Mindfulness is commonly associated with calm, quietness, and meditation. But with developmental mindfulness practice, the focus is shifted to embracing negativity and the distressful episodes of life. Dr. Diane Hamilton talks to mindfulness coach Michael Bunting to delve into how this specific method can cause personal growth and help avoid being stuck in lower states of maturity that only rely on the comfortable. Michael discusses how this can help turn the attitude of being judgmental into a sense of curiosity, which is more concentrated on making connections than imposing beliefs on others. Furthermore, he explains how this kind of mindfulness practice impacts cultural challenges in business leadership, which helps minimize dishonesty within the workplace.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Michael Bunting here. He’s the three-time best-selling leadership and mindfulness author, speaker and so much more. It’s going to be such a fascinating show.
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Embracing The Uncomfortable Through Developmental Mindfulness Practice With Michael Bunting
I am here with Michael Bunting, who is the author of the number one bestselling book, The Mindful Leader, and also the other number one bestselling book, A Practical Guide to Mindful Meditation. He also co-authored Extraordinary Leadership in Australia and New Zealand with Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. The world’s premier researchers and authors in the field of leadership join him in on that. This is exciting to have you on the show, Michael. Welcome.
Diane, thank you very much for having me. It’s lovely to be here.
I was looking forward to this. You and I have so much in common in the things we’re interested in. I know we were going to talk about some of self-awareness types of things, which I find fascinating due to writing my dissertation on emotional intelligence. I can’t wait to know your insight on that. You’re the Founder of Awakened Mind, which is a leadership consultancy. Is it an app too?
It’s all a bit confusing. Mindful Leader is the delivery consulting end of our business where we do large-scale leadership development programs, culture change programs. Awakened Mind came out in one of my books, which is an app, but it’s a mindfulness app. It’s one of our interesting journeys with mindfulness because mindfulness tends to be associated with stress relief and mental health. We’ve always focused on mindfulness in developmental growth practices. They’re quite a different set of practices and different philosophies to calm your mind and let’s get all Zen. That’s all very useful and we do have that, but it’s not the same set of practices and philosophy as growth-based self-awareness practices.You can study about love, think about love, research about love, but still not love. Click To Tweet
I had Daniel Goleman on the show who’s gotten more into mindful meditations. It was fun to talk to him about the combination of all the things he’s researched in emotional intelligence and mindfulness. I want to get a backstory on you. How did you get into this and interested in this?
It was simple. Many of us go through crises when we get into the workforce. We have a little bit of a dream of what the workforce is and what adult life is. When we get there, some of us can be rather shocked. Some of us want to go back to sleep. I was shocked at what life looked like. You go to work. You have some holidays and have a family, and then you retire and then you die. I was a little bit like, “That can’t be it.” I was always fascinated by, is there a deeper purpose to this existence? Why are we here?
You want to know the, “Why are we here?” kind of questions. How do you get that from mindfulness?
I was lucky enough to have a mom who studied Eastern and Western philosophies in the evenings every week and she introduced me to that. Mindfulness was a necessary evil. I was fascinated by what is the ego structure? What is existence? What is consciousness? The bad news is your intellect can only take you so far. It’s like love. You can study about love, think about love, research about love, but still not love. What is it actually to love? If you want to understand your consciousness, you know it, then you have to begin to practice mindfulness. I struggled like crazy with mindfulness. I didn’t enjoy it. When people said that it’s not for me, I totally get you. I agree. I was passionate enough to want to know my own mind and to know the structure of consciousness to keep going until it got relatively enjoyable and meaningful.
It’s like exercise. I was 35 before I could stand it. Now I can’t live without it. It’s one of those things that you don’t think you’re ever going to like and then one day, all of a sudden you go, “Oh.” I haven’t gotten there with mindfulness, I have to admit. I listen to the calm app every morning to do the mindful meditation thing. I try that. Daniel Goleman helped me a little because I always thought of meditation and all of the different things you do, that you’re supposed to completely empty your mind. He’s like, “No, you can’t. That’s impossible.”
I’m like, “Well then I’m not failing at this. Maybe I’ll give it another shot.” I remember talking to somebody who was a psychologist or something when I was in my twenties. She told me that most people have an antenna that goes out of their head, maybe two inches and it picks up signals from all around. She does this little circle around her head. She goes, “You have an antenna.” She puts her arm out way up as she can in the sky. She goes, “It picks up everything.” I’ve got 50 radio shows going on in my head at the same time. You have certain people that it’s harder for them because they have many stations going, or is that just my perception of it?
If the goal is to quiet the mind, which it is in calming mindfulness practices, it’s like the more you try to quiet the mind, the worse it gets. It’s like what you resist persists. One of the things I often say to my clients is, “Think about a pink elephant and get it in your head. Now don’t think about a pink elephant.” You can’t. It’s impossible. You can’t get it out of your mind. Given that your world and my world is so much around emotional intelligence and the leadership side of it, let me give you another angle on this. I’ll give you a real example. I do a lot of work in the developmental growth mindset field.
We do a lot of work with values in leaders, a tremendous amount of work. The vast majority of organizations are frustrated with the fact that they’ve published these beautiful values, then the behaviors that happen in the organization on a daily basis are not quite in alignment with these beautifully published values. If we look at published values in an organization, they are the aspiration. They are who we want to be. I know people don’t usually see it like that, but they are. If we as an organization published values, we’re saying, “This is who we want to be. This is who we want to be proud to belong to. This organization stands for this.”
We then see these different behaviors which create cynicism. This is going to sound strange, but it’ll come very quickly back to mindfulness. We were working with a group of twenty leaders. Most of them are heads of countries or global multinationals. We’re talking about integrity and values. One of them says, “I moved someone to another division, but I didn’t tell them that I was moving them because I wasn’t enjoying their behavior. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with their performance. It wasn’t bad enough to fire them, but I made it someone else’s job.”
I said, “Talk to me about your own integrity.” He was not happy. I got to see that his value of integrity was completely broken in that process. He was dishonest with that person. I said, “Let’s unpack that to the point of what happened.” He was able to finally help identify that the process of telling that person the truth is emotionally uncomfortable for him, that he automatically zoned away from it and broke his value. That is the key with what we work with around mindfulness. It’s this inability to face difficult emotions. It’s this inability to stay true to what we stand for in the face of difficult feelings.
We become subject to reactivity. When we look at mindfulness practice, the very fact that most people struggle with sitting down and trying to be still for ten minutes, even if it’s ten minutes, that in itself is its gift because what we’re trying to do is develop distress tolerance. What we’ve come to the conclusion in our work is that the vast majority of our behaviors that don’t serve our life, leadership, organizations come from distress intolerance. They come from this inability to feel difficult feelings, to feel shame if I admit a mistake, and to feel fear of having an honest conversation with someone else.
This inability to feel, embrace and balance in our difficult emotions create a rigid or weak mind and a highly reactive mind. It’s very strongly linked to those behaviors that are out of alignment with the organization’s aspirations. When we’re practicing mindfulness and someone says to us, “This meditation is difficult. I’m struggling.” Our typical response is, “Awesome. That’s good.” Can you still sit in that discomfort? Can you not turn the timer off? Can you know and become familiar with what that discomfort feels like and not be moved by it and not run from it?
This is the roots of intimacy avoidance in our lives. It’s the root of our jealousy, fights and avoidances. You can root them all back to there’s a feeling inside that I don’t want to feel. It’s the root of narcissism. The million-dollar question is, can I develop the ability and mental strength to feel my difficult feelings and still stay true to my deepest aspirations as a leader and a human being? There’s nothing more effective than mindfulness practice, particularly developmental style mindfulness practice for that.
You brought up many interesting things as I was listening to that. First of all, I was thinking of all the yoga classes I took where they say, “Relax.” Every time they say “Relax,” that would make me more stressed. it’s like the pink elephant’s opposite. I liked yoga for what they were doing, but telling me to relax doesn’t relax me for some reason. You talked about comfort facing difficult emotions. That’s what I do with my curiosity training. What I’m doing is helping them face fear, the voice in their heads, technology and environment, which are the four factors I found that inhibit curiosity, which a lot of that is difficult emotions that are impacting their ability to be curious. A lot of what you’re saying is tied into my research of what people need to work on. A lot of it is fear or that voice in their head saying, “I’m not going to like this or this is not working.”
You nailed it, Diane. The difference between a developmental mindfulness practice and the classic ones that people understand, which is calming the mind is curiosity. If you look at this simple technique level, if I’m practicing mindfulness and I’m agitated, for example, in a classic common practice, the teacher says to you, “Let the agitation pass by and come back to your breath and calm down if you’re aiming to stabilize and calm the mind.” It’s very important.
In a developmental style practice, the question rather becomes, “That’s interesting. What does agitation feel like in the body? Where is it in the body? What’s its texture in the body? What’s the associated thinking with it?” You’re bringing in intense curiosity into what’s going on. You physically experiencing what’s going on. You become curious about the associated thinking structures that are going on. You can even start looking at the storytelling and the assumptions, all that’s available as a skillset in developmental mindfulness. It gets very refined, very advanced, right through to the structuring of your own ego.The body never lies, unlike the mind that lies a lot. Click To Tweet
As you’re saying that, I had many experts on the show, no matter what the topic is, if it’s creativity or engagement or motivation or driver, you name it, it all comes back to curiosity is the spark to it. That is the first step. There’s not a lot of research on the cost savings involved with curiosity, but there’s a lot of cost savings involved with improving engagement. There’s cost savings involved in all these different things. It sounds like you’re saying curiosity is the spark to this mindfulness as well. To become truly mindful, you have to ask these questions.
The goal of the classic meditation practice that people understand is to calm the mind. The goal of developmental practices, which is our main focus, is the development of wisdom, understanding and insight. What we say is that you can sit for ten minutes and you weren’t particularly calm, but you became more understanding of what was going on inside you.
You did that through developing curiosity that figure out what’s calm. Can you quantify the financial benefit of this when you’re working with people? I always get asked that question.
I wish I could give you the great answer. We’ve included it as an element of our research. One of the things we research in leaders is what we call beginner’s mind, which is that clean slate open curiosity, where it’s genuinely beginners mind bringing a fresh open.
You spoke at Novartis because I saw that the CHR of Novartis wrote something nice about you. I’ve worked with Novartis as well and. They’ve done some research to show that when they improved curiosity, they moved the needle on engagement. That engagement is costing us here in the United States $500 billion–plus a year based on the Gallup surveys. It isn’t tied to you can do the quantitative with some that are doing some of the research, but it’s stunning how little research there is on certain areas. That’s what I would like to see more of.
I’ll take it out because we researched it more holistically, but we do have research on the connection between the leaders’ ability to be in beginner’s mind, and the engagement and mental health of their direct reports. We’ve researched that.
The dollar figures with these is they want to know, “If I put you through this program, what’s the bottom line benefit.” There isn’t a lot of research on some of that.
We were looking at this very subject with a client.
I often speak to different groups. I look up different examples of companies. I get a lot of company examples where curiosity led to a lot of great things. Daniel Goleman has some great research on that for mindfulness. There’s not the research I’d like to see. Maybe it’s the PhD in me that needs this thing.
I can’t help you there. We’ve got a ton of interesting stuff we’ve done around here.
It’s as important though.
I was chatting with a global client. We were talking about connecting our work, which has got very strong curiosity work built into it. We were connecting it to some financial performance. We both were able to say, “You have to do a massive study. You have to do the classic pharmaceutical level studies.” There are many factors in a market that determined financial performance. We gave those people curiosity training. You could give them curiosity training and the very next day, you got a GFC. You say, “It didn’t work.” You don’t know that. You have to have proper A/B testing.
My research for emotional intelligence was challenging as it was. I looked back because I was looking on the impact of emotional intelligence on sales performance. That was many years ago. I’m thinking, “This is a cute topic.” I had no idea what I fell into and how important it was. Many years later, people still are talking about this and they don’t even still understand it in a lot of these companies. This is cutting edge stuff. We’re going to hear a lot more about what you’re working on right now. You’re at the beginning of what we’re hearing because you’re so far ahead of everybody else.
We ask two simple questions to leaders. One is, do you need to be self-aware to be a good leader? We’ve got a ton of research on that now. Most people will say yes. Our second question is, if I had to ask you to walk, for example, how do you walk? You might say, “You put your left foot forward. You balance onto your right foot and this is how you walk.” If I were to ask you, “Be self-aware right now, practice it, do self-awareness right now. Do you know how?” It’s amazing. I would say 1 in 10,000 people can answer that question.
What do you think is a good answer for that question? What would be a good response to that?
There is only one technically correct answer. I know that sounds awful and non-curious in some way, but there is. It is interesting because it reveals an interesting gap in our theoretical awareness versus our practical awareness. We can talk about emotional intelligence, but be emotionally intelligent right now, what would you do? If you don’t know how to do it, how to practice it, of what value is it in your life? If you want to be self-aware right now, what do you do? It’s very simple. There are two words, self and awareness.
What is awareness? Awareness is presence. It’s the ability to be awake to something. If I’m looking at my computer screen right now, I’m aware of it. If I turn away from my computer screen, I’m no longer aware of it. I can only have an echo, a memory of it. The first thing is I have to be aware and steady in my attention. That’s mindfulness. Self, when we say me or myself, what are we referring to? You can break it down into it’s my physical experience. It’s my emotional experience. It’s the narrative in my mind. It’s the way I’m making meaning underneath that narrative.
Can I be awake to that now? One of our favorite things is the body never lies. The mind lies a lot. The body never lies. For example, if you’re not following your values, your body’s telling you. If you’re overeating, your body’s telling you. If you’re speaking with ill intent towards someone, even though you’re kidding yourself that you’re trying to be nice, the body’s telling you. What’s happened is our society has become progressively more disembodied. We’re so good at numbing. We’re so good at being distracted and dead to our own physical experience.
That allows us to get away with poor behaviors and not even know it. The first aspect of self-awareness is becoming physically awake to your physical experience. What’s going on in my body? Can I know what my body’s telling me? Now I can become awake to the emotional content that includes my intention. If I’m speaking to you right now, am I intending to impress? Am I intending to share? What’s going on? What’s my intention now?
I can look at the narrative in my mind, the storytelling as you put it, the judging of myself, the beating myself up and all of that stuff. Lastly, my awareness is very advanced. I can right now see if I can notice what am I assuming to be true in my storytelling. For example, if I’m trying to impress, I might go, “This is interesting.” I’m trying to impress. There’s a story about, “I wonder if Diane thinks I’m cool.” There’s another one. The assumption is I need to be cool in the eyes of others. That’s interesting. That’s happening right now. How does that feel? To the body, that feels quite sickening. I felt disempowered when I’m wanting that. You can evidence all of that now with good awareness, and then it can give you choice over that. It’s very practical and it’s amazing. Another question I ask people, through all your PhD studies and all the degrees you did, did anyone ever teach you to manage your own mind? Everybody did a blank. You’ve got this amazing education and excluded from that education was managing your mind.
I was drawn to the courses that do that in some ways in college. When I was the MBA Program Chair at Forbes, I looked at a lot of those kinds of things to incorporate in class as far as the soft skills and the critical thinking skills. We try to incorporate them. You don’t see a lot of that in the education realm. As you were talking about the self-awareness thing, before we get too far off with that, it brought to mind when I was in pharmaceutical sales. I used to work for AstraZeneca for twenty years.Society has become progressively more disembodied, numbing, and distracted from physical experience. Click To Tweet
When I first took the job in 1980, it was interesting to me that every year, in addition to giving us a personality assessment, which they still use now, a lot of companies, which they were ahead of their time for doing it back then. They also would grade us and rate us on your yearly performance appraisal on our concern for impact. Everybody else put it that way, but the way we see how we come across, do we care what other people think of how we come across to them? It is self-awareness and how emotional intelligence defines it in terms of, “Are you aware of what you’re doing and how you’re impacting other people?”
They are so far ahead of the curve looking back, because I haven’t seen as many people do that since then. There’s so much that’s tied into my research in perception because I started to look at this. In our book on perception, we had an assessment and we came up with that there. We looked at this and we thought, “Perception is a combination of IQ, EQ, put yourself in somebody else’s position or having empathy and all the things associated with emotional intelligence.” You have the CQ, Curiosity Quotient and CQ, Cultural Quotient. It’s all this stuff. What you’re talking about helps with our perception of ourselves, but of others as well if you’re questioning.
I’m not that too familiar with fast brain or fast pathway or slow pathway in the brain. It’s easy to take past conditioning, lay it over into someone, judge them, label them and move on. It’s harder to be curious. It’s a slower brain pathway. One of the great understandings I’ve personally come to in the last few months was studying the fast and slow pathway of the brain. It’s coming to more compassion for judgmental people. It’s easy in our field because you’re educated in this stuff and you see someone being judgmental and then ironically, you become judgmental of them being judgmental. You’re doing the same thing. It’s like, “Look at that person, they’re so judgmental. I don’t know what they’re doing.” You’re busy doing the same thing. Now what I’ve realized is in curiosity. It’s still categorizing and still not being curious.
It’s interesting that when we are behaving in ways that are usually sub–optimal, usually we’re just harassed. It’s difficult. It’s habitual. We need to judge a person and move on, but we do lose connection. My favorite thing about curiosity is that curiosity is connection. It’s disconnection when we’re not curious. One of my very favorite sayings, if you go back to the origins of mindfulness, it’s alleged. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it. The Buddha was asked once, the word Buddha means awake, the awake guy, the guy who was awake. He was asked, “What’s it like to be awakened or enlightened?” He said, “It’s like living life in a constant state of amazement.” That nails it. It’s like this open, fresh curiosity and this connected aliveness that comes without the judgment.
It’s going to be impossible to be without judgment of some sort. I’ve been thinking of having Beau Lotto on my show who’s the perception expert. He had a great TED Talks if you haven’t seen them. He was talking about you have to have some form of bias to make decisions or whatever. We all have bias. We know about confirmation bias. We’re all reading and looking at the same stuff that aligns with what we want to hear and what we want to know. We all know that the United States is not helping us much with all the things that are going through. How do you get people to snap out of this funk of only looking in one direction because it’s comfortable?
It’s a huge subject, but we’ve spent a tremendous amount of time. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of this, Diane. One of our favorite things is looking at the inner judge people have. The way we define who we should be and shouldn’t be, and judge ourselves around it, and motivate ourselves to do this and do that, and judge others with the same system. Have you noticed that when you’re judging yourself, you’re telling yourself how you should be? “As an educator, you should be more like this. You should be more like that.”
What’s fascinating is, have you ever noticed that the judges got zero curiosity, none? It’s also convinced it always knows the truth. It knows the truth. It knows how you should and shouldn’t be and you’re never going to win the argument with it. What comes with the judges, to your example, we see our confirmation bias with this shame. For most people that we’ve worked with, immediately shame comes up. I’m ashamed of my racism. “I’m ashamed of my prejudice. Therefore, as soon as I see that, I bury it. I pretend I didn’t do it because I’m so ashamed of it.” You then lose curiosity and interest in it.
I spent four years of intense work on working with my judge. As soon as the judge arises internally, there’s no chance of growth. There’s no chance of new insight. The judge shuts it all down. That’s the first thing we tend to work with people. When you see biases, for example, can I replace judgment with curiosity? That’s interesting. I’ve got this prejudice arising. What does that feel like in my body? How does that make me react? Does that serve me?
I don’t get into politics or religion or things on the show, but how does that tie into people’s ability to say, “I have faith.” That then ends the subject. You can’t have them open up their mind to anything else.
It’s one of the great misunderstandings of the origins of mindfulness practice. Are you familiar with subject-object theory in adult development, or your audience?
I don’t know if they are. Go ahead and give a background.
Subject-object theory comes out of Harvard and it’s a fancy way of saying, “Are you aware of it or is it ruling you?” If I’m subject to the need for approval, but I’m blind to it, I stopped behaving in ways of trying to impress someone, but I’m not aware that I’m trying to impress someone. I’m subject to the need for approval. The moment I see, “Look, what‘s going on here.” I’m leaning forward and I’m smiling with a fake smile and I notice it. “The need for proof becomes object to me.” It’s like, “I see it.” As soon as I see it, I’m not ruled by it. The whole basis of adult growth and development is that. The more you grow as a human being, the more things become an object to you.
It’s the subject-object theory. The interesting thing about it is belief systems more often than not keep you locked in lower states of maturity. It’s unquestioned. You don’t look at it and go, “How’s that affecting me? How is that ruining my life? Is that useful?” We don’t question that. We just believe it. It creates a series of behaviors. The basic of subject-object theory is that the more and more you see in yourself, the less and less you’re ruled by it. I can see that bias. For example, “Look there. There‘s the bias.” As soon as I see it, I’m not being in it. I’m not being ruled by the bias. What’s fascinating is mindfulness practice at its core challenges all our beliefs, all of them.
Many people fear facing anything that they were raised with. I looked at that with spiritual, religious beliefs when I was studying perception. It’s “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality in a lot of situations. How does mindfulness address that?
I was fortunate enough that my book editor for The Mindful Leader was relatively religious when we started the book. He kept on asking me this one question, “What’s the rules for this whole mindfulness?” I was like, “That’s an interesting question.” There are no rules. I said, “If you want a rule, there’s one rule in mindfulness. It’s this one simple curiosity question. Will this behavior or this thinking that I’m engaging in, ease and lessen my suffering and the suffering of others or will it not?” That’s the only relevant question.
If I keep behaving this way or I keep thinking this way, does this reduce suffering in me and others, or does it increase suffering in me and others? Often, the short-term things like having this glass of whiskey, that creates short–term pain relief. You’ve had an emotionally tough day, you drink a whiskey. If you ask yourself the question, “If I keep drinking a whiskey every time that I’m in emotional pain, it’s long-term.” It’s got a long-term quality to it. That’s the only general guideline of mindfulness.The more you grow as a human being, the more things become object to you. Click To Tweet
What mindfulness’ primary job is to make things that are subject to you or object to you without judgment. It’s curiosity and action. It’s your favorite subject. I look at the belief system and I ask myself this question, does this tighten me up? Does this serve me? Does this allow me to be open? Do I role model the very things I aspire to when I’m stuck in this belief? I get curious about it. That’s a mindfulness practice. That’s the absolute essence of mindfulness practice. Where do I get my security from?
If you look at adult maturity, what’s fascinating about beliefs and ideas is that they give us a sense of security or permanence because they’re idealistic and in real life is messy, constantly flowing, and changing variant. Most of us are not at peace with that at all. We grab a belief which gives us the illusion of fixness and steadiness. If that belief is threatened, in a sense steadiness is threatened. What mindfulness invites you to do is begin to derive your security and steadiness from reality in the present moment. Can you relax into this moment? Can you be balanced and grounded in this moment in your body?
Perhaps that belief served you for your whole life, but perhaps when you look at it now, it’s not serving you any longer. You could feel the fear and the fright in the body, system and the possibility of that belief not being true. We have to deal with this delicately and with awareness for it to possibly shift. If you threaten the person’s belief system, you’re back in fight–flight and you’re going nowhere. There’s a profound gentleness to mindfulness practice. There has to be.
As you’re talking about it, from my pharmaceutical training, remembering the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems, and the fight–flight stuff, there’s research on health benefits and different things that you must tie in. I’m thinking you have this app. What does the app do exactly?
This is my many years of deep discipline mindfulness practice. I was relatively concerned of the McDonald-ization of mindfulness, I can’t think of a better term, and the lack of insight. All is focused on, “Watch the clouds go by.” I should be careful. There is a huge benefit in that. I want to stress that but in our field where we’re in, it doesn’t matter if you’re calm. What matters is, are you self-aware? Are you regulating? Are you able to be non-reactive? Are you able to insight what’s going on in you?
There’s a range of beautiful practices for getting to know your own minds and systematically getting to know how to know your physical experience, and then make wise choices from it. How to know how to deal with emotional reactivity in yourself in discomfort? How to begin to identify your narratives? We designed this app with a range of what you would ordinarily think of guided meditations. They are trainings. You say, “I want to master noticing my mind’s thinking patterns. I want to know my mind and see its thinking patterns and see the assumptions underneath that thinking pattern.” We’d say, “Okay, great.”
Doing meditation number 22 and 23 will help you begin to understand your mind. We’re not trying to create a system where you’re constantly having to go back and do guided meditations. It’s more like secret education. As you do the guided meditation practices, it’s teaching you the method for how to know your mind. When you’re back in your day and you’re sitting in a meeting and you’re getting reactive about something or avoidant about something, you have the skillset to notice it and to see the story in your head. In the seeing of that, the choice is right there to choose a wiser way. That’s the primary purpose, which is called insight mindfulness practices and what we term as developmental mindfulness practices as against calming mindfulness practices.
It’s brings me to what Daniel Goleman and I talked about when we were talking about emotional intelligence on the show. A lot of it is self-assessment. I asked him how effective that was and he thought, to truly understand your emotional intelligence, you had to have a 360 evaluation. Do you think it’s the same thing in a way at mindfulness that you can’t unlock something because you don’t know what you don’t know unless you get an outside perspective?
I would say that at the standard levels of mindfulness, what the average person’s ability is 100% right from a 360 perspective. Getting other people’s viewpoints on your behavior is very useful. Also remember that those people who are giving you viewpoints are often saying as much about themselves as they owe you because they’re also full of their own projections, their own neurosis. It’s a very slippery slope to take the ultimate truth equals what other people think of me. That’s not a good idea as a general rule.
You do need the ability to discern and not lie to yourself. We see in our clients is when they do 360 assessments that they tend towards 1 of 2 extremes. One extreme is, “I’m terrible. Look at me. Look at the whole bad stuff. What they said is true. I’m terrible.” The other is, “That’s all rubbish of what they’re saying. I don’t do any of that.” That’s a denial, but can I become curious and go, “I wonder what is true and what’s not true?” Without that ability, you end up in a constant flik–flak reaction out of denial and self-judgment. It doesn’t help. To answer your question, it is possible, but it’s very rare to be able to develop the level of awareness that you can see quite objectively your whole structure without anyone else’s help.
Why Dr. Maja Zelihic and I wrote The Power of Perception and The Perception Power Index, we were looking at the factors, what we wanted to share in that assessment. What it was is to show people that there’s this process that you go through in your perception. We call it EPIC to remember that it’s Evaluation, Prediction, Interpretation and Correlation. The more you can figure out the process that your brain is going through, the more you’re aware, the more you’re open. That’s what our hope was to create that assessment and that book. What you’re talking about is perfectly aligned to what we found.
In fact, mindfulness of perception is one of the key mindfulness practices.
I could see that would go along well with what we found. On your app, do you have this on echo devices or other devices or is it just for phones?
It’s for phones, for Android and IOS.
How do you use this to get songs out of your head? That’s my big thing. I watch a commercial at night that has a good jingle, I’m up the rest of the night with that jingle and it’ll wake me up. How do you get rid of that?
The tip is don’t try and get rid of it. You’ll find this over and over again from the mindfulness teachers that resistance is never ever a good idea. I was interviewed on LinkedIn by LinkedIn themselves around how to handle anxiety before a job interview. The very first thing is you need to let yourself know that it’s normal and stop being anxious about being anxious. The average person gets anxious about being anxious. It’s like, “I shouldn’t be anxious.” What happens is you double up your anxiety. It’s softening it into anxiety is a fundamental part of the human experience. Can I relax and be with this too? Can I accept that anxiety is part of a job interview and not freak out about the anxiety? That’s the principle of nonresistance. It doesn’t mean accept blindly. It means the recognition of resisting some space inside yourself. This what’s called the second foundation of mindfulness. It only ever creates more suffering.
Some anxiety is good sometimes. When you’re speaking on a stage, if you don’t have that, you tend to give not as good speeches.
When I started practicing mindfulness, some part of me wanted to escape my humanity and all of the suffering that comes from it. I didn’t realize until later in the journey that primarily the practices about coming to terms is your humanity, not escaping it. Coming to terms with the song on your head and go, “There it is. It’s okay.” Not freaking out about it. There still is a gentle move back to it. For example, if you notice the song on your head and you’re like, “This is not helping me.” It’s like the curious questions, “Can I come back to reality instead of the song, my breathing? If you’re laying in bed, the feeling of my body on the bed itself. Can I settle down?”
I’m not fighting the thinking anymore. I’m not trying to not be in the song. I’m slowly bringing myself back to the body. If you’ve got understanding, sleep is not sleeping. Sleep happens when the body and the mind are unified. They’re doing the same thing. The body’s in the bed and the mind is in the bed. How do you do that? You bring your attention, which is the mind, into the body. If it can stay there long enough, the mind will settle with the body and then you’ll sleep. If you fight the thinking, it’s not going to work for you.
For me, I replaced things. I’ll listen to something else or I replay things. It’s like the old long-playing records. You got to pick up the needle and start the song somewhere else or do something different. A lot of what we talked about is all cultures and issues in organizations. I want to make sure we covered everything because as we talked about perception and some of the stuff that I’m working on, I’m curious, what are some of the biggest cultural challenges that you’re seeing in large corporations? I want to make sure that we hit on that. I know you touch on all these things that does tie into perception, curiosity and a lot of the stuff that I deal with. I’d be curious to hear it from you.
I would say the number one by a million miles issue we see in organizations draws back on Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s research. What’s the number one thing we want from our leaders and it’s honesty. No matter what culture you’re on the world, and like Jim and Barry, we work all around the world from the most classic to the non-honest cultures to the high. Australia, for example, would be perceived as a culture that’s very direct. The indirect versus the direct, it doesn’t matter. Honesty is the most treasured quality in leaders and in cultures around the world. We’ve seen this over and over again. The number one issue in cultures we see is a lack of honesty for a myriad of reasons. It is so debilitating and destructive in organizations. It can be very subtle.The more you see in yourself, the less and less you're ruled by it. Click To Tweet
I’ll give you a simple example with one group we were working with the highest level of a global company. All the senior leaders said to me when I was interviewing them, “We like our CEO, but we don’t know where we stand with him. He’s not sure.” These group of people are going home every day super anxious. Suddenly, someone has exited from the business, and then everything looked fine, and then another exited. You can imagine everybody now freaked out. The idea of psychological safety is interesting, which is no doubt you’ve talked to guests about this. The great big goal of psychological safety in our organizations is we cannot have psychological safety if you don’t know where you stand. You’re not on steady ground with your boss and with others.
People withhold honesty for so many “good reasons.” In this case, this senior leader was withholding honesty out of their own need for approval. They were so needing to be nice all the time. That then reached the tension point occasionally where, “I can’t be nice anymore. I’ve got to tell that person the truth.” People have experienced this. We see this over and over again. Every single client we work with, the lack of honesty from political, ugly stuff to being nice instead of honest and how it erodes efficiency, innovation, and everything.
People are suddenly in a sea, and most people know this if they’re working in big corporations. You’re working in a sea of vagueness. You don’t know where you stand. You don’t know what that person’s intentions are. You’re working from a place of distrust, and then you get all the behaviors that are protective from the distrust out of that honesty. If we come back to the very core research that they’ve done, the number one thing is honesty. Honesty is hard work. I don’t think people can even perceive how tough the practice of honesty is in all of its myriad.
It’s a challenging thing. When you’re talking about psychological safety, I remember talking with Amy Edmondson and some of the big thoughts person and it was fascinating. When I was in pharmaceutical sales, you brought back to mind a boss I had. I had no idea what he thought of me. I could not tell at all. I remember people would come to me and they go, “Every time he rides with me, all he does is talk about you.” I’m like, “You’re kidding.” I didn’t think he even liked me. There are leaders like that. They’ll say nice things about you to other people, but not to you. What’s up with that?
This is my greatest passion. It’s exactly like, “What is up with that?” This is where adult growth, maturity and mindfulness become very interesting. For the person who’s not telling the truth, what we’ve discovered is most people don’t even know they’re doing it. They don’t even know they’re not being honest and they value system. They might say we value honesty, but what is true for most people on the planet, their primary values are economic survival, belonging and approval. I’m economically safe and I belong to the group. I’m getting people’s approval, whether that means I’m the shiny star or I’m not one of those arrogant, shiny stars. I’m a nice person, but I belong.
Those are the underlying values that are driving most people. If you put honesty into that mix, if I risk my economic survival, my not belonging, my disapproval, and not looking good, then honesty is out the window. For most people, they can’t live with that conflict inside themselves. I’m an honest person, because why do I need to tell myself I’m an honest person? Because honest people are approved of. They belong. They’re good, so they go into denial about their levels of honesty. It was weird because there’s a certain integrity to being true to the values of belonging, approval, and survival. It tempers that person. They’re not an outright liar because you can’t do that. Otherwise, you will get kicked out. There’s an average honesty, not a real honesty.
That’s what you find in most organizations. It’s sort of honest. What’s required, which is a big piece of work we do at scale now, and this is the great experiment, is the moment of the growth and maturity is when a person recognizes that most of their wellbeing and happiness comes from what’s going on inside them, not what’s going on outside them. That’s a huge developmental moment for people. I’m not obsessed about what you think about me anymore. What I’m obsessed about is am I congruent with my own values?
That is a much richer prize than getting your approval. Buying into people’s approval is a non-ending story of anxiety because your sense of worth, your sense of safety is coming from what you have zero control over. You’re constantly trying to manipulate it. That’s why the average person is chronically anxious and not even aware of it. It’s normality, chronic anxiety. The moment the person recognizes, “Hold on a second. When I’m being nice and not honest, there’s a price tag inside myself.” They’re usually numb to it. The mindfulness helps them wake up to it. There’s a dissonance in their system, but until people can appreciate that the journey towards honesty is not to be a good citizen. It’s not because the organization wants it.
It’s because your own personal happiness will improve through those scary journeys. That’s what we focus on heavily in our work. We are firmly of the belief that doing things for extrinsic motivators is a waste of time. It’s not sustainable. If we can come to appreciate that the values that we treasure, we all treasure the heroes, our moral heroes like the Gandhis and Mandela’s of the world, they were those people who did that. What did they understand that I don’t understand? We’ve now seen in adult development theory and in mindfulness theory that a person who follows their values under pressure regularly and reliably, in other words, they willing to sacrifice approval. They’re willing to sacrifice economic survival. They’re willing to sacrifice even belonging for the value.
The irony is they are always more effective leaders. They are the boss we want. We’ve done tons of surveys on this. It’s like, “Do you want the boss who will follow the values reliably? When they don’t, they’ll course correct. They’ll own it and come back to it. Do you want the boss who’s nice?” None of them want that other boss. They want the boss who is values based. The great challenge, and this is what we’re seeing now in our field at least, is the cutting edge place for leadership development now is, how do we get organizations to begin to truly see that values are far more valuable than looking good? Looking good is highly destructive, time consuming, and anxiety–driving in organizations.
That’s such a powerful statement and a great place to stop. We’ve touched on many important issues. I always learn from everybody on the show. I always think it’s such a great discussion to get into the culture and some of the things that we got into now. I know a lot of people are going to want to know more about finding your app, finding your work, and hearing more from you. Is there some way they can follow you or find out more?
The best is LinkedIn. I’m Michael Bunting on LinkedIn. The website is MindfulLeader.net. That website’s gone through a massive upgrade. We’re launching a brand new, big digital program that allows the stuff to happen at scale. It’s a grand experiment, the next one. It’s the AwakenedMind.com. Awakened is a term for a person who’s no longer sleepwalking. They’re deeply aware. Their mind is awake. We’re posting stuff in LinkedIn all the time.
Thank you so much for being on the show, Michael. This was a fascinating discussion.
Diane, thank you very much. I loved your questions and insights. I’m super curious now to learn more about your work.
We’ll have to keep up with each other’s work.
I like to thank Michael for being my guest. We get many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can catch them at DrDianeHamilton.com. You can find so much more about curiosity and perception there. I hope you take some time to explore it. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I hope you join us for the next episode.
- The Mindful Leader
- A Practical Guide to Mindful Meditation
- Extraordinary Leadership in Australia and New Zealand
- Daniel Goleman – Previous episode
- The Power of Perception
- Amy Edmondson – Previous episode
- Beau Lotto – Previous episode
- Michael Bunting – LinkedIn
About Michael Bunting
Michael Bunting is the author of the #1 bestselling books The Mindful Leader and A Practical Guide to Mindful Meditation and co-authored Extraordinary Leadership in Australia & New Zealand with Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, the world’s premier researchers and authors in the field of leadership. He is the founder of Awakened Mind, a premium mindfulness IOS/Android App and leadership consultancy WorkSmart. Michael and his team have worked with some of the world’s most prestigious organisations in the area of executive leadership, mindfulness, mental health, adult development and scaled culture change.
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