“Imagine two human beings. Don’t say anything, don’t do anything, just wish for those two human beings to be happy. That’s all.”
During one recent talk, he gave the group a homework assignment: Perform the exercise the next day at work, spending 10 seconds each hour randomly choosing two people and silently wishing for them to be happy. The following morning, Tan received an email from an employee who attended the workshop that read, “I hate my job. I hate coming to work every day. But yesterday I tried your suggestion and it was my happiest day in seven years.”
It’s not the first time that Tan — who Wired recently dubbed an “Enlightenment engineer” — has seen emotional intelligence exercises transform an employee’s work and life. As Google’s resident “Jolly Good Fellow,” Tan developed Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program, a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training program. Tan’s philosophy is that cultivating emotional intelligence through mindfulness training and meditation can help an individual reach a state of inner peace, the essential foundation of happiness, success and compassion.
Over 1,000 Google employees have gone through the SIY curriculum, the principles of which are outlined in Tan’s New York Times bestseller, “Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path To Achieving Success, Happiness (And World Peace)”. The program focuses on building up the five emotional intelligence domains of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills, primarily through meditation and mindfulness training, which aims to improve one’s focus and attention on the present moment.
The benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace are well-documented, from career success to improved relationships to better leadership — and Tan says getting Silicon Valley interested in a meditation program to train employees in emotional intelligence wasn’t difficult.
“Everybody already knows, emotional intelligence is good for my career, it’s good for my team, it’s good for my profits,” Tan tells the Huffington Post. “It comes pre-marketed, so all I had to do is create a curriculum for emotional intelligence that helps people succeed, with goodness and world-peace as the unavoidable side-effects.”
Here are five ways that you can cultivate emotional intelligence — and revolutionize your work, relationships and happiness.
Tan outlines three major steps to developing emotional intelligence: Training attention (“the ability to bring the mind to a state that’s calm and clear, and to do it on demand,” he explains), self-awareness, and social intelligence. The first step is building an individual’s powers of attention through meditation.
Tan is convinced that much like improving physical fitness, improving “mental fitness” through meditation and mindfulness practices can improve nearly every aspect of your life, from work to family life to physical health.
“There are some things in life where if you improve one thing, everything else in life is improved… If you improve physical fitness, it improves your home life, success, wellness, everything,” says Tan.” The same is true for meditation, because meditation is in fact mental and emotional fitness. If you are fit mentally and emotionally, every aspect of your life improves.”
Research has confimed that mindfulness contributes to emotional well-being, in addition to improving memory and attention. A 2013 University of Utah study found that individuals with mindful personality traits (such as self-awareness and attentiveness) exhibited more stable emotional patterns and reported feeling more in control of their moods and actions. Brown University research also found that mindfulness meditation could improve an individual’s control over brain processing of pain and emotions.
Meditation is also the primary vehicle for cultivating compassion: A recent Harvard University study found that individuals who underwent eight weeks of meditation training were significantly more likely to help others in need than those who hadn’t gone through the meditation training.
Neuroscientists have even seen that meditating on compassion can create an empathetic state in the brain. When Tibetan Buddhist monks were asked to meditate on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion” in a 2006 study, their brains generated powerful gamma waves that may have indicated a compassionate state of mind, Wired reported, explaining that empathy may be able to be cultivated by “exercising” the brain through loving-kindness meditation.
Tan explains that mindfulness training helps to boost self-compassion first and foremost, which then expands to compassion for others. “[After the program], people say, ‘I see myself with kindness.'”
But the benefits of cultivating compassion go beyond greater kindness towards oneself and others: In addition to improving happiness, compassion can also boost a business’s creative output and bottom line, according to Tan — a sentiment that LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, a leading proponent of compassionate management, would agree with.
“The one thing [that all companies should be doing] is promoting the awareness that compassion can and will be good for success and profits,” says Tan.
Practice mindful observance of the mind and body.
Mindful awareness of what’s going on in the mind and body — thoughts, feelings, emotions, physical sensations and dis-ease — is an important step in cultivating inner joy, says Tan.
“If you start from mindfulness, the first thing you get is inner peace,” Tan explains. “Then you add on other practices like observing wellness in the body, you also get inner joy. Take that inner joy and add on other practices, and you will get kindness and compassion.”
In the Search Inside Yourself training program, Tan said that by mindfully observing emotions and bodily sensations, individuals were able to identify and remedy physical health problems.
“There are people who were in poor health [in the training],” says Tan. “One woman discovered through the class that she had been suppressing her emotions and it was manifesting as poor health. She discovered that, and her health problems mostly went away.”
Make mindfulness a habit.
You may not think of inner peace as something that you can develop through creating good habits, but Tan explains that happiness is a habit that you can create through a daily mindfulness practice.
“To create sustainable compassion, you have to be strong in inner joy,” says Tan. “Inner joy comes from inner peace — otherwise it’s not sustainable. And inner peace is highly trainable.”
The way that inner peace is trained is through regular meditation — which isn’t strictly limited to sitting quietly in lotus position. A meditation habit can be a quiet daily walk around your block, a yoga practice, or any of these non-om forms of meditation. The important thing is that you create a habit by doing it regularly and turn mindfulness into a part of your daily life.
“Habits are highly trainable,” explains Tan. “And habits become character.”
There’s no guidebook giving instructions on how to be a caregiver. There are no physician consultations to tell you what the next step is in how to provide moral, physical, and emotional support to the person you love that has just been diagnosed with a possibly fatal disease. There are no rules about caring for yourself.
Having been a caregiver for nearly three years to my late husband, who was diagnosed at the age of 22 with stage III testicular cancer, I’ve been around the block. Here are five things I learned that I hope will help guide other caregivers in your heart-wrenching predicaments everywhere:
1. It’s okay to freak out for yourself.
You’re already freaking out for your loved one. That one comes naturally. What takes a little bit more consciousness and effort, is to allow yourself to lose it all, come totally unglued, fall apart… all over how this diagnosis is affecting you and your life. You’re a person, too. Yes, with needs. Your world just got rocked and while you’re busy holding it all together in support of your loved one, you forget how to let go and let your feelings matter, too. I’m here to tell you that it’s not just okay to allow yourself to feel and experience the magnitude of what you’re dealing with, it’s something that I encourage you to do, for your own sake.
2. No one, including you, really knows how to help you.
People mean well. Friends and family will offer to help in whatever ways they can and all you have to do is let them know how they can help. The thing is though, that you have no earthly idea what these people can do to help ease your pain or make your life easier. If you can figure out ways to allow these people who love and are worried about you to contribute, let them. Ask for dinners to be brought over on chemotherapy days so that you can spend the day in the clinic or hospital without having to worry about preparing a meal when you get home. Let someone know which closet you keep your vacuum and broom in and let them clean your floors while you go grocery shopping. Let that overbearing neighborhood mom who always seems to have it together take your kids for a play date — maybe letting her deal with your kids for a couple of hours for a change will take her down a notch or two. And if you really can’t figure out ways to let people help, don’t sweat it, because it’s not worth the added stress.
3. It’s normal to lose friends after a diagnosis.
Just like people don’t really know what the best way to help you is, people also don’t know how to react to the news you’ve shared with them. Cancer makes people uncomfortable, whether they mean to let it or not. Now that you’ve got your hands full with chauffeuring your loved one to doctor appointments, heading out in the middle of the night for last-minute prescription refills and learning an insane amount of new terminology, you’ve got no time left for lunch dates, mommy-and-me outings or long phone calls just to catch up. It’s not going to be an immediate priority of yours to keep the lines of communication open, but when your friends stop hearing from you they won’t realize that you didn’t even mean to stop calling. They’ll figure that you’re too busy, and you are, but they won’t want to bother you so they won’t call either… and it just cycles. They’ll check in on Facebook and read the blog that you keep to document your journey, but since you’re dealing with something they can’t understand, and you’re pretty hush-hush with them about the whole ordeal, it’s only natural that you’ll grow apart. Hopefully the bond that you had pre-cancer is strong enough to take the hiatus hit, and if it’s not, at least you’ve discovered who your real friends are.
4. You’re going to become extremely close with your loved one.
In my situation, this was one of the few benefits I saw come from my husband’s diagnosis. There were some ugly things that I saw happen to my husband, and his knowledge of my awareness led him to trust me more than he ever had. He knew that he didn’t have to feel shame or embarrassment around me. He knew that he could cry and I wouldn’t judge him. He knew that by smiling at me he was giving me all that I needed to get through that day. From a medical standpoint I knew him inside and out. There was nothing that his body did that I wasn’t fully aware of, and while it was rarely glamorous, I never minded because I knew that I was the only one he had allowed in this far.
5. When it’s all over, it’s going to take you a while to get back to normal.
Together, my husband and I went through numerous remissions and recurrences. During the times we thought we were finally free, we both wanted to jump back into life and pick up right where we had left off. It wasn’t always as easy as that though. We were both college students, and sometimes we were ready to go… in the middle of the semester. We both wanted children, but because of his treatments we were forced to proceed with in vitro fertilization, which was costly and time consuming and not at all in line with our desire to pounce back into a full life. When my husband died from his illness, I was pregnant with our twin girls and whatever “normal” I thought I could ever have in my life went right out the window. Fortunately, with some time behind me, I’ve found ways to enjoy life again. It’s taken patience and perseverance but I’ve achieved much of the normalcy I longed for when we were in the thick of our experience. There’s no rushing this process, dear caregivers, but if you trust that you’ll get there, you will. You know all about taking things one day, one appointment, one treatment at a time. Baby steps. You’ll get there again.
For more by Karen Sewell, click here.
For more on death and dying, click here.
Interviewer: Maranda Pleasant
Maranda Pleasant: What are you passionate about in life?
Bellamy Young: For me, singing. I wouldn’t make it through the day without singing. It is my solace and my meditation and my release. It lets me know how I’m processing things, what I’m processing, if I’m out of touch in some area. I will just think, why am I singing? Then I will know everything I need to know about what I’m feeling.
But also, kindness. That is what thrills me, personally. Small acts of kindness; thoughtful, large acts of kindness. I feel like we’re in a bit of a precipice, and I think that any beautiful energy on the kindness continuum will just help us fall into a lovelier place. From the fear and constriction that’s sort of always pulling us back and keeping us in old modalities, I feel like any expansive act of kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity, helps tip the scale toward a more conscious, liberated existence for everyone. The smallest act has repercussions for the universe.
MP: How do you keep your center in the middle of chaos? Do you have a routine?
BY: I have to meditate before I go to bed, always. I have to let the day go and let the eternal in. Sleep is such a potent, liminal state, and I don’t want to drag anything in there that doesn’t need to be there. I get a lot of work done in my dreams and I don’t want to take anybody else’s work with me. We all got plenty of work in this life, so for sure I have a very simple seated meditation practice before bed. But equally helpful to me is a walking meditation — to be in nature, to not be attached to my electronics, and to just be instead of be doing. And yoga, always. The union.
MP: How do you process pain, emotional pain, when it comes in?
BY: I process it like a teacher. The more I resist anything, the stronger it gets. I have to welcome the pain like I welcome the joy. And the pain is always bringing me a lesson. If I listen to the lesson when the pain is manageable, the pain won’t get gargantuan and flatten me entirely, because I will have received the message at the center. I receive it as gently as I can, because the cruelest thing that I do to myself is try to push myself through an experience. If I’m feeling hurt, sad, lonely, depressed, and then I shame myself for feeling that, then that’s a black hole for me. I really have worked a lot to meet pain with both gratitude and gentleness. You gotta love yourself, because when you’re hurting — you never know who’s gonna be around to do the lovin’ for ya. You gotta love yourself through the pain.
MP: Such a joy to talk to you. What is love to you?
BY: Love is a true unconditional space to me. To love someone or to be loved is to be seen, and I think, gosh, as humans, all we want is to be seen, to be heard, right? To be valued. To be respected. But mostly just to be held in a safe, unconditional space.
MP: What causes on the planet are you passionate about? Anything that’s near to your heart?
BY: For me, it’s adoption. I am adopted, so of course it means the world to me personally. But also even animals. There’s a lot of life on the planet that needs love, wants love, deserves love, in whatever capacity we are able. I feel it is a blessing, a duty, an honor, that we give the love that we have, and we share the lives that we have with our fullest heart. Souls finding each other and sharing love through this road. I foster a lot. Not humans, animals.
MP: Let’s talk about your current project. You’re on the most loved television show right now on any network.
Scandal is an unprecedented blessing in my life. I’ve never dreamed of a blessing like this — to be in this family of people where everyone is so grateful and so hardworking, and to be given these words to say that are so honest and so complicated and so nuanced. Nothing is all good or all bad, nothing is black or white, everything is just messy and human and difficult. We’re meeting it all with our best moment but we are failing, and that is an amazing opportunity for an actor. Not to mention the monologues. The writing I have right now is unbelievable, a gift. It’s all really beautiful! Scandal is like a really, really beautiful thing. Also, this summer I’m getting a little album off the ground.
MP: I did not know that!
BY: It’s going to take a minute, and it’ll happen in its own time, but I feel so grateful that singing is back in my life, and that I have an opportunity for this. I’m just trying to open my heart and open some doors and let it all come together the way it’s supposed to.
MP: Can you tell me a little bit about the album?
BY: It’s all very, it’s all just nascent. Coming together now. The conversations are fun and evolving.
MP: This has been such a pleasure.
BY: It’s my pleasure.
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