Our models on leadership are broken. We know a lot about WHAT it takes to be a leader. We know good leaders are meant to have a vision, motivate others, forge a path, and take their team there.
There are also many truisms related to leadership. For example, Simon Sinek says ‘Leaders Eat Last’. They lead by example, etc. But what’s often lost is the HOW behind it. Behind the lofty words and intentions, there’s a big void where practical skills are ignored.
In this series of posts, I want to focus on these practical micro-skills. My guiding principles are the following:
The principles must be timeless. This is not about a hot new management technique (and I’ll go into why I hate the word ‘management’ later on). These must be based on sound ideas on what makes humans and organizations move for the better.
The principles must be cross-disciplinary. This means they must work equally well with clients & customers, employees and team members, in the corporate setting or at home or at your charity.
They principles must be actionable. There are enough big picture lofty inspirational leadership books. But reading Steve Jobs’ biography won’t make you the next Steve Jobs (and it’s doubtful if you’d even want to, knowing what sort of person he was).
These principles must be tested. They cannot be abstract ideas. They must come with significant validation from history, personal life, biographies, research, etc.
First, let’s learn from Aristotle.
No, not him. Project Aristotle was Google’s attempt at finding out what makes the best teams. The company wanted to see what made for great performance.
Was it having a group of work horses who did the work no matter what? No. More and more, we know that creative work requires the ability to step outside ourselves and have diversity of opinions and thoughts.
Was it having a group of geniuses? No, that wasn’t it either. We can have a group of very smart people, but that doesn’t mean they will work well together.
Was it about teams that have a history of out performing? That’s no answer. You cannot say that the best teams are those that have always been best teams. It’s about finding out what is it about the team that matters more.
Was it about having a common background? Same school, same hobbies, same interests, same age groups? No, no and no.
After years of studying thousands of employees and hundreds of team, Google found (pun intended) that the number one characteristic of a great functioning team is having psychological safety in its culture.
What does that mean? It is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” People must feel safe to be human.
As a leader, we create this essential culture within a team where people feel safe, they feel respected, and they have trust. And we don’t necessarily need to have the formal title of a leader to do this. Anyone can help create this, and so we are all free to be leaders.
Yet, most courses of leadership focus on all the things that are not related to creating trust and respect in teams. Most leaders tend to ‘manage’ people as if they were objects. They persuade, manipulate, coerce. They overcome objections, they push, they influence, they try to build rapport. Unfortunately, this type of ‘leading’ also permeates into our personal relationships and causes so much strife. We cannot expect to create
Here’s the dirty secret: people see right through it. For example, the phony rapport building tricks might work for a while, but most people with half a brain understand that you aren’t really interested in what they did over the weekend; you just want to appear social and caring but are much more interested in getting to work.
How do we create trust and respect in a team? How do we build psychological safety? I believe it begins with empathy, trust & respect.
To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.
People don’t really understand what empathy means. They confuse it with sympathy and compassion. They make empathy about them. For example, say someone lost a job. You might say something like:
“I heard you lost your job. I’m sorry to hear that. I lost my job 2 years ago and it was on my family. Let me know if you need anything.”
This seems like an appropriate response. It seems vulnerable, it seems empathetic. And it is this distinction that sets Richard Himmer’s book apart and turns the idea of empathy on its head.
Read the statement more closely and let’s break it down. Here’s what it is actually doing:
“I heard you lost your job. I’m sorry to hear that [sympathy — about your feelings]. I lost my job 2 years ago and it was hard on my family [attempt at empathy — also about you]. Let me know if you need anything [compassion].”
In the above statement, we presume to know what they are going through. We presume to know that their job loss has a similar pain to our job loss. This presumption is about us. By denying this person the ability to actually talk about what they’re going through, we give a diluted form of empathy. It robs the other person from sharing what they want to say and being in their own space. Empathy is not being nice and listening. You aren’t a part of empathy. It’s not about your experience. Relating doesn’t help.
A more constructive statement would have been: “What has it been like to lose your job?” Perhaps you might find that they are relieved and happy and did not want your sympathy in the first place.
Yet, relating seems to be the common lesson taught to so many leaders. But that makes it about us, not the other person.
The deepest desire of any human being is the desire to be understood.
The antidote to this is listening with an intent to understand. It isn’t about relating, offering opinions, judgements, trying to find common grounds, telling. More than love, we must give that which people crave for: the desire to be understood. This is how trust is created. And it must happen by giving the one thing that is irreplaceable: our time.
As leaders, we must create a space free of relating, finding commonalities, of unsolicited opinions, of judgement, of telling. We control the conversation, not the person. And from such conversations, we too can get a honest sense of who they are. This creates mutual trust and respect.
This does not mean you cannot set boundaries. In fact, you must. But this method of listening, of practicing empathy creates trust & respect so you can lead effectively.
Getting this right can be big for large corporations, and especially for startups and small businesses that are based on small malleable teams that can move faster and do more. This way of leading is not constrained to a formal position at a job, but anywhere you have influence.
Now we have an understanding of the need to create psychological safety. We learned that the traditional idea of empathy is not real empathy. We learned that in order to lead effectively, we must listen with the intent to understand and create a space free of judgements, opinions, relating, telling.
The above example relates to one very specific example of a job loss, and it seems to make sense within that context to refrain from offering opinions, judgements, etc. However, in the next set of posts, I will break down why these guiding principles are useful in every context (even when a misfortune or disaster is not the subject of conversation).
This is a new paradigm and over the next few posts, I will break down what these specific practices are that are needed to practice real empathetic leadership. Consider subscribing below so you know when the next post is out.
During this past week, I had the privilege of being one of the 100 people invited to the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland to discuss the Future of Work. The event is an intimate gathering of roughly 600 people: leaders of tomorrow and leaders of today including billionaire entrepreneurs, world leaders, and cutting edge researchers, and brilliant thinkers.
To qualify for this all expenses trip, more than 1,300 people wrote an essay. I was one of the 100 whose essay and ideas were picked. I wanted to share this essay that discusses what the future of work will be.
I was trying to answer how I plan on being economically relevant in the future as computers increasingly take over the work of so many humans. Here’s my essay below.
Tribe was on my to-read list for a while, and it only took me 2 days to finish it. It’s a very short, sparse 130 pages. Here are some of the most interesting quotes from the book with a few thoughts near the end.
“I know what coming back to America from a war zone is like because I’ve done it so many times. First, there’s a kind of shock at the comfort and affluence that we enjoy, but that is followed by the dismal realization that we live in a society that is basically at war with itself. People speak with incredible contempt about, depending on their views: the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign born, the President, or the entire US government. It is a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime except that now it is applied to our fellow citizens. Unlike criticism, contempt is particularly toxic because it assumes a moral superiority in the speaker. Contempt is often directed at people who have been excluded from a group or declared unworthy its benefits. Contempt is often used by governments to provide rhetorical cover for torture or abuse. Contempt is one of four behaviors that, statistically, can predict divorce in married couples. People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long.”
“If you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different—you underscore your shared humanity,”
“As affluence and urbanization rise in a society, rates of depression and suicide tend to go up rather than down.”
“It may be worth considering whether middle-class American life—for all its material good fortune—has lost some essential sense of unity that might otherwise discourage alienated men from turning apocalyptically violent.”
“What would you risk dying for—and for whom—is perhaps the most profound question a person can ask themselves. The vast majority of people in modern society are able to pass their whole lives without ever having to answer that question, which is both an enormous blessing and a significant loss.”
“How do you become an adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage?”
“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”
“Human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered “intrinsic” to human happiness and far outweigh “extrinsic” values such as beauty, money and status.”
This book with full of insights on why we have evolved to essentially to live in tribes, and what we’ve lost from abandoning that model. Contempt and superiority of one side compared to another has really overtaken any sense of coming together. Parents will find it interesting to learn we isolate our babies right from the first few months of birth, which is so contrary to our design. Whereas in tribal societies, we were held 90%> of the time, in today’s age of separate rooms and trying to imbue a false sense of independence (instead of interdependence) in babies, no wonder we are creating a generation of anxious, stressed out, depressed young people.
What we need today is a greater sense of unity and tribal community (Ubuntu) than ever before. Not only does it restore us to our more natural evolutionary past, but also restores happiness and security into our lives. This is not about a false sense of tribe that social media provides us,
The world needs it in large doses. The book also does a great job exploring why so many of us feel so distant with our neighbours, our friends, and ourselves.
Perfectionism affects too many of us. It prevents us from taking action and never really getting anywhere in life.
That is why I picked up this book. How to be an Imperfectionist by Stephen Guise is excellent in resetting the frame. Below, I’ve highlighted some of my favourite quotes to give you a taste of this book.
I found myself highlighting much of the book. More importantly, after reading this, I found myself taking ACTION that I was stalling on for a long time.
Perfectionism is an imposter—a hoax; it’s the worst mindset you can pick out of a hat. Imperfectionism, however, is the real deal; it’s luxury… five stars… the best.
This isn’t a “trick”to make you happier. Remember, the unrealistic, ridiculous side of this coin is perfectionism. The idea that we can do anything perfectly is completely and irreversibly contrary to logic, the history of mankind, and every person’s experience.
Perfectionists’ fear causes them to drown in complexity. Considering all of the possible ways a mistake could be made takes a lot of mental effort. This “works” for them because the overwhelming pressure and increased fear from visualizing everything that could go wrong drives them to a safer activity, where relief is found (until they’re reminded again). Can you see why perfectionism is the root cause of procrastination?
Against a giant tortoise, we’re all speed demons! Against a cheetah, even Usain “The Human Lightning” Bolt will get embarrassed. Your confidence in your foot speed depends on what relative benchmarks you consider to be adequate, poor, or remarkable…Every confidence benchmark is arbitrary, so we may as well create our own.
Focusing on quantity (not quality) of repetitions over time leads to consistency, which leads to habit formation, which is the heart of personal growth. When you engage in this process and a behavior becomes habitual, your subconscious will prefer it instead of resist it. That’s victory. Can you see now why I cringe when I see so many people try to “get motivated” to achieve their goals? We need long-lasting habits to win, not short-lived motivational bursts.
Motivation should more or less be ignored if you want your changes to last.
Excellent stuff right? I won’t get into the actual solutions Stephen suggests, but these ideas alone are enough of a paradigm shift that I think they were worth sharing.
It’s high time we all consider a media fast. Mental illness is at an all time high (although one can argue it is just reported for the first time). So is a feeling of helplessness and lack of control over one’s life.
Perhaps you end your day having spent hours surfing reddit, random blogs, social media, or news websites, and you wonder what you even got done that day. Maybe you feel very pessimistic about life given current events. These moments train our mind that we are pretty much helpless in controlling the destiny of our lives.
I’ve already written a lot about quitting social media here. The purpose of this series is to go one step further. I am going to write about my experience quitting ALL media for the next 30 days. This includes TV shows, movies and documentaries, YouTube series, magazines, newspapers, and blogs.
Just to be clear, this does not mean I will stop watching videos or reading information on the Internet or in print. Rather, I mean to consume information consciously: I must have a purpose before I open another tab, and start watching that video, reading that post, or listening to that podcast.
This is in contrast to the mindless nature of browsing the net to keep myself occupied, distracted, entertained, or informed. My method will be to consume media that serves my goals. That’s it.
10 Reasons We Need A Media Fast
Reclaim your mental sanity. We spend so much time prescribing therapy and drugs to people with mental health issues: be it depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and a whole lot more, but don’t bother to focus on a major contributing factor for all this: the media. TV shows, movies, internet articles about tech billionaires, and the constant barrage of click-bait celebrity gossip does tremendous harm. It creates the expectations reinforced daily of our inadequacies, our failures for not being fit/healthy/sexy/rich/successful/young enough. Don’t believe me? Start watching this excellent series by Charlie Booker titled “How TV Ruined Your Life” (I know it’s about TV but it applies to all modern media):
Have more time. If you feel constantly stressed, overworked, and wonder at how achievers get stuff done, this is how! Quit all this mindless consumption and get on a media fast and you will discover a tremendous amount of time you didn’t even know you had. Your mind will fight to binge on this kind of stuff again. Resist it. Breath. Meditate. It will go away. After the first few days, you will discover time that you did not know you had.
Feel more in control. A lot of us feel out of control in our lives. I credit much of this to the constant attack of negativity from the news and social media. I am not claiming that ignorance or sticking your head in the sand is a good strategy to live life. Rather, it’s the idea about getting very selective about what we consume. In The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli, the author asks, “Out of the 10,000 news stories you may have read in the last 12 months, did even one allow you to make a better decision about a serious matter in your life?” You can find a quick summary of the affect of news and our out-of-control feelings from this article: News is bad for you–and giving up reading it will make you happier.
Live Purposefully. When the mind clears up from all the noise, noise, noise of TV shows, Internet, magazines, etc, you will get space to create life a lot more purposefully. Our consumption of media becomes directed in the service of the life we want, not away from the life we’re living (and we’re not happy with). When we subtract out the unnecessary, what’s life is the necessary that makes a big difference.
Feel freedom. Additionally, we actually feel the freedom that comes from having a lot more time. We feel the freedom to live purposefully. This is a crucial distinction from points 2 & 4. While we may physically have more time to live a better life, this reality is useless unless we actually believe that is the case. The barrage of what we consume is so endless that we feel the opposite: that there isn’t enough time and space for our lives. Ironically, this is just not true.
When we drink water from a fire hose, no wonder we feel overwhelmed.
When we do a media fast, we actually end up feeling that we do. This new belief will be one of the key factors is helping us take control and live purposefully.
Build discipline. It feels wonderful to set goals and accomplish them! And this goal is tremendously powerful because it is an internal goal: something where we fight our minds and work to overcome our own mental scripts. I wrote about the potent power of such goals in my previous post about goal setting. If you’re struggling to figure out what sort of goal to set that will challenge your mind, this 30 day media fast is a great one to get started. It will build discipline that will permeate into all other parts of your life.
Mindful growth. Our growth is often driven by necessity. We don’t have money in the bank, so we work on getting a job and earning a buck. But when we get rid of distractions, we are free to pursue goals that matter deeply to us. Additionally, when we choose to consume media mindfully, we have to force ourselves to pick the things that we want to be informed about/consume. This type of mindful growth will be a lot more powerful.
Be happier. Next, we become a whole lot happier when we don’t surround ourselves with negativity. For example, you might think watching How I Met Your Mother or the latest Superhero movie doesn’t affect you in any way. Now this is just not true! Product placements remind us that we can be a lot more sexier/stronger/heroic if we owned the same products. The body shapes we see give us an immense sense of dissatisfaction with our own bodies. I’ve talked about this in the past that this won’t help us get into exercising, so this negativity isn’t helpful. And finally, the dramatic story lines and character lives just do not exist in real life. We are deeply dissatisfied with our lives because we think life is supposed to be like these fictional stories. We may not know it, but it is affecting us in a very deep and primal way. But what makes a good story doesn’t make a good model for our life. For more, read this.
Make a positive difference in the world. Ironically, when we give up reading the news and feeling helpless, we actually have the freedom to actually go out in the world and make a difference. Volunteer, help someone in the community, get informed about the few things you care deeply about, and take action! You will feel powerful and in control of your life and the lives of others. This happens when you don’t let the 24/7 media channel run your mind 24/7.
Just to see if you can! Last, just do this to see if you can! Make it into a fun challenge with your mind. Explore this theme and see what difference it can make. Treat is as a 30 day experiment.
So that’s it for this post! I would be curious to hear about your experiences with the negativity of the media. Please also let me know if you’d like to join me in taking on a media fast together!
Leave a comment below or message me privately to let me know!
When it comes to goal setting, there are tons of books, seminars, and courses out there. Everyone has a different take on how to set goals.
Most experts will tell you to set goals for your business, career, relationships, health, spirituality, and contributions in the community. They will tell you that without goals, you will not succeed.
They will tell you that people who write down their goals are much more likely to succeed with them. Write your goal in the present tense, they say, as if you have already achieved it! It tricks your mind into thinking you already have the goal.
Others promote setting SMART goals. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. As an example, “my goal is to make $5,000 more than I make right now, by July 31st of this year by working a part time job close to home.” Very smart.
These are all great tactics for goal setting, and experts are probably right that writing out your goal and reminding yourself about it everyday helps in attaining them.
The biggest issue with these tactics is that they ignore the real problem: even when we achieve most of our goals, we are still as unhappy as before.
I saw a fantastic video the other day from some contemporary celebrities who talk about this:
You may not care about these people, but their lesson still stands. When we set external goals, we grow externally, but remain unfulfilled within.
Of course there is nothing wrong with setting a goal to get that great career, or lose your weight, or anything like that. The problem is the motivation behind it is half-baked. We think we’ll be happy when we achieve this goal. From the experience of millions of people throughout history (including some people in the video above), you probably won’t.
A Different Goal
Throughout my life, I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with amazing people. The most important two figures have been Pramukh Swami Maharaj, and Mahant Swami Maharaj. Sadly, they have been mostly unheard of by people in the Western world, but their wisdom and impact has touched the lives of millions including presidents, scientists, artists, community activities, teachers, business tycoons, and regular folk.
They have taught me that life is a cycle of ups and downs. Sometimes, we win, and sometimes we lose. We must remain stable throughout it all. How can we hold onto something that constantly changes for happiness? Our happiness also becomes temporary when we do that!
That which is temporary is not real, and that which is real is not temporary.
It is much better to centre our lives on that which is permanent. To that which does not change.
What can that one thing be?
Goal Setting in Reality
If we commit to goal setting in the world of reality (that which is permanent), we must set the direction of life to conquer our own minds. Every external achievement is accomplished by honing the mind. We experience all the ups and downs of life in the mind. So, if we work on conquering the mind, we can accomplish wonders.
This is the goal that will give us happiness. This is the goal that will help us be our best selves. Peace and stability will be found in making self-mastery the goal.
The external stuff will change. Identify with that which is unchanging, and we will win the game of life.
Keeping regular workout motivation is hard. Here’s my latest video on what to do about it (it’s only 4 minutes, so give it a view!):
Most of us can’t seem to work out daily. We look on the internet for workout motivation. We keep searching for the right exercise gear, clothing, and right workout program. Sometimes, when we hate ourselves enough, we decide that we have to change. We even start exercising and it goes on for a while, but then we fail. What’s going on here? Why can’t we do something that we know is good for us! Let’s find out.
Oh, by the way, you can check references to every single claim I’m about to make in the video description on YouTube. Let’s look at 3 reasons why we can’t stick to a workout program and what we can do about it.
First of all, we treat exercise as something that’s done only in the gym. Or when we have the proper workout clothes on. Or if it’s done in the morning. If we miss the first few minutes of class at the gym, or we have to leave early, we say that it doesn’t count. We say it only counts if we’re completely drenched in sweat, and are pushing our bodies to their limit. But the science says that any and all physical activity counts. When you take the stairs, it counts. When we park far away in the parking lot, it counts. A good rule is to stick with what’s called the ventilatory threshold–the point at which it is hard to hold a conversation with someone. Research says that at that rate, we feel good about ourselves and want to keep exercising. And when we start liking exercising, we don’t need workout motivation to keep doing it.
Secondly, most of us treat exercise as a chore or punishment. It’s something that we “have” to do, “should” do. We’ve heard the scientists, or our own doctor has told us that we need to workout. And that’s exactly why we can’t get ourselves to exercise. When you workout to reduce your cholesterol, or to be “healthy”, you won’t feel motivated to work-out. When we “should” all over ourselves by telling us that we have to do this, we must do this, we create resistance. Our minds immediately say “oh yeah? you can’t make me exercise!” The solution? We are much more likely to do things that we decide to do for ourselves. This is called Self-Determination Theory. Stop making exercise into a punishment and find a reason to enjoy it. We’ll get into the best reasons to workout in just a moment. Before that, let’s look at…
Thirdly, the reason we fail at exercising daily is because we make it about losing weight. We don’t know how we will look like in 6 months, 12 months. And so, we give up when we don’t see any changes quickly enough. That’s the danger of making weight loss or looking good into your motivator. We don’t know when it’s going to happen. Instead, the research shows that people who make exercise and physical activity into something that makes them feel better right then and there, they stick with it.
It’s having more energy, it’s feeling better about the day, feeling more in control. Find a reason that you yourself decide, not a reason that someone else gives you.
Even if weight loss/looking good is your second or third reason to work out, you will still be less likely to workout. You dilute the energy of your goals by having too many reasons to move. Make it about making your day better and you’ll stick with it. In conclusion, remember 3 things:
Exercise doesn’t happen only in the gym or in gym clothes. Find ways to move everywhere you go.
Stop “shoulding” on yourself. Find a reason to exercise for a reason you enjoy – making your day better, feeling more energized, jamming to music, being in nature, or being with your friends.
Stop making it about weight loss or looking good. That will definitely happen, but move to enjoy life now, not in the future.
In short, find ways to move throughout the day, and do it in a way that you enjoy and improves your day right now. Getting started with an exercise habit will change your inner identity so that if you do want to hit the gym and push yourself hard, you can one day.
If you make working out into a gift for ourselves to improve our day, you won’t need motivation to do it everyday. How can you do that today?
Leave a comment in the video to let others know, and hit the like & subscribe button for more of these videos.
There’s a beauty in being a guest at a friend’s home. We feel comfortable and we love the company. There is no attachment to their home. There’s also an unspoken expectation at the end of the trip:
When it comes time to leave, we can drop our attachment to that place and move on. We are happy when we are there, but it doesn’t cause us suffering when we have to go.
It’s even easy to get into action with chores. How much easier it is to do the dishes, or tidy up the place when we’re a guest at someone else’s home!
Yet, when it comes to our own home, we feel very differently. In our own homes, we are often miserable sitting alone. We work endlessly to change things up. Dishes remain undone in the kitchen sink. Our attachment to our home causes suffering, and it also serves as a shell to retreat from the challenges of life.
The whole place can become a sty and we put up with it, unless of course we’re having guests over as well! Then we tidy the place up.
But what would happen if we could be a guest in our own home?
And what if we could be a guest in our own lives?
A Guest In Our Body
Western thought puts emphasis on my house, my job, my body, my looks, my my my. Eat, breathe, and sleep with your goals. Burn yourself up to make sure you get there!
But what if we saw ourselves as guests in this body visiting only for 70–80 years?
We would live our lives with a lot more grace, a lot more compassion, and indeed, it would be easier to get into action without the pain and suffering. The drama of our lives would be enjoyable, without the misery.
This is one of the deepest teachings of yoga. In my lifetime of studying yoga, this was one of the first lessons I learned at the age of 5.
We mistakenly think yoga is all about twisting ourselves into crazy shapes. But the main texts on the subject have almost no mention of these poses, or asanas.
Instead, it teaches us the secret to living. It teaches us to cultivate non-attachment to the temporary. It teaches us ways to engage with the world more fully without the pain of “I” and “mine.” It teaches us, in short, to be a guest in our own homes. In our own lives.
Today, when you get back to “your” home, just for one night, see yourself as a guest. See what happens and leave a comment below.
Changing your life requires a steady drip of thoughts day by day. Empty a bucket of water in an area, and the area will be dry the next day. But start a trickle of drops from that same bucket, and the area will stay wet. That’s how we change our minds, hearts, and souls. Drop by drop. Article by article. If this philosophy of changing and reinforcing your life appeals to you, please subscribe to the email newsletter.
Most of us never learn the Art of Travel and we’re worse off for it. For many, taking vacations remains a stressful, painful, and exhausting experience. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Travel is supposed to be relaxing, rejuvenating, and even life-enriching. After all, that’s what “Eat, Pray, Love” taught us, right? Isn’t travel the antidote to our boring monotonous lives? Anything can happen, adventure is within our reach! Go see the world before it’s too late! Just take the plunge, travel, and you’ll change your life. That’s what Walter Mitty taught me:
But why is it almost never like this for most of us? If you’re like me, you might have waited for the magic to kick in. But at the end of the trip, you’re just left exhausted, and just dying to get back to your normal routine.
It’s because we haven’t given thought to the art of travel.
Over the last 2 years, I’ve not only spent time traveling across the United States, Canada, and India, but I’ve also spent a lot of time talking about it with close friends. One of them is the incredible Valerie Lai, a great friend for ten years who has traveled much of the world solo. After leaving her job and saving enough, she is traveling across South-East Asia and Australia and learning Muay Thai, Mandarin, and flying planes.
Some trips are great, and some are downright miserable and exhausting where I’ve just wanted to just lie down not wake up for 3 days after.
So, what makes travel suck and what can we do about it? Here’s what I’ve learned…
Doing Too Many Things
Your not a Pokemon Trainer! You don’t have to “catch ’em all.”
You don’t have to visit every single place on your list of attractions. There’s no need to party at every club. You don’t have to blow your money on every little trinket. Nor do you have to worry about taking the perfect “authentic” photo with the simple villagers of wherever.
Most people get 2-3 weeks of vacation time. They pick a destination they’ve always wanted to go to. They pick 7-8 highest ranked sights, and then decide to do that. Maybe they’ll go on a guided tour where they hop on a bus, snap a bunch of photos, upload to social media, and go back to the hotel.
And this is all without mentioning the family fights, tension, and exhaustion if we’re traveling with someone. We’re forgetting the long rides cramped in cars waiting, waiting, waiting to get to the main location. By the time we get to the “main attraction,” we’re too exhausted.
In the midst of all that, the desire of not wanting to miss out on any location seems stupid, but
We think travel is move, move, move. The art of the travel teaches us to slow way way down.
Like all forms of lust, wanderlust will leave you drained, empty, and looking for the next high or “hit.”
You will be left unsatisfied even when you get to your dream vacation because your expectation will never match reality. And the cure? It will always be somewhere else but where you are.
For the frugal ones, we may even feel dread at seeing all that money spent away on over-priced souvenirs, expensive restaurants to sample “authentic” food, and high admission fees to see a view.
Luxury travel remains a privilege for the affluent class. The rest of us need to budget, and save up for a while to go to our dream destination. Perhaps you’re funding your trips from working full time and saving every penny. Perhaps a tax return or an unexpected bonus is funding your trip.
The art of the travel teaches us that we never need to break the bank to enjoy a new location. It teaches us to spend mindfully, not lustfully.
Are you traveling to show others that you visited all these amazing destinations, or because you have a genuine desire to see, experience, feel, touch, and listen to something you’ve never experienced?
It is encouraging to know that more people than ever before are looking to explore the world. People are waking up to the idea that we need to buy experiences, not things. We’re taught to Carpe Diem! because You Only Live Once (YOLO) and we show off how cool we are with #wanderlust, #travel, and #onelove.
But in our urge to show people how interesting we are by traveling, we’ve forgotten to actually be interested in our journey. This isn’t travel, this is growing your social media following. We’re using our snapshots to craft a fairy tale, deluding ourselves into thinking that if others believe the tale, it must be true.
Taking a picture with a caged tiger, bathing a domesticated elephant in South-East Asia, taking a picture with impoverished locals and Instagramming yourself with #bethechange #onelove, doesn’t mean you traveled. Just because you look like a globe-trotting, trend-setting, wanderer, doesn’t mean you are.
Were you actually there? Or were you framing the shot and the caption for your picture? Keeping up appearances is exhausting and burdensome.
The art of travel teaches us to put our phones and cameras away, except for the rare moment that needs to be captured. I promise that the resolution on reality is better than your 12 megapixel phone.
The Art of Travel
Yoga can teach us a lot about the art of travel. When we use yoga’s principles and apply it to travel, we can start to enjoy the relaxing, rejuvenating, and transformative effects of travel.
In a yoga class, the breath is always the priority. It’s supposed to be long and flowing. If we find ourselves holding our breath, we’re missing the point. Good teachers will tell you to back off and go into child’s pose. The breath is the calm center of your experience. The point of yoga is to embody that calm center.
In the context of travel, if you’re in go-go-go mode all the time, going from one place to another despite how tired, exhausted, bored, depressed you’re feeling, you’re missing the point. It means it’s time to breathe instead.
Stop. Go sit in a cafe instead. It’s okay. You’re not a failure for not visiting every single attraction in your city.
Travel slowly instead. Instead of visiting 7-10 places in 2 days, plan for only 1 place and explore it fully.
You may feel that you’re wasting your time by throwing away all your other time. But like a good yoga class, you will get a lot more out of that one place that you would hurrying from place to place.
It’s never been about getting into complicated pretzel like shapes when we do yoga. It’s always been about being at the edge. If you do that, you will get the full benefits of the class.
In the same way, when traveling, it’s okay to back-off. Fulfillment can happen when we’re at our edge. We must fight our mind to not over-extend ourselves to practice the art of travel.
The edge often means saying no to the tour buses. The edge means fighting with out ego that wants to pull out our phone and take photos of everything we see and forget to actually see the city with our own eyes.
It may mean sitting in a cafe. Perhaps talk with locals and let serendipity take over. Book a vacation apartment or home instead of a hotel. For the most part, it’s a lot cheaper and you will now have a base to interact directly with locals. I recommend using Airbnb to find places to live at.
What a revolutionary concept! Yoga teaches us to be what we truly are. It teaches us to embody that calm strong center of your being. Your true being does not need to be in chasing mode. It doesn’t need to seek more thrills and entertainment. Your true self sees a bit of itself in everyone you meet, no matter what race, nationality, or religion they belong to.
The art of travel is truly found in meditation. When we meditate, we reconnect with this true inner sense. When we do that, we ground ourselves in an calm peaceful open energy ready to enjoy the vacation fully. We are not in frantic chasing mode. It takes us out of the state of wanderlust that can never satisfy us, and more into adventure, appreciation, and enjoyment of where we are.
And when we get there, our trip will definitely relax us. Transform us.
When I now travel, I pick one destination at a time only and spend at least one full week there. This is assuming I’ve picked an interesting enough location.
Instead of a hotel, I tend to either find a friend’s place to stay at, or use Airbnb close to the city square. This is not just an economical decision, but part of the philosophy to do with the art of travel.
I then tend to explore the city more fully and slowly. The camera rarely comes out except for a really interesting or memorable moment. I like to spend time in cafes as well (not a Starbucks), and I’ve struck up some great conversations with the barista and other patrons. This has often been the most memorable and best parts of my trip.
There’s a lot of walking involved as well, instead of driving. Since I’m living near the city square, this ends up being easy.
More people than ever have the freedom to travel and see the world. But we are missing out on the art of travel. We are instead opting for frantic, rushed, short visits to many places. We’re not really even there, choosing to interact with that place with our tools instead of our eyes, mind, and heart.
We’re missing out on the benefits of travel by doing this, and we’re exhausted, tired, and left wanting for more with emptier wallets when we travel this way.
Yoga teaches us to slow down (slow travel). It tells us to respect our edges. It tells us to be grounded first to explore the world. When we do that, the art of travel becomes the magic of travel.
Leave a comment below to share your own experiences with stressful travel, or implementing the art of travel below. Also…