Search Inside Yourself — a summary

I recently took part in a personally transformative training program @ Google called Search Inside Yourself.

The program is based on utilizing mindfulness and neuroscience to improve our emotional intelligence. The main hypothesis behind the program is that by improving our emotional intelligence, we can optimize for high performance.

I thought it may be useful to collate my main insights here and share them with you. However, I would highly recommend this book for a deeper look at these concepts.

Emotional intelligence can be broken down into 5 main domains self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy & leadership. I’ll summarize some of my learnings from each below.

Self-awareness

Knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions — Daniel Goleman

Self-awareness is a foundational domain to help develop emotional intelligence, and essential for effective decision-making. The main concept here was on shifting our view of emotions from existential (I am) to physiological (I experience), for instance if you’re angry — come to terms with the fact that you’re experiencing anger, not you are angry. Shifting your mindset here to experiencing an emotion rather than being the emotion detaches you from your emotions, and instead positions you in the midst of emotional currents. What stuck with me most here were two practices that I will be adopting to help me improve my physical and emotional awareness:

  • The well-known body scan meditation exercise — here’s a video for you to practice it yourself.
  • Journaling. It’s the basic idea of putting pen to paper when you’re faced with a challenge and not removing your pen off the paper for ~2 minutes, just scribbling down everything that’s going on in your head. By forcing your thoughts out and onto the page allows you to unearth deeper subconscious thoughts and you may be surprised to see what you may come up with. And, in the process, help unravel the situation and effective responses.

Self-management

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness. — Viktor Frankl

We all have things that trigger us to react emotionally. I know I do — I can be a very action-oriented person and can sometimes act on impulse, so this was a particularly big learning for me. Whenever you have a situation that triggers an emotional response try the following:

  • Stop — it may feel strange to pause when you have a freight train heading your way, but do it.
  • Breathe — focus on that breath for a second.
  • Notice — become aware of your experience of a certain emotion and its physical responses
  • Reflect — revise those potential reactions that are playing out in your head
  • Respond — vocalize in a way that is measured and — most importantly — that you won’t later regret.

Motivation

Flow — as per the work of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

Here’s a graph visualizing the ‘flow experience’ that we can sometimes experience. Think back to that time when you were really in the zone, you were coding non-stop and it all happened to just materialize or you managed to really sit down and nail that presentation you had to put together. According to Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi, the flow experience are characterized by the following:

  1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. Merging of action and awareness
  3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

In a practical work setting, when you’re engrossed in a task that is challenging enough, but not too challenging, and allows you to suitably demonstrate your skills helps bring you to that magical flow. However, when we go above or drop below either the skill or challenge thresholds, we fall into a state of boredom or anxiety.

The motivation piece was further broken down into the following:

  • Alignment — know your values and let them motivate you. Think about that for a minute — what are your true values? What do you care most about? Now connect your values to what you do. Are you able to do that? I noticed that I subconsciously align my values with what I do and use that as a method of motivating myself.
  • Envisioning — this was one of my favourite activities. Answer this question in your own time — it’s truly enlightening.

If everything in my life, starting today, meets or exceeds my most optimistic expectations, what will my life be like in 5 years? Who are you and what are you doing? How do you feel? What do people say about you?

  • Resilience — balance creates optimism, when you find your inner calm and come to terms with a situation, thinking positively about how best you can respond to it allows you to be resilient and to move forward. This can really help you stay motivated in times of change. For me, I thought about the current state of the world — we’re in a state of major shifting tides and we can approach this pessimistically or optimistically. I’ve chosen to make the decision to approach it optimistically, and to think about potential roles I can play to help enact societal change.

Empathy

Whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. — Gautama Buddha

The main thing here is to know that empathy is not psychologizing or avoiding difficulty, but rather seeking to find similarities between each other and putting ourselves in others’ shoes.

My coolest actionable takeaway was this thought. How crazy would it be for you to look at someone in the tube and think in your head “may he/she be happy”? It may sound weird, but the simple act of sharing kindness through thinking positively about others around us and wishing them well (in our head so we aren’t creeps) actually has a positive impact on our wellbeing!

Mindful conversation was another beautiful experience— it’s the practice of listening to someone not to hear their words or decipher solely the meaning of their message, but to try and understand what they’re feeling, and responding by affirming what it is that you think they feel.

Leadership with compassion

Compassion is a mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and aspiration to see that suffering relieved. — Geshe Thupten Jinpa

A compassionate leader is one that not only shows concern, but hopes to relieve the ailment. One great scenario where you can demonstrate compassionate leadership is in difficult conversations. If your’e interested in deepening your understanding of this, I’d recommend this book —however, here’s a quick look.

When you’re trying to decide on how to approach a difficult conversation, try the following:

1. Verbalize the “three levels of the conversation”:

  • Content
  • Feelings
  • Identity: Am I competent?; Am I a good person?; Am I worthy of love?

The last point on identity is vital. There’s always an identity component to any difficult conversation — ask yourself, does your stance have anything to do with your ego?

2. Check your intention & decide whether to raise the issue

3. Explore their story & yours — this is vital, put yourself in their position and build up the “three levels of the conversation”, as explored above, but from their perspective.

4. Problem-solve — now that you can see their side of the argument — mainly noticing the identity piece — try and navigate your way to a potential solution to go to that difficult conversation with.


The pace of life can be really fast nowadays. But the scary thought is that it’s still accelerating at an incredible pace. With that comes a great pressure on our human minds to evolve. However, as much as we evolve as a species, what will remain the same is our human instinct and our ability to connect with each other. Social media has increased the dimensions that allow for human connection today, however, they’ve been within the confines of our ‘social group’ — creating echo chambers that stop us from interacting outside our comfort circles. This can limit our scope to build understanding and be compassionate. That’s why, now more than ever, developing our emotional intelligence and endeavoring to engage beyond our comfort circles is vital to the advancement of our society.

I truly hope the above notes from the training I undertook provides you with some ideas for reflection and inspires you to pursue a deeper self-awareness, and ultimately hone your innate emotional intelligence.