Switch off technology and switch on mindfulness

17 November 2015 by
First published: 22 November 2015

Are we masters or slaves to technology?  Neither, says Google chief evangelist Gopi Kallayil. The Silicon Valley top executive reminds us that none of us exist inside a vacuum, but also that the beautiful piece of technology that is our brain needs rest to perform at its best. It needs to plug into what he calls the ‘Inner-Net.’

Kallayil set out to prove that technology is less important than our minds by becoming a teacher of all things spiritual, mindful and meditative. He’s notorious for bringing mindfulness practice to the core of the workplace, and he gained even more popularity with a special yoga program, which he founded nine years ago.

He strongly believes that spiritual awakening yields mentally healthier, more focused workers and also breeds creativity. Conscious living, self-awareness and other contemplative practices applied to technology are now reaching the world through his book: The Internet to the Inner-Net, which encourages the use of mindfulness training as an important business and personal development tool.

The book outlines five ways we can sustain this practice within our busy, media-driven lives…

Live in the moment

Mindful living is more about the means we apply to our lives, rather than simply the ends. This idea has resonated with numbers of Google employees and their colleagues, who attend regular seminars like Search Inside Yourself (SIY). And one thing these competitive, high achievers learn from SIY is how vulnerability can coexist with strong masculine virtues and traits, to understand the value of surrender as much as of control.

Studies show that those who have been raised with the skills to succeed in traditional masculine culture, but had no tools on how to be open, vulnerable and emotionally available, struggle with staying ‘in the now’. Perfectionism for them is always future-focused, but the personal relationships and connections that Kallayil recommends we deepen, require a presence that’s different to professional success.

Vulnerability often goes hand-in-hand with courage, so when a very challenging situation arises, Kallayil recommends ‘facing the storm as an American bison would do’ – by running towards it instead of running away from it. He gives an example of a time when he was let down by technology while on stage, so he ran towards the storm by tapping his own inner-technology to teach his audience stress management using breathing and mindfulness techniques.

Create social good 

In the Internet to the Inner-Net, Kallayil wants us to evaluate the altruistic value of our use of technology, and to look for ways to maximise its positive global impact. He asks: how can we create social good and how can we ensure we do so as effectively as possible? The idea is that each one of us has an equal amount of power in our hands thanks to social media, so the potential for change is now more available.

Kallayil asks: ‘what is your input and how can you do better?’ He believes a practical, data-driven approach to doing good could make a tremendous positive difference to the world. The Internet to the Inner-Net is full of inspiring real-world applications that the author found the most impactful at creating social good, whether it is giving access to knowledge in remote places, engaging with community of interests around the world, or broadcasting web conferences.

Reassess your life

‘We’re all proud to have thousands of connections and hundreds of followers on social media but the most important relationship we can have is the one with ourselves, so listen to the Tweets of your hearts, pay attention to the status updates from your body and respond to that urgent chat request from your brain,’ says Kallayil.

In order to be more in tune with the inner-workings of our mind, each of us needs to decide what we want and design around that. As Bill Cosby once famously said: ‘there’s no sure path to success, but the sure path to failure is trying to make everyone happy.’

Work wise, Kallayil believes the more our job fails to present opportunities for growth and self-expression, the more we need to cultivate mindfulness. In the book, he recalls the advice he received in his first week at Wharton University from the CEO of banking firm Charles Schwab. ‘Pick the job that gives you the greatest sense of meaning and purpose, the values and activities that resonate deeply within you and serve yourself and others in some way.’

One of the things Kallayil loves the most about working at Google is helping people get their hands on information they could not normally access. ‘Once you’ve figured out how to bring meaning and purpose back into your life, you need to create an actionable business plan to identify principles that will support meaningfulness and focus everything you do around these in the next five to ten years,’ explains Kallayil. This way, you’ll learn how to say no to opportunities that do not benefit you, and it will give you more time to allocate to things that rate higher on your list of life priorities.

Manage your time effectively 

Being busy and being productive are two very different things. Separating them requires taking a step back, to stop reacting for a second and figuring out how we like to spend our day from morning to evening. ‘We each have only 24 hours in our day, and so much of the quality of our lives, the quality of our joy, the quality of our presence is predicated on how we choose to spend those 24 hours,’ explains Kallayil.

So how can we extend our days to 28, 32 or 38 hours? A simple method used by Kallayil to escape the tyranny of schedules is outsourcing – a model developed by The 4-Hour Workweek author and productivity expert Tim Ferriss. ‘Take your annual salary and divide it by 2,000 hours, which is the average number of hours people in America work. The resulting number is the economic value of an hour of your time based on your current compensation,’ says Kallayil. ‘If there is something you need to get done and it’s not your area of expertise or your passion, and someone else can do the job for you for less than the amount your time is worth, then you should consider giving the job to them and use that hour to focus on your passion and joy.’

Upgrade your morning routine

All mindfulness is good mindfulness for Kallayil. It doesn’t matter where and how you develop mindfulness or what you do. Meditation, yoga, prayer, therapy, gratitude are all good, as long as you sustain and replicate effective practice. ‘We have to make non-negotiable appointment for mindfulness in our diary and think of it as important meetings we have with ourselves. I got the idea of practicing gratitude from self-help author and motivational speaker Tony Robbins,’ recalls Kallayil. ‘He suggested taking ten minutes each day to focus on everything you’re grateful for.’

Having a morning routine is another way to harness energy. In the best-selling book for personal development Morning Miracle, Hal Elrod has put together six techniques that the most successful entrepreneurs start their day with, for greater mindfulness. He calls the combination of all these practices ‘personal development on steroids’ or ‘life S.A.V.E.R.S’.

The first technique is silence. Rather than starting the day with rush and chaos, meditation can be extremely beneficial in lowering our cortisol levels and helping us make better decisions. The manager of the world’s biggest hedge fund at the time, Ray Dalio, attributes his financial success to transcendental meditation. The A stands for Afformation, but not flowery or delusional language, it has to be action oriented. For example, the actor Will Smith practices self-talk to help him achieve everything he lacks confidence to do by spelling out what is holding him back from achieving it. Next comes Visualisation – foreseeing the activities that you need to do today to achieve that objective. After that, five to ten minutes of Exercise helps us kick start our day. It increases our heart rate, endorphins and the transport of oxygen to the brain. R is for Reading books – on subjects that tie in with what we are trying to improve about ourselves. And S is for Scribing or journaling – pouring down on paper our streams of consciousness and ideas for five minutes, which help improve focus and boost creativity.

The Internet to the Inner-Net, £12.99, available from amazon.co.uk or hayhouse.co.uk