize
that people who are knowledge workers,
who work with their mind, need a
period in the day when they have no
distractions, when there's protected time.
They don't have meetings, they don't
have to take phone calls, they don't
have to answer texts or emails.
That's the most productive
time of the day.
And it's a kind of a creative cocoon.
And managers can help people have that
time by understanding it's important.
So I think those are three
different ways you can facilitate
mindfulness in the workplace.
And I just have one one
final question for you.
And this is the same question that I'm
asking everybody who's taken part in the
Summit, and that is, you know, they, they
say that mindfulness has gone mainstream.
I think it hasn't really
gone mainstream yet.
I think the idea is
I think it's, you know, it's,
it's becoming kind of trendy.
But I'm wondering what would happen
if mindfulness were to truly hit
kind of a critical mass where say
half the population were practicing.
And I'm curious to know what kind of
a world you think that would create,
how things could be different.
I actually see, see that as a very
possible future because of what's called
social emotional learning in schools.
I think the big breakthrough is
not going to be in the workplace.
It's going to be in how we teach
our children because attention
itself is a crucial line of
development, just as emotion
self-regulation is, just as empathy is.
Children learn these abilities
in a developmental sequences as
they go from, you know, birth
through adolescence and so on.
And it's been underrated and
ignored in our culture's attention.
And now that it's being disrupted
so terribly, we have to get very
serious about helping our children
learn to be attentive and mindful.
They can't learn if they're not.
They can't manage their own
emotions, if they're not.
They can't get along with other kids
with other people, they can't cooperate
or be good team members if they're not.
You know, going into adulthood.
So I think that the real mainstream,
although it's great, it's happening in
organizations, will come when we, when
our educational systems recognize that
a child's ability to pay attention in
class is fundamental to the mission of
the school to help the child to learn.
And when schools everywhere adopt
programs that help children get
better and better at paying attention.
What we call mindfulness is
one form of attention training.
There are many other forms.
And as this becomes a given in education,
and I think it should, it's such common
sense when you think about it, then
we'll see real mainstreaming over time.
And what do you think, how do you
think that would change things?
What kinds of changes would you expect
to see in a generation growing up
with much more of an ability to, to
be fully present for their lives?
I think the key actually is coupling
mindfulness with cultivation of kindness.
If we don't do that, it could
go in the wrong direction.
Being mindful, being effective if you're
selfish is not a great boon for society.
Sorry, it's not.
Let's,let's get that
straight, mindfulness people.
What matters is kindness.
Mindfulness plus kindness
creates a better world.
Mindfulness plus a bigger ego,
better job, more money, more
power, no empathy is a disaster.
We don't want to go in that direction.
So if we couple mindfulness with kindness.
I think we'll have a better future.
Dan, thank you so much for your time.
And I want to take this opportunity to
thank you from the bottom of my own heart
for the work that you've done in your
life, because it's really profoundly
touched my own life and my partner, Matty,
and I'm sure that I speak on behalf of
many people who are watching this as well.
So thank you so much for the work that
you've done and, and continue to do.
Melli, I thank you for
putting this together.
I really appreciate it.
I think you're doing wonderful work.
Oh, thank you.
Yeah, it's my pleasure.
And I obviously highly recommend
that everybody watching this checks
out Dan's books, I just finished
reading Focus and I, I loved it
and I'm going to read it again.
And Dan, is there anywhere else
that people should go if they want
to find out more about what you do?
There's the website, morethansound,
one word, morethansound.net as well.
I have a lot of materials,
videos, and audios and books that
you can't find anywhere else.
And also you might enjoy this
new book, A Force for Good: The
Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World.
Oh, that's going to be
next on my reading list.
And Dan, thank you and wishing you all
the best on your continued journey.
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