How did I get here?
A lot of folks have asked about my journey to where I am now. How did I end up spreading mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and habit formation to the corporate world? This post attempts to answer that.
I am obsessed with getting people to change their underlying, moment by moment, behavior to find the fastest path to long term, sustainable happiness and fulfillment. I've been obsessed with the fastest path to happiness and fulfillment for a long time, and most of my major life decisions have been around that. Why was I an engineer? Because those classes came easier to me, and society viewed that degree as more credible. How did I view school? It was just a game to get a high GPA, which meant investing time as efficiently as possible in specific classes, and in the instances that a class was too hard or took me too long to do well, optimizing for a B. I thought good grades would lead to a good job, and a good job would bring happiness and fulfillment.
I then started working at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which for a subset of society meant that I was smart and destined to be “successful.” Great– I can move up the BCG ladder, increasingly making more money, continuing to increase my influence, and learning about how the world works along the way. There was a similar equation here. Do well on this project -> get a good review -> move up in my career -> find happiness and fulfillment. When I look back at my time there, I mostly remember being happy. But I also have these very specific moments of time that have been ingrained into my brain that make me think my happiness and fulfillment were on a shaky foundation, like a house of cards. For example, in February of 2012 my then girlfriend, Carolyn, and I met at a bar in downtown Chicago with a bunch of other people. We went upstairs where there was seating at small tables because I was really upset. With tears in my eyes I told her I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, what made me happy and fulfilled, or really what the point of all of it was.
Eventually I started to realize that my career would not bring me happiness and fulfillment. So I started looking for other things. And the mountains called. Skiing, climbing, endurance sports. When I was in Chicago I trained for a bunch of races with Jimmy, a good friend. There was a 50 mile running race and a half iron man, and I seemed to get a lot of fulfillment from those. I think working hard towards a goal with a friend and achieving it is an amazing experience. One of the happiest and most content moments of my life before I met Ell, my wife, was when my brother and I were standing on the top of Half Dome. We spent 3 months living in the back of my truck training in Colorado and Wyoming and California with the sole goal of climbing the Northwest Face of Half Dome by the end of the summer. The experience was incredible, not because we had just climbed Half Dome, but because I was internalizing all the hard work that we did together to get to this moment, and how three months before we were not even close to that goal. I think there is something here about how working long term toward a goal like these helps increase the likelihood of internal conditions that lead to happiness and fulfillment.
A tangent– back to BCG.
If I couldn't find happiness and fulfillment in my career, I needed to look for other ways. So I moved to Calgary to be close to the mountains. I met my friend Thomas, who immediately became my go to adventure buddy. We hit the mountains hard. We taught ourselves how to ice climb, and weekends were filled with either skiing or ice climbing in the winter, or rock climbing and trail running for the warmer months that I lived there. We hit the mountains so hard that I stopped taking care of myself. I was sleeping as little as I probably ever have and got sick more times in that year than in the 5 years before combined. Working at BCG and hitting the mountains hard ended up being a fast path to misery.
So I left, and for the first time in my life, dedicated 100% of my energy to understanding the human condition of happiness and fulfillment. And what I discovered was shocking. No amount of climbing, skiing, drinking, enjoying good food, or really any of the physical pleasures of the world was enough. I always wanted more. Even when my brother Jason and I were living out of the back of my truck for three months, we didn't feel like we were climbing enough. I had been trying so hard to control the external world around me, and the more I tried, the more disastrous my results were. It was on a 10 day meditation retreat where I realized how little the external world affects our happiness and fulfillment. Everything that happens to us goes through this filter that's called our brain, and how our brain filters this information is our source of happiness and fulfillment.
This realization permanently changed how I view the world around me. I've been practicing controlling the external world around me for 30+ years, so I still get into the trap quite frequently, at least multiple times a day. But the retreat shifted my obsession. What is going on inside my head? And how does that affect how I experience the world, and eventually my happiness and fulfillment? Society has it all wrong– they teach us to try to control the external world to find happiness and fulfillment, and that is leading everyone on a fast path to misery. But happiness and fulfillment are not something we find. It's something we practice.
How does this relate to work? If happiness and fulfillment are something we practice, how do we get people to practice it? We must shift what is happening in their head on a moment by moment basis. Given how little control I have of what is happening in my head on a moment by moment basis, this is a ridiculously hard task. But not impossible. This is where behavior change comes in.
Insert the Dynamic Leadership Center. Behavior change is at the core of all our programs. Helping a manager be more effective at 1:1's, coaching someone to more effectively manage their time at work, helping people empathize and communicate more effectively. This requires helping people change what is happening in their head on a moment by moment basis. And these are just small parts of life. If people can practice being happy and fulfilled in these instances of being a good leader, they will be a better leader, be happy and fulfilled in these moments, and happiness and fulfillment will have no choice but to bleed over to other aspects of their life.
The root of what we do, and what differentiates us, is that we change people's underlying behavior. Most corporate training is focused on delivering a set of tools (i.e. content). More content does not lead to an impact. We all know we need to sleep 8 hours a night, eat healthy, and exercise regularly. More content does not help with this. Some more cutting-edge training focuses on helping people increase their awareness. That is basically what mindfulness training is all about. But awareness is only one part of the equation. What good is awareness if you don't know what to do about it either? Realizing that you are miserable in your current life will not help you get out of misery. Some training, like Search Inside Yourself, even combines tools and awareness. That is great for the short term (days), but it does not lead to the long term changes (months, years) that we need. Add habits, and that is where you can start working with people to change their behavior over the long term. This is the venn diagram that is core to our programs.
My expertise is not in mindfulness or meditation. Shinzen Young is someone I admire for being able to explain these concepts more clearly and precisely than anyone else that has ever lived. It's also not in neuroscience. Richie Davidson is one of the cutting edge researchers in this field, and Rick Hansen is one of the leading neuro research journalists communicating all of these ideas to the public. It's also not in emotional intelligence (Daniel Goleman) or habit formation (James Clear, B.J. Fogg, Charles Duhigg). It's in supporting people in the complex process of behavior change, and scaling that to the world in a way that no one has ever seen. Ready. Set. Go.