Two Meditation Mistakes and a Gift

Photo by Afonso Coutinho on Unsplash

Many people who take my workshops practice meditation. I often ask what they try to do when they’re meditating. I can’t remember an answer that has not gone along the lines of “putting my mind in blank” or “focusing on the breath to stop my thoughts”. This is a mistake.

We can’t stop our mind no more than we can stop our heart. Mindfulness is the ability to notice what is going on in our mind and to pay close attention to sensations. Meditation can help us become more mindful. But this is not the same thing as wanting to eliminate thoughts. 

The other mistake — much more harmful — has to do with the purpose of meditation. Meditate? What for? A friend of mine is going through a life crisis. I was happy to hear he took up meditation. It’s been months and as time goes by I’ve noticed that things aren’t moving forward. He seems distant and phased out. And it does not seem like he’s doing much to improve his life.

This saddens me and I can’t help but wonder whether meditation has not become for him, and perhaps other people, a form of escapism, a mental distraction from daily life, especially from the hard bits. This is not the purpose of meditation. In fact, the purpose is the exact opposite — to improve the quality of our mind so that we improve the quality of our life, not run away from it. 

Conclusion: Assume a critical stance toward ideas about meditation. Assess the effects that they can have on your life. Reflect deeply. Break it down. Play the devil’s advocate. Then… meditate.

PS: For the past 27 years I’ve been fanatically curios about the nature of our mind. Daily meditation was part of my formal education in the seminary. I’ve been a practitioner for the past few years. If you’re looking for a reliable resource on meditation, check out Waking Up.

A Big Heart, Do You Have One?

Every Wednesday evening two friends, Alex and Florian, and I meet for our stammtisch, a German tradition where friends regularly get together to hang out and drink. We do it via Zoom and we’ve been at it for months. We sometimes have a guest, and we always end up having interesting conversations. Last week’s topic was — you guessed it — big-heartedness.

In good philosophical tradition, we started by defining what we consider to be a big heart:

Big hearts have an irresistible passion to serve others regardless of their status, without expecting any reward.

Then we asked ourselves whether people are born with a big heart. Though genes may play a role, we had no doubt that life is the great creator of big hearts.

We are not born with a big heart. We grow into it.

The next step was then to explore factors that make us grow into big hearts and to identify what is it about these factors that help the heart grow. This is what we uncovered:

  • Role models with big hearts
  • Environments of friendship
  • Experiences of service
  • Downfalls in life that we breakthrough

The final question we addressed was whether there is a point in life after which we can no longer grow the heart. We searched our “big heart database” and concluded that, provided the above factors, it is never too late.

There is no deadline to grow our heart.

So where are you on your big heart journey?
Can you identify your big heart role models and environments?
What experiences and breakthroughs have helped you grow into a bigger heart?

Join the LinkedIn conversation here.

3 Hacks to Manage Mess in Life

On Friday I gave an online workshop for Amazon’s Recruiting Team for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It was about self-care and self-investment, and my premise was that any life worth living will regularly get messy just like the kitchen gets messy when we use it.

The key then to wellbeing is not to try avoid the mess, but to care and invest in ourselves so as to be emotionally fit when the mess happens. I shared with them several shortcuts for emotional fitness. Here are three that require little effort but have a massive, massive, massive impact in our wellbeing.

  • Sleep: Matthew Walker, sleep expert and author of the book “Why We Sleep”, recommends we give ourselves the opportunity of 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. He says that the pillars of a healthy body are not diet, exercise and sleep, but just diet and exercise, because sleep is the foundation.
  • Gratitude: It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to feel grateful and at the same time anger, fear or sadness. Gratitude energizes us to deal with life’s challenges. This is why I recommend starting the day by bringing to mind a few things we can be grateful for, and to connect with the emotions that this generates. This will set us up to deal with what comes our way during the day.
  • Hanging out with TRUE friends: There is a growing body of evidence about the vital role of friendship in overcoming challenges. Introverts or extraverts, we are all social beings. Helen Keller said that she would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light. The Beatles nailed it when they suggested we get by with a little help from our friends.

Life will always give us challenges that require we reinvent ourselves. Things will break down. People will let us down.

The key to a balanced life lies in being ready for these inevitable events, for any life worth living is a messy life.

Discover How Altruistic You’ve Been Lately

Every year for the past nine years, I coach the students of the Executive MBA Persuasive Communication Program from IESE Business School in Barcelona. Inevitably every year the question about how to deal with nerves comes up.

I begin by saying that whether we intend to or not, nerves are an act of egocentrism because the spotlight is placed on us as the speakers. The alternative is to shift the spotlight to our audience and our message.

If we focus on giving the gift of our message to our audience so that they walk away better off, we stop thinking about ourselves. No more nerves — our mind is engaged in something much more important.

We move through life in a similar way. We either put the focus on ourselves or shift the spotlight to making other people’s lives better. In the first case, we can end up obsessing over ourselves and our life, we can end up feeling dissatisfied with how far we are from where we planned to be.

In the second case, we are engaged in something that is greater than us, which gives us meaning and the necessary resilience to face the challenges that life throws at us.

On who do you shine the spotlight?

Here’s a exercise that might indicate where you’ve been putting the light. Access the photos on your smartphone. Who tends to be in the spotlight: you or others?

An Unpublished Song for 2020

Two weeks ago, Antonio Monteiro reached out to me in response to my blog post on to How to Use Our Problems to Feel Grateful. Antonio and I go back to the days when I was priest.

More recently we’ve been in touch since I gave a series of workshops at the Air Traffic Control Centre where he works an Aeronautical Information and Communications Technician.

Antonio shared with me a song he composed this summer. The lyrics were written by his brother, Fernando. I asked them to post it here because it has a powerful message for this tough year. Click below to have a listen. Thank you, Antonio and Fernando.

Stop watching the news, boy
Step into the light
So many beautiful things
Waiting to brighten up your eye

Discover those moments
You cherish the most
Smile every time you can
Even when it’s so hard, man

And live every moment
Like it’s your last
The future is in you
No control over the past

Stop watching the news, girl
You’re better that
Lookout for that sunshine
That always warms the truth

Laugh more with your friends
Embrace every hug
Be grateful for what you have
Even when it’s not so much

And live every moment
Like it’s your last
The future is in you
No control over the past

Stop watching the news, boy
Stop watching the news, girl
Get out there and love life
Everything will be alright

Stop watching the news, girl
Stop watching the news, boy
Get out there and love life
Everything will be alright

How to Use Your Problems to Feel Grateful

Gratitude is powerful because it is virtually impossible to be in a bad emotional place and feel grateful. When we’re grateful we don’t feel angry or fearful or anxious or depressed.

However, it is sometimes hard to summon up the past experiences we are grateful for, or we struggle to remember that we’ve been through worse. In these cases, we can use the present to get into a state of gratitude.

1. Comparison: This can get SO much worse

Acknowledging that things can get much worse, that there are many people much worse off will blow away the clouds of our shortsightedness of the negative to let the sun of gratitude shine on all the other things we do enjoy in our lives.

2. Perspective: This will make me grateful in the future

Another way to use the present to feel grateful when we are going through a tough time is to bring to mind that my difficult present will become a memory I will be able to use to feel grateful for in the future. Strangely enough, this allows us to feel grateful today because it will be a source of gratefulness in the future.

Love the good and the bad of the past

Love the good and the bad of the present

For it is this love what makes for a better future

The Question That Helped Me Face Uncertainty

Photo courtesy of behance.net

Most of my work is done face-to-face. Or at least it used to be. When the pandemic broke out I soon realised that a profound and irreversible change in the events and training industry was going to take place. The urge to freak out was big:

  • How long will the confinement last?
  • How long until face-to-face events will be allowed?
  • How will I transfer my trainings online?
  • What equipment do I need?
  • How does this sh*t work???!!!

And then it happened. Early on in the lockdown, a friend of mine, Onu Igbokwe, referenced a book: Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson. I had read the book years back but decided to listen to the audiobook. Life changing. It’s a must read. If you’ve already read it, and you’re facing uncertainty, then read again.

It’s a short book. A couple of hours is enough. But don’t be fooled by its length. The author says it took about 20 years to write it. Every word counts. What most changed my approach and behaviour was one simple question:

What would I do if I were not afraid?

The voice in your head might be saying: “But I am not afraid”. So here are other reactions to the uncertainty that comes with change:

  • worry, concern, unease
  • doubt, self-doubt, confusion, hesitation
  • agitation, stress, anxiety, nervousness
  • denial, refusal, complaining, intolerance, aversion

Fear has a funny way of disguising itself. If you’re feeling any of these, chances are there’s a degree of fear involved — the fear of failure. So here’s another way of putting the question:

What would you do if you could not fail?

After listening to the book things got better. I did a full-blown online training with Amazon, and was invited to impart shorter trainings and talks, as well as online coaching sessions. And next week I’ll be facilitating a two-day online “home-site” with King, the creators of Candy Crush.

Luck? Yes. Absolutely. So much luck. I also like to think Seneca is at least somewhat right when he says luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

But even if the book or my behaviour had nothing to do with my work picking up, my experience nonetheless of these uncertain times has consequently been more tranquil. So thank you, Spencer, and thank you, Onu!

Satisfaction at Work These Days?

How much satisfaction are you getting at “work” these days? For me it’s like a rollercoaster: ups and downs, much more than I’d typically welcome.

Recently I participated in a Zoom Panel on Wellbeing and Happiness in The Workplace, organised by Systemic Coach and Communication Trainer, Jelena Vetockina. Here is the audio of my interventions about things we can do to be well in this time (see the full interview here).

What does it mean to be resilient and how can we be better at it?

On the concept of being “emotionally fit”:

What do leaders want to be doing in this time of uncertainty?

Hands-on techniques to deal with conflict:

What is your Team Diagnostic about?

Hope this has been helpful and I’m open to continue the conversation with you about what your team is going through or what your are experiencing at work in this time.

You can reach me at t@tobiasrodrigues.com

Fire Up The Badass You With These Three Questions

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks. How resilient are you? False modesty aside, I must concede I am tougher than I usually give myself credit for. Here are three questions to help center our focus and boost our resilience in tough times.

1. Past: What misfortunes have I overcome?

Misfortunes are a normal part of life. Shit happens. Life has knocked us down so many times, and yet, we are still here, we are still in the game. This question helps awaken our ability to get up and fight back.

We are today what we overcame yesterday.  

2. Present: How could this be worse?

In bad times, it’s easy to notice the things we were taking for granted that are no longer here. “How could this be worse?” turns our focus to what we might be taking for granted right NOW!

This sort of negative visualization helps develop a sense of gratitude and tranquility amidst difficulties. This is powerful because gratitude and tranquility cannot coexist with fear, frustration, anxiety or anger.

There is no fulfillment where there is no gratitude.

3. Future: What can I learn from this?

Every trial is temporary, which begs the question: How will we emerge from it? How do we want to emerge from it? Most of life’s important lessons come from tough times. If we choose to, painful situations can teach us.

What does this situation show about you, other people, and the world that was unseen to you before? How can you use this to grow and improve?  

Pain put to good use leads to wisdom.  

So how resilient are you? If I had to guess, you are tougher than you usually give yourself credit for. You are a badass. Be a badass.