Your 10 questions with Tan Chade-Meng

  • Business
  • Saturday, 25 Aug 2012

Author of Search Inside Yourself answers ....

What prompted you to write Search Inside Yourself (published in April)?

In 2007, my team and I launched an experimental, cutting-edge emotional intelligence curriculum in Google called Search Inside Yourself. The main innovation was to develop emotional intelligence by training the mind. It became very successful. Many students tell us the training changed their lives. Search Inside Yourself soon became very popular. In order to offer the course to more people, I had to train more teachers, so I started writing down in detail the contents and practices we were teaching. As I was writing detailed notes, I quickly realised I was actually writing a book, so I turned it into a book project.

The motivation behind the creation of Search Inside Yourself (the curriculum) is to create the conditions for world peace. I feel that if we have inner peace, inner joy and compassion on a global scale, it will create the conditions that lead to world peace. In order to do that, I feel we need to align those qualities with success of individuals and companies. In other words, if we can help people and companies succeed in a way that inner peace, inner joy and compassion are the necessary and unavoidable side effects, then those three qualities will spread. And I feel the way to achieve that is with an effective curriculum for emotional intelligence for adults. That is why I gathered a team of experts to create that curriculum in Google.

Hence, you can say that the ultimate reason for writing the book is to create the conditions for world peace.

Are you someone who needs to go through the writing process which can be a painstaking one for some in order to bring clarity to your emotions?

The writing process itself was fairly easy for me. I wrote the entire book in just 14 weeks. I was already very familiar with the content, so it flowed easily; the hard part was trying to make every page fun to read. I didn't just want to write a beneficial book, I wanted first and foremost to write a book so fun to read that even a very busy person like me would want to read it. To achieve that, I found it very useful to maintain a calm and joyful mind during the writing process. Happily, that gave me a lot of opportunities to practice what I teach in the book.

There are heaps of books written about the importance of emotional intelligence. How is Search Inside Yourself set apart from all of them?

Some books talk about emotional intelligence but do not describe how to become emotionally intelligent. Other books I know of only give behavioural advice, which means they try to tell you how to behave in certain situations. Search Inside Yourself takes an entirely different approach, by showing you how to train mental and emotional competencies.

For example, it does not tell you how to react in an emotionally difficult situation, but it shows you how to train yourself to become calm and collected in an emotionally difficult situation so you can think clearly and choose for yourself how you want to respond. I think this emphasis on developing core emotional skills is the main feature of Search Inside Yourself.

In addition, Search Inside Yourself has a strong scientific foundation, its methods are already shown to be effective in a work setting (in Google, no less), and it is taught in a highly accessible language.

That is why the book is endorsed by former President Jimmy Carter of the United States, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, executive chairman Eric Schmidt of Google, and many other top political, spiritual and business leaders. I do not know of many books endorsed by so many top leaders.

You described your childhood as “very unhappy”. At what age and under what circumstances was this sense of unhappiness replaced by a sense of balance and finally, a happier sense of well-being?

Everything started changing in 1991, the year I turned 21. That year, I began learning various forms of meditation, the most important of which was Mindfulness Meditation, which may be the single most important thing I have learned in my life.

Meditation is really just mental training. It is a lot like exercise. Exercise is physical training and if you exercise a lot, eventually you will be healthy and fit, and your dominant physical experience may be a profound sense of wellness. Similarly, meditation is training for heart and mind. If you meditate a lot, the mind becomes calm and happy, and your dominant mental and emotional experience may also be a profound sense of wellness.

A few years ago, I reflected on this experience and it occurred to me how profound the shift has been for me. Before 1991, if nothing good or bad happens, I was very unhappy. By 2001, if nothing good or bad happens, I was very happy. In other words, my “baseline” happiness shifted profoundly. That reflection motivated me to bring meditation to my friends in Google.

Would you say religion and you being a Buddhist since 1991 has contributed largely to your mind set and overall positive outlook?

No, I would not say so. It was not religion that had that big impact on me, it was spirituality. There is a big difference. Religion is the belief in one or more gods. In contrast, spirituality is about looking within, and by looking within, going beyond self. It is important to recognise that they are qualitatively distinct. The most important implication is that even though not all people are religious, everybody can be spiritual.

The biggest change for me occurred when I looked deeply within and discovered a calm mind to be a joyful mind. Just as importantly, I discovered kindness (both towards oneself and others) to be a sustainable source of happiness. I think these insights can be beneficial to everybody.

You mention that one needs to have a deep sense of self-knowledge and self-honesty in order to sustain self-confidence. There are many confident people some of them top corporate figures who seem to lack self-awareness and self-honesty. How do you account for that?

In my experience, people without strong self-knowledge and self-honesty may also exhibit a lot of self-confidence, but there is one major limitation: Their self-confidence is contingent on things going well for them. When things start going badly for them, they become overwhelmed with self-doubt and often engage in destructive behaviours.

There is a simple reason: failure forces you to confront unpleasant truths about yourself. In general, failure is a nasty experience, of course, but if in the midst of failure, you are also forced to confront the unpleasant facets of yourself that you previously tried to hide from, the experience is made much more difficult.

In contrast, if your self-confidence is built upon self-knowledge and self-honesty, while failure is still nasty, you don't get to go through the extra jarring surprise of having to confront your unpleasant facets.

Instead, you are already comfortable with your weaknesses and you already know your inner resources quite well, so you can quickly and calmly compensate for your weaknesses and utilise your inner resources. Hence, you can recover more quickly.

In other words, the type of confidence based on self-knowledge and self-honesty is far more sustainable.

What are the three most important lessons you would like to impart to your 12-year-old daughter and why?

1. Be healthy by learning to take care of the body.

2. Be happy by learning to take care of the mind.

3. Be compassionate by learning to take care of others.

I cannot think of anything more important than health, happiness and compassion.

What are the three most important lessons your parents taught you about life and survival?

1. Be good to people. Always care about people's feelings.

2. Don't compromise on your morals. Be brave about doing the right thing.

3. Always do your very best and never stop learning.

What has the Western world taught you about yourself and raising a family there?

Living in the West has taught me that the East and West can each benefit hugely by learning from each other. Just take Buddhism, for example, a subject I'm familiar with.

Buddhism developed mental understanding and training to such an advanced degree it was vastly ahead of anything available in the West, so a lot of my Western friends benefited tremendously from learning Buddhist insights and training.

However, it turned out that the benefit was not just flowing one way. When the West learned Buddhism, they also made it a subject of scientific enquiry and applied it to diverse fields like conflict resolution and mental healthcare. Through their efforts, they made Buddhism vastly more understandable and accessible that anything I have seen in the East. So everybody on both sides benefits.

This is just one example I'm familiar with, I'm sure there are many others. Hence, I want to encourage all my friends, both my Eastern and Western friends, to not be afraid to learn from each other.

About raising a family. What I really like about living in the West is the different way in which they express their love for their children. In the East, the way parents express love for kids is by doing whatever it takes to make them achieve good grades in school. The theory being that if they do well in school, they will do well in life and be happy. The downside is kids are under a lot of pressure. In the West, they have a different idea of good parenting and so parents don't put the same type of pressure on their kids.

Personally, I think that there are only three important things for my child: that she grows up to be a healthy adult, a happy adult, and a compassionate adult. That is all. If she does that, I consider myself a successful parent, even if she makes minimum wage. If not, I consider myself a failed parent, even if she becomes a multi-billionaire entrepreneur who conducts the symphony orchestra in her spare time after finishing her second term as President of the United States.

Hence, I like the Western model of parenting a lot more, there is a lot more laughter and affection, and a lot less pressure on the kids.

How and what is your measure of success?

Warren Buffett said, “Basically, when you get to my age, you'll measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to love you actually do love you. If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don't care how big your bank balance is, your life is a disaster.”

I'm adopting that as my own measure of success until I find a better one.

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