Start with one breath a day, and it might just change your world 


I was chatting to a friend recently who was constantly distracted by his mobile. I knew I didn’t have his full attention, but was determined to let it wash over me. After all, that’s the way of the world these days. 

He was complaining about a misunderstanding with the person he was IM’ing.

“Why don’t you just call him instead?” I said.

“It’s easier this way,” he said. “Besides, it would be rude, since I’m talking to you.”

Except he wasn’t.

It’s all in the mind

It seems that nowadays, attention-deficit disorder is the new normal. We’re all trying to do more than one thing at once, and not making a very good fist of it. At times, we seem to be sleepwalking through life, constantly distracted by inputs real and virtual. 

Which is why mindfulness has become such a big thing in recent years. The idea is a simple one: instead of living your life on autopilot, you bring your attention to what you’re doing right here, right now. You experience it directly, without letting yourself get distracted by thoughts of what’s been or what’s to come.

I’ve been on a mindfulness kick on and off for the last few years, and recently stumbled across a book by Chade-Meng Tan, whose job title when he previously worked at Google was Jolly Good Fellow (yes, really).

During his more than 15 years at the organisation, where he worked as an engineer, he developed a keen interest in mindfulness. He created and ran an in-house course to help employees be happier, less stressed and relate better to each other. 

He shares his work in a book I’ve just finished reading called Search Inside Yourself: The Secret to Unbreakable Concentration, Complete Relaxation and Effortless Self-Control. If you’re thinking this is all a bit pie-in-the sky, think again. 

He says that focus, attention, mindfulness and empathy can help not only the individual, but the organisation too. And as I read it, I couldn’t help thinking how it applied to all of us who work in marketing, and our interactions with colleagues, clients and suppliers. 

One thought at a time

The book had many things that struck a chord with me on a personal level, but it also included lots of business takeaways. Among those were: 

  • Mindful writing – in particular emailing, but it applies to any writing. Meng says the biggest problem is that the emotional context is missing, sometimes with ‘disastrous results’.  Devoid of that context, the written word can often offend or even scare people, unleashing unintended consequences. The solution is for the writer to put themselves in the receiver’s shoes, knowing nothing about the sender’s intention or emotional context, and approaching it with the negative bias that’s common to us all. 
  • The importance of empathy, because it builds trust and helps create a connection. And often, it’s all to do with ‘perceived similarity’. If the person you’re communicating with feels that they have something in common with you (the book has some fascinating insights into how we cut slack for PLUs – people like us) then they’re more likely to give you a fair hearing and even agree with you. 
  • Mindful conversation, which is something that we seem to have less and less of these days, whether it’s with friends, colleagues or casual acquaintances. He says there are three key things we need to do: listening (really listening, which means not interrupting and bringing the conversation back to ourselves), looping (repeating your understanding of what the speaker says to make sure you’ve really understood) and ‘dipping’ (basically, checking in with yourself to see how you’re responding to what you’re hearing). 
  • Why our desire for fairness often trumps common sense, because we’re all outraged (often unnecessarily) when we feel we’ve got the short end of the straw. I think this is crucial when it comes to how customers and prospects react to a company. If they feel they’re getting a raw deal, nothing else matters. As Meng says in the book, if Person A has $100 and the power to distribute it as he sees fit, and decides to keep $99 and give $1 to Person B, the latter could feel offended to the point of refusing the money. But why? If he refuses, he gets nothing. If he accepts, he’s $1 richer.  That’s because ‘humans are the only animals known to voluntarily injure their own self-interests to punish the perceived unfairness of others’. It’s all about point of view – theirs, not yours. 
  • Process vs. person. When somebody does a good job, it’s the effort they made that you should praise, not the person themselves. Why? Because person praise is part of a ‘fixed mindset’ (it’s too personal, as they think I can’t go any further, because I’ve reached my limit) whereas process praise is part of a ‘growth mindset’ (they think there is no limit – I can always learn more). 

The book is fascinating, and Meng’s quirky sense of humour (based on a heavy dose of self-deprecation, which is always endearing) makes it an easy read.

It’s packed full of insights, and even if you don’t put all of them into practice for your business, you’ll learn how to tame your mind and create a sense of calm and acceptance. As Meng says, all it takes is one breath a day. 

And that could change your world, either personal or professional. 

Or at the very least let you sleep soundly at night.