Working at a start-up can be stressful. Just ask Chade-Meng Tan, who as Google’s 107th employee, experienced the company back when it was a start-up instead of the behemoth it is today.
Tan was an engineer, and engineers at Google are famously given “20% time” to work on projects of their own choosing. Tan used his 20% time, working with experts, to create a course called “Search Inside Yourself,” designed to help Googlers improve their emotional intelligence and mindfulness, making them happier and more productive employees, and better bosses. Ultimately, his goal is to make the world in general a happier place for everyone.
Tan, whose official Google title is “jolly good fellow (which nobody can deny)” has been teaching “Search Inside Yourself” for the past five years, and participants often report that it changed their lives–in fact one attendee reversed her decision to leave Google after taking it. Tan’sbook, distilled from the course, is now a New York Timesbestseller.
Here are three mindfulness skills Tan recommends for every entrepreneur:
1. Learn inner calm.
Working in a start-up company often entails an endless stream of financial pressures and stresses. “The ability to arrive at a mind that is calm and clear on demand is very useful,” Tan says. “The analogy is a deep ocean: The surface is choppy but the bottom is very calm. If you’re able to go deep inside, you can access that calmness and exist in a world where you can be calm and in action at the same time.”
Sound like a tall order? “Gaining this skill turns out to be very easy,” Tan says. “It comes from mindfulness, and mindfulness is about the training of attention in a way that allows your mind to stabilize.” One way to achieve this is with a brief daily meditation session, but Tan says you can also get there by quietly focusing your attention on your breath from time to time throughout the day. “Three breaths, every now and then,” he says. “Or even every now and then be aware of taking one breath. You don’t have to train very deep.”
2. Increase emotional resilience.
“Entrepreneurs fail all the time, and if your job involves innovation, that always entails failure,” Tan says. “Begin with the recognition that failure is a physiological experience in large part. For me, it’s tightness in my chest, my stomach dropping, a lack of energy. I feel horrible. And the reason I feel horrible is because of the sensations in my body.”
The first step, he says, is to recognize failure as a physical experience. The second step is to return to technique No. 1: Calm your mind by focusing on your breathing. “Calming the mind has the effect of calming the body as well,” Tan says, adding that these steps calm the Vagus nerve, which regulates physiological stress reactions.
“Let go of the sensation,” he says. “Consider emotions as simply physiological sensations, that is all. They may be pleasant or unpleasant, but they are simply experiences. Just let them come and go as they wish in a kind, gentle, and generous way. If you can do that, you can become more resilient to failure.”
3. Develop the habit of wishing success to others.
“The premise is that if you have to convince someone to help you, half the battle is lost,” Tan explains. “If you’re going to help them succeed in a way that you also succeed, it’s a lot easier. If you always frame things in those terms, people are more likely to want to work with you.”
A related and very powerful habit is wishing happiness to everyone you come across, Tan says. “Looking at any human being: ‘I wish for this person to be happy.’” You may not want to start with the person who cuts you off in traffic, he adds, but with people that you already like, and then people to whom you feel neutral. “The reason is to create a mental habit so that when you see someone, your first thought is, ‘I want this person to be happy.’ The people you meet will pick this up unconsciously.”
It will also help you be a better boss. Tan recommends entrepreneurs strive to become what Jim Collins in Good to Great calls “level 5 leaders”–the kind who can propel their companies to greatness. “What’s special about level 5 leaders is they’re personally humble and ambitious at the same time,” Tan says. “Their ambition is for the greater good, not for themselves. This type of leader is very effective in a start-up, where you want to inspire everybody. That’s why the best skill a start-up leader can learn is compassion.”
Virtually every single person in America who is financially independent started off with nothing. But they acquired good personal finance habits, learned how to save money, and improve their money management skills, eventually becoming some of the most successful people in their communities. And anything that anyone else has done, you can probably do as well.
Save Money by Using a Long Time Perspective
To save money and become financially independent you must begin living on less than you earn even if you are deeply in debt. One of the most important guarantors of your personal finance success is called “Long time perspective.” Take the long view. Develop a long term attitude toward yourself and your financial future and begin thinking in terms of where you want to be in five and ten years. This long-time perspective will have an inordinate impact on your personal finance habits and money management skills in the present, and will help you save money over the years.
The starting point of financial independence is described in George Klasson’s book, The Richest Man in Babylon, as “Pay yourself first.” He says that, “A part of all you earn is yours to keep.” If you just save 10% of your gross earnings every single paycheck over the course of your working lifetime, you will become financially independent and gain personal finance success. In fact, if you saved $100 per month from the time you started work at age 20 until the time you retired at age 65, and this $100 per month earned 10% per annum return, compounded, you would be worth more than $1,100,000 when you retired, in addition to social security pensions and everything else.
The Most Important Money Management Skill
In a study done recently called “One Hundred Million Millionaires” the writers and economists concluded that it is possible for every single adult in America to become a millionaire if they start early enough, consistently save money, and actually plan their personal finance. And since it is so possible and so easy for so many hundreds of thousands and millions of other people to achieve financial independence, it must be possible for you to improve your personal finance as well.
Just imagine! If you only make $25,000 year, but you save 10% of that, or $2,500 per annum, just over $200 per month, you will become a millionaire. But in order to successfully get there, you need to make a decision to improve your money management skills.
Most economists and psychologists agree that the key to personal finance success and is the ability to delay gratification. The reason for financial ruin and failure to save money is the need for immediate gratification. People who lack the discipline to restrain themselves from spending all they earn, have no financial future and can never save money. This is a key money management skill you need to remember in order to gain financial success.
Change Your Personal Finance Habits
Your goal should be to carefully save 20 – 30% of your income each paycheck and to invest that money carefully over the years. Of course, for most people, at least initially, this is impossible. They are too deeply in debt and they have entrenched spending patterns that are consuming 100% of their income or more. So here is a formula for you. Decide today that you are going to change your personal finance habits, save money, get out of debt and achieve financial independence within the next few years. You begin by resolving to save one percent of your gross income. Let us imagine that you are earning $2,000 per month.
One percent of $2,000 is $20. You decide that you are going to save $20 each month. $20 per month is approximately 67 cents per day.
Every day you save 67 cents. Every month you put the month in the bank. And once you put the money into that savings account, you never, never touch it for any reason. This is your wealth account which you never, never touch for any reason.
A remarkable thing is going to happen to you within a few months as you save money. Your attitude toward yourself and money management will change. You will feel stronger and more confident even though you only have a few dollars in the bank. You will be adhering to a budget more closely and questioning unnecessary expenditures.
But the best news of all is this financial accumulation account will start to grow. You will start to get little unexpected dribbles and drabs of money coming in that you promptly put into this account. Instead of the account growing at $20 per month plus interest, by the end of the first year, there will probably be more than $500 in the account. By the end of the second year, there will be over $1,500, maybe even $2,000. By the end of the third or fourth year, you will have several thousand dollars put aside, you will be out of debt, and you will not have to stress about how to save money for the rest of your life.
As you become comfortable saving one percent of your income and living on the other 99%, you then raise your savings rate to two percent of your income. You live on the other 98%. When you become comfortable at that level, you increase it to three percent and then four percent, and eventually up to 20% and up to 25%. Within three years, you will find yourself living quite comfortably on 75% of your income and saving the rest.
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