Search Inside Yourself with Chade-Meng Tan
Chade-Meng Tan is an amazing guy. He started out as an engineer at Google, but his current title is Jolly Good Fellow with a job description that reads, “Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace.” As part of that mission, he developed a personal growth curriculum at Google called “Search Inside Yourself.” With his new book of the same name, he’s spreading that program to the whole world. (Buy it at Amazon, BN.com, or IndieBound.)
I find this combination of clear-sighted engineer and compassionate guru very intriguing, so I fired off a few questions for Meng. I think you’ll find something useful — perhaps life-changing — in his answers.
How did the Search Inside Yourself program come about? And what makes it different from other programs?
The main motivation for creating the Search Inside Yourself program is to create the conditions for world peace. I feel that if we have inner peace, inner joy and compassion on a global scale, it will create the conditions for world peace. In order to do that, I feel we need to align those qualities with success of individuals and companies. In other words, if we can help people and companies succeed in a way that inner peace, inner joy and compassion are the necessary and unavoidable side effects, then those three qualities will spread. I feel the way to achieve that is with an effective curriculum for emotional intelligence for adults. That is why I gathered a team of experts to create that curriculum in Google.
I think the main distinguishing feature of Search Inside Yourself is its emphasis on training core emotional skills. When you come across a program advertised as an emotional intelligence course, you might naturally assume it to be a mostly behavioral program, i.e., a program that tells you how to behave or to not behave in certain situations. Search Inside Yourself takes an entirely different approach. For example, it does not tell you how to react in an emotionally difficult situation; instead, it shows you how to train yourself to become calm and collected in an emotionally difficult situation so you can think clearly and choose for yourself how you want to respond. In addition, Search Inside Yourself has a strong scientific foundation, its methods are already shown to be effective in a work setting (in Google, no less), and it is taught in a highly accessible language.
Search Inside Yourself puts a strong emphasis on developing mindfulness. Why do you think we tend to avoid opportunities for mindfulness and sustained attention in favor of busy-ness and distraction? Is the reason ourselves or our circumstances?
Actually, I think we do engage in mindfulness and sustained attention a lot, but we only do so in circumstances we find enjoyable and rewarding, for example, when playing video games or buried in work that we enjoy or solving interesting problems. I think we avoid opportunities for mindfulness and sustained attention in favor of busy-ness and distraction when we consider what we are doing (or are supposed to be doing) to be a chore.
This insight suggests one strategy for practicing mindfulness meditation: try to make it not a chore. One skillful way for the beginner is to treat mindfulness as moments of rest for the mind. Rest your mind for a short moment by bringing a gentle attention to the process of breathing for maybe one breath, that is all. If you like, you can think of the mind as resting gently on the breath, whatever that means to you. If it helps, you can imagine the breath as the petal of a flower moving gently in the breeze and the mind as a butterfly resting gently on the petal.
The idea here is to have a lot of these micro mental rest breaks frequently. The best feature of this practice is it doesn’t require you to give up anything. You don’t have to stop working and go to a meditation room for an hour or something like that. You can take a micro break between tasks, when you are walking to the restroom, or at the beginning of every activity (for example, opening your lunch box or starting up your word processor). You can get some benefits of meditation for practically zero cost.
The key advantage of this practice is it never becomes a chore, because every time you do it, it feels rewarding (because it is restful), and one breath never gets long enough for mindfulness to become boring. Equally importantly, mindfulness practice is cumulative, so one second of mindfulness here and there adds up. Perhaps most important of all, if you do it frequently enough, mindfulness becomes a mental habit, and when that happens, you may be ready to do formal mindfulness meditation for long durations and not feel intimidated.
You write a great deal about listening — a skill that I think is poorly developed in most of us, in part because nobody ever really teaches us how. What are one or two listening exercises that Pink Blog readers might enjoy and learn from?
There is a very simple and beautiful practice called Mindful Listening that improves your listening skills and is almost guaranteed to improve your social life and the quality of your marriage.
The practice is very simple: as you listen, give your full moment-to-moment attention to other person with a non-judging mind. That is all. Every time your attention wanders away, just gently bring it back.
Think of this practice as offering the speaker the gift of your attention. When we give our full attention to somebody, for that moment, the only thing in the world that we care about is that person, nothing else matters because nothing else is strong within our field of consciousness. There is no greater gift.
In our class, we do a formal version of this practice as an exercise. We pair up participants and have them speak to each other in monologue for three minutes each. We frequently hear people telling us, “I got to know this person for six minutes, and we are already friends. Yet there are people who have been sitting in the next cubicle for months, and I don’t even know them.” This is the power of attention. Just giving each other the gift of total attention for six minutes is enough to create a friendship.