Last week I went to a talk hosted by Action for Happiness, with one of the first employees at Google, Chade-Meng Tan, whose ambition is to create the conditions for world peace in his lifetime. You might think that there are lot of problems that need solving for this to happen – but his solution is very simple: train people to be more emotionally intelligent and they will treat each other with kindness and compassion, rather than with fear and hostility. Scale that up and you’ve got world peace!
Meng gets a photo taken with all the famous people that come to Google, to show his mother.
Meng began his career as an engineer and, like all engineers at Google, was allowed to use 20% of his time to work on his own ideas and projects. He decided to round up a few experts and create a Mindfulness course, called ‘Search Inside Yourself’ – get it?! – to teach Emotional Intelligence (E.I.) to his Google colleagues. E.I. is not only beneficial to personal relationships but also makes people better at their job and is therefore good for business.
Meng’s got a very original job description. Apparently it was approved by HR.
So how do you train E.I.? Well, there are three key elements to the course, all based on Mindfulness techniques:
1. Attention Training: Calming the Mind On Demand
We did an exercise where we had to close your eyes for ten seconds and focus only on our breathing. If our mind wandered we were told to gently bring our attention back to the breath.
Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well it’s amazing how you can get distracted within seconds in such a simple task. The good news is that the more your practice such exercises, just like training a muscle, your ability to keep your attention on one thing gets better and better. Focusing your attention on the present moment is a great way to calm your mind, and a calm mind is able to be more emotionally intelligent. Improving your focus is of course also very useful in getting your work done rather than checking Facebook every five minutes!
2. Self Knowledge: Gaining a High Resolution Perception of Emotion
Emotions are all felt sensations within the body. Training yourself to be more aware of what you can feel makes you more aware of your emotions and therefore more able to deal with them.
One way you can do this is by regularly doing a body scan, where you focus your attention on each part of your body in turn, from your toes to the top of your head, noticing what you can feel. Meng likes to describe this as learning to see your emotions in ‘higher resolution’, meaning more clearly and in more detail.
If you can detect the first small physical changes that happen when you’re having an emotional reaction, you’ve got a greater ability to stay in control rather than getting overcome with the emotion. Not getting carried away by your emotions if good for business. Wouldn’t it be great if, for example, if you could melt away your anxiety before a big meeting or presentation?
3. Create Useful Mental Habits
At this point we did another 10 second exercise where we had to choose two people in the room and for 10 seconds, silently wish for them to be happy. Afterwards he asked if we’d started smiling as we did it. I certainly had! He said that if you wish for other people to be happy, even silently, they’ll pick up on that and like you more, which makes you feel even happier, creating a happiness feedback loop.
So how do you train yourself to be kinder? Keep practicing it! He suggests walking around the office once a day wishing for everyone to be happy. He told us he’d received an email from someone who’d hated his job for 12 years. He came to Meng’s talk, did the exercise the following day and then emailed him to say it was the happiest he’d felt in 12 years.
And what’s the business case for kindness? If your boss and colleagues like you more, you’re more likely to get promoted. If you’re a kind boss, your employees are more likely to work hard for you and therefore make you more successful.
He cited a study of what made the best leaders amongst US Navy Seals and the conclusion was that they were the most likeable and compassionate people, not the toughest or most ruthless, as is often thought.
Join Meng’s Mission for World Peace
Meng’s strategy is simple: Align the interests of businesses, individuals and peace-makers and the give them a simple plan for how to do it. He believes just as scientific understanding of how exercise benefits the mind and body at the beginning of the last century moved it from a marginal pursuit to the norm, evidence for the benefits of improving your E.I. will make mindfulness mainstream.
He says the best thing that any one individual can do to make the world a better place is to pursue their own inner peace. He suggests a three step plan:
1. Right knowledge: understand a bit about the theory and practice
2. Practice daily, even if only for a few seconds
3. Be the change you want to see in the world
Meng’s also written an International Bestseller about this that I highly recommend called Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Success, Happiness (And World Peace).There’s also a Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute that offer training and resources.