Book "Search Inside Yourself" - review and summary
I finished reading “Search Inside Yourself” by Chade-Meng Tan recently. This was an amazing book. I enjoyed it and learned a lot. I can call it life-changing. Here is my review and summary.
The book is very well written and organized. Overall it touches many tricky topics (like emotional intelligence, empathy, mindfulness). Since the author is an engineer from Google, they manage to explain everything very well (perhaps even a bit from technical perspective). For each topic the book always considers practical aspects and there is always a link to the real life applications (team building, leadership). This also felt like a deep dive into topics from “The science of wellbeing” course, which I did before and here is my summary. The intersection is large, but the book goes much deeper and also gives more actionable advice on what to do.
Score: 5/5 (amazing life-changing book, everyone should read it after taking “The science of wellbeing” course)
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is one of the best predictors of success at work and fulfillment in life.
Salovey-Mayer definition of EI - ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.
Goleman’s domains of EI:
- social skills
EI helps to perform better at work, makes people better leaders, creates conditions for our own sustainable happiness.
To train EI, we train attention.
Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lives our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”
Basal ganglia (wiki) stores our wisdom, but it has no connectivity to verbal cortex. Thus, instead of words, it tells us what it knows in feelings (a gut feeling).
Easy way to experience mindfulness - bring your attention to your breathing gently for 2 minutes. Every time your attention wanders, just bring it back to breathing.
Easier way - just seat without an agenda for 2 min. You can switch between easy and easier ways at any time.
The exercise can be rephrased as “breathing as if you life depends on it” (Kabat-Zinn).
“Expensive food meditation” - eating food as if it is very expensive and rare.
Scientific definition of meditation (by Brefczynski-Lewis) - a family of mental training practices that are designed to familiarize the practitioner with specific types of mental processes.
Mindfulness meditation trains EI via attention (taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form) and meta-attention (ability to know that your attention wandered away). Meta-attention is the secret for concentration.
Happiness is the default state of the mind.
Meditation is exercise for the mind to gain more mental abilities. In both meditation and exercise growth comes from overcoming resistance. Every time we bring a wandering attention back, we are giving our muscles of attention an opportunity for growth.
“Grandmother mind”: you are perfect and grandmother loves you as you are.
The posture should help to be alert and relaxed.
Four step plan for distractions:
- Experience without judging or reacting
- If you need to react, continue maintaining mindfulness
- Let it go
If you have to react during a meditation (e.g. scratch your leg) - try to take 5 breadths before reacting - to create space between stimulus and reaction. This gives more control in life.
Meditation is about inquiry like science. Attention is a tool for developing insights into the mind.
Meditation has been studied by Davidson and Kabat-Zinn.
Benefits of meditation
After eight weeks of meditation subjects were measurably happier (measured in brains) and showed an increase in developing immunity.
3 months of training reduce attention blink (Slagter, Lutz, Davidson) - i.e. the shortest time between two acts of selective attention (wiki).
Lutz has showed that meditation has effect at rest.
Kabat-Zinn - mindfulness accelerates psoriasis healing.
Lazar - meditation leads to thicker cortex in attention and sensory processing areas.
Meditation helps to pay attention better, e.g. in a class. It is important to integrate mindfulness in your everyday life. We take stuff for granted (no pain, three meals, being able to walk). With mindfulness these become a source of joy, because we no longer take them for granted. Experiences get better too, because our full attention is there. In mindfulness, neutral experiences tend to become pleasant, pleasant experiences tend to become even more pleasant (there is no downside).
One can accelerate mindfulness generalization by bringing it to activity. Every time attention wanders, gently bring it back to the task. I.e. like sitting meditation, but the object is the task at hand rather than the breath.
The best formal practice is walking meditation. When walking - bring full moment-to-moment attention to every moment and sensation in the body and every time it wanders away, just gently bring it back.
- stand still
- experience pressure on the feet
- take a step forward
- plant your feet mindfully
- take a moment to experience
- do it with the other foot
You can repeat silently “lifting, lifting, lifting”, “moving, moving, moving”, “standing, standing, standing”. After some step you can turn “turning, turning, turning”. You can synchronize with breathing:
- lifting foot - breathe in
- moving out and planting - breathe out.
You don’t have to walk slowly, thus, you can do it every time you walk. I do this on my way to restroom and this helps me to be creative.
Other practice - directed mindfulness - like before but object of meditation is another person.
Formal mindful listening
Take 2 people. One has 3 minute monologue (silence is allowed), second can only acknowledge. Then switch. Possible topics:
- feeling right now
- something that happened today
- anything else
Informal practice - when listening in everyday life, give your full attention. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to other person talking. Don’t lead the conversation, just acknowledge and don’t over acknowledge.
Our attention is the most valuable gift we can give to others. Give people you care about a few minutes of your attention every day. They will bloom like flowers.
- Mindful listening
- Looping - say what you heard, other person can give more feedback
- Dipping - self directed mindfulness during listening - acknowledging internal chatter and feelings.
- 4 minute monologue
- 6 minute looping & dipping.
One can practise this informally - “left me repeat how I understand this. Let me know if I am correct.”
Mindfulness is like an exercising. It is not sufficient to just understand the topic. You can only benefit from it with practice.
- Find a buddy
- Do less than you can (so that it does not become a chore)
- One mindful breath a day
Focused attention - focus on a chosen object. Open attention - willing to meet any object that arrives to the mind or the senses.
Self-awareness - “knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources and intuitions” (Goleman’s definition).
It engages neo-cortex (the thinking brain) in the processing of emotion. The moment you can see an emotion, you are no longer fully engulfed in it.
Competencies of self awareness:
- emotional - recognizing your emotions and the effects
- accurate - knowing your strengths and limits
- self confidence - a strong sense of one’s self worth and capabilities.
Self awareness is mindfulness.
Formal practice - body scan - bring moment-to-moment non-judging attention to different parts of your body. This helps to fall asleep.
Journaling - self-discovery by writing to yourself. You are trying to let your thoughts flow onto paper, so you can see what comes up.
For 3 minutes, write “What I am feeling now is”. Try not to think, just write. It doesn’t matter how closely you follow the prompt, just let all your thoughts flow onto the paper. If you run out, just write “I have nothing to write”. Remember - you write this to yourself, you won’t have to show this to anyone.
Spera et all: people writing about their feelings (20 min / day for 5 days) found a job much sooner. Very Short List (VSL): Science -> students writing about experiences for 15 min a day were healthier, had higher grader, better mood and wellbeing.
Four minutes is enough.
- What I am feeling now is
- I am aware that
- What motivates me is
- I am inspired by
- Today I aspire to
- What hurts me is
- I wish
- Others are
- I made a happy mistake
- Love is
- (Priming) 2 minutes thinking about one or more instances in which you responded positively to a challenging situation and the outcome was satisfying. If considering more than one instance - think about connections or patterns.
- 30 seconds pause
- 2 minutes for each
- Things that give me pleasure are …
- My strengths are …
- Priming as above, but for responding negatively.
- 30 seconds pause
- 2 minutes for each
- Things that annoy me are …
- My weaknesses …
- Read what you wrote.
We are not our emotions.
They are what you feel, not who you are. Emotions go from “I am” to “I feel” with mindfulness practice. With more practice you begin to see them as psychological phenomena. We are like sky and thoughts and emotions are clouds. They come and go. This allows one to have mastery over their emotions and move them from compulsion to choice.
Emotions are like a horse. They can drive us without us knowing where. We can tame and guide this horse. We need to understand it first (self awareness).
- Self control - keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check
- Trustworthiness - maintaining standards of honesty and integrity
- Consciousness - taking responsibility for personal performance
- Adaptability - flexibility in handling change
- Innovation - being comfortable with novel ideas, approaches and info.
Commonality for all of them - choice. We need to move from compulsion to choice to enable all of these.
Self regulation is not about avoiding emotions and not about denying or repressing true feelings. They are valuable info. It is not about never having certain emotions. It is about becoming skillful with them. It is impossible to stop a thought or emotion from arising. But we have the power to let it go. The trained mind can do it in the moment it arises.
Pain and suffering are different. The key is to let go of grasping (mind holds onto something) and aversion (mind keeps something away). They account for huge percentage of suffering we experience. They are separate from sensation and perception, but arise so close together that we don’t see the difference.
Once you can distinguish them, you have an opportunity to experience pain without suffering. The theory is that aversion (not pain) causes the suffering. Another benefit is experiencing pleasure without aftertaste of unsatisfactoriness. Our clinging to experiences causes suffering.
Dealing with distress
- Know when you are not in pain. Be aware when you are not in pain. This makes us happier. When we are in pain we say “with no pain I will be so much happier”, but then we forget. The pain is not constant. Appreciating low levels of pain (even temporary, especially emotional) helps to start the recovery.
- Do not feel bad about feeling bad. “Meta distress” - distress about experiencing distress. This is an act of our ego (reflection of its image of itself). The solution is to let go of ego.
- Do not feed the monsters. Anger needs repeating of angry stories. If you don’t repeat them - anger may go away.
- Start every thought with kindness and humor.
Neural model of emotion regulation: mindfulness increases bandwidth between emotion and regulation parts of the brain, so that the can communicate more clearly.
To deal with triggers - identify when you are triggered (e.g. fight-or-flight response). Triggers are based on insecurities.
Practice to handle triggers (or negative distressing emotions) “Siberian North Railroad”:
Do not react for one moment aka “Sacred pause”. This enables all other steps.
- everybody wants to be happy
- this person thinks that acting this way will make them happy in some way
Imagine the kindest most positive response.
You can practise reflection and response step retroactively - after the triggering event is over. This can be generalized:
- Attention deployment (count to 10 or take deep breath or think of something else)
- Reframing or reinterpreting meaning of the situation:
- see positives
- kindness and compassion
- Acceptance and willingness to experience emotion
- meshing (let emotion go through your body)
- humor and curiosity One needs step (2), because otherwise the situation will be there and will re-trigger the person.
Better self regulation = better recovery mechanism after failure -> more self confidence.
Ultimately, self regulation is about making friends with our emotions.
E.g. you can see panic as a boss and obey it or like an enemy and wish it to go away. Instead you could be friends and just allow it to come and go at will and treat it with kindness.
You already know your deepest values and motivations, you just need help in discovering them.
Tony Hsieh describes 3 components of happiness:
- Pleasure (chasing the next thing)
- Passion aka flow
- Higher purpose
The sustainability of each decreases. We often chase (1) thinking that it is sustainable, i.e. we spend the most effort on (1), a little on (2) and almost no on (3). Tony suggests to do the reverse.
Thus, the best way to motivate yourself is to find your own higher purpose. Then you get good at it, thus, enjoy more flow. Then gain recognition and get bonuses and mentions, i.e. (1).
Three practices for motivation:
Alignment: aligning our work with our value and higher purpose.
Create a situation in which your work is fun for you, but you get paid. Intrinsic motivators:
- Autonomy - the urge to direct our lives
- Mastery - the desire to get better and better at something that matters
- Purpose - the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves.
Traditional monetary incentives work well for routine, rule-based work. For creative work then can even be counter productive.
Another way to clarify your values and higher purpose is to tell them to other people. Act of verbalizing them forces us to make them clearer and more tangible to ourselves. Another way is to journal: * my core values are … * I stand for …
Envisioning: seeing the desired future for ourselves.
It is much easier to achieve something if you can visualize yourself already achieving it. In a sense we learn from the past what to predict for the future and then live the future we expect. In other words - you have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.
Exercise: Discover my ideal future: if everything in my life, starting from today, meets or exceeds my most optimistic expectations, what will my life be in five years?
The more detailed the imagery in your mind, the better this works.
Consider in this future:
- Who are you and what are you doing?
- How do you feel?
- What do people say about you?
Spend 1 minute in silent contemplation before writing.
- more time (hours)
- final date (10 years)
- pretend you live there and write your daily diary
- own obituary or two (current and desired)
Talk about your ideal future with others:
- The more you talk, the more real it becomes to you.
- The more likely it is to find people to help you (especially when it is something altruistic).
Resilience: the ability to overcome obstacles in our path.
Overcome obstacles. Levels:
- Inner calm. Deep inner calm always allows you to stay resilient. Mindfulness trains this.
Emotional. Success and failure are emotional experiences. When we become capable of containing emotions and able to let go of grasping and aversion, we can become emotionally resilient to success and failure.
Meditation on resilience
- Calm mind - attention to body parts.
- 4 min - failure
- 4 min - success
- Returning to calm.
Cognitive. “Success is 99 percent failure”. “Failure is the mother of success”. If you want to do something new and innovative, you often need to feel stupid as well. “You have to be confused, upset, think you are stupid. If you are not willing to do that, you can’t go outside the box”. The failure is a common experience. What distinguishes successful people is their attitude to failure and specifically how they explain their own failure to themselves. Optimist reacts to setbacks as temporary and can be overcome by effort and abilities. To learn optimism, become realistic & objective (normally we pay more attention to negative).
Fredrickson has found that it takes 3 positive experiences to overcome one negative. You life ratio can be 2 positive to 1 negative and you will feel unhappy.
- We need to be aware of out strong negative experiential bias. We pay too much attention to failures and too little to successes.
- Mindfulness leads to objectivity toward our own experiences. Bring attention to tendency to downplay success and to disproportionally strong effect of failure.
- Transformation. Take conscious note of success and accept credit for it. This creates mental habit of paying attention to success. When experiencing failure focus on realistic evidence suggesting that this setback may be temporary. If you find any evidence suggesting reasons for realistic hope, bring attention to it.
Mirror neurons - cells that fire when one performs an activity or when another person is performing an activity. When you see your loved one in pain, you share a similar affective experiences (neural foundation for compassion). Empathy works by having you physiologically mimic the other person. Empathy relies on self awareness. “Psychologizing” - dismissing the problem - not understanding it. Empathy does not mean psychologizing or agreeing. It increases with kindness and perceived similarity. To be more empathetic, we need to instinctively respond to everyone with kindness and an automatic perception of other being just like me -> we need to create mental habits.
We become what we think. Inviting a thought to arise in your mind is often enough and it will become a mental habit. E.g. wishing another person to be happy -> you get instinctive thought.
Informal practice - generate this thought every time you meet people.
Just like me & loving kindness meditation
- 2 min breath.
- Bring mind to somebody you care about.
- Read script for
- “just like me”
This person has a body and a mind, just like me. This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts, just like me. This person has, at some point in his or her life, been sad, disappointed, angry, hurt, or confused, just like me. This person has, in his or her life, experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me. This person wishes to be free from pain and suffering, just like me. This person wishes to be healthy and loved, and to have fulfilling relationships, just like me. This person wishes to be happy, just like me.
I wish for this person to have the strength, the resources, and the emotional and social support to navigate the difficulties in life. I wish for this person to be free from pain and suffering. I wish for this person to be happy. Because this person is a fellow human being, just like me. (Pause) Now, I wish for everybody I know to be happy. (Long pause)
- “just like me”
- 1 min resting It can be used to heal relationships and deal with conflicts (dissipate anger).
Traditional Metta Bhavana (source for the loving kindness approach above):
- 2 min rest
- May I be well / happy / free from suffering
- Someone you like
- May he or she be well / happy / free from suffering
- Someone neutral
- May he or she be well / happy / free from suffering
- Someone negative
- May he or she be well / happy / free from suffering
- May they be well / happy / free from suffering
Empathy helps to build trust. Five dysfunctions of a team:
- Absence of trust
- Fear of conflict (no debates)
- Lack of commitment
- Avoidance of accountability
- Inattention to results
Absence of trust is the root cause of all dysfunctions. Specifically “vulnerability-based trust” - willing to expose our own vulnerabilities because we are confident that they won’t be used against us. Once you learn to establish this type of trust, you can become effective team-leader, mentor, coach. Trust has to begin with sincerity, kindness and openness. Assume that other person is good and deserves to be treated as such until proven otherwise. Assume that others make the right choice, even if we don’t understand or would have done differently ourselves.
Trust begets trust. If you assume someone is trustworthy, it is easier to build trust with them.
Three assumptions (before a meeting)
- Assume that everybody in this room is here to serve the greater good until proven otherwise.
- Given the above assumption, none of us has any hidden agenda until proven otherwise.
- We are all reasonable even when disagree until proven otherwise.
Empathic listening - like listening practice above, but for feelings. Same exercise as in mindful conversation but “What I hear you feel is”.
The authors never explain what a given skill is before doing any of the exercises in their courses. These skills come preinstalled into humans, we just need to improve it.
To improve empathetic listening, we need mindfulness, kindness, curiosity and practice.
You can practice informally. Do mindfulness meditation, then “Just like me / Loving kindness”. Start by thinking “I want this person to be happy”. Give as much feedback (or go into feelings) as possible. Give them airtime. Consider going meta in the end - “Was this conversation helpful to you?”.
Never praise falsely - it will be sniffed out and you will lose credibility. However, you still need to praise skillfully. Bad praise can undermine. Being praised for being smart is bad (“a person praise”) -> fixed mindset (success due to a fixed trait). In this framework a fail would mean personal inadequacy. “Process praise” (“You must have worked hard”) -> “growth mindset” -> creates love of learning and resilience.
Structure feedback around effort and growth rather than by labeling the person, i.e. for working hard rather than being smart.
Political awareness - reading organization’s emotional currents and power relationships. Generalization of empathy from an interpersonal level to an organization level.
- Rich personal network. To do this - care about people, help people and nurture relationships.
- Practice reading currents. How decisions are made, by authority or consensus. Who are the most influential in making them?
- Distinguish your own self interest, your team’s and organization’s.
Exercise (writing or speaking)
- Think of conflict or disagreement (real, with meaning for you).
- Describe the situation as if you are 100% correct and reasonable.
- Same for other person.
The purpose - see perspectives of different players. Both parties can be correct and reasonable in a conflict -> different priorities, missing info. Once you see that both parties are correct and reasonable, you will be able to understand differing perspectives objectively.
Kindness is the most important mental habit for empathy. I.e. during an interaction “this person is a human being just like me. I want him or her to be happy” should effortlessly arise.
To be liked helps in career. Leading with compassion. Compassion is the happiest state ever. The second happiest is “open awareness”. Compassion is a mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and aspiration to see that suffering relieved. Components:
- “I understand you”
- “I feel for you”
- “I want to help you”
Compassion creates highly effective leaders.
Compassion is about switching from “I” to “we”.
Based on “Good to Great” by Collins, company needs L5 leader to become great (from good), i.e. highly capable, great ambition (for greater good, thus, no need to inflate ego), personal humility. As a result they are highly effective and inspiring.
Compassion can be used to train L5 (necessary, but may be insufficient). We can train compassion by mental habits. Exercise:
- 2 min resting on breath.
- Visualize your goodness as white light radiating out of your body. Breathe in all your goodness in your heart. Multiply 10x in your heart. Breathe out and send goodness out to the whole world (e.g. like brilliant white light).
- 2 min pause
- Same as above, but for people you know.
- 2 min pause.
- Same for everyone in the world.
- 2 min pause.
- 1 min resting on breath.
- Seeing goodness in others and self.
- Giving goodness to all.
- Confidence that you can multiply goodness.
Tonglen meditation - same as above, but breathe in suffering and pain and transform into goodness. You can start with multiplying goodness and after some time give Tonglen a try.
We already influence others. They key is to expand this and use for good. Social brain - “minimize danger (with high weight), maximize reward (with low weight”. We respond more strongly to negative events than to positive (Fredrickson -> 3 negative : 1 positive ratio makes people more resilient and helps to achieve goals, Gottman -> 5:1 for marriage to succeed).
SCARF model - five primary domains (survival issues)
- Status - relative importance. When learning something that matters to you, you gain status (reward against your former self).
- Certainty - uncertainty takes brain resources.
- Autonomy - perception of exerting control over environment.
- Relatedness - whether another person is “friend” or “foe”.
- Fairness - people are the only animals to sacrifice their self interest due to unfairness (99 and 1 dollar example - I am given an offer where I can take 1 dollar and if I do so another person will get 99 dollars. Even though having 1 dollar is better than 0, the person is inclined not to take it due to unfairness).
Difficult conversations - the ones hard to have.
- Three conversations (walk though them as a preparation):
- What happened
- What emotions are involved
- What does this say about me (am I competent, good person, worthy of love)
Sort out objectively what happened, understand yours and others emotions, identify what is at stake for you. Decide whether to raise the issue. What do you want to accomplish? Solve a problem? Help? Or make someone feel bad? Sometimes the right thing is not to raise the issue. Start from objective “Third Story” (third party view). Explore their story and yours. Problem solve - invent solutions to meet concerns and interests.
Impact is not intention. We judge ourselves by intentions and others by impact (infer intentions). If someone said something and hurt us, this doesn’t mean that they wanted this.
There are issues of identity in every difficult conversation. E.g. “Am I competent?”.
Preparing for a difficult conversation - may be in writing or speaking (e.g. to a friend):
- Think of a difficult conversation (you had, will or should have had).
- Describe the three conversation from your point of view
- Then from the other person’s perspective.
In e-mails - emotional context can be miscommunicated.
Brain gets no emotional data and makes it up. It believes the result to be true. Usually the result has strong negative bias.
Practice for mindful email:
- Reflect humans on receiving end. Just like you. You may do “Just like me” meditation.
- Write email.
- Reflect that the receiver will assume negative emotions if none. Reread email from their perspective and assuming no context.
- Breath before sending. You may change your mind and don’t send.
Mantra - love them, understand them, forgive them, grow with them. Repeat silently when in difficult situation.
Inner happiness is contagious. Social interactions become more positive -> create more inner happiness. Positive feedback loop.