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IOM Interview with Clif Smith

Organizational Mindfulness Podcast | October, 2021

About Clif Smith

Clif Smith is an accomplished intelligence officer, global consultant and author of Mindfulness Without The Bells and Beads.  He is EY (formerly Ernst and Young) Americas Mindfulness Leader, and Global Mindfulness Network Leader, and is responsible for scaling mindfulness programs across the firm and with select clients.  


Clif is a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher; a certified teacher for Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI); and an ICF certified executive coach; with a Bachelor of Science in Business Information Systems from Bellevue University and Master of Public Administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.


Clif’s experience in the private sector is preceded by 17 years in the US Department of Defense, Defense Intelligence Agency, and broader Intelligence Community, where he served as an intelligence officer managing and carrying out signals intelligence, as well clandestine and overt human intelligence collection operations around the globe including deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.


The Organization Mindfulness Podcast is presented by the Institute for Organization Mindfulness and hosted by mindfulness coach Brett Hill.

The Transcript 

Brett: So I'm really excited to welcome to the show today, Cliff Smith, who is Ernst and Young's mindfulness leader, America's mindfulness leader and Global Mindfulness network leader. He is responsible for scaling mindfulness programs across the firm, and with select clients. He's a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teacher, a teacher for Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, an ICF, certified executive coach, and accomplished public speaker. He has a Bachelor of Science in Business Information Systems from Bellevue University, and a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Our Cliff's experience in the private sector is preceded by 17 years in the US Department of Defense, and the Defense Intelligence Agency no less as well as the broader intelligence community, for he served as an intelligence officer managing and carrying out signals intelligence, as well as clandestine and overt human intelligence collection operations around the globe, including deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Most recently, he's published the well received and widely acclaimed book, “Mindfulness without the Bells and Beads” which has a great subtitle for the Institute for Organizational Mindfulness podcasts, “unlocking exceptional performance, leadership, and well being for working professionals”. So I'm really excited to welcome to the show, Cliff.

Clif: Thanks, Brett. It's great to be here. And great to be back with IOM again, I think last time we had a webinar and now we're doing a bit of an interview slash podcast. And so I'm excited to connect with you all again. 


Brett: Oh, thanks so much. The other webinar was great. And so we went in, we wanted to give it a chance to just kind of drill into, you know, what you've been doing with your book, which I've just finished reading. And I would like to recommend very much actually to readers this, the book "Mindfulness without the bells and beads". And I just want to kind of dive right in, because in the book you talk about there's a lot of content on mindfulness, how to you know, you Google "mindful" and is like everywhere? And you even have a chapter on this, it's called, I think it's “finding the mindfulness signal in the noise”. And I thought it was kind of ironic, because you were in signals intelligence for the Department of Defense. And here was a chapter on signals in the noise. But what can you say about the subtitle because I think this plays into the topic of signal to noise. Your book is titled mindfulness and then without the bells and beads. So what does that mean? Why is that? Why is that part, it's so important that it's actually part of the title.


Clif: Yeah, so mindfulness without the beads. That "without the beads" portion came, because one of the things I noticed over the years of trying to introduce mindfulness to folks is that there was a great deal of misunderstanding about mindfulness and also a great deal of reluctance across swaths of people, I mean, millions of people who have the erroneous thought that you have to have bells, you have to have beads, you have to adopt a Buddhist’s beliefs, to go get some special accessories in order to practice and cultivate and benefit from mindfulness like, you know, and I trying to tell folks that you know, you don't need a special cushion, you don't need to go get incense to burn or candles to burn, you don't have to go to you know, you don't have to convert to a particular type of religion.


And, so “without the bells and beads'' is really a signal to folks out there who have heard a lot about mindfulness, and maybe assumed that you have to take on board a lot of these other things in order to practice it and benefit. And that could not be further from the truth. And you can cultivate mindfulness, anywhere, in any situation. And you don't have to adopt any kind of beliefs that may be against your own beliefs or, you know, if you're a person of faith, it's not going to, it's not going to change your faith. If you're not a person of faith, that's okay, too. You can still benefit from it. And so it was really trying to tap into that crowd and make it accessible to those groups.


Brett: So it seems like that's sort of the effort that Jon Kabat Zinn started where the seculars, who, for listeners, you know, he was widely credited with one of the people who desecularized or, or took sort of the bills and beads initially out of it, like, you know, talking about secularization of mindfulness. And this seems to me like you're building on that, would that be a fair assessment?


Clif: Yeah, I think I’m try to take it a step further. I mean, Jon Kabat Zinn is amazing. And we, I think most of us here, teaching mindfulness in the West today can attribute a lot of that to him. He's definitely made it much more mainstream. And yet some of the things I've seen in MBSR classes and even in his famous PBS NewsHour special in 1993, and I talked about this in the book, you know, there's folks sitting in lotus position, he's using Tibetan symbols, ringing the bells and things like that, which again, you know, it doesn't those things are, can be useful to help you note when the meditation starts and when a meditation stops, but they do still have that sheen of spirituality or some kind of ritual associated with maybe Hinduism or Buddhism embedded in it even in that context. And I just saw, I just wanted to take it just a step further, and I've shown it in the corporate world that you can cultivate mindfulness and have quite amazing impact at the end of say, an eight week course, without any bells, without starting any meditation with a bell without ending any meditation with a bell without using Sanskrit words or Pali words. And just sort of widening the aperture around mindfulness. And this is another thing maybe we'll get into.


I share quite deeply in the book that, you know, there's a huge assumption that you have to have an underlying condition, you have to sort of have hit rock bottom to access mindfulness. But you don't need an underlying condition, you can use mindfulness to not only have a fuller conversation with your life, but you can also use it to go from good to great, regardless of what your day to day profession is, or whether you're an athlete, or a corporate athlete, or stay at home mom. It doesn't matter. Stay at home dad. Mindfulness can help you in all of those areas. Even if you don't have any, you know, self esteem issues, if you don't have excess levels of stress. You know, things like that. I think, most advocates for mindfulness, at least the ones that people know about, their story about how they came to mindfulness often encompasses hitting rock bottom, you know, having pain tax, not being able to do their job, or having debilitating self esteem issues, finding mindfulness and coming back from that. And mindfulness has clearly helped them. And it helps a lot of people from a well being perspective. But I think that, that sort of sends this message that you have to be having problems in order to benefit from mindfulness, and you don't, and athletes have known this, performance coaches and athletes have known this for quite a few years. And I think it's catching up to the corporate world as well.


Brett: So if I hear you right, you're saying that you don't have to be trying to solve a problem, a personal issue, you know, like you said, fleeing some anxiety or trying to get out of some bind, to start to pursue mindfulness, although that obviously would provide some fire for the pursuit that you can be doing quite well, and maybe do much better by picking up some mindfulness practices.


Clif: Indeed, that's exactly what I'm saying. I mean, you don't have to have a problem, you could be, you know, on the top of your game and your career. And mindfulness helps you make even better decisions, it gives you more access to real time information in the moment, which allows you to make wise decisions or wiser decisions, or to see broader perspectives. And so I think just sort of switching that assumption and dissolving that for people, because it's a limiting belief around mindfulness, in many cases, and once that falls away, folks who may have been keeping mindfulness at arm's length, may turn towards it and at least listen to a class or take a you know, take a step towards it, and maybe practice it and see what impact it has, regardless of all the, you know, the research that's out there, the best thing is, is it does it benefit you in some way. The most important research there is for any kind of technique or approach to life, does it really benefit you individually?


Brett: In speaking of techniques and approaches, one of the things you talked about in your,  which I thought was really just straight-up pretty brilliant, was a technique that you talked about from learning martial arts when you studied martial arts and, and just here's the quote, “The first skill master so taught us was it so so?” Is that the right thing? “The first skill master so taught us was to recognize, embrace and be mindful of the sensations and thoughts associated with fear and then still move forward”. I thought that was really masterful, can you comment on that?


Clif: Yeah. So there were two things or three things I learned there, but that was one of the main things and the other one was along the same lines was, you know, noticing unhelpful, internal dialogue and also moving forward. Despite that unhelpful, internal dialogue and fear-based thinking, I separate out because fear is such a powerful motivator in many people's lives. Or maybe I should say THE motivator. So many things. But yeah, that those two things combined turned into my catch and release technique, which was really to, I turn being mindful of those things and the catching them, right you catch the mind in the act, and what it did and what it did in, in the actual martial arts course, right, you would catch the mind in the act, and you would still do the thing, you'd still break the board, you'd still have the sparring match with your opponent, whoever it was, you know, he wanted you to notice that fear. And almost befriend it, like this is a part of your experience, notice it, and you can still do the thing. And so it trained the mind to be okay with that sensation, that experience. And it taught the mind that you can be uncomfortable and still be okay, you can have the experience of fear. And it doesn't have to, it doesn't have to lead to an impulse of, of turning away from it, it doesn't have to lead to that automatic reaction of, of recoil, you can have that fear and still make a conscious choice about what do you want to do, as opposed to reacting automatically, right. So moving from automatic reaction to thoughtful response.


And so over the years of practicing that, in that particular context actually had a crossover effect to other areas of my life. And it allowed me to make some decisions that I may have gone with my automatic internal limiting belief, if I hadn't already sort of built up that capacity to notice an unhelpful thought as opposed to being lost in an unhelpful thought. And so when I talk about catch and release, like catch, if you catch the mind in the act of an unhelpful rumination or unhelpful limiting belief, like I could never speak in front of 1000 people, or I could never speak in front of a crowd, that limiting belief becomes the limit if you believe in it, or if you're lost in it, right? If you're lost in that internal dialogue, it is essentially running the show. But if you can catch it in the act, you're temporarily released from its influence, right? It doesn't mean the thought has gone away, it doesn't mean it's magically dissolved.


And one of the things I compare catch and release to is name it to tame it, you've probably heard this phrase, name it to tame it when it comes to challenging emotions like anger. Well, when you name an emotion like anger, it's not that the anger magically disappears, and you're no longer angry, no, that anger is still there, it may be still there at the same level of intensity as it was before. But the shift is that you're not lost in it. And you know, when you're lost in anger, and reacting, the outcome is often unhelpful. But if you can name anger in the moment, you're not lost in it, it's still there. And you can make a conscious choice. So they say, name it to tame it. Again, it's not that the anger is gone, it's still there. And you're making a conscious choice, despite the presence of anger, catch, and release does the same thing for unhelpful internal dialogue, whether those are limiting beliefs, whether those are fear, fear based thinking, so that you can know that they're they're not be lost than them, and decide what you want to do next, as opposed to react from the space.


Brett: So how does that work? Can you help us understand, like, how does this technique play out? And like business environments? Like, what scenarios are people that might comment might encounter that where they can like, literally just apply this Catch and Release Technique?


Clif:Yeah. So here's an example. First thing I would say is just learning the technique on its own isn't the answer, right? It does come from a foundation of consistent mindfulness practice so that you can catch more often the limiting belief. And part of that training the mind through awareness of breath and open monitoring type of mindfulness meditations, but-


Brett: We'll talk about that in a minute.


Clif: And just talk about the context in which you could use it. So I did a lot of coaching in my job previously, why and now the why. And there's some common things that might come up, you know, people being nervous about speaking in front of crowds, so I use that one earlier, that's probably one of the most common fears of humans is huge crowds. Another one is volunteering for leadership positions, probably because you have to speak in front of crowds, putting yourself out there in a way that takes not only the sort of the lead role and sort of, you know, motivating others it's also as you're putting on the mantle of responsibility in those moments. And the mind tends to see the negative, tends to notice what could go wrong more than it notices what could go right. And so the mind starts to serve up all of these reasons why you're not acknowledging the right time, you're not the right person, you know, you know, you can barely organize your own life, how you're going to organize this project team. And so in those moments catching and releasing, can be extremely valuable. Because what it can do in those moments is it can put you in a position to learn, to excel, to fail and learn, right, there's no failure, there's only learning. So you go into those, it allows you to get into the arena more often. And it's in the arena, where you will actually learn and hone your skills. You can learn a little bit about, say leadership from a book, just like you can learn a little bit about swimming from a book. But you do not become a better swimmer until you get in the pool. And you do not become a better leader until you put yourself in a position where you are leading and learning through the process.


And so catch and release can help you volunteer for that opportunity to speak in front of the crowd, it can help you get past that unhelpful internal belief that says you can't learn engagement economics or finance, I go I could, this is so complicated, I could never learn that. Well, if you believe that thought, you're never going to put yourself in a position where you have to learn it, where you learn it by doing it. And so whatever hang up, you might have in the moment, might catch and release can help you notice it and not be ruled by it. It also doesn't mean it's not going to happen again, right? This isn't like a one and done, you'll still have the limiting beliefs pop up from time to time slots that are unhelpful. But again, through consistent mindfulness practice, catch and release becomes a much more effective tool to use to overcome those internal obstacles, which are typically the primary obstacles people face.


Brett: So it seems to me that the trick there is like you said, to not believe you got the voice that says you can't, and you know, this, this is going to work. So what's the secret sauce for you're having, okay, you're just getting ready to step in front of the group to do an important presentation. And you're having a thought, you know, ‘oh, my God, this could go bad, and it'd be terrible’. What's the secret sauce for like, not buying that story?


Clif: Yeah. So that's a great question. The thing that I think is most helpful is we, as you establish a formal and consistent mindfulness practice, right? So you're doing a practice 10-20 minutes a day, you begin to create a different or cultivate a different relationship with your thoughts. So one of the pernicious myths out there, and not that you said this, but one of the most pernicious myths about mindfulness is that it's about stopping thoughts. And there are some meditations out there that are, you know, the individuals who promote those are claiming that it stops thinking and all of that, and there may be some paths that that's what their goal is. But that's not what mindfulness’s goal is. Freedom from thoughts is freedom with thoughts. And so it's through consistent mindfulness practice that you learn, that you can have thoughts, thoughts can be present, and you don't have to buy into them. And it's something that occurs over time, right, and you can begin to regard thoughts the same way you regard sounds, I say, you might hear birds tweeting out your window. And that doesn't have to impact the work that you're doing, right? Or you can totally turn towards those sounds of the birds tweeting and totally engage with them and really listen and receive whatever melody is coming. You could do the same thing with thoughts. And you and people already do it. Right? When you have just sort of a wild ass thought that's Yeah, left field. Like it just comes through your awareness.


And it doesn't even like it is so obscure and unbelievable that it doesn't register as something that you have to do or something that's true, right? So it happens already. The thing about unhelpful internal dialogue, like ‘I'm gonna mess up my speech’, or ‘I could never lead a team of this size’. It's close enough that it's plausible. It's plausible that you could mess up and that's okay, that happens. But most people don't want to embarrass themselves. And so, the fear of embarrassment is stronger than the impulse of what's it going to feel like when it goes well, right? And so it's through the consistent practice of mindfulness that you learn to be less impacted by any thought, right? And then you can have a bit more thoughtful, thoughtful decision making. Once you develop that first level skill, which is noticing thoughts as thoughts as mental events you don't have to follow them. They're not necessarily true. They're like rumors. Sometimes they're true. Sometimes they're partially true. And sometimes they're absolutely false. Once you have that sort of level of skill built, again, catch and release becomes much more an effective tool. You can use it without having mindfulness practice. I would say that it works. It's the best magic, if you have a good foundation of mindfulness practice. I don't know if that answered your question. 

Brett: Yeah, it does actually. And, and, you know, I like it, because there's the notion that these practices on their surface just can work behavior, really. But when you're mindful, then I use the word like they're highly leveraged, you get like, they get amplified in this mindful space. So I really like it. The application that you're highlighting. So along these lines, you talk about, you were talking about you have to work with a mindfulness practice in place. So talk to us about what is the mindfulness practice, like, what is it? Meditating like, 20-30 minutes a day? Do you have to go to retreats? Like what's the, what's the practice to get people started with something that would be effective for them?


Clif: Yeah, well, so you mentioned the book, “Mindfulness Without the Bells and Beads”, the point of the book is to introduce mindfulness in a way that again, demystifies, it talks a little bit about the science and the benefits just to scratch the itch of folks who are really interested in that. And then provides a few exercises. So that's the first half of the book. And then the second half of the book is an eight week course. And that eight week course is designed to establish the practice, you know, to establish the daily practice. So daily is by far the best, the best way to establish a foundation in mindfulness. And it doesn't need to be a ton of time, it doesn't need to be an hour, two hours a day, you can start small with 10 or 20 minutes just to create the new behavior. And then you can go up from there.


But like I, I'm typically training corporate professionals, these folks aren't going to be doing two or three hours of mindfulness a day, nor do I want them to, that's a different level, if you want to go to a mountaintop, and practice mindfulness on a regular basis for 20 or 12 to 20 hours a day, because you're trying to do something from a spiritual perspective, dissolve the ego or whatever, find that, go do that. That's not what I'm trying to get people to do. I'm helping people actually train their mind, right. And so there's, I think there's levels of mindfulness where you can use it to train your mind, you're still in the working world, you're still engaging with society, you're not trying to, you know, reach Nirvana, that kind of thing. And so for that level, you know, you're talking 10 or 20 minutes a day. And in the course that I offer in the book, it actually does go a bit beyond mindfulness in the later portions of the course. And I'm very open about that. Because what happens is, everything gets lumped in with mindfulness because it's such a buzzword, and people are using it to sell stuff like mannies instead of-



Brett: mindfulness mannies


Clif: Exactly. And people are using the term mindfulness to sell other things that were never associated with mindfulness, never had mindfulness in them, just to get in on the mindfulness action, you know, executive presence and mindfulness. And so, I wanted to really draw that distinction between something like mindfulness and meditation. So you use the term meditation. So if you don't mind, I'll just for your listeners go through the difference between mindfulness and meditation. Yeah, please do. The relationship between mindfulness and meditation is like the relationship between fitness and exercise, right? You go to the gym and work out, not so that you're fit in the gym, you go to the gym and workout. So then when you're outside the gym, you have a higher baseline level of fitness. Right? Mindfulness and meditation have the same relationship. You do certain meditations so that when you're not doing them, you have a higher baseline level of mindfulness. And then the term meditation is like the term exercise. If I told you I exercised yesterday, what do you think I did?


Brett: Yep, you went to the gym. Right?


Clif: The term exercise is just an umbrella term for 1000s of other activities. And you choose those individual exercise activities based on the fitness outcomes you want. You want strong legs, maybe you do squats. If you want to have high levels of endurance, maybe you do wind sprints, or some kind of interval training. Well, it's the same thing with meditation. There are dozens, if not hundreds, if not 1000s of types of meditations out there, and not all of them boost your level of mindfulness. Right, I could take you through an elaborate meditation where you imagine yourself walking along a pristine beach, the waves are crashing, you can feel the cool breeze against your skin and the sun is just peeking up over the horizon. And that can be a very powerful meditation that gets you in a really interesting relaxing State. But that's not mindfulness meditation, that's not boosting your level of mindfulness. It's a guided visualization, very useful meditation. But it's not mindfulness. It's the same thing with a syllable, a word, a phrase, or even a series of phrases repeated over and over, out loud or in your head.


And those are very powerful meditations, they can get you into interesting states of mind. States, relaxed states, they can even help you cultivate compassion, and kindness, all very useful things. But those are not mindfulness meditations. Those are module meditations, those types. Again, there's nothing wrong with them. But there's two primary types of meditations used in tandem that serve to boost our level of mindfulness, focused attention, and open monitoring are sometimes called Open awareness. And so in the beginning of my course, I went over index on those two types of meditations because you're building your ability to be focused or to gain some attentional control your focus and attention, and then using that in an open monitoring type of meditation to notice what's coming in and out of your, your experience of, of the meditation, you know, thoughts arise-

Brett: like your thoughts.


Clif: And, through that process, you gain the ability to catch and release, you gain the ability to notice habits and patterns of the mind. Right, and we have, we have these neuro pathways in our brains that are like well worn ruts in a road, they're causing us to think the same things we thought yesterday, and the day before and the day before that. And so, and many of those habits of thinking and patterns of thinking and habits of mind, they're hovering below the level of our conscious awareness. And yet, they still have a huge impact on our behavior, and the things we think are available to us in this life. And so through that consistent practice of those two types of meditations, we begin to become aware of these habits of mind, and patterns of thinking. And it's not until you become aware of something that you can actually do anything about it.


And so what is a consistent or a foundation of mindfulness practice, I would say, at the entry level, it's doing a basic awareness of breath meditation for 10 minutes a day, just to start, right or, or a body scan, just to start doing both of those at the same time is even better, right? So starting with a brief awareness of breath moving into a body scan, if you do that, I mean, those are foundational exercises. I would say, if you get into mindfulness, you should do those on a daily basis. And you will continue to reap the rewards of mindfulness.


Brett: And what are those rewards? It's like, what's following your breath for 10 to 15 minutes a day gonna actually do for you?


Clif: Yeah, so that's a great question. And this is something I talked about, it's in my classes. So a basic awareness of breath, practice, what are the skills you're building? Alright, so let's talk about the cycle first. So first, you notice the sensations of breathing, so maybe you notice the air coming in and out of your nose, or mouth, whichever way you're breathing, that maybe you notice when you do an awareness of breath, that the air coming in your nose is cooler in temperature than the air coming out. That's something you might notice, doing an awareness of breath meditation, that ability to notice, that's an innate human skill.


First of all, no one's cornered the market on mindfulness, right? It doesn't belong to Asia and doesn't belong to Greece. This is this ability to notice things as a human ability that can be cultivated. Alright, so you're noticing the sensations of breathing. And at some point, some thoughts pop into your head. And at some point, you get caught in one of those thoughts streams. So maybe you think about your daughter, and that makes you think about the guy she's dating. And then you think about how you don't really care for that kid. And then you think, ‘well, what would I do to him if he mistreats my daughter?’ And you think, ‘well, if I did that, I might have to see a judge. I don't need to see it’.


Brett: Right? So it's just a set of associative thoughts. And yeah, like-


Clif: 30 seconds later, you're planning your escape from Alcatraz. The mind proliferates thought after thought. And then you wake up from it. Well, when you notice your loss and think that is a moment of mindfulness, right. And so I would say don't criticize yourself when that happens, because getting lost in thought is going to happen 1000s and 1000s and 10s of 1000s, hundreds of 1000s of times as you do this exercise, and we get better at what we repeatedly do. So if you criticize yourself in that moment, as you do the awareness, the breath practice, you'll get much better at self criticism. And none of us needs to get better at that. So what you do in that moment is congratulate yourself for waking up. In that moment, when you don't criticize yourself. You're actually practicing some self compassion. So your self compassion begins to improve through consistent practice over time. When you So you notice that the mind got caught and you begin to reorient your attention back to the breath. As soon as you make that move, that reorientation of your focus, you're practicing the skill of letting go of the thought stream variant. Very important skill not really talked about a lot. I imagine you've been in an argument before-


Brett: Once or twice


Clif: Yeah. You've probably been in an argument that's lasted two or three minutes. But then for the next two or three hours, days, you're still coming up with comebacks you really wish for, yeah, that argument. Or if you're in a relationship, you're going to put that response in your back pocket for the argument you already anticipate having in the future? Wouldn't it be great to be able to sit down those ruminating thoughts and focus on what's most important right in front of you? Right? Or maybe you're laying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, it's one in the morning, ruminating about something that happened during the day and you can't do anything about it now. Yeah. Wouldn't it be great to be able to set down those ruminating thoughts, get a good night's sleep, and then pick them up in the morning, when you can do something. That's a skill you're cultivating every time you do this. And then every time you notice what the mind got caught in that thought stream. And this is important, through consistent practice, over time, you begin to learn your own habits of mind and patterns of thinking, which we just talked about a few minutes ago, these habits of mind and patterns of thinking, many of them are hovering below the level of your conscious awareness, but they still have a huge impact on your behavior, the things you think are available.

And so by doing this cycle, you begin to become aware of these habits and patterns. And when you become aware of something that's first time you can do it, do anything about it. And then the last step, anytime you bring your attention back to the breath, and keep your attention there, you're practicing the skill of focus and concentration, keeping your attention where you want it to be, not where social media wants it to be, not where traditional media wants it to be not where marketers want your attention to be in this new attention economy, where you want your attention to be. And so that whole cycle, it's like doing a pull up for your brain. And so if you don't, if the listeners don't like the term mindfulness or meditation, if they think that's too soft, or hippie dippie or too new agey, just discard those terms. And just labels you can call it mental conditioning like they do in elite sports, you can call it attention training, because that's what you're doing, you're training your attention.


So that's one of those, those are some of the skills you're building when you just do a basic awareness of breath, exercise. And there are other skills that you learn when you're doing open monitoring, or body scan type of meditations and things like that. I don't know if we want to go into all those. But those are in the book. There are other other benefits and skills you're building when you notice different aspects of your experience that we tend to overlook, because of what's happening in our mind, in an untrained mind, right? And we all know what it's like to have an untrained mind because-


Brett: Exactly. And I think perhaps, you get to know more about having an untrained mind when you actually sit down and start to notice what the heck is going on in there, right? Sort of, can be a little bit daunting. In my experience with... when you actually close your eyes you go, ‘Holy moly, there's a tornado happening in my head’. And, and it's like one of-


Clif: The interesting thing when people start to pick up a mindfulness practice or awareness of breath is, you know, typically one of the first things they learn. They come back after a week of doing it, and they're like, ‘Oh, my mind's even busier than I thought it was before’. And it's it's actually not that it's busier, it's you're noticing more of what the mind is doing, which is a pretty interesting revelation in and of itself, because you'll begin to notice some habits of mind that have been below the level of your conscious-


Brett: Right, it's just a matter of, you know, people are beginning to become familiar with the machinery that we actually are born with and how it's operating. So it's, Isn't it better to kind of know how this stuff works so that you can be more effective? Seems like a simple calculation to me.


Clif: Well, so here's something interesting to say here. One of the things that's often overlooked is why even practice mindfulness, most people that I talked to, are extremely successful people, right? These folks are, you know, they're working at elite corporations that it's very difficult to get in, sometimes more difficult to get into Harvard than to get into like some of these firms, and they've done it, and they're successful. I mean, this, I speak at a lot of events where people are just promoted, or people who have been made a partner at a big four, which is like the pinnacle of that path. You can become managing partners and partners of different things.


Brett: But so what's in it for them? They're already successful, right? Yeah, they're successful. Why?


Clif: Why add mindfulness to what's their to do list? Right. And, I think the thing about that is, you know, one of the things we do at EA wise, we help companies transform. And the reason we help them transform is because the world is transformed, right? The volume and velocity of change, of innovation, of new technologies that companies have to incorporate into their business models just to survive is massive. And so we usher them through those transformations not so they merely survive, but so they thrive. Do we as individuals really think we're not impacted by the changes in the modern world, right? And so one of the things I try to show participants in my courses is that as the world has changed, so has the need to, to look at what we're doing with our own mind, because we're facing a disaster of distraction. Right? Yeah, I have, I have a stat that’s somewhere around here on my desk about how many times we touch our phones every day, it's like 2600 times a day. And then the attention economy, like, you know, all of these different companies trying to vie for our attention to capture it, you know, social media, you know, with the bells and the buzzes and beeps on your phone and the bright lights and the blinking.

And so once they see how often their minds are being pulled, once they see the massive change. And, you know, the brain isn't evolving as fast as technology has over the last, you know, couple decades. They hope that you can show them how it can help them, how it can help them not just be better at performing their jobs, but to be more present with their family and their loved ones. You know, work-life balance tends to be a challenge for many people in the working world. And one of the reasons is that when people are home, they're not at home, mentally, right there.


There's a Forrester study that I have somewhere around here that came out March 21. I think it's got his green, green, leafy green cover “Mindfulness will lead our collective future: why mindfulness at work matters more than ever”. Anyway, interesting study. One of the stats in the study says like 65% of people continue to think about work throughout their evening, you know, after they're off. Yeah. So how's that going to impact something like work-life balance, right? If you're sitting at the table, even if you're at the table with your family? Yeah, exactly. Are you really there? What's the quality of that attention? Is it high quality, true presence, where you really are with your family and friends and loved ones truly there? Or is it low quality, constantly distracted attention? Where you're barely there, right? And so if you have two or three hours of time at night with your family, which would you rather have two hours of high quality true presence, or two hours of intermittently through barely, they're present. And this is one of the interesting things about mindfulness. People often ask, Well, how long is my class in your class and your course that's in your book, or the course that you teach live? How long does it take before you start to realize a benefit? Yeah, great question. Common question. And it's an interesting answer. So it takes I would say, anecdotally, in the classes that I've taught, the feedback that I get, it takes about two or three weeks before something's noticed-


Brett: Consistent practice. Consistent practice. Yeah.


Clif: Definitely consistent practice. But the real kicker is it's often not the person doing the mindfulness that notices that it's Oh, family member, or a team member, it's the spouse that says, ‘honey, what's what's going on’, you're truly present for dinner today. Or it's the daughter that says that, you know, ‘you've never asked me about my day in like the last two years, what's going on’, right? It's somebody in their world who notice that something like a lack of reactivity to something that they typically would have reacted to. And this is a really important thing to know about mindfulness, it just doesn't exaclty impact you or everybody on your team. It impacts everybody in your family, because those two hours of time at home, it's going to impact their experience of those two hours as well, because of your presence.


Brett: So you're up leveling, not only yourself, you're up leveling, the engagement, your engagement with the world, which improves your conversations and your relationships, not only personally but professionally.


Clif: Indeed, and your relationship with yourself and also just relationship with challenges that you may have, challenges that you may face in life. Right? You know, some people think that mindfulness is about only seeing the positive like there are people who truly think that mindfulness is about sweeping the negative under the rug, having blinders on to real challenges in one's life and, and only seeing rainbows and butterflies and sprinkles and only having happy thoughts and only feeling Joy's feelings. Right? If there's anybody who, anybody claiming to be a mindfulness teacher, tries to teach you that it's about being happy all the time, head the other direction. Because they're sending you down a very unhelpful path. But one of the things mindfulness can do for you is it can give fuller access to the entire range of your experience, as opposed to primarily getting caught up in what's not meeting our expectations. And when we have access to the full range of our experience, our experience of life changes. And also, since we're experiencing the full range of our present moment, we have more access to data from that present moment from which we can make wiser decisions, more thoughtful decisions in any situation.


Brett: So, you’re saying. Like what are the mechanics of… like you go inside yourself, you do some meditations and you notice some of your thoughts, and you notice that under the hood there’s a lot of negativity and a lot of things that you’re telling yourself that you wouldn’t tell your friend but you’re saying to you. So how, like, how do you vanish those or you get rid of them? What’s the means by which you make movement in the direction of that those are not helping you so much? 


Clif: Yeah. Again is consistent practice. There are approaches in psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, that kind of thing. Their whole goal is to change difficult thoughts into more empowering thoughts, so you question the thought, you argue with it, you say that something else may be true. You fully engage in that unhelpful train of thought. You may be identifying some kind of cognitive bias, catastrophizing or something like that. So in those types of therapy focus on trying to disprove unhelpful thoughts. Mindfulness isn't about doing that. Mindfulness is noticing it coming back, noticing the nature of it. Mindfulness isnt about privileging one experience over another or one thought over another, but by seeing them all as events arising in the mind that are just passing by. But they arise and pass away, and you’re still here. Regardless of whatever thought there, you’re still here. Happy thoughts, I’m here. Sad thought, I’m here. Neutral thought, I’m here. Through that process of looking it over, and over, and over and over again you begin to realize those thoughts are… there’s just nothing to them-


Brett: They’re just transient experiences 


Clif: They’re wispy little clouds and the wind blows and they blow away. Some thoughts are more persistent than others. You may have some unhelpful thoughts that stay with you all of your days. But the difference is you can have different relationships with that thought where is there but it’s not bothering you. This just came to me right now. Have you ever seen the movie “A beautiful Mind”. Spoiler alert, in case you havent seen the movie. He has these, he's schizophrenic. He has all these other personalities that he experiences that he thinks are real and eventually he realizes that they are just made up in his head, they’re just different aspects of himself. One of the end scene of that movie, he’s walking through the park and somebody is asking him if they’re still there. And he’s looking left and right and he still sees those aspects of his personality walking with him. He says ‘yes they’re still here’. The difference is that they are not ruling his life or influencing his life.


It’s the same thing with trains of thoughts. You may have thoughts that are very ingrained, something that happened to you as a child, or some kind of something, I don't know. Many of our thoughts are given to us by our parents or adults when we were kids before we could even think in the form of sentences. And that thought may pop off at the most inopportune time. And through consistent practice over time that thought may pop off and it’s there and it’s ok, it’s just there. It’s like a bird chipping out the window. I don't know if that answered your question. 


Brett: No, it’s really, uhm… well said. So thank you. So you’ve been doing a lot of work with bringing these concepts into organizations. So I want to talk about what works, what helps a company begin to implementing mindfulness as part of their culture? And if you have any insights, what doesn’t work? That’s really difficult information to get at these days and you are one of the few people who really have an expert point of view in it. 

Clif: I’m not sure if I’m an expert but I’ll share my thoughts. You know, I think… a couple of things: demystifying is so incredibly important. We must demystify. We started at the top of this conversation about that. You know if the company thinks that what you are bringing in is Buddhism or Hinduism or any other ism it’s just not gonna stick. There’s people who are already bought in the mindfulness for whatever reasons, they’re already bought in. That’s not your target audience. Those are your first champions. Those might be the first people who help in different satellites offices share some of the benefits of mindfulness. In my opinion your target audience are skeptics and. How do you reach them? They’ve already heard about mindfulness, they’ve seen people. They’ve seen the popular culture of mindfulness. And they haven’t picked it up. So how do you reach them? You have to show them an alternative view to the predominant stereotype around mindfulness, and you also have to show that that alternative view of mindfulness also yields the same scientifically validated results of mindfulness. So the first impression is your intro session.


The intro session is like the first impression in life, so in that first introductory 40 minutes session of what mindfulness is you have to do a couple of things: you have to demystify it, and you have to show the benefits just to show some of those folks who just want to hear those number.  And then also highlight the impact on business. And there’s some great companies out there that have done great studies internally about mindfulness impacts in terms of productivity. 62 minutes a week increase in productivity, reduction of 2 or 3 thousand dollars a year in medical costs. So sharing those statistics with folks is important. And then keeping it simple. Sharing with them the basic “Awareness of breath exercise” to show them that this is one of the exercises that you would be doing. It just breaks a lot of those stereotypes. They didn't have to go to a Yoga studio. And helping create that distinction with mindfulness and meditation. So I think drawing some of those distinctions is important but it also requires you to have people know those distinctions. Unfortunately, there are many mindfulness teachers in the world that don’t know the difference between those different types of meditations. So that’s important. Finding allies in different levels of the company is important.


One of thing that i think was suprising about bringing mindfulness where I worked was finding out that there were dozens of people who practiced mindfulness but never talked about it at work because of the stigma that they thought they would have. Mindfulness is where I say executive coaching was 20 or 30 years ago. 30 years ago there was no CEO that would say he was being coached. It took a little while for them to realize that coaching was great. Mindfulness is on the cusp of making that transition and I'm advocating very hard for doing this. So, finding your allies. And many of these people have just come out, you know. You have a good first like introduction to mindfulness. So that’s important. And then you can mention the benefits of mindfulness to things your company is already committed to achieving. Maybe they’re committed to reducing bias in the workplace. Maybe you pull out some of the resources that highlight the reduction of age and race based unconscious bias as a result of mindfulness. So that’s pretty helpful.

So if you link your program to some of the things that the company is already focused on, the decision makers are like these are the three or four major goals we have and you can find how mindfulness impacts on those goals. And then create that network of champions of people who just came out to practice, and then keep up your own practice. You know you are not just the messenger, you’re not just sharing a message, you are the message. So if you are getting up on stage and are frenetic and frantic and the opposite of mindfulness that’s also going to send a message. Another example is how you show up. So maybe you’re a buddhist, maybe you like all of the bells and beads that come along with mindfulness even if you're not a buddhist. But if you try to tell your audience that you are going to demystify mindfulness and it's very secular and everything about you exudes bells and beads, it’s not credible. That doesn’t mean you can’t be your authentic self. So that’s what I would say. First impressions are very important, demystifying, keeping it simple, talk about science. Those are things I’ve found really successful in my work where I’m working out.

Brett: So amazing. There’s a lot to unpack there. It seems that when you get it lined up you have a great opportunity for helping a lot of people and a lot of organizations. There’s so many questions that I would like to talk with you- I think we could talk the whole afternoon. But I very much would like to just tell you: thank you for this and how can people connect with your work and what you do? 

Clif: Yeah, so hopefully wherever this is posted you can post all the links. But they can find me at that’ll point them to where they can find my book which is available everywhere good books are sold at. But also my contact information, my social and all that. Those are the best ways to get in touch with me. My biggest presence is LinkedIn, I do a lot of work on corporate k notes and classes and things like that.


Brett: Ok great. Thank you so much for your book and your thoughts on these… and perseverance and commitment to bringing the benefits of mindfulness without the bells and beads to the world and I’m really enjoying your book and I’m sure our audience will too. And much success to you in your future endeavors. 


Clif: Thanks brother. I appreciate it and I appreciate the work IOM is doing and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with them. 

Brett: That sounds fabulous. Thank you now.


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