Slow Down! Please.

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The other day someone posted on social media captioned: “Money Never Sleeps.” And I thought, “Yeah, but you have to sleep.”

I get it. He’s hard working. He makes a fortune, and could even be financially independent. But he’s certainly not wealthy. Why? Because his schedule is packed, his days are overloaded, and has no free time to do what he wants.

Where is the affluence in that? He has money but not the time to enjoy it. He has financial freedom but choose to relentlessly pursue more instead. He is a victim of mindlessness, ambition, or distraction. In many ways, his life is more impoverished than those who have far less.

We all have the same number of hours each day to accomplish things. Nobody, rich or famous, has more than twenty-four hours. Our main task is to find the right balance between achievement and enjoyment within the given time frame. Of course, it is not easy for most people.

The symptoms are pretty obvious when things are out of place. Friends and families are talking, but we aren’t listening. We’re trapped mindlessly between what is happening around us and what is happening somewhere else. We’re roaming about what will happen tomorrow or even 30 minutes from now. In the process, we miss a lot!

Of course, modern society puts a premium on speed and efficiency. Likely, many people figure they can accomplish more by doing two or three things at once. But there is a price to pay.

My former mentor explained it like this: “We will die, that much is certain; and everyone we have ever loved will die too, sometimes before us. Busyness numbs the pain of this awareness, but it can never totally submerge it. Given that our days are limited, our hours precious, we have to decide what we want to do, what we want to say, what and who we care about, and how we want to allocate our time to these things within the limits that do not and cannot change. In short, we need to slow down.”

He has a point. And there are basic practices that can assist you:

  • Shoshin: the beginner’s mind. Looking at things like a beginner helps you see and think about different outcomes from a unique and better perspective. It forces you to slow down and ask questions before proceeding to a final solution. This is pertinent as a way to think and second-guess an otherwise rushed reaction. Whether trying to subdue your anger or making a deliberate effort to better evaluate an important decision, it's worth reminding yourself to look at things like you're seeing them for the first time.
  • Take deep and slow breaths. Doctors say slower breathing is one of the simplest ways to better health. Deep breathing lowers stress and reduces systolic blood pressure. It allows oxygen to get down to the smallest airways in our lungs, the alveoli, where the oxygen exchange is most efficient. Quick, shallow breathing causes your body to release less nitrous oxide, so your organs and tissues are less oxygenated.
  • Eat mindfully. My meditation teacher taught me this one. And I'm a big fan. When you eat mindfully, you take the time to contemplate on the food you're about to eat. When you eat mindfully you eat more slowly and you will eat less. There is a lag time between when the stretch receptors in your stomach signal it is time to stop eating and your brain gets the message. If you slow your intake, you'll savor your meals more, and shed some waistline in the process. And don’t forget to be thankful.
  • Meditate. Sometimes the best way to slow down is to sit still, do nothing, and simply be attentive. Recent studies from Harvard University found that long-term meditators have increased amounts of gray matter in some areas of the brain. The study also reported an increase of electrical activity in regions of the left frontal lobe, an area that tends to be more active in optimistic people. Besides reducing stress and anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, and other stress-related disorders, meditation also fosters clear thinking and increases our capacity for empathy and compassion. Beginners, you can start by closing your eyes and feeling the breath at the tip of the nose. As you inhale, fell the gentle air coming through the nostrils. And do the same when you exhale. It’s normal for the mind to wander, just refocus back to the breath at the tip of the nose. Try to maintain this level of awareness for at least 10-15 minutes. Stillness won’t hurt your life and maybe you'll gain wisdom in the process.
  • Detachment from technology. Every time you pull out your phone to scan your social media accounts or every mindless web-browsing perpetuates a subtle habit that could build up into something gruesome. A 30-minute entertainment break could easily turn into a half-day binge. Routine technology detachment isn’t just ideal, but critical. Don’t go rushing and pulling out your phone the minute you wake-up out of bed for God’s sake. Wait until you finish your morning routine or drop-off the kids at school before checking. I personally like to wait for a couple of hours before replying to a message. I’d also routinely go a full 24-48 hours without touching my gadgets. Of course, different things work for different people, but you don’t quite realize how much of your daily attention is being hijacked until you step away.
  • Have a pleasant walk. I normally commute with a bicycle to work, but some days there just aren't any bikes around so I must walk to my next class. The trouble is that some classes are no where near each other. I can walk there berating the situation for being so annoying, muttering about wasting time and energy, lamenting myself for not noticing that I was foolish, and so forth. Or I can approach it as a walking “exercise", as a meditative activity. I breathe slowly as I start my walk, observe my breath, my footsteps, the world around me as I pass through; I savor the feelings, the scenes. I do, in other words, what Buddhists describe as a walking meditation. I soon find that there is no annoyance or resentment. I am simply having a pleasant walk.
  • Drive slow. Driving your automobiles slowly prevents accidents. Each year millions of motorists killed or injured because they were in a rush. It's stressful enough to sit in long commutes. It's even harder to hold the temptation and just press the gas pedal all the way. But by slowing down we're preventing ourselves from being struck by injury or worse, death. And we ignite our driving awareness in the process.
  • Ruthless single-tasking. Multi-tasking is overrated and not an effective way to be productive, especially mental taxing work. “When we are engaged in multiple task simultaneously, our brains are filled with a lot of attention residue,” said University of Washington Business School Professor Sophie Leroy. “It also effects your ability to perform new tasks.” Instead, focus on single-task work over extended period to help reverse these adverse side-effects. Performing task one at a time is also more productive and attention-friendly. In fact, single-tasking has the similar approach as mindfulness. The more you do it, the better you get at it to direct your attention to where it matters.
  • Stop chasing the market. I started dipping my toes in the stock market early. I had a nice portfolio set-up. To grow my investment, I day-traded in college. As a trader, I'd often chase to make-up for lost capital by trading risky derivatives (futures and options), buying penny stocks, or rolling the dice with hot tips from the media. That was a BIG MISTAKE. When it comes to meeting long-term investment goals, our great mentor Warren Buffet has a very good piece of advice: Start early, invest regularly, reacting slowly or hardly at all, and go back to work.” Slowing down is part of successful money management and Mr. Buffet's advice is indeed, a winning combination.
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A more deliberate pace enhances your quality of life. There’s an old Chinese saying, “Man in hurry cannot walk with dignity.” A constant flurry of activity does not present an attractive image. And it creates stress and anxiety, causing you to miss a lot of what is going on around you. As the philosopher Lin Yutang noted, The wise man is not hurried and the hurried man is not wise.”

We all have obligations and deadlines. But hurry and extreme future-mindedness impoverish the present. What we value most are love, friendship, solace, beauty, and humor. Yet these things are best appreciated or communicated face to face in a calm, relaxed setting.

Slowing down enhances your sense of gratitude, improves your mental and physical health, allows you to gain control of your life, lets you appreciate beauty, and enables you to reconnect with those around you.

Sometimes the best way to spend a day is savoring what you’ve got before it's gone

MIRROR

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The good you find in a child, is in you too.

The faults you find in a child, are your faults as well.

After all, to recognize something you must know it.

The possibility you see in a child, is from you.

The beauty you see in a child, is your beauty.

A child is a reflection, showing you the person you are.

To change a child, you must change yourself.

To blame and complain, will only make matters worst.

Whatever you care about, is your responsibility.

See the best in a child, it is because you have given your best.

Give to a child, and you give to yourself.

Love a child, and you will be loved.

Listen to a child, and your voice will be heard.

Teach a child, and you will learn.

What you see in a child, shows yourself.

Muddy Water is Best Cleared by Leaving it Alone

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The other day, a student asked me about meditation. She was very curious about what it is and its usefulness in daily life. I told her that many people are interested in meditation because it gives them a sense of peace and quiet. But what they don’t understand is that sitting with your eyes closed is only the beginning. The beginning of understanding the mind.

 

S: How does the mind work?

T: Do you have a jar? Ah! There it is. Here’s a jar filled with a bit of sand at the bottom and covered with water. What happens when I shake the jar?

S: Umm.. all the grains of sand begin swirling all around.

T: Correct. And each of those grains of sand represents a thought - an idea. It could be a happy thought, a sad thought, an angry thought. But, the grains swirling around represent all of the thoughts buzzing around our heads throughout the day. Let’s put the jar down and allow the sand to settle. See how the sand - or thoughts - become calmer and the water becomes clearer? The thoughts are still there, but they are no longer all “crazy.” Peace and stillness have taken over.

S: So...when the thoughts have become calm then what happens?

T: The mind becomes clear like clean water. And with a clear mind you can see what is.

S: I don’t understand.

T: A clouded mind always wanders into the past and future. It runs away from the present - the what is. Do you understand?

S: (Shaking her head) No.

T: Let me put it in a simpler way. What’s your first reaction when your friend says something mean to you?

S: I would think about what’s wrong with me.

T: Okay and why do you do that?

S: Because I want to know how I can become a better person.

T: Do you see what you’re doing? How do you know something is wrong with you? Does your friend tell you what is wrong with you?

S: Not really. I mean, I’m not sure.

T: Then how do you know something is wrong with you? Don’t you have to recall from your previous experiences - such as what happened before? And isn’t that looking through the past?

S: Yes, that’s true.

T: Also, when you want to become a better person, you’re imagining something in the future, are you not?

S: Yes, but we have to change if we want to become a better person.

T: In order to change, one has to understand the actual problem. If there is no problem, there is nothing to be changed.

S: But my teachers always said, “You need to change.” Then we can change our future.

T: First of all, people tell you to change because they want to control you. They want to change you to become someone who they’ve imagined.

S: Yeah, like parents.

T: Well, that’s another story. Just remember, when a person’s mind is still clouded with wandering thoughts, it will have difficulty seeing what is and identifying the actual problem. Therefore, this person only knows to seek from past knowledge and compare with others to imagine a future. And secondly, you won’t change the future by telling other people to change. You change the future by changing yourself.

The Value of Right Action and Non-attachment to its Outcome

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After more than six years living in China, for the first time, I took the Guangzhou to Hong Kong train this afternoon. And I thought I’d do something productive during this marvelous ride. So here goes.

Two days ago I asked my mentor for a business advice. “I thought you’re still teaching,” he said with a chuckle. “The last time we met you told me that teaching was your calling. I don’t think you need to do anything else.” His response saddened me. Instead of feeding me with ideas, he gave me this advice:

“Read Bhagavad Gita,” he insisted prior to departing. “You may discover something.”

“Bhagavad Gita” literally means “The Song of the Blessed One.” It a series of poem that takes place on the battlefield of Kuru at the beginning of the war. The protagonist Arjuna, ordered his charioteer, Krishna (who turns out to be God incarnate) to drive into the open space between the two armies, where he surveys the combatants. Overwhelmed with dread and pity at the imminent death of so many brave warriors - brothers, cousins, and kinsmen - he drops his weapons and refuses to fight. This is the cue for Krishna to begin his teaching about life and deathlessness, duty, non-attachment, the Self, love, spiritual practice, and the inconceivable depths of reality. The dialogue which fills the seventeen chapters of the Gita is really a monologue, much of it wondrous indeed.

The message of the Gita and why my mentor insisted the understanding of it seemed simple: “You have the right to your actions but never to your actions’ fruits. So you must act for the action’s sake and not be attached to inaction.”

Instead, “Do your allotted work but renounce its fruit - be detached and act - have no desire for reward, and act,” according to the Gita. In other words, he who is wholly equipped and engrossed in the due fulfillment of his task, but without desire for the result, is said to have renounced the fruits of his right action.

Secularly, it is quite difficult to decide which actions should be acted upon versus the ones that shouldn’t. To explain such contradiction, I tuned my attention to yet another great classic, which has numerously guided me through life’s most difficult situations. That is, Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te Ching.”

Lao Tzu is a central figure whose life is in perfect harmony with the way things are. This is not an idea; it is a reality; I have experienced it. The Master has mastered Nature; not in the sense of conquering it, but of becoming it. Within his work, Lao Tzu emphasizes the concept of wéi wú wéi (为无为) which literally translates “doing not-doing”.

   Less and less do you need to force things,

   until finally you arrive at non-action.

   When nothing is done,

   nothing is left undone.

A tai-chi master can enter a state of body-awareness in which the right stroke or the right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of the conscious will. This is a paradigm for non-action: the purest and most effective form of action.

When the Gita’s teaching of right action and Lao Tzu’s concept of non-action are tethered together, there is a clear distinction for which action should be chosen. For example, the act of fulfilling your family’s “basic” needs would be considered righteous because you’re fulfilling your task as a father and husband. Similarly, a physician may have acted to cure the sick because he’s fulfilling his duty as a healer. Both would be performing the right action. However, when one acts upon the fulfillment of greed, or out of jealousy, he’d be committing the wrong action.

Still, how can one renounce his or her desire for fruit? While it may seem difficult to avoid grasping the outcome, I’ve had greater success in having a detached or neutral perspective on the matter. Instead of immediately and automatically responding to an impulse, I’d be better off pausing and reflecting it.

Rather than being controlled by the desire to make a lot of money when running your business, for example, you’d better off acknowledging the cue and maybe even letting it pass.

The same idea applies to worries and anxieties. Rather than getting trapped over a stream of thoughts about possible outcomes in the future, when you observe and mentally note your thoughts, you’ll be ensured they do not stay longer than they need to.

The whole idea is to pause, observe, and acknowledge as best you can. That simple.

Looking back from the hilltop, all I ever wanted in life is to have meaningful work. I’ve struggled numerously in the past. I’d always brood over results and often lost my nerve in performing my duties. I was impatient and didn’t realize that impatience gives vent to anger; and then I began doing unworthy things. I was hopping from action to action, never remaining faithful to any.

That said, having gone through the many bitter experiences, now I realized that someone who broods over results is like a man given to objects of the senses: he is always distracted, he says good-bye to all scruples, everything is right in his estimation, and he therefore resorts to means fair and foul to attain his end.

With time, and consistently following the right practice, for every emerging thought, there is always space. This empty space is like a cue for me to pause, observe, and acknowledge my thoughts one by one. Doing so will give birth to a reaction - or inaction - that is without any interference of the conscious will. And it must be done for both the action and its outcome.

On Mentorship

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After uncovering some behind-the-scene of education's dirty little secret, I thought I had the perfect idea for a course or program I could teach. Since I've personally spent thousands of hours doing it, and have had success with it in my own life, why not teach people how to find mentors and how to successfully apprentice under one to learn a skill or craft. But also to return the favor.

I ran my brilliant business idea to a friend who is much more successful than me. He noticed the biggest flaw in my concept: “William,” he said,  “you're picking a market who by definition has very little knowledge about it. Try giving it away for free. Test the water and work your way from there.”

He's absolutely right. It’s decided. Below are some of my thoughts on mentorship - why its the future of learning, and the surest path to acquiring skills and achieve success. More importantly, how to find the right one and make the most of the relationship.

Thanks to all the people who have mentored me. The taught me how to think, how to endure difficult times, helped me to solve problems, guided me to the right path, and gave me thousands of their valuable hours when I asked for them. I hope I've made it worth their while.

 

Misconceptions 


There is a lot of misunderstanding about mentorship. Here are some:


  • Mentoring is NOT about you. It is a symbiotic relationship.

  • You DON'T wait for a mentor to find you. So you must get the balls rolling.

  • Learning from a mentor is ACTIVE, not passive. And a lifetime opportunity.


Keep them in mind. Always.


Why 


First of all, let's get something out of the way. School is important, don't get me wrong. But you were lied to. School has become a massive shell game. There is a debt crisis going on in the US from student loans. Around the world, underemployment for grads is nearly 20%. And if that's not enough, college grads working minimum wage jobs is up 70% in the last decade. To put it bluntly, you spent all that money for a credential to start in a field you're supposedly qualified for, but can't. I don't know about you, but I call that a scam.

It turns out I was right all along. Your helicopter parents steered you to conclude that your degree is worth something in today's economy. But it turns out, you got flushed out by people with decades of experience competing for entry level work.

School didn't teach you the shit you actually need - this is true even if you're a doctor, I've written a long story about it here. If you were lucky enough to learn like me, you've probably realized that was when your education actually started.

Also, what about the people who wanted to pursue a particular field that didn't even exist years ago? Or those who needed skills not offered in schools? Where were they suppose to learn those skills?

The question is: do you want to learn this on your own by trial and error or would you like someone to help you?

Fortunately, there are really intelligent people out there willing to help. In other words, mentors are in many ways the solution to the mess we are in.

You'll get ahead much faster when you're taught by a successful person. There is a reason apprenticeships have a direct correlation to mastery. “Go directly to the seat of knowledge,” Marcus Aurelius admonished.

Having a mentor is very rewarding. They help you in more meaningful ways than any school could offer. My mentors did far more than help me get ahead in my career. They gave me not only the model to live, but also helped me channel my creative energy and guided me through difficult times I would have otherwise been incapable of navigating.


Who 

 Father and son.

Father and son.

You're asking me this question? C'mon man, you need to do your homework.

Who do you want to be like? Find out the leaders and innovators and talented people in your chosen field.

In this regard, I found that reaching out to the best people is not the absolute best solution. I’m more fond of the second, or even third best. These people may have actually spent more time studying the world's best than the champions themselves.


How 


First, don't ask anyone to be your mentor. Never talk about mentorship, just leave the word alone.

You'd be stupid enough to go out and ask someone straight up.

Second, for simplicity, apply these logic:

  1. Start slow and small. Ask a question to someone you can benefit from having answered. Take it from there...gradually for godsakes.
  2. Don't call or email a total stranger to ask them to commit to give you hours of their time over a period of years and demand the gift of mentorship, because you'll be disappointed.
  3. Study the person. Understand his strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Lastly, very rarely someone would help someone else for genuine altruistic reasons. Unless the mentor is a blood relative, they'll need something interesting from you.

Which brings us to the next thing.

 

Quid Pro Quo 


Bring something to the table. Anything. Even if it's just your energy. Or thanks. You cannot keep asking and not give anything in return.

Figure out what you can offer and keep giving.

The bigger the payoff you can offer, the longer they'll take you under their wing.


Don't Expect Too Much 


Whatever you're asking for, it's probably too much. Scale down.

Have realistic expectations. Don't be greedy.

There is a reason why they have what you don't.


Organic Growth 


Mentoring is a relationship. It is organic.

You need to let it grow over time based on mutual respect and trust.

Don't force it. That will kill your relationship faster than anything.

Give it time. Do your work and it will grow.


There Will Be Homework 


This mentor is not solely responsible for your education, well-being, or success.

You better be reading, experimenting, and connecting with other people.

This mentor cannot want this for more than you want this for yourself.

So you better show up every day hungry and eager to learn.


Feedback 


We all have egos. I must admit, mine used to be big. But now I realized they are useless.

Asking for feedback can be hard, but it's good. I always welcome them.

Feedback teaches you to conquer your fear.

They become the highlight of your relationship as you progress.

A good mentor will treat them with sensitivity and great care.


Apologize 


You will screw up - a lot. Leave your ego at the door.

Don't wait to admit and say: “I'm sorry.”

Having that in your toolbox is always handy.

They will forgive your errors if you indicate a propensity for identifying them.


Commitment 


Mentoring is not seasonal. You can't do it in one summer. That would be an internship dumbhead!

You have to commit. Mentoring takes real time and real work.

Come hell or high water, you'll make it work.

Then, you’ll begin to understand what it means to be the disciple, the protege, the student.


Now What 


Stay in the picture. Your mentor is busy. You'll be easily forgotten, remember that.

The key is to keep everything relevant and fresh.

Your personal life is irrelevant. Nobody cares what's going on with you, until they do. But before then, keep your shit to yourself. Handle it privately.

They took a chance on you. So get your shit together. Go deliver.

One last thing, unless you're asking a question, shut up. Your mentor does not need your opinion.


Conclusion 


I make no claim this list is exhaustive. There are thousands of other tactics. The point is learning by experience. Sometimes you have to fall to know it hurts, I did that, on more than one occasion. This experience will reduce the chance of you making mistakes, or missing out an opportunity.

More importantly, what do you want to get out of this? Your grand strategy. You need to know where you want to go.

You've spent all that time and energy. Now make use of it.

Mentorship elevates you to experience and meet people you otherwise wouldn't have.

You get to work on projects that were previously out of reach.

It's not enough to want a mentor or even be lucky enough to find one. But if you do it right, it can change your life.

Finally, move on, achieve the success you want, and don't forget to return the favor to someone who is in the same position you were once in, later in life.

Wow! That sounds like a lot of work does’t it? Well, it is. So don't take it lightly. Good luck!