Every summer I travel to Japan to teach a mindfulness-based leadership program at a school that is about an hour by bullet train from Tokyo. The setting is fantastic - at the foot of Mount Asama - the most active volcano in the country.
Photo by Dave Mochel
The students come from twenty three different countries and they want to learn how to become transformational leaders. They always teach me something worth remembering.
Last summer, at the end of the program, we asked students to share the most important thing that they had learned. A young woman stood up to speak, and I was a bit surprised because she struggled with English and had spoken very little up to this point. But she spoke clearly and confidently when she said "I am tired of complaining about things that I have chosen for myself." You could have heard a pin drop.
In the leadership program we spend a lot of time talking about practice - that you get better at what you practice, that your brain treats every response as practice, and that you cannot choose what shows up, but you do choose what you practice. But this sentiment - "I am tired of complaining about things that I have chosen for myself." - was her own. I have thought about this moment every day since. What an amazing life she will have if she can put this insight into practice!
How many of us choose something - a car, house, job, career, partner, or life - and then complain about it? What a tremendous amount of wasted energy! I was working with a client who was complaining about his boss, and I asked him what action he might take. In return, he asked me "What if I don't want to take any action?" "That is your choice," I replied. "It is completely up to you whether you take action or not. But why would you choose to take no action and then complain about the way things are?"
We are funny creatures who often hold others accountable for what we feel, what we think, and what we choose. The loss of freedom and power when we do this is tremendous. The simple truth is that thoughts and feelings are generated by your nervous system, not by other people or your circumstances.
Another one of my favorite things I have learned in Japan is the word "ikigai." This means "a reason to get up in the morning." Research shows that people who have ikigai are happier, healthier, and live longer. Life presents us with all kinds of people and situations. Our nervous systems present us with all kinds of thoughts and feelings. In the midst of all of this is the reason we get up in the morning. The greater clarity we have about this, the easier it is to make, and live with, our choices
So, a logical and powerful practice is to observe thoughts and sensations as they arise, choose a response based on commitments and values, and take complete responsibility for what we choose. We can do this with confidence, compassion, and humility. Our choices may not work out as we expect, but we are free to make another choice at any moment. Argument, blame, and complaint can occupy precious attention, time, and energy. Life is short and filled with possibilities. By simply accepting responsibility for our choices we can take full advantage of what life has to offer.
Dave Mochel, CEO of Applied Attention teaches individuals, teams, and organizations how to optimize the human brain for performance and well-being. The research-supported practices he teaches lead to personal fulfillment and health, strength of personal relationships and organizational cultures, overall productivity, and effectiveness in leadership. Dave teaches one on one, on site, remotely, and in retreats and seminars. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org