• Raghu Challapilla

Mindful leadership?! What hippy BS!

I once went to a seminar which was all about “Mindfulness.” The participants were mostly middle-aged or older men and women who looked at each other with squinty eyes as if they were bathing in compassion and delight. I was very young at that time and all this seemed very pretentious to me.

They said things like:

Be in your Body; Be in the present; Observe your thoughts; Observe your emotions;

None of this made much sense to me. Am I not in my body already? Where can I go if not be in the present? Observe my thoughts!? It sounds boring and borderline narcissistic to observe my own thoughts. I thought… “What hippy BS!?”

= = =

I have since then gone to numerous mindfulness retreats, including a 10 day and a couple week-long silent meditation retreats, where I would meditate for about 10 hours a day. I wasn’t allowed to communicate with anyone, either verbally or nonverbally. In one retreat, they gave me a yurt so I can lock myself in and meditate for a better part of the day.

I have also been fascinated by neuroscience and psychology and followed scholars like Dan Siegel, Steven Novella, Sam Harris, Richard Boyatzis, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davis.

Here are some of my findings that synthesize the work of these scholars and my own mindfulness experience.


  • We are not in control of ourselves as much as we think. Our primitive mind makes a lot of decisions based on our conditioning. Our rational mind resists to those decisions leading to cognitive dissonance. It then resolves this dissonance by concurring to our primitive mind. Basically, our primitive mind runs the show, most of the time.

  • Our minds are lost in thoughts, all the time. So much, that most of the time we don’t even know we are lost in thoughts.

  • The above two compliment each other, leading to the auto-pilot nature of our behavior, especially when we get emotionally charged (angry, afraid, sad, resentful, upset, etc.)


  • Our minds can be reprogrammed. It’s called Neuroplasticity.

  • By practicing concentration and awareness, we can train ourselves to be more aware of our

  • Thoughts

  • Emotions

  • Bodily sensations

  • Being mindful of our thoughts makes us less susceptible to being on auto-pilot.

  • When we are emotional, we engage our primitive mind. When we are aware of our emotions, we engage our rational mind, making us more likely to take control our ourselves.

  • Our emotions always reflect in our body. e.g. In anger, we may tighten our fists, clench our teeth, or feel some heat around the neck; In fear, we may feel cold and tingly sensations in the stomach. These vary from person to person. Developing intimate awareness of our bodily sensations can help us develop awareness of our emotions much easily.

Here is something you can try today:

Take a notepad to all your tough meetings. As you find yourself in emotionally charged situations, start writing your emotions on it, once every 15 seconds! It may look like this:

Anger, Anger, Anger, Embarrassment, Fear, Fear, Fear, Pain, Pain….

You will see that some emotions are accompanied by other emotions. Anger usually stems from fear or pain. You will also see that your emotions disappear VERY quickly.

Oh, and make sure nobody read your notepad, lest they will think you are a maniac :)

Image attribution: Ollyy/

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